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Pollen expert to help in McCahon inquiry - 08/09/1998

One of New Zealand's most experienced forensic pollen scientists has been called in to help police investigating the theft of a $1.25 million Colin McCahon painting.

Dallas Mildenhall, of the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited, will help analyse pollen samples from the Urewera Mural Triptych, which went missing from the visitors' centre at Lake Waikaremoana on June 5, 1997.

The large mural was recently returned to the Auckland Art Gallery in mysterious circumstances.

Dr Mildenhall introduced the crime-solving technique of forensic palynology to New Zealand in the early 1970s.

Since then his methods have been used in scores of criminal cases including the Kirsa Jensen murder inquiry and the Rainbow Warrior inquiry.

Dr Mildenhall said he would take samples of pollen and spores from the mural and the sheet it was wrapped in to help police determine where it had been stored.

Pollen analysis can help police relate a suspect to a crime scene, relate an item to a suspect, and can support or disprove alibis.

Every location has a distinct "pollen signature" that enables a pollen specialist to pinpoint the location, sometimes to within metres.

Pollen spores are highly resistant to decay, and nearly impossible to remove from an object, regardless of how carefully it is cleaned.

Dr Mildenhall said a typical pollen forensic sample would consist of one dominant species, five or six secondary species, and up to 200 trace species. An experienced pollen scientist can recognise more than 1000 pollen species under a microscope.

Police have carefully brushed and vacuumed the painted surface and back of the mural to collect these microscopic clues.

Dr Mildenhall said the three-panel painting, which was snatched more than a year ago, appeared to have been carefully stored during its absence from the visitors' centre.

For more information please contact
Dallas Mildenhall
Forensic palynologist
Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited