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Not only are our customers in the news - they make the news! We contribute to our customer's success with the very best science and technology that never stops advancing.  

Here we capture the more significant and interesting news stories we've been associated with along with our own.


Mass Spec Analytical Announces Agreement to Sell Forensic Services Business to Key Forensics Ltd.

MSA enters the new decade as a pure-play Ion Source Development Business

Mass Spec Analytical Ltd. announced today that it has sold its Forensic Services division to Key Forensic Services Ltd. Known for its Drugs on Money testing expertise, Mass Spec Analytical (MSA)  has been providing testing services for Drugs on Money to law enforcement agencies, both in the UK and internationally, since the company was formed in 1994.

Upon completion of the transaction, MSA will continue to own its Ion Source Engineering business, which consists of a portfolio of Thermal Extraction Ion Sources that it has been supplying to the forensic and security industry for over 25 years.  

“As one of the larger forensic providers in the UK, Key Forensic Services Ltd is in an excellent position to take the Drugs on Money and specialist trace detection testing that we developed to the next level,” said Lance Hiley, Managing Director, Mass Spec Analytical. “After having worked with CEO Nigel Withey and his team over the past 6 months, we recognised that there was considerable strategic synergy between what Key wanted to achieve for its customers and where MSA wanted to take its Ion source business.  This transaction allows Key to expand its service offering and its geographical coverage while enabling MSA to expand its client base for its Thermal Extraction Ion Source (TEIS) technology.

Going forward, our partnership with the Key management team will focus on continuing to invest behind the development of the TEIS product through continuing to develop industry-leading products and applications in the forensic science industry.”

Mass Spec Analytical develops and manufactures a range of Thermal Ambient Ion Sources for Mass Spectrometry. The sources can be used for direct analysis of a wide range of surfaces or media as well as vapour. The sources can undertake rapid trace detection without liquid or gas chromatography thereby reducing the environmental impact of solvents used in analytical chemistry.

The closing of the transaction is subject to usual and customary closing conditions as well as regulatory review and approval, which is anticipated in January 2020.


Debunking Fake News about MSA Money Testing

We often encounter interesting reasons why investigating officers don’t routinely consider using banknote contamination as evidence. Here are some of the more common (and weirder) reasons we’ve encountered, and why you should think again. Besides, why should the criminals get to keep the cash?

1. There are drugs on every banknote, so the evidence is irrelevant / does not add any value to a case

It’s true that nearly all banknotes contain traces of cocaine and other drugs. However, our methods and equipment can tell the difference between ‘expected’ levels, such as traces on notes received from banks, and the levels of contamination found on banknotes associated with drug related activities.

We compare samples of ‘general circulation’ banknotes in our database to samples of banknotes seized within an exhibit. Our banknote samples come from the central banks of England and Scotland and bank branches.

We assess the pattern and quantity of banknotes that have high levels of drug contamination to determine how likely it is they’ve been involved in drug related activities. This means one or two highly contaminated banknotes in an exhibit won’t necessarily skew your results.


2. The minimum value required for submission is £10,000 worth of banknotes

The minimum number of banknotes we normally ask for is 20 irregardless of their denomination.

In some cases, fewer than 20 notes can still provide evidential value, but this depends on the drug tested for.


3. Banknotes can’t be counted prior to submission. If they have been counted, they can’t be submitted.

Counting an exhibit prior to submission is not recommended as the environment the cash is counted in may introduce significant contamination - use a sheet/foil and gloves and retain these for later analysis.

Furthermore, in very rare cases, the banknotes themselves could transfer significant amounts of contamination to each other when counted.

However, a particular pattern of contamination is expected if the counting process itself had an effect.

This cannot be assessed until after analysis and as such counting an exhibit prior to submission could be a risk.


4. Banknotes must be in bundles – not loose

It isn’t essential for exhibits to be submitted in bundles; however, bundles can help demonstrate a pattern of contamination throughout the exhibit. For example, some dealers distribute more than one drug. This is sometimes evident in the pattern of contamination throughout each bundle, which may result in one bundle displaying high levels of cannabis contamination, while another bundle may display high levels of heroin.

