A world-renowned forensic expert has pledged to donate her body to Dundee University to ensure aspiring pathologists can learn from her even after her death.
Professor Dame Sue Black was speaking ahead of the publication of her latest book, Written in Bone, which comes out this week.
The Stonehaven-based expert, who was born in the Highlands and is now based at Lancaster University, has witnessed the worst of human behaviour and investigated the casualties of genocide in Kosovo, ethnic cleansing in Iraq and natural disaster in Thailand.
She said: “If I achieve my aim, I will never really die, because I will live on in the minds of those who love anatomy and fall in love with its beauty and logic, just as I did.”
The grim and macabre tales of her career form part of the new book, following 2018’s hugely successful All That Remains, which hits the shelves on Thursday.
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Among the other accounts of her wide and varied work is the time in 1999 when Professor Black was sent by the British Government to analyse the discovery of a group of unidentified corpses in Grenada after they had been unearthed by a local gravedigger in the region.
But she says, despite the potential to be de-sensitised, it is vital for forensic scientists to never lose sight of the human story behind the remains.
She added: “The truth is that you never lose track of the fact that the person in front of you was someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister.
“You think about how you would wish your own to be treated if the roles were reversed and you act according to that moral and ethical obligation.”
Prof Black, who spent 15 years at Dundee University prior to moving to Lancaster, is not sentimental about her work.
She can’t afford to be when she is dealing with the consequences of such large-scale and grievous disasters as the tsunami which devastated Thailand on Boxing Day in 2004.
She and her team at the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science developed a range of new techniques, which included identifying child abusers through vein and skin patterns.
Their efforts resulted in the conviction of Scotland’s largest paedophile ring in 2009 and the subsequent conviction of Richard Huckle, the UK’s most prolific paedophile.
As her new book reveals, this was a subject very close to home.
On the body of an 11-year-old child who had taken his own life, she discerned some ‘Harris lines’: marks in the bone where normal growth has been arrested, usually because of severe illness or trauma. And these corresponded to periods when the boy was in the care of his grandfather.
It was a throwback to her own distress when, at the age of just nine, she herself was brutally sexually assaulted in an act where she “lost her childhood”.
It’s now 50 years since that happened, but the memories are seared on her consciousness and understandably left her “in a dark and lonely place”.
As she stated, in matter-of-fact fashion: “My mental Harris lines will remain with me for the rest of my life.”
Ever since, she has been tirelessly committed to gaining justice for those who have been denied it. A principle which has steered her through stormy waters all over the globe without knocking her off an even keel.
Meanwhile Prof Black was not spared from the turmoil of the pandemic and her work has been altered inexorably since the lockdown began.
She said: “At the end of March, I came home to Scotland to be with my family (in Stonehaven) as I continued to work.
“I am amazed at what can be achieved through digital means and I would not have believed it before the crisis.
“It is a challenging time for everybody and universities are no different. We want our students to return to their studies, but we also want to be able to keep them safe.
“There have been tremendous alterations to the way we teach and the way in which we research.
“I hope that normality will return soon, but I think there have been some aspects that will have changed us more permanently and some of them are good.
“The current crisis will have helped a lot of people to reassess what is important in their lives and I have seen genuine acts of selfless kindness that remind us about the good in humanity when the chips are down.”