POLICE are investigating the discovery of skin inked with a tattoo found in woodland.
Forensic specialists combed Saltoun Big Wood, near Pencaitland, after the “unidentified organic material” was discovered and it has since been taken for analysis to determine if it is human.
But it is understood the skin is likely to come from an animal – possibly a pig – which may have been used to practise tattooing.
A resident, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s horrific that this was found. I saw a police van and cars with officers at the wood on Tuesday. Then a forensic team in white suits were back the next day.
“There had been a group of men with American bull terriers in the wood recently and they were letting the dogs run wild. When the police came people thought there might have been dog fighting going on.”
Saltoun Big Wood, located near West Saltoun, is one of the largest woodlands in East Lothian, with paths popular with walkers.
Brooke Mackay-Brock, owner of the Love Hate Tattoo studio on the Capital’s Newington Road, said an unlicensed tattoo artist may be behind the woodland discovery.
The number of “backstreet” tattoo artists has soared in recent years and they are often willing to ink children. Unlicensed operators work from private homes or visit clients, while “tattoo parties”, where several people are tattooed on the same night, have grown in popularity.
Ms Mackay-Brock said: “I studied tattooing using pig skin eight years ago. A friend of the family was a wholesale butcher so I was able to get the skin from him. It’s really similar to human skin so it’s the best to learn from.
“It’s [the discovery] very weird. You couldn’t practise in the woods because you would need a power source for the needle. You would’ve thought they’d just put it in the bin.
“At my studio, you study as an apprentice. I take people with art school backgrounds and they learn under proper supervision. Unfortunately, with the explosion in tattooing, there are people doing tattoos outside the proper environment and it’s so easy to pick up the equipment on eBay.
“I’d say we have two people a week asking us to fix a tattoo done by one of these people.”
An East Lothian Council spokeswoman said: “All tattoo artists operating in East Lothian require to be licensed whether operating from fixed premises or a ‘mobile service’.
“Anybody thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercings is strongly advised to check that the person is licensed to assure appropriate health and hygiene guidelines are being met.”
Figures from 2011 showed three illegal tattoo artists were charged with giving tattoos to under-18s in the Lothians in the previous year, but professionals believed the numbers were only the tip of the iceberg.
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Police were called to an area in Saltoun Woods at around 4pm on Tuesday following the discovery of unidentified organic material. Inquiries are continuing to establish the circumstances and source of the material.”