Always send in the exhibit in its entirety!


5. Items like phones and clothes or cars aren’t worth analysing because it only helps show the presence of drugs

We’ve conducted studies that demonstrate typical items and vehicles don’t tend to be contaminated with drugs if there is no known positive association.

We suggest swabbing and analysing several locations on the item/vehicle to put the contamination into context. The more areas that are contaminated, the more unusual the contamination detected is.

Why not ask us about our DIY mobile phone or car kits? We supply these so Police Forces can take their own swabs in situ, rather than submitting the whole item!


6. Mass Spec Analytical evidence is too expensive

In July 2018 we released a new, pricing strategy for our services.

Our new pricing structure is based on the weight of the exhibit. This proportionately relates to the number of banknotes so reflects the amount of work involved.

We waive any charges if your job is not contaminated.


7. Polymer banknotes cannot be analysed

This isn’t true. Polymer banknotes are more difficult to analyse as they are a different matrix to paper banknotes, but they can still be analysed

They are analysed using a slightly different ISO-17025 accredited process compared to paper banknotes - they are swabbed rather than directly analysed

Interestingly, the pattern of contamination albeit at lower levels detected on polymer banknotes is very similar to that detected on paper banknotes. This makes differences in contamination seen on ‘drug’ money even more striking.


8. Mass Spec Analytical cannot analyse Scottish banknotes and other currencies

We have heard this argument several times before, so we tested it out AGAIN!

We obtained several samples of banknotes from three distribution/cash centres throughout Scotland, making sure we analysed all three of the Scottish bank’s currencies (Clydesdale, Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland).

The results show that the contamination on Scottish banknotes is very comparable to the contamination seen on Bank of England banknotes. This supports the view taken in our previous peer-reviewed studies that contamination on Scottish banknotes is no different to English banknotes.


9. Geographical location makes a difference to the contamination on the money

We’d heard arguments that different geographical locations could indicate the amount of drug contamination to expect, so we put this theory to test.

In 2007 and 2017 we conducted large scale studies by collecting sample banknotes from different locations including urban and rural areas, areas of different socio-economic class and high and low crime areas. We also obtained banknotes from distribution centres across the UK as a fair representation of banknotes circulated throughout the UK banking system.

All these studies demonstrated that contamination levels didn’t vary significantly from one region to another. It was concluded that, geographical location doesn’t have a bearing on the evidence or contamination on the money.

This study is further reinforced by our Scottish Banknote study.



Mass Spec Introduces Proceeds of Crime Drugs on Money Trace Analysis Service

MSA are introducing a Drugs on Money Proceeds of Crime Act Trace analysis service aimed at small seizures bound for civil court proceedings

Mass Spec Analytical (MSA) has introduced a new Proceeds of Crime Act Drugs on Money analysis service (POCADoM) for civil proceedings. Cost per single exhibit case is £300.

The new service is limited to small, single exhibit seizures of less than £5000 and tests for up to 5 different illicit drugs, significantly expanding the range of illegal drug-related activity that the cash may be associated with compared to other techniques used for civil proceedings. MSA tests for evidence of Cocaine, Heroin, MDMA (Ecstasy), THC (Cannabis) and Amphetamine. If required, we can substitute these with alternatives subject to further discussions prior to delivery of an exhibit.

Output from the testing is a Civil court proceedings statement; a single page report like a streamlined statement produced by many police forensic labs.

Lance Hiley, Mass Spec Analytical Managing Director explains: “At MSA, we are always looking for ways to help British Police Services deliver justice through robust forensic evidence that also provides value to taxpayers. Developing a product that allows the Police to investigate a wider range of illicit drug offences for the same, if not less cost than the alternatives, seems like the right thing to do in today’s financial climate.”

Cost is £300 per exhibit. If no unusual drug contamination is detected, the cost will be £95.  

