Thames Valley Police is using experts in facial recognition to catch criminals - from sexual predators to Royal fanatics to burglars.

The force is the first in the UK to deploy so-called “super-recognisers” to the streets as part of its efforts to tackle violence against women and girls.

Chief executive Mike Neville of Super Recognisers International, who has partnered with Thames Valley Police, said the force is at the “forefront” of using this technology.

He said: “[Thames Valley] is [using super-recognisers] to tackle people who commit offences against women and girls, spotting these offenders on the street so they can be quickly arrested or warned.”

The term super-recogniser is used to describe people who have a knack for pattern spotting and a memory for faces.

Academic research estimates around two per cent of the population are super-recognisers.

Slough Observer: Super-recognisers were deployed to Royal Ascot Super-recognisers were deployed to Royal Ascot

Super-recognisers helped find the Salisbury Novichok poisoners as well as tracking the movements of Hillsborough victims.

Professor Josh P Davis said humans are more accurate than technology and more police forces internationally are now training up super-recognisers in-house to help solve crime.

At Thames Valley Police, the unit is small but has big plans. There are currently around 20 members of staff who qualify with the super-recogniser status.

One of them is Lucy, who found out she had the special skillset after taking the test three years ago - and passing with a 100 per cent success rate.

Speaking to this newspaper, she said: “I always knew I was good with faces, I think you just either have it or you don’t." 

Around her day job at Thames Valley, she assists with identifying suspects either by looking at images or being deployed and her work has lead to a number of successful convictions. 

Slough Observer: Super-recognisers helped identify the pair responsible for the Salisbury poisoningsSuper-recognisers helped identify the pair responsible for the Salisbury poisonings

The 33-year-old explained: “For me, I can tell instantly when looking at someone I just have a gut feeling. Once I think I’ve spotted the right person, I then go back over looking at their facial features, the shape of their eyes, eyebrows, any marks, just to back up that gut feeling.”

“In the police, it is just so useful,” Lucy added.

Lucy has played an active role in identifying suspects and recently worked at the Royal Horse Show in Windsor on the lookout for obsessive fans of the Bahraini royal family.

But on the flip side, Lucy said her skill also allows her to raise alarm when a suspect has been incorrectly identified. This year at Royal Ascot, she was asked to identify whether a race day goer was a suspect.

The force was on high-alert for action from Just Stop Oil and environmentalists after the protests at the Grand National.

Lucy was deployed to scan hundreds of images for people potentially out to do harm.

She said: “A woman was a suspect [at Royal Ascot]. But I was able to say that wasn’t the correct person, she was clearly not the person and was innocent.”

Lucy’s quick judgment avoided a case of mistaken identity - and the oblivious racegoer could enjoy their day.

Lucy said her favourite thing about the job is being able to help people and bring criminals to justice.

But it isn’t without its downsides too. She said: “There are currently only 20 of us, perhaps less now with some people leaving, and that’s across the whole of the Thames Valley. The unit is very much still in its infancy but a lot of detectives are hearing about it which means there is more work and not many of us.

She said: “There’s probably more people out there in Thames Valley who have this ability, so we need more people to take the test and come forward.”

With a degree in equine science and background in customer services and hospitality, Lucy said having life experience has helped her career in the force. 

Other challenges can come from technology. Depending on the quality of the images the team is presented with, it can make life difficult.

“If you’re relying on CCTV, it’s always going to have its downfalls. Face coverings as well can make things more difficult and you can start doubting yourself if you haven’t got the full picture,” she said.

But what makes super-recognisers powerful, according to Professor Davis, at the University of Greenwich, is the fact they are still able to identify people despite those challenges.

Super-recongisers are able to spot someone regardless of their age or camera angle or even change of hairstyle.

A group of potential super-recognisers were invited to Waterloo Train Station to put their skills to the test. They were given some photographs of some of Prof Davis’ students, who volunteered to take part, and had to spot them as they arrived in the station.

Despite one of the participants changing and dying her hair, she was correctly identified along with the others.

What is a super-recogniser?

Super-recognisers are individuals who are exceptionally good at recognising faces.

The ability seems to be mainly face-specific in that with most super-recognisers, superior skills do not necessarily transfer to other visual (e.g. object recognition) or cognitive abilities (intelligence).

Currently, there is no evidence that super-recognisers are qualitatively different from the general population – in other words, there is no indication that their brains are somehow wired differently.

Instead, their abilities appear to be at the extreme top end of a large spectrum of individual differences in face recognition ability. Developmental prosopagnosics (individuals who struggle to even recognise close acquaintances) appear to inhabit the bottom end.

How can I tell if I am a super-recogniser?

Reckon you could be a super-recogniser? You can take a test for free by visiting