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In our modern world, everything is recorded in the form of documents. A document is anything which is meant to convey a communication which can be in any form as in writings, drawings, symbols, etc. The entire life of a person is recorded in form of document from the time of birth as Birth Certificate till the time of death as Death Certificate. Hence, documents are an integral and very important part of the modern world. Since everything nowadays is documented, some documents are of much high evidentiary value. A single document can prove to be decisive in many cases hence in many cases, to erase evidence, documents in paper form are tried to be destroyed. Any document that has become blackened and brittle by burning or exposure to excessive heat are known as Charred Documents. Charred documents can be of two types, Accidental & Intentional. Intentionally charred documents are mostly found in cases where a perpetrator wants to conceal a crime by burning the document of high evidentiary value. Both Accidental and Intentionally Charred documents are sent to the Forensic Science laboratories for possible decipherment and restoration of the writings present on them. Any charred document does not remain in its original shape and usually gets fragmented into small curly pieces. These fragments are very fragile in nature and need special care for handling & preservation. Blackened, carbonized state of charred document renders ordinary restorative processes ineffective. In the Forensic lab, an experienced expert can decipher the writings on a charred or burnt document using special equipment.

Charred Documents

Handling of Charred Document examination include:
1. Stabilize the charred mass as far as possible using polyvinyl acetate in acetone solution (2-3 per cent) by spraying it gently over the charred masses as the charred documents are highly fragile.
2. In cases where heaps of Charred Documents are found, the expert must try to procure the partially burned parts in the middle of the heap which might burn partially due to lack of oxygen.
3. If stacks of charred paper are found, any individual paper should not be removed from the bunch and should be lifted entirely as it is.
4. In cases of scattered pages, a spatula should be used to lift the charred pages carefully and transfer it to an evidence box with cotton placed around it for protection.
5. Great care and patience are required for the collection process of charred paper documents as they are very fragile.

Deciphering methods of charred documents:
1. Reflected Light: The charred document to be examined is observed under light from different angles. The writing becomes visible as the reflection from the surface is observed.
2. Polar filter photography: Polar filters are used for photographing charred documents as the light polarized may differ at the different inked and paper surface areas. The difference can be recorded in different tones.
3. UV & IR photography: Infrared & Ultraviolet photographic methods are used in some cases where certain parameters such as the nature of the ink, composition of paper and extent of charring are considered.
4. Oblique lighting: In cases where Charred documents with indentation marks are found, are deciphered using oblique lighting through digital photographic methods.
5. Chemical Method: In the cases where printed documents get charred, it is treated repeatedly with 20% - 25% sol of Chloral hydrate in ethyl alcohol and then dried. After drying, it is further treated with the same solution adding some glycerin in it and dried again. The developed writing can then be photographed.

Documents nowadays act as crucial evidence in any case. Due to the importance of documents in any case, they are important to be preserved. In many cases, documents are intentionally burned, and it becomes important for experts to handle the charred documents with care and decipher the information within them. Hence, Charred documents are needed to be handled with outmost care and deciphered using various techniques for recovering the information it has regarding any case.

By Suparno Bhattacharjee

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