The analysis used is the same ISO-17025 accredited method that MSA uses for its current evidential Drugs on Money testing, meaning that the one-page report can be upgraded to a standard MSA full statement, admissible as evidence to the crown court.

Contact us to discuss your requirements at or call 0117 317 3600


Mass Spec and SCIEX Demonstrate Ultra-Fast Forensic Identification and Quantitation of Cocaine in Seconds

Using a Thermal Extraction Ionisation Source (TEIS) Coupled with a SCIEX X500R QTOF System

Ultra-Fast and Quantitation are not two terms that normally co-exist in the same sentence but in a new Application Note published by SCIEX, a method combining a Thermal Extraction Ionization Source (TEIS) from Mass Spec Analytical coupled with a SCIEX X500R QTOF system is used to establish a rapid screening method with minimal sample clean-up and no chromatography. The method for cocaine quantification resulted in real-time analysis times of only a few seconds per injection.

SCIEX X500R system is an easy to use, rugged and versatile instrument, ideal fit for screening and confirmation applications. When combined with the TEIS, the results shown in the application note suggest that quantitation using the Thermal Extraction Ionisation Source coupled with a SCIEX X500R for forensic applications is feasible without chromatography or sample preparation, with very fast acquisition times. This technique would afford a higher laboratory throughput and reduced consumable needs when compared to LC-MS approaches.

The application note can be viewed  here.




Mass Spec Analytical receives UKAS accreditation for polymer banknotes

Mass Spec Analytical has been accredited by UKAS to analyse polymer banknotes for illicit drugs and other substances of interest

Mass Spec Analytical has been working in conjunction with the Bank of England and UKAS for nearly 3 years to develop a method for testing polymer banknotes that is as robust and accurate as the methods used for conventional banknotes. We have been testing the background levels of polymer in circulation in the UK since the introduction of the £5 note and that has accelerated with the introduction of the £10 note. Our polymer banknote database is now over 2500 banknotes and growing rapidly.

According to the Bank of England, polymer banknotes now represent over 30% of the banknotes in circulation in the UK by quantity so it’s important to the continuation of our important work with law enforcement organisations across the UK to offer this capability.

Mass Spec Analytical works with police forces in the UK and abroad providing forensic analysis of drugs on money and other trace detection services. To date, we’ve helped UK police forces recover over £20 million in cash from proceeds of crime cases. We offer one of the most cost and time effective forensic services for the detection of trace illicit drugs and other substances of interest. Whether it’s banknotes, clothing, vehicles, personal items like mobile phones, or just about any other surface, we can help. Unlike many other options, all work carried out by Mass Spec Analytical is court-worthy.



SCIEX features Thermal Desorption for Fast Detection

Mass Spec Analytical Scientific Director Richard Sleeman is interviewed by SCIEX to learn more about fast trace detection using Thermal Desorption

Fast and accurate drug trace analysis and explosives detection is essential to law enforcement and security agencies. In a recent interview for SCIEX Vision Magazine, Mass Spec Analytical Scientific Director Richard Sleeman explains why Thermal Desorption is helping our customers gather results in seconds rather than hours. 

You can download a reprint of the article here.


Geographical distribution of cocaine on banknotes in England and Wales

Mass Spec Analytical maintains the worlds largest database of illicit drugs on bank notes. This new study looks at what has changed since the database was first created in 2004 and whether location matters

A new study is to appear in Forensic Science International entitled Distribution of cocaine on banknotes in general circulation in England and Wales (C.G.G. Aitken,  A.  Wilson,  R.  Sleeman,  B.E.M.  Morgan, J.  Huish). It concludes that there is no variation in the distribution of illicit drugs - cocaine in the case of the study - on banknotes in general circulation. The study was conducted in response to a 2014 court ruling (R. v. Rashid and others, [T20147216] (19th January 2015) and to review the findings of a similar study conducted in 2007. That study spawned the Mass Spec Analytical database of drug traces on banknotes, believed to be the largest of its kind in the world. It has been continuously updated weekly (at time of writing more than 118,000 banknotes tested) with new data since its creation in 2004.

