Pioneering police detective David Baker awarded Honorary Degree

The lead detective on the first criminal case to be solved using DNA fingerprinting has been awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Leicester at a ceremony today (Wednesday 19 January).

David Baker is a former Detective Chief Superintendent and former Head of the Criminal Investigation Department at Leicestershire Police, who saw the opportunity to use the then pioneering technique of DNA fingerprinting to help identify the person responsible for the murder of two young girls in Narborough, Leicestershire.

At the University of Leicester, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys developed a DNA profiling technique in the early 1980s, which identified an individual’s unique ‘fingerprint’. Whilst the technique had been used in 1986 as evidence in a paternity court case, it was under David’s direction that officers immediately set about asking local men for blood samples, which led to the capture and conviction of Colin Pitchfork.

Speaking today, David Baker QPM and Honorary Doctor of Science said: “If it wasn’t for the University of Leicester and the discovery of DNA fingerprinting by Sir Alec Jeffreys we wouldn’t have been able to arrest and charge a man for the murder of two teenage schoolgirls in Leicestershire, and make such an immense change to the use of forensic investigation of crime scenes. I am honoured to receive this honorary degree. Thank you.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester said: “I am delighted to confer this most well deserved honour to David Baker QPM – his foresight to use the newly discovered technique DNA fingerprinting has led to a revolution in policing. 

“I am also immensely proud that this pioneering discovery was made here on this very campus at the University of Leicester by Professor Alec Jeffreys – he truly embodies what it means to be a Citizen of Change.”  

Simon Cole QPM, Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police, said: “The work done by David Baker, together with the University of Leicester, literally changed policing across the world for ever. 

“The use of DNA fingerprinting was innovative, and has ensured justice in cases worldwide. 

“The force is delighted to see David honoured in this way.”

David’s collaboration with Sir Alec has changed the face of modern policing, with forces across the world using DNA evidence as a major pillar of many criminal cases. This work has led to the successful conviction of countless criminals and, crucially, has also helped exonerate innocent individuals who may otherwise have been linked to crimes.

Although around 99.9% of human DNA sequences are the same in every person, enough of the DNA is different that it is possible to distinguish one individual from another (except in the case of identical twins).

Now retired, David was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) for distinguished service to Leicestershire.

His role in the landmark case was immortalised by actor David Threlfall in ITV drama Code of a Killer, alongside John Simm as Sir Alec.

David’s Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science was first announced in 2020 at a University of Leicester event marking 35 years since the discovery of DNA fingerprinting.

The University also proudly hosts a scholarship in memory of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, the two 15-year-old victims at the centre of the landmark case. Endowed in perpetuity, the Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth PhD Scholarship in the College of Life Sciences is designed to support the first steps in a new scientist’s career.

These are the first in-person Graduation ceremonies taking place at the University of Leicester since January 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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