Lancaster Professor and leading forensic anthropologist appointed to the House of Lords


Professor Dame Sue Black © Parliamentary Recording Unit
Baroness Black of Strome

Lancaster University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement Professor Sue Black is being introduced to the House of Lords today as a non-party-political peer. Baroness Black - who will sit on the crossbenches - is recognised for her outstanding contributions as a forensic anthropologist, anatomist and academic. 

One of the UK’s leading forensic anthropologists, she will be introduced as Baroness Black of Strome. The introduction will be screened on Parliamentlive.tv - House of Lords at 1pm 17 May.

Professor Black, a familiar face to many thanks to her books, television documentary appearances and media work, is a Scottish forensic anthropologist, anatomist and academic now based at Lancaster where she also leads the 2.5m euro H-unique project designed to identify serious criminals based on their hand anatomy.

Professor Black, who will take up her appointment alongside her current role at Lancaster, said: “I know this will be a challenging position and I view it as national service. I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career and if those experiences can be brought to bear in Government decision making, then I can only promise to do my best which I hope will be enough.”

The Chancellor of Lancaster University, the Rt Hon Alan Milburn, said: “We at Lancaster University are very proud of Sue’s elevation to the House of Lords. She will make a first-rate contribution to the work of the House.  

“She is a world leading forensic anthropologist, anatomist and academic with a unique ability to engage with the public. She has successfully shaped public understanding across the world.  

“Her game-changing work on the H-unique project, to identify serious criminals based on their hand anatomy, is only one example of her inspirational work.  

“Sue’s exceptional drive, wisdom and experience will make her a huge asset to the House of Lords.”

The Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, Professor Andy Schofield, commented: “This appointment is a personal achievement at the highest level for Sue but it is also a great honour for Lancaster University where she leads on our work engaging with the world on projects from Eden North to high-level research. 

“She brings with her a unique set of skills and professional experiences, along with the energy and ability to inspire others. Sue is an engaging speaker but, more importantly, a great listener and we could not be more delighted for her in this well-deserved role.”

The Appointments Commission recommends individuals on merit and their ability to contribute effectively to the work of the House.

From 2003 to 2018, Professor Black was Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee. She is the current President of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 

Her forensic expertise has been crucial to a number of high-profile criminal cases, including the conviction of Scotland’s largest paedophile ring in 2009. In 1999 she headed the British Forensic Team’s exhumation of mass graves in Kosovo.

Professor Black is a Government adviser on Disaster Victim Identification and was awarded the OBE in 2001 for her work in Kosovo. In 2003 she undertook two tours to Iraq. In 2005 she participated in the UK's contribution to the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification operation as part of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami international response.

In 2003 she was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee and in 2008 became head of the newly created Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification running undergraduate courses in forensic anthropology and postgraduate courses in anatomy and advanced forensic anthropology. This department trained the UK National Disaster Victim Identification (UK DVI) response team for police and scientists in advanced mortuary practices. In 2008 a research database of hand images was created to combat the sexual exploitation of children. This has allowed her team to build up a classification of anatomical features that can aid confirmation of the identification of individuals perpetrating child sexual abuse. Her team are the only researchers undertaking this work in the UK and she remains forensic case active assisting individual police forces and the National Crime Agency.

She has also been a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Persons Committee where she had active involvement in their outreach programmes. She was honoured with their Inspiration Award in 2008. In 2008 she also received the Lucy Mair Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute and a police commendation for DVI training. In 2009 she was awarded the University of Aberdeen's Brian Cox Award for Public Engagement. In 2012 she and her team received the University of Dundee's Stephen Fry Award for Public Engagement with Research, the Queen's Anniversary Award for Higher Education was awarded in 2013 and in 2014, she won a prestigious Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award for her research into identification from the hand. She was awarded a Damehood in 2016.

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