Whilst the 2007 study is a very good investigation of the factors influencing the contamination of UK banknotes with drugs of abuse, it was seen to be useful in response to frequent questions in court to revisit the study in today’s context.

Following discussions with experts at the Bank of England, it was learnt that more than 75% of all banknotes issued are circulated via automatic telling machines (ATMs), the rest goes to banks, Post Offices and other outlets. Money is paid by businesses into banks, and this is typically returned to one of approximately 20 −25 cash redistribution centres within England. Certain larger retailers also send money directly to these centres. At the centres, money is sorted and unfit notes are weeded out and sent back to the Bank of England for processing and destruction.

For this study, access to unfit notes was requested from the Bank of England. It is not known whether or not banknotes continually build up contamination every time they pass through the banking system, or whether they reach an equilibrium state whereby the amount of drug abraded off is equal to the amount deposited, or whether some other explanation needs to be invoked for the quantity of drugs on the notes. However, it is reasonable to assume that older notes are likely to be the most worn, and therefore most likely to be declared Unfit, and it is also reasonable to assume that older notes are likely to have had the most exposure to ‘environmental contamination’ with cocaine.

It is always possible to argue that more is better. However, the data collected and analysed in the 2007 study and the results of this new study provide evidence that the current database of banknotes used by Mass Spec Analytical to represent banknotes in general circulation has been confirmed as fit for purpose.    The new study also noted that, whilst it may be true, as noted in R. v. Rashid and others (p.31), that the quantities of cocaine on banknotes have increased in the time since the study reported on in 2007 was conducted, this current study provides no evidence to suggest the variation in quantities of cocaine has changed.

The study is available here.


New Study Demonstrates Chromotography-Free Substance Identification

A recently published paper demonstrates the capability of using tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) for the identification of substances of abuse and related compounds without the need for chromatography. The elimination of chromatography is not only cost-effective because of reduced sample work-up and consumables, but also reduces the environmental impact of solvents.

The paper, entitled ‘Rapid identification of seized controlled substances and related compounds by tandem mass spectrometry without chromatography,’ reveals how two chromatography-free techniques were used to screen for a large suite of compounds using a rapid, inexpensive technique: a thermal desorber coupled to a tandem mass spectrometer operated in selected reaction monitoring (SRM) mode. Solutions were introduced via autosampler, whilst powdered solid materials were directly analysed by dipping a toothpick into the powder and inserting this into the thermal desorber. The results were compared with those obtained by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

MS/MS was shown to be capable of the identification of the same drugs within the samples as the conventional method of GC/MS, but with better sensitivity and shorter analysis times. By eliminating chromatography, a higher laboratory throughput is achievable with simplified sample preparation.

The technique could be further validated with reference to an increasing database of MS/MS spectra to help to identify an expanding suite of compounds.

The paper, published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 15 April 2016 is authored by CM Fletcher, Department of Physical Sciences, University of Kent at Canterbury, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, UK, and R Sleeman, Mass Spec Analytical Ltd, Building 20F, Golf Course Lane, Filton, Bristol, BS34 7RP, UK.

You can read more about thermal desorption here.


Mass Spec Finds £5m of Hidden Cocaine

Mass Spec explains to BBC news how £5million worth of invisible particles of cocaine is distributed on banknotes in everyday circulation.

Mass Spec's pioneering work on banknote analysis led the BBC to our offices to learn how we’ve managed to compile a vast database of drugs on banknotes. Virtually all of the bank notes in circulation in the world today have illicit drugs on them and if you removed all the cocaine off of the banknotes in circulation in the UK for instance, you would have collected 160kg with a street value of £5million!

By using their banknote database as a comparison tool, mass spec can put the findings of drugs from seized banknotes into much needed context.  The on-going use of this forensic approach has assisted in the seizure of hundreds of millions of pounds, and the successful prosecution of individuals connected to drug trafficking, and money laundering associated with the illicit drug trade.

