“I’ve been welcomed into people’s lives when they are at their darkest, and that to me is a privilege. So although I can’t change the world overnight I can at least help in some form and I love that. That’s why forensic science is great.”
That’s the view of new Abertay University forensics lecturer Neil Coupar who is teaching the next generation of CSI officers from his wealth of real world experience, including the Arbroath ‘Head on the Beach’ murder, the largest European maritime drugs bust involving £512m of cocaine, and a series of air crashes, gas explosions, rapes and killings.
The retired police officer is the latest recruit to Abertay’s School of Science, Engineering and Technology in Dundee, bringing decades of expertise from previous roles at Tayside Police, Scottish Police Authority and the Met where he was seconded to the Anti-Terrorist Branch.
A firearms expert, Neil has been trained to deal with chemical warfare and bombs and his courtroom testimony has helped put killers and rapists behind bars.
The 54-year-old, who became a police officer in Angus in 1988, said the role of the forensics officer often provides “a form of closure” to families affected by tragedy.
He added: “I always treat the deceased with complete respect, showing concern for the next of kin; they want and deserve a professional examination and inquiry.
“You have to deal with it and each and everybody is different.
“I realised I could make a difference and help catch the bad guy, then hopefully other agencies come in and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“I assisted the Met, during 9/11 enquiries, recovering forensic evidence that could identify a deceased person.
“I was also a member of the UK Disaster Victim Identification Team which came about after the Christmas Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.”
Neil’s father was a professional photographer and he grew up fascinated by his books about the great pathologists of the time and the murders they investigated.
He always had an interest in firearms, shooting as a hobby for sport then trained in military firearms by the Royal Marines at RM Condor, Arbroath.
When a job came up in the Identification Branch of Tayside Police, Neil applied and became a Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO) at a time when scene examination was a police core function.
Although still a serving police officer, he continued working within the scene examination branch, through its transformation to SPSA then SPA.
He was the last serving police officer in Scotland to work in Forensic Services retiring last year as a team leader.
A former Countryside Ranger at Monikie Country Park in his life before the Force, Neil would go on to work on a series of high profile cases including the G8 visit to Gleneagles in 2005, the murder of Montrose woman Kimberley MacKenzie whose body parts were discovered in wheelie bins, and the tragic murder of Dundee mother of three, Mary McLaren.
As an Authorised Forensic Scientist in the field of Firearm Examination he was regularly called on to give evidence in court.
“That can range from shooting of seals to the shooting of drug dealers,” Neil said.
“You could argue that luckily firearm scenes don’t come up very often, but when they do you have to learn as much as you can and pass it on for the next time, it’s the same with major disasters.
“Forensics should be carried out in a slow methodical way.
“If the suspect didn’t commit the crime the evidence will confirm that, but if we can prove otherwise then that’s another story.
“It’s a very fulfilling career.
“It’s exciting and interesting, you never know what the next job’s going to be and you feel you are doing something and contributing.
“Science changes all the time and techniques that weren’t thought about five years ago are now up and running and part and parcel of the armoury we use as investigators.”