Forensic Science Service

Written evidence submitted by Katy Rowe and Laura Davis
(FSS 72)

1. What will be the impact of the closure of the Forensic Science Service on forensic science and on the future development of forensic science in the UK ?

There is a whole department dedicated full time to research and development, we are unaware of any other forensic provider has such a department. This department has produced a number of small and large developments over a number of years.

We are unaware of any other forensic provider that carries out research to the degree the FSS does into forensic techniques and improving the quality of these techniques (i.e. SGM developed into SGM+) enabling the discrimination factor to be increased leading to stronger and more reliable evidence in court.

Scientists at the FSS also developed the use of Taq Polymerase which enables the amplification of DNA; if these scientists are lost when the FSS closes what other developments might be lost. An example of this would be current projects to develop a process to get a profile from a sample in much shorter turn around times. Again this could be something that is crucial in apprehending a suspect such as in the Suffolk killings where time was crucial and it may have saved lives if it had been available.

Scientists at the FSS have also developed computer programmes that enable DNA interpretation to be carried out with a greater ease, these programmes are used all over the world. The FSS provide support and training for these programmes, if the FSS closes who will provide the support required?

If the FSS was to be closed there will be a loss of many specialist skills and techniques, such as Low Copy Number DNA, mitochondrial, Y-filer/identifiler and YSTR processing which has been used to solve difficult or cold cases. Would the price be higher if this was taken over by a private company or would the results be called into question due to lack of experience? The loss of specialist techniques and development of new techniques would mean less difficult or cold cases are investigated successfully.

The FSS closure would also mean that forensic innovation and research development would stop thus preventing Forensic science from moving forward as it has done over the last 10 years.

The FSS are the world leaders in forensic science and the loss of the FSS means the loss of this excellent reputation for the U.K.

The FSS closure could mean that private companies could put their prices up, raising the cost of submissions. This will have an impact upon already low police budgets, and this could cause forensic submissions to drop further due to the cost, and this in turn would have an impact on the amount/type of crime investigated which in turn could have an impact on crime rate detection.

There is also the turn around times and capacity for major cases such as the 7/7 terrorist attacks. The FSS are able to turn around large numbers of DNA samples 12-24 hours; we are unaware of any other forensic provider that can provide this level of service at a time when it is crucial to get results as soon as possible. This work was non-profitable could other providers be able to do such a large amount of samples for a loss or no profit?

The FSS have developed technology that is the only type of its kind in the world and that has been developed by the FSS to cut turn around times and the need for as many staff. This is another example of how the FSS has moved forensic analysis forward improving efficiency and timeliness.

Loss of technology and specialist techniques, can other companies carry out this work?

With disasters such as the Air France and Tsunami it is imperative that closure was brought to these victims’ families by making them aware of what had happened to their loved ones. It could be done in America however this would result in loss of revenue for the U.K.

There have been a number of cases where specialist techniques and process has been used. People have been charged with a crime that seemed virtually impossible to solve at the time, a loss of this process could impact on detection rates.

What will happen to all the old samples and case files? There is evidence collected in cases that is stored by the FSS, yet with the closure what would happen to this evidence that is stored as the destruction of this evidence can cause all sorts of issues and impact on cold case files or future investigations.

Locations of laboratories, police in Greater Manchester have expressed concerns on the impact of having to take their submissions elsewhere such as time and resources (costs go up again).

There are also going to be issues regarding statements, reviews and access to files to be able to provide these statements. If the work has been processed through the FSS such as in cold case reviews and future national DNA database hits statements will be required or access to the data.

The impact of the closure can be seen in the recent stoppage of processing drink driving submissions. These samples are currently being stored by police forces until an alternative supplier can be sought. The impact could be seen by members of the public that as this service is now not clearly provided they are free to drink and drive without a worry of the consequences.

All other countries have no issues with their forensic services as they have not privatised their forensic services.

