A crime scenes officer was instructed to obtain finger prints from a cadaver for identification purposes. It was known that the cadaver was suspected to be Hepatitis C positive.
When bodies decompose it can be difficult to take a fingerprint because the fingers crease together. The officer used the “ballooning technique”, which involves injecting liquid into the finger to inflate it, a technique he had been taught by a senior colleague.
He borrowed a syringe and needle from hospital staff, put on two sets of gloves as he had been trained and successfully carried out the print taking on one finger. However, as he was trying to take a print from a second finger the needle he was using penetrated his own thumb.
He suffered personal injury and the trauma of worry about whether he had been infected.
The point the defendant took was that the officer should have carried out a dynamic risk assessment and, in particular, called for further advice from a superior on how to deal safely with the situation.
The defendant’s main witness said that this practice had been banned in the service he had come from. However, he had joined the Defendant after this accident.
These arguments were scuppered by the fact that the defendant’s own training manual demonstrated this exact method. Moreover, the claimant, as recommended in the manual, had worn two sets of gloves.
The Judge found that the defendant had failed to carry out their duty to risk assess the task so as to discover why other services had banned this method as unsafe and indeed why they later themselves banned this method of taking fingerprints.
The claimant was not guilty of contributory negligence. He had done everything he had been trained and told to do and was never told of any dangers in using this technique.
Judgement for the claimant.
Pontefract County Court, 28 July 2010.