It’s the only security product to win the Prince of Wales Innovation Award, and the first to achieve Millennium Product status. The product, also rated as one of the top six inventions this century in the National Science Museum, is called Smartwater, and it’s increasingly being used by both police and private businesses in the fight against crime.

Smartwater is a liquid which is invisible to the naked eye and can only be seen under UV (ultra-violet) light. Each application of Smartwater contains a unique chemical DNA profile — literally millions of microscopic particles — which acts as a unique forensic fingerprint. Manufactured under licence by the Forensic Science Service (FSS), Smartwater can be sprayed onto virtually any type of property, which can then be matched against a police database maintained by the FSS.

When sprayed from sprinkler systems situated above doorways, Smartwater can prove a suspect was at a crime scene, as demonstrated by Durham Constabulary at a new training facility it has set up in Gateshead’s Metro Centre shopping complex. The Constabulary — which urges local businesses and schools to protect property with Smartwater — is using a former Thomas Cook travel agent’s shop to act out armed robberies, in order to show other police forces and the public how Smartwater can help catch criminals.

The shop’s fittings, signage and brochures have all been retained to make the shop look authentic. An overhead sprinkler system containing Smartwater has been installed just inside the shop’s entrance.

A demonstration runs as follows: a robber demands money from the cashier, flees the scene and is unwittingly sprayed with Smartwater by the shop’s sprinkler system as he exits the shop. A UV light is then shone on the robber’s Balaclava which lights up like a Christmas tree — illustrating how Smartwater can prove the robber was present at the scene of the crime.

Durham Constabulary’s Peter Ablett, who runs the facility, enthuses: “It enables police forces, and the public, to see how Smartwater works. Durham Constabulary’s success with Smartwater has made a number of other police forces sit up and take notice of Smartwater, and I’m sure forces from around the country will flock to see how the product can assist them.”

It isn’t just police forces and law-abiding citizens who are learning about Smartwater. HMP Garth in Lancashire last year became the first prison to teach inmates about the liquid, in a bid to deter them from committing crime once they’re released.

Instant recognition

If criminals start to get the message not to mess with Smartwater-protected products, businesses will be queuing up to protect their products with Smartwater, claims its manufacturer, Smartwater Europe Ltd. It has already convinced a number of businesses, including Superdrug, the drug store chain, to protect their products with Smartwater.

The company has just secured its biggest contract yet. From 1 March, all Honda motorcycles and scooters sold through the firm’s authorised UK dealer network will be treated with Smartwater Instant. Bob McMillan of Honda UK explains why the company has awarded Smartwater Europe a five-year contract to protect its bikes: “The growth in the motorcycle market in recent years has, unfortunately, seen an increase in the incidence of bike theft,” reflects McMillan. “For some time, Honda has been looking for an effective method to tackle this problem in conjunction with its own immobiliser security systems. With Smartwater, I’m delighted to say that we’ve found it.”

Honda reveals that it’s costing a lot of money to protect each of its bikes with Smartwater, and that some of the additional expense will inevitably be passed onto the customer. However, Honda claims that the added cost is offset by the benefit of cheaper insurance for owners of Smartwater-protected Honda bikes — Norwich Union is offering a discount to motorbike owners who use Smartwater Instant.

Yet to lose a case

Phil Cleary, joint managing director of Smartwater, is clearly delighted to have secured such a lucrative and prestigious contract with Honda. “From the moment that police told us we had a ‘world beater’ we were confident that Smartwater would be a big success,” maintains Cleary.

A former police officer, Phil Cleary invented Smartwater with the help of his brother (and joint managing director) Mike, who is an industrial chemist. Phil Cleary hails the success of Smartwater to date as a great example of how the police and private security industry can work together to tackle crime. According to Cleary, Smartwater has already resulted in 52 convictions and has never lost a case in court. He states proudly: “With Smartwater Instant we are talking about millions of particles and no thief can cope with removing that number.”