How a tuft of blue fibre led detectives to a murderer

How blue fibre traced from a Leicester crime scene to an Indian factory and a Jamaican rug shop helped police arrest a ‘ruthless’ solicitor for murder after he hired a hitman to kill his business partner

  • Vina Patel, 51, was found dead in her office in Leicester, on January 15, 2009
  • Her body was discovered at the bottom of the stairs, making it look like a fall 
  • But police suspected foul play and fibre evidence was crucial in solving the case
  • Investigation was re-examined in BBC documentary Expert Witness
  • Transpired her business partner had hired a hitman to kill her for a payout 

A tuft of blue fibres found in the mouth of a murder victim helped lead police to her killer, a BBC documentary explains. 

Vina Patel, 51, was found dead in her office in Cort and Co solicitors in Leicester, on January 15, 2009. 

Her body was discovered by her husband and daughter at the bottom of the staircase, making it look like a fall. But police suspected foul play. 

Solicitor Vina Patel, 51, was found dead in her office in Leicester, on January 15, 2009. Her body was discovered by her husband, pictured, and daughter at the bottom of the staircase 

Professor Jobson was able to analyse distinctive blue fibres found on Vina’s body, eventually helping to tie her murder to her business partner John Cort, who had hired a hitman to carry out the killing so he could get a life assurance payout.  

‘It’s amazing that a tiny thread of a few fibres can lead to all sorts of other evidence and may even crack the case for investigators,’ Professor Jobson said. 

In the case of Vina’s murder, forensic investigators found tufts of blue fibre ‘hanging out the side of her mouth’ and ‘sticking out between her fingers’ of one hand.     

Professor Jobson continued: ‘The inference [was] something had either been used to contain her, maybe wrapped over her head. 

‘Or, if she had been murdered, and the body had been put in situ to make it look like an accident, maybe she had been wrapped up in something so the body could be moved. 

‘Every contact leaves a trace so what we’re trying to do is look at items of clothing from the victim. Each fibre has usually had a bit of a journey from the manufacturing stage to where we find it, that can give it a little bit of individuality.’

Crucial clue: Blue fibre (seen in stock image) proved integral to solving the murder case

Firstly, Professor Jobson analysed the morphology, cross-sectional shape, colour and chemical composition of the two fibre samples and established they were of the same material. 

‘It was relatively easy to identify the fibres,’ he continued. ‘They were blue polypropylene,’ a nylon-like material used to make hard-wearing rugs and carpets. 

‘However they were really unusual because they were exceptionally thin. I had never seen polypropylene fibres like this before.’

The next step was to eliminate the possibility the fibres had simply been transferred from something she came into contact with in her home or office. Once this was done, it made it far more likely the fibres were linked to her perpetrator. 

Detailed examination revealed a ‘fish-eye extrusion marker’ along the length of the fibre. ‘The marker is like a fingerprint, specific to their brand,’ Professor Jobson explained. It meant he might be able to trace the material back to the manufacturer. 

He started with a company based in Bradford. 

‘They got their technical team together and by the end of the first day, they knew they could eliminate themselves,’ he said. Eventually they tracked the fibre to its source: a ‘little factory’ in India. 

Expert witness: The police investigation was re-examined in BBC’s Expert Witness, which focused on the work of Professor Roger Robson, pictured, a leading expert in the forensic examination of textile fibres and hairs, with over 40 years of experience

‘They had a conversation with the managing director, and sure enough this guy had been using this very fine polypropylene fibre to make small rugs.’

They weren’t exporting them to the UK or Europe but were exporting to one outlet in Jamaica.

At the same time, police had looked into the dealings of her business partner, John Cort, also a close friend of 30 years. 

It emerged Cort lived a lavish lifestyle well beyond his means, keeping two west London flats as well as a Leicester penthouse, as well as paying for expensive London hotel stays. 

Weeks before Mrs Patel’s death he had persuaded her they should up their life assurance cover from £500,000 to £1.5 million, claiming he had a serious illness. 

More than £650,000 had gone missing from the company’s client account, which should have been paid to customers or mortgage lenders. He also took £1.1million out of the business, the BBC claimed.

DNA found on Vina’s body was a close match to Brian Farrell, described by the BBC as a friend and sometimes lover of Cort. 

Professor Jobson was able to analyse distinctive blue fibres found on Vina’s body, eventually helping to tie her murder to her business partner John Cort, left, who had hired hitman Brian Farrell (right) to carry out the killing so he could get a life assurance payout

When questioned by police, Farrell made no secret he had been in the office, saying he and Cort had been having sex, so it was possible his DNA had somehow been transferred onto Vina shortly before she was killed. 

This explanation meant his DNA alone would not be enough to tie him – or Cort – to the crime. 

But investigations revealed Farrell had recently returned from Jamaica, the only country to which the Indian factory exported. 

Police believed he bought the rug on his visit, brought it back to the UK, then wrapped Vina’s body in the rug. 

The court evidence suggested she had either fallen because she was being attacked or had been attacked, then her body arranged to make it look like an accident. 

John Cort, of Leicester, and Brian Farrell, of west London, were found guilty of murdering Mrs Patel in May 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

Setting a minimum term of 29 years for Cort and 28 years for Farrell, Mrs Justice Linda Dobbs told them the murder was ‘premeditated, calculated and ruthless’.

During the trial at Nottingham Crown Court, the court heard that debt-ridden Cort hired Farrell to commit the murder in a ‘contract killing’ that would lead to a huge life assurance payout.

The case had been held together by unique blue fibres.  

Professor Jobson added: ‘Just a couple of tufts of fibres, leads you across the world to India, then back to the other side of the world to Jamaica, then all the way back to Leicester again. 

‘It just shows the powerful inferences fibre can bring to an investigation.’

Expert Witness is available to watch on iPlayer 

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