There was a petition that was started to oppose the closure and there have been many comments regarding the logistics of the closure. There are police officers that have signed as they are aware of the implications on time and money that will affect their budget. Magistrates that have signed as they are only too aware of issues that can arise from evidence in court cases, and internationally there are forensic scientists who are worried about the impact of the closure as FSS processes and research have had such an impact upon their own forensic ability to detect crime. Also people who have signed are people who have been affected by crime such as Sara Payne who knows from first hand experience the impact forensic science can have on the UK criminal justice system.

2. What will be the implications of the closure on the quality and impartiality of forensic evidence used in the criminal justice system?

The main point in this area is profit vs. quality. With private companies becoming under increasing pressure with the extra work load would they have the robotic and staff capabilities to take on this extra work and still meet turn around times?

In order to be able to meet the turn around times and avoid the financial penalties involved would the non-profitable work get left allowing perpetrators to walk free? Or would the work be rushed through just to get a result impacting on the quality of the results and the uses that those results could bring.

One private company currently operating is only part-automated for DNA processing. Being only part automated has an impact on the levels of contamination and can affect the results presented in court. If a sample has had to be reprocessed a number of times due to contamination, it will impact on the quality and the cost of obtaining a profile will then increase. Would the company be able to take on these costs or would they pass the extra costs on to their customers? This could then have an impact on what nature of samples are submitted.

Would this have an impact on the victims of crime? I.e. would certain crimes such as robbery have the same provisions for detection as they do now? Or would the victim just be given a crime reference number as it will cost too much for a) police to attend and b) to complete forensic work on a robbery when they have to retain their budget to cope with cases of a more serious nature.

To become fully automated for DNA processing and to develop the level of technology that the FSS currently has takes time, experience and money. There are many steps such as validation, internal and external accreditation, and testing. Would this be enforced on other companies, which would cost them money that they may not be willing to pay?

One of the reasons for the FSS being set up was to maintain and ensure impartiality to be able to remove that argument from the defence in court.

Will it not cost police more to have to prove their impartiality in court? Also with issues of impartiality will it not cost more to pay people who have been wrongly convicted due to compromised evidence?

If police carry out forensic science how can they be expected to stand by their evidence when a suspect has been taken to the same building as the crime sample? How do they know for certain that there has been no contamination? Could this be used in court by the defence therefore allowing a suspect who has actually committed a crime having the case dropped against them? This would incur horrendous costs due to time, police costs, forensics provisions and court costs.

This could also make the juries biased with regards to evidence, how can a jury be certain that someone they are deliberating about whether to find guilty or not of murder actually did do it when the officer who dealt with suspect also inadvertently dealt with the crime sample?

What provisions would be put in place to avoid this? Would the jury be able to take away someone’s civil liberties and put them away for many years when the evidence has been called into question? This could result in miscarriages of justice which would then result in compensation claims for the loss of freedom.

The avoidance of miscarriages of justice by the FSS is aided by all staff being required to sign the official secrets act and have high levels of security clearance. This ensures that all work undertaken by the FSS is not disclosed to anyone other than the people who actually need to know results omitting the possibility of outside influences.

As the police come under increasing pressure to solve crimes surely this could have an impact on the quality of forensic submissions. Even with correct training could a jury really convict someone based on evidence that someone has presented who has no scientific background. Who would also provide this training and at what cost to the UKCJS?

If the police are busy in the laboratories who will be keeping law and order on the streets? How can it not be considered that the closure will affect crime rates?

It could be chaos on the streets as there are no police to stop crimes in progress as they are too busy working in laboratories and with current police budget cuts cutting staffing levels further. This could have a detrimental effect on crime rates.

3. What is the financial position of the Forensic Science Service?

As members of staff of the Forensic science service we do have access to the exact financial figures. It has been made known in the media that the company was losing 2 Million pounds a month at the time of the closure announcement.

This figure does not include any savings seen from the completion of Business Transformation which was very much in progress including the closure of three sites – Chepstow, Chorley and Priory House in Birmingham.

