Forensic Podiatry and Crime Fiction!

Podiatric Forensics

Walk This Way: an evening showcasing forensic podiatry with crime novelist Peter James, forensic podiatrist and Dean of Podiatric Surgery Haydn Kelly and Plymouth University

On the evening of Tuesday 20th October 2015 unusual events took place at Plymouth University…read on to find out what!

Plymouth University, in partnership with the Plymouth International Book Festival and Waterstones Booksellers Ltd, invited crime novelist Peter James and forensic podiatrist (and Dean of Podiatric Surgery) to showcase how forensic podiatry has emerged not only in real life crime solving, but in fiction too.

Over 100 attendees joined us in person plus many more on the Periscope app broadcast and, after settling into the comfortable Jill Craigie cinema, they were treated to a presentation, ‘audience with’ type evening of interviews and Q&A followed by a book signing and photo opportunities with Peter and Haydn.  Plymouth logo (2)

Professor Graham Sewell, Head of the School of Health professions opened the evening with a speech drawing on the importance of drawing the arts and sciences together whilst praising Peter and Haydn for their world class achievements in their respective fields. Haydn Kelly is an alumnus of Plymouth University and, as part of the alumni network, we first renewed his relationship with Plymouth in June during an ad hoc visit following his appearance on BBC Crimewatch Roadshow in Cardiff. We had been aware for some time of Peter James’ fictional character ‘Haydn Kelly’ appearing as himself in the Roy Grace series of novels and using forensic gait analysis to help solve the crimes and when Haydn suggested we invite Peter to Plymouth it was a no-brainer.

Haydn Kelly – Forensic Podiatry

Sally, Haydn and Emma

Sally, Haydn and Emma

I compared the evening and invited Haydn to give his presentation about the history of gait analysis and its evolution into the field of forensic science. Whilst mostly educational and informative in tone, Haydn’s sense of humour emerged a few times with references to Monty Python’s ministry of silly walks, delighting the audience. The presentation framed the evening for the audience of which about half were podiatrists and podiatry students and the other half literary students and enthusiasts.

After Haydn’s presentation they took their seats for the interview exploring his career journey from podiatry student to Dean of Podiatric Surgery and pioneer of forensic gait analysis. His knowledge of the legal system, emerging technology and potential of podiatry is engaging and inspiring, and he didn’t disappoint as he indulged us with some real life crime solving stories. His impact in a 17 year hunt for a gerontophile rapist in London was the pinnacle of the examples he cited. Working with the police he was able to use CCTV to identify the offender from a series of suspects shown; but the real wow factor was that the series of movies shown to him were presumed by the police to be the same individual. By applying his podiatric knowledge and skills in observational gait analysis Haydn quickly eliminated the innocent suspects and led the police to find the true criminal. As the story rolled out you could have heard a pin drop in the cinema.

With Haydn rounding up with a real life account of a day in the life of a forensic podiatrist it was time to move across to the fictional ‘Haydn’ with Peter James taking the interview seat.

It seemed to me quite reminiscent of the old Michael Parkinson show for those old enough to remember; the two guests had a rapport borne of friendship that oiled the wheels as the evening moved on.

Peter James – Forensic Writing

Peter James with Sally and Emma

Peter James with Sally and Emma

Peter is a wonderful orator, as well as writer, and his articulation of words is a joy in itself to listen to. He spoke of having drawn inspiration from a spectrum of real life experiences and relationships, with the prime example being his carefully developed character Roy Grace, Senior Investigating Officer in many of his novels. Peter is passionate about he characters he develops and they are mostly based on people he has known in real life. As we know, Haydn Kelly appears as himself, and other characters such as Roy Grace are based people he has known during his life. And the ghosts who appear in ‘The House on Cold Hill’ are no exception. He brought us to the edges of our seats at the end as he told the story of himself having lived in three haunted houses and, with tangible reality, he explained why he is unapologetic for believing in and writing about ghosts and the supernatural. This was a twist I am not sure many of us were expecting but it bridged the gap beautifully between the scientific and artistic blend of the evening.

The questions continued and turned from the supernatural to the technical. Peter enlightened us about how seriously he takes his research in the writing process and we learned that, whilst loving a real book, he was one of the first people to write an e-book and the very first to write on floppy disc which is now held in The Science Museum in London. As the interview ended Emma asked what advice Peter would give his younger self. Peter simply, and without hesitation answered, ‘believe that your dreams can come true’.

Peter James signed book

Emma’s signed book

Sated, the audience applauded heartily the two guests and I turned to the floor to take questions. To our surprise the one which made us all gasp with glee was the very last: a lady asked ‘between you both [Peter and Haydn] could you commit the perfect crime?’ Everyone sat forward as Peter started with a firm ‘yes’ – but with caveats (His wife looked relieved at this point which brought a moment of release of the mock tension!). Peter had studied sociopaths and psychopaths in Broadmoor and other institutions and had a deep insight into conscience and the need ‘to tell’ in those without psychopathic tendencies. Haydn added a further note of reassurance that Locard’s principle determines that every contact leaves a trace which renders all crimes impossible to fully conceal… unless the contact is not found. Peals of nervous laughter closed the session and the audience filed out to the foyer to queue for the book signing and selfies with Peter and Haydn.

 

Written by Emma Cowley – Podiatry Lecturer University of Plymouth

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Until next time
The Podiatry Careers Team

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