Fingerprinting is an "old-fashioned technique," says Dave Thomas of the South Wales police. Convicting a drug dealer on the basis of a partial fingerprint from a photo in a WhatsApp message, however, is groundbreaking stuff. The image of a hand holding ecstasy pills was the key evidence in a case that sent 11 members of a drug gang to prison. Thomas says that amid a stream of messages on the phone of a suspect, there was a "photograph of the hand holding pills that seemed like it was sent to potential customers saying 'these are my wares, I'm selling these,'" the BBC reports.
The photo was sent to the force's scientific unit and while there was no match on Britain's national fingerprint database, it was enough to link 28-year-old Elliott Morris to the supply chain. He was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison after a raid that seized large quantities of ecstasy, cocaine, and marijuana, the Birmingham Mail reports. Thomas says it was the first conviction in Wales based on a fingerprint taken from a photo—and there are likely to be plenty more. "While the scale and quality of the photograph proved a challenge, the small bits were enough to prove he was the dealer," Thomas says. "It has now opened the floodgates and when there is part of a hand on a photograph, officers are sending them in." (Researchers say even people who don't use drugs might have cocaine in their fingerprints.)