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May 11th 2018

Andrew Petherbridge

Innocent victims should not suffer because of forensic failures

Andrew Petherbridge

Andrew Petherbridge

Legal Executive and Head of Civil Liberties

Innocent victims should not suffer because of forensic failures

Developments in forensic science have undoubtedly helped the police to become more adept at solving crimes. But I was greatly concerned when reading details about the latest forensic failures to cast a dark shadow over the Metropolitan Police.

Developments in forensic science have undoubtedly helped the police to become more adept at solving crimes. But I was greatly concerned when reading details about the latest forensic failures to cast a dark shadow over the Metropolitan Police.

According to a report by the BBC, more than 30 criminal investigations are now being reviewed by The Met after a forensic scientist allegedly failed to carry out tests and lied to investigators about progress.

Staggeringly, these statistics include 21 sex attacks – crimes where DNA and forensic evidence is crucial if a criminal conviction is to be successfully secured. Evidence from another 12 violent and drug-related crimes and burglaries are also being re-examined.

An internal review into this systemic failure is now being carried out by The Met. But questions must surely be asked about why there are no suitable systems or procedures in place to prevent such serious errors in the first place.

Forensic failures are a national crisis

Unfortunately, this is not the first error of this kind which has come to light since the closure of the publicly-owned Forensic Science Service in 2012. Following that decision, police forces have either had to bring these services in-house or use private providers to carry out for complex techniques such as analysis of DNA, fingerprints and digital evidence.

Even though this type of evidence plays a major role in securing convictions for a range of criminal investigations, the process now seems to be littered by problems.

This point was proven at the end of 2017 when we launched legal action against Randox Testing Services – a company used by police forces across the UK – amid claims they had manipulated forensic evidence and results.

A total of around 10,000 tests submitted by more than 40 forces could potentially have been affected, including those used to secure convictions relating to violent crime, sexual offences and unexplained deaths.

For our client Billal Hartford, the consequences proved devastating as the 21-year-old lost his job as a chef following a wrongful conviction for drug driving. He did eventually manage to overturned the conviction, but not before his life was turned completely upside down.

In January 2018, the national crisis embroiled Key Forensic Services following its collapse – potentially affecting thousands more cases.

Innocent victims should not be forced to suffer

The latest forensic failures uncovered at the Metropolitan Police, dating back over a five-year period from 2012 to 2017, only reiterate why more stringent processes need to be put in place to help the police in their pursuit of justice.

Thankfully, it should be possible to quickly retest the forensic evidence involved. Unfortunately, this could be too late for someone who has already been unlawfully or unsafely convicted for a crime.

In the meantime, the innocent victims have been forced to relive their ordeal – and put through a period of great uncertainty – because they’ve had to be contacted by the police to make them aware of these forensic mistakes. That is completely unacceptable, especially when it can already prove extremely difficult to move on from such a terrifying incident.

Given the importance of the role they are entrusted to take up on behalf of police forces, there is a clear duty of care on these testing companies as well as the police to ensure every sample is properly tested and the right result reached.

Where this is not the case, there is obviously potential for harm and possible wrongful convictions, which is deeply concerning. If anyone believes this has happened to them, they should get in touch with a solicitor and seek legal advice.

After all, there is no good reason why someone should suffer because of the errors of a forensic scientist. It’s simply not acceptable.

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