Biography

I was appointed as a lecturer in forensic biology and anthropology at Keele in August 2016, moving here from the University of Central Lancashire where I lectured in forensic anthropology and entomology. 

In 2004 I graduated from the University of St. Andrews with a BSc(Hons) in behavioural and environmental biology, before moving on to the University of Central Lancashire where I completed my MSc in forensic anthropology.  I returned to academia in 2010 after UCLAN offered me a studentship to carry out research in the field of forensic entomology, and in 2014 I was awarded a PhD for my work on the thermodynamics of maggot masses on decomposing remains.  

In between my studies I have worked as a chemistry technician at a sixth form college and been employed by Lancashire Constabulary in a number of different roles.  I was initially appointed to the Force Major Investigation Team, which investigates serious crime such as murder, kidnap and stranger rape, before transferring to Scientific Support where I assisted on the National Footwear Reference Collection (NFRC).  Later I was based in Contact Management, where I worked as an emergency call handler and police radio dispatcher.  I have attended numerous post-mortem examinations and assisted with both national and international casework.

Research and scholarship

My research is in the area of forensic taphonomy and entomology, which allows me to apply my undergraduate studies in environmental biology to forensic casework. 

Currently my focus is on factors influencing the decomposition process and post-mortem interval estimation, particularly for human remains recovered from water environments.  By further understanding the variables that impact on the timing and sequence of decomposition in a range of different environments and scenarios, it is possible to increase accuracy when determining time of death.  I am also engaged in research that monitors heat generation in aggregations of blow fly larvae (commonly known as maggot masses) as they feed on decomposing remains.  These localised increases in temperature are found to be significantly warmer than ambient, which is believed to influence the rate of larval development and therefore increase error when not accounted for in post-mortem interval estimates.

ResearchImage1

Teaching

  • CHE-10042 Forensic Identification
  • CHE-20021 Forensic Genetics
  • CHE-20047 Forensic Anthropology (Module Leader)
  • CHE-20063 Forensic Taphonomy (Module Leader)
  • CHE-30011 Forensic Science Team Research Project
  • CHE-30029 Forensic Dissertation
  • CHE-30034 Forensic Geoscience
  • CHE-40026 Independent Research Project (Module Leader)

Selected Publications

  • Lynch JJ, Cross P, Heaton V. 2017. Sexual Dimorphism of the First Rib: A Comparative Approach Using Metric and Geometric Morphometric Analyses. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 1251-1258, vol. 62(5). doi> link> full text>
  • Pringle JK and Cooper N. 2017. Forensic Geophysical Survey Report at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, UK. PDFlink>
  • Moffatt C, Heaton VG, De Haan D. 2016. The distribution of blow fly (Diptera: Calliphoridae) larval lengths and its implications for estimating post mortem intervals. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 287-297, vol. 130(1). doi> link>
  • Moffatt C, Heaton VG, De Haan D. 2016. The distribution of blow fly (Diptera: Calliphoridae) larval lengths and its implications for estimating post mortem intervals. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 287-297, vol. 130(1). doi> link>
  • Simmons T and Heaton VG. 2013. Postmortem Interval: Submerged Bodies. In Wiley Encyclopedia of Forensic Science. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. doi>

Full Publications Listshow

Journal Articles

  • Pringle JK, Stimpson IG, Wisniewski KD, Heaton V, Davenward B, Mirosch N, Spencer F, Jervis JR. 2020. Geophysical monitoring of simulated homicide burials for forensic investigations. Sci Rep, 7544, vol. 10(1). link> doi> full text>
  • Wisniewski KD, Cooper N, Heaton V, Hope C, Pirrie D, Mitten AJ, Pringle JK. 2019. The Search for "Fred": An Unusual Vertical Burial Case. J Forensic Sci, 1530-1539, vol. 64(5). link> doi> full text>
  • Heaton V, Moffatt C, Simmons T. 2018. The movement of fly (Diptera) larvae within a feeding aggregation. The Canadian Entomologist, 326-333, vol. 150(3). doi> full text>
  • Lynch JJ, Cross P, Heaton V. 2017. Sexual Dimorphism of the First Rib: A Comparative Approach Using Metric and Geometric Morphometric Analyses. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 1251-1258, vol. 62(5). doi> link> full text>
  • Ruffell A, Pringle JK, Cassella JP, Morgan RM, Ferguson M, Heaton VG, Hope C, McKinley JM. 2017. The use of geoscience methods for aquatic forensic searches. EARTH-SCIENCE REVIEWS, 323-337, vol. 171. link> doi> full text>
  • Moffatt C, Heaton VG, De Haan D. 2016. The distribution of blow fly (Diptera: Calliphoridae) larval lengths and its implications for estimating post mortem intervals. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 287-297, vol. 130(1). doi> link>
  • Moffatt C, Heaton VG, De Haan D. 2016. The distribution of blow fly (Diptera: Calliphoridae) larval lengths and its implications for estimating post mortem intervals. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 287-297, vol. 130(1). doi> link>
  • Heaton VG, Moffatt C, Simmons T. 2014. Quantifying the Temperature of Maggot Masses and its Relationship to Decomposition. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 676-682, vol. 59(3). doi> link>
  • Heaton VG, Lagden A, Moffatt C, Simmons T. 2010. Predicting the Postmortem Submersion Interval for Human Remains Recovered from U.K. Waterways. Journal of Forensic Sciences. doi>

Chapters

  • Simmons T and Heaton VG. 2013. Postmortem Interval: Submerged Bodies. In Wiley Encyclopedia of Forensic Science. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. doi>

Other

  • Pringle JK and Cooper N. 2017. Forensic Geophysical Survey Report at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, UK. PDFlink>
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