A database of shoeprints, thought to be the first of its kind in the world, is being launched next week by the government in the fight against crime.

The Forensic Science Service (FSS) will enable police officers and other law enforcement officials in England and Wales to view images of footprints and details of shoes, in a database known as the Footwear Intelligence Tool (FIT). The catalogue is to be piloted online from next Thursday 15 February, and will be formally launched in March.

Footprints are often left as evidence at crime scenes, and can be highly distinctive. The marking and shape of a shoe can provide vital clues, helping to track down criminals. The details of footprints and marks from crime scenes will be logged in the same way as fingerprints and genetic samples are.

The database is to be updated daily with new shoe information from manufacturers, the FSS said. It will include information on shoe type, colour, branding, and marks, as well as demographic information.

In the future, the FIT database could even rival DNA evidence combating crime. "Footwear marks at the scene are the second biggest evidence type behind blood and DNA," forensic scientist Dr Romelle Piercy of the FSS said.

Dr Piercy said the database already holds some 1,000 different marks for Nike trainers, a brand said to be popular with criminals.