A comparison of plastic cable ties based on physical, chemical and stable isotopic measurements

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Nienaber, Lisa M
Cresswell, Sarah L
Carter, James F
Peter, Tony
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Plastic cable ties can be utilised in a range of serious criminal activities and a comparison of cable ties, or fragments, may form part of the physical evidence presented to a Court of law. This research assessed the potential value of evidence based on the analysis of plastic cable ties. Twenty packets of black coloured plastic cable ties (nominally 200 mm × 4.8 mm) were purchased in pack sizes ranging from 25 to 100 individual cable ties (Brisbane, Australia, March 2015). Representative samples from each packet were visually examined, compared and tested to determine their physical dimensions, chemical compositions and stable isotopic compositions (δ2H, δ13C and δ15N).

All of the individual cable ties from a given packet were found to be indistinguishable with respect to appearance, physical, chemical and isotopic measurements (within-batch variability). Individual cable ties were also found to be isotopically homogeneous with respect to hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. All of the cable ties analysed were found to have very similar chemical compositions and to be manufactured predominantly from nylon 6,6. The elemental compositions of composite samples, prepared from each packet, were found to be highly variable and, as such, were of very limited value.

Cable ties from ten of the twenty packets were uniquely characterised by physical appearance (between-batch variability). Physical measurements such as the width, thickness and tooth-count of the grip section did not provide additional discrimination. Cable ties from nineteen of the twenty packets were uniquely characterised by isotopic composition, based on δ2H and δ15N measurements. Samples from two packets of Crescent brand cable ties were found to be indistinguishable with respect to all of the tests applied in this study. These two packets were inadvertently purchased from the same retailer and had the same barcode and batch number. It was considered a reasonable assumption that these two packets originated from the same manufacturing batch.

The authors reason that a likelihood ratio (that might be presented to a Court of law) can be derived from this type of discrete data based on a calculation of the possible combinations of distinguishable objects (unordered sampling with replacement) in a convenience sample collected from the background population. In this example, a database of 19 distinguishable objects can yield a likelihood ratio as high as 210, with a verbal equivalent of “moderately strong support” for a proposition that two cable ties have the same isotopic composition because they originate from the same batch rather than by random chance.

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Science and Justice
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