FSS demise raises concerns

Monday, 31 January, 2011

Home Office plans to close the FSS over the next 15 months could cause many
problems including the future of criminal cold case reviews. These could be put in jeopardy because plans to close the Forensic Science Service (FSS) have left question marks over key resources necessary to their successful conclusion.

Using just the example of cold cases reviews, the union Prospect says no information has been provided on the future of three key resources - FSS' national and local archives; its specialist cold case scientists; and pioneering technology - on which the majority of successful case reviews depend.

Sir Alex Jeffreys, the geneticist who developed DNA fingerprinting techniques, also highlighted concerns in a letter to New Scientist magazine. In it he said the logic justifying
the closure "remains opaque" and warned that the UK would be left without any focus for research and "no ability to conduct investigations beyond routine analyses provided by the private sector".

Mike Clancy, Prospect Deputy General Secretary said: "The FSS has assisted more than 38 police forces in their reviews of historic offences, and helped secure convictions in over 220 cases. But this would not have been possible without the service's national and local archives."

FSS' national and local archives

These document the receipt of every case undertaken by the service since the 1940s and provide information on recent 'cold' matches - cases loaded to the National DNA Database many years ago that have recently resulted in a match.

They contain well over 1.5 million case files and even more 'retained materials', such as DNA extracts, microscope slides, fibre tapings, debris and occasional original exhibits. Said Clancy: "As the police retain little paperwork or exhibits for anything other than certain homicides, they rely entirely on the archives to progress all cold case investigations. Yet
we have no indication of what will become of these key resources.

"Who will deal with cold matches and how much will it cost? Fragment or destroy this system and potentially hundreds of 'detectable' cases could remain unsolved."

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