UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 930-i

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Science and Technology Committee

Forensic Science

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Alison Fendley, Dr Gill Tully and Helen Kenny

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 53

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

3.

Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.

4.

Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 30 January 2013

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Jim Dowd

Stephen Metcalfe

Stephen Mosley

Pamela Nash

Sarah Newton

Graham Stringer

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Alison Fendley, Executive Director, Forensic Archive Ltd, Dr Gill Tully, Consultant, Principal Forensic Services Ltd, and Helen Kenny, Prospect Trade Union Representative, formerly Branch Secretary for the Forensic Science Service, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: May I welcome our witnesses to this morning’s session? I apologise for keeping you waiting a few minutes, but we were finalising a previous report that is shortly to be published. For the record, I would be grateful if you would introduce yourselves.

Helen Kenny: My name is Helen Kenny. I was branch secretary for the FSS branch of Prospect. I currently work for our sister union, the FDA.

Dr Tully: My name is Gill Tully. I was at the FSS as head of research and development, and I am now a consultant at Principal Forensic Services.

Alison Fendley: I am Alison Fendley, and I was with the Forensic Science Service from about 1993 onwards. I am currently Executive Director of Forensic Archive Ltd.

Q2 Chair: As you are aware, we are doing a follow-up inquiry to our previous report on the FSS closure. It is our responsibility as a Committee to see what happens to our reports. I shall ask some general questions first of all, and then my colleagues will join in.

Who are the key players in forensic science procurement and provision now, after the changes?

Dr Tully: Forensic science procurement is run from the Home Office commercial directorate, as far as I am aware, on behalf of the police. The key players in terms of provision are a number of police forces themselves who do quite a lot of their own provision. Then there are the private forensic service providers. LGC, Orchid Cellmark and Key Forensic would be the main ones; then there are the smaller providers like Manlove and Forensic Access, and the smaller groups, again, like our own, which are consultants.

Q3 Chair: Which of the forensic science providers now have the greatest share of the market?

Dr Tully: We are still seeing major swings in the market and quite a lot of uncertainty. There has just been a major round of tenders. I do not have all the detail on who exactly has won what, but it does seem that LGC Forensics has lost quite a lot of work in that. Key Forensic and Orchid Cellmark have gained quite a lot of work in that particular round of tenders. It remains to be seen, and I think that it will still play out for quite some time yet as to who the major providers will be.

Q4 Chair: Why do you think those swings are taking place?

Dr Tully: The national forensic procurement framework second generation has a number of providers accredited to it; I believe that there are 13. Competitions are happening around the country. Many competitions to award work under that framework are occurring. In the last one, as far as I am aware, around a third of the entire market went out to tender once. That work has largely moved providers.

The final outcome has not been published or, certainly, I have not seen the detail of it, but quite a lot of work has moved from one provider to another, presumably either on the basis of price, which seems to be a main driving factor, or for other reasons for the police having to move providers.

Alison Fendley: A lot of work has just been moved, as Gill said. With the closure of operational work at the FSS, and all of that work having had to move quite quickly, the majority of it did end up going to LGC at the time. LGC at that point ended up having a larger share of the market than the FSS had had previously, but that might all be changing now.

Helen Kenny: The impact on the staff members at LGC, who have only recently moved to LGC within the last year, is that they are now facing redundancy simply because of the swings in the market.

Q5 Chair: We shall come back to some of that in a moment. As you know, we were critical in our report of the process that was followed through. Do you think that the Government now have a strategy for providing forensic science?

Dr Tully: Quite simply, there does not seem to be an effective strategy in place. It seems to be that procurement in the external market is driven largely by price. Once all the providers have passed a benchmark on quality standards, the only real differentiator past that is price.

What is not clearly compared, it would seem, is the in-house provision of forensic science within the police compared with external provision. Maybe there is a strategy, but it is certainly not clear to anyone out there, because some police forces are going very much down the in-sourcing route, believing that it provides them with better value and better service. Other police forces are sticking very much with external provision, believing that that gives them better value and better service. I certainly have not seen anything that clearly sets out the arguments to and fro and also the economic arguments.

Chair: We might come back to that in a bit more detail.

Q6 Stephen Mosley: When we were doing our initial report a couple of years ago, we had great difficulty in trying