Mass Spec uses the same approach to design and build a mobile mass spectrometer based contraband detector, which is primarily deployed for explosives detection. Have you ever wondered how the police and security authorities secure high-risk events? Mass Spec has one of the first mobile mass spectrometer detectors to be developed in the world and is now used by law enforcement and government bodies to ensure that public buildings, stadiums and transport can be tested for the presence of explosives and other hazardous substances.

You can see the BBC clip here

Image Credit: © Lance Hiley, Mass Spec


Mass Spec Evidence Still Proving a Success – Take a look at our last 6 months!

Mass Spec has supported the police, prosecution and defence in several evidence projects in the first six months of 2015

Mass Spec has supported the police, prosecution and defence in several drugs on money evidence projects in 2015.  Mass Spec experts have presented evidence in court six times this year and have provided evidential statements for 15 others where their attendance was not challenged.  

Whilst the evidence that Mass Spec provides is not the only deciding factor, it is a significant and reliable element that quite often shifts the balance in favour of the party presenting it.  In a great deal of cases, we have not even been asked to attend as the evidence was accepted or guilty pleas put forward. 

One of the more notable cases this year includes the successful prosecution of two men sentenced for Conspiracy to supply of class A in Southampton as reported by the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit.

Another case reported by Dorset police explains how a group of five operating a drug supply operation across Dorset and Liverpool was quashed when drugs and cash were seized after an intelligence operation in Dorset was then traced to operations in Liverpool leading to 5 arrestts. The gang were sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison at Bournemouth Crown Court in May 2015.

Another success was recorded by the Devon and Cornwall police force when a couple were found to be laundering drugs money as reported by the Mirror Newspaper. A couple were flagged to police after bank staff noticed a number of suspicious cash deposits. Upon investigation the couple in question were found to have stashes of cash and class A drugs.

Mass Spec is ready to work with investigating agencies, prosecution and defence councils to produce the most robust evidence possible. Contact us to discuss your needs or challenges and join the many happy customers on our client list.


Image Credit: © Paulsmann | - Drugs Money Health Finance 4 Photo


Designer drug detection variants still detectable

Selling or possessing mephedrone and methylone, also known as "miaow" and "plant food", was made illegal in 2010. Variations on these drugs have surfaced recently but can be detected quickly using Mass Spectrometry

With news that there may be an increase in ‘home-made’ morphine, with the development of a ‘home-brew kit’, Mass Spec has the in-house expertise and equipment to quickly analyse multiple drugs and are always happy to assist with any enquiries as a result of new trends illicit substances.

One of the more recent ‘designer’ drugs Mass Spec has been asked to consider is mephedrone (not to be confused with methadone), which is a cathinone type substance and controlled under the MDA.  Mass Spec validated this new drug quickly and efficiently when it emerged a few years ago and has since assisted in many court cases involving illegal use and distribution of the substance (drug).

If you have any types of drugs or cutting agents that you may wish us to analyse for you, please contact us for our expert opinion and quotation.  We already have a multitude of compounds validated on our systems and ready to go!

Image Credit: © Rolf52 | - Haight-Ashbury Morning Photo



Guilty or Not Guilty?

Dr. Richard Sleeman, Scientific Director weighs-up the odds that likelihood ratio's are here to stay.

When evaluating evidence for use in a court of law, evidential data are presented together with two competing propositions which may account for this data: one from the prosecution and one from the defence. The aim of the court is to evaluate which of the two propositions is more likely. In other words, is the probability of the prosecution hypothesis given the evidence bigger than the probability of the defence hypothesis given the evidence?

We want to know whether the ratio of these probabilities is greater than one (overall support for the prosecution hypothesis), or less than one (support for the defence).

This ratio is known as the Likelihood Ratio and it is meant to represent  the odds before seeing any evidence to the odds taking the evidence into account.