4. What is the state of, and prospects for, the forensics market in the UK , specifically whether the private sector can carry out the work currently done by the Forensic Science Service and the volume and nature of the forensic work carried out by police forces?

Should forensic science be a business or a service? Surely there is a moral question to be answered. Should there be money made from people’s misfortune?

As the market is always changing and requirements for forensic techniques changes can the private companies keep up with these changing and challenging demands? How are they supposed to with no research and development, and with increased work loads? With no research departments they can currently afford to undercut. This will ultimately have impact on the innovation of forensic science with the market becoming stagnant and the UK falling behind instead of being the world leaders that we currently are through the FSS.

With certain companies in financial difficulties would they be able to sustain themselves when they have to do non-profitable work and/or the financial penalties for missing turn around times are implemented.

If these companies pull out of part or all of the market or go bankrupt who will take on the forensic work?

The police may not be able to as they will already be under extreme pressure and may not have the capabilities and budget especially for specialist techniques.

Internationally forensic science will suffer as the FSS trains people internationally so that they are capable of using up to date techniques in crime detection. An example of this is the Abu Dhabi contract; FSS scientists are currently training and helping this country to set up a population DNA database.

The FSS were also involved in international disasters such as helping with victim identification; no other known British company can currently help with this type of work.

The petition that was set up against the closure has the support of many international scientists and international police services as they are all only too aware of the impact of the closure will have on their own Criminal Justice System. As the FSS are world renowned for their specialist skills and scientists.

5. What are the alternatives to winding-down the Forensic Science Service?

There are three possible options that could be considered to be alternatives to the closure.

· Leave the FSS as it is, but take into consideration the 2 million pound losses that do not take into account the closure of Chepstow, Birmingham and Chorley laboratories. Also it needs to be considered that business transformation is only part the way through. There should be at least a chance to see transformation through to the end; otherwise the money that was provided has gone to waste.

· Take the FSS back under home office control ensuring integrity and impartiality for all crime samples and PACE samples. This option would allow the research and development department to continue their world leading work as well as maintaining the specialist techniques which are crucial to complex and old cases. If this was to happen it surely would be the best for all regarding the implications that have arisen from the proposed closure.

· Privatising the FSS. This would not be a viable alternative, with the current ‘forensic market’ place. Forensic providers are currently struggling to sustain profitability within the market place. This alone would suggest that the provision of forensic science should be a service rather than operate within a forced market place. Privatising the FSS would raise all the issues previously discussed regarding quality, impartiality and the loss of some specialist services as seen currently in the private market.

6. So far as they are known, are the arrangements for closing down the Forensic Science Service, making staff redundant and selling its assets adequate?

As members of staff of the FSS, little has yet been confirmed regarding closure plans and exit dates. Little has also been mentioned regarding compulsory redundancy packages and the terms and conditions.

It is yet unknown where the work will be transferred/sold to or whether it will be stopped altogether. As most people work on different contracts it is also unclear how T.U.P.E will work or if it applies at all.

A concern would be that the experience, skill and knowledge of the staff of the FSS which is currently held in the forensic field would not move across to the private sector but would move abroad or be lost to other types of work. This would have a huge impact on the future of the forensic field and market. This experience would take a considerable amount of time to replace if this is at all possible.

The FSS will stop taking pathology and drink driving submissions at this present time. It is yet unclear as to where this work will go and which other supplier can cover this work. The memo relating to this was leaked to the media and contained a number of inaccuracies. This raises questions over the orderly hand over and wind down of the FSS and whether it will be easy to move/transfer or sell off the large number of areas and specialist techniques currently covered by trained, experienced and competent FSS staff.

Katy Rowe and Laura Davis

14 February 2011

This is the opinion of the above named people and does not reflect the view of the FSS. Our interests are as staff of the FSS with an interest and concern for the future of forensic science and UKCJS.