What is the theory and models behind this approach? Dr. Richard Sleeman explains further in the attached paper from March 2015 issue of Mass Matters Magazine. 


Image Credit: © Aleksandar Radovanovic | 


Plastic banknotes won't foil justice

What does the introduction of plastic banknotes mean for trace detection of illicit drugs on money evidence?

As the introduction of plastic banknotes in Scotland has begun, England awaits the much anticipated polymer £5 note in 2016. The new bank notes are said to last 2.5 times longer and are cleaner than the paper banknotes used today.

Cleaner? What does that mean for trace detection of illicit drugs and other substances on banknotes in the future?

Mass Spec researchers are already preparing for the changes working with the Bank of England to ensure the transition from paper to plastic as smooth as possible.  We are determined to take such changes in our stride and continue with the excellent reputation we have earned helping the justice system by analysing banknotes and other items for traces of drugs.

The first challenge we have is the plastic polymer material itself. The thermal desorber that we use today for paper banknotes will be adapted for the new material and tests run to date have been successful.

One of the attractions of polymer money is that it collects fewer bacteria than paper banknotes and can even be ‘cleaned.’ A study by the University of Ballarat in Australia found that there were usually fewer bacteria on polymer bills than cotton-based ones – a health bonus for all!

However for Mass Spec, we’re not looking for bacteria but rather particles of illicit substances that link the money to drug related activities. The contact of the banknotes to the particles in question is normally a short time before they are seized; thereby eliminating any chance of the money being ‘cleaned’. In addition, large volumes of cash are inevitably going to be difficult to fully clean quickly and effectively, enabling our analysis to stand strong with many different cash seizures. Mass Spec’s tests are proving that our methods of detecting traces of substances on polymer banknotes is just as effective as those that we use on paper banknotes today.

Make sure that you’re signed up for our e mail bulletins to ensure that you keep up to date with our progress or if you have any questions on our new work, please get in touch.

Image Credit: © Janis Smits |


Rapid Analysis of Drugs and Explosives

Canadian Border Services Agency publishes paper advocating novel approach.

Government agencies across the globe continuously evaluate security equipment, which is employed in Drugs and Explosives detection applications. Security equipment can be broadly divided into two categories: ‘bulk’ detectors such as metal detectors or X-Ray scanners, which rely on the presence of a significant amount of a material; and ‘trace’ detectors, such as ‘sniffer’ systems, which detect the presence of minute quantities of a threat material which may remain after handling illicit materials.

Trace detectors are used for explosives detection at locations such as airports, stadia or public buildings, and for drugs detection at ports of entry or in nightclubs. Whether the need be for the detection of drugs, explosives or even chemical warfare agents, the authorities must determine the efficacy of the various solutions proposed to address terrorist or criminal threats. To do this, governments must undertake tests to determine the limit of detection of the equipment proposed to a range of target analytes.

Recent work by Tam et al of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has advocated the use of the ‘Scentinel’ system to massively reduce the time required to obtain results. Government bodies like the CBSA regularly conduct hundreds of experiments to understand the performance of the expanding number of trace detectors available commercially. New iterations of existing designs, not to mention urgent requirements to study new drugs or explosives that may come to light, exacerbate the number of experiments required.

The CBSA paper concluded that the Scentinel system desorber is highly efficient for a range of explosives, and that the results it produces are quantitative (i.e. the instrument response is directly proportional to the amount of explosive present). The CBSA confirmed that the analysis undertaken by the Scentinel takes a few minutes compared to the many hours required for conventional analysis and that no sample pre-treatment is required (no solvents, no derivatisation, or filtration).

Mass Spec Analytical Scentinel SystemThe Scentinel is designed and manufactured by Bristol based Mass Spec Analytical Ltd. The instrument is based on an ABSciex triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometer, which has been modified to incorporate a thermal desorption sample inlet system. The device simply heats samples to evaporate the compounds of interest, and draws the vapour into the mass spectrometer for analysis. 

Contact Mass Spec Analytical on  +44(0)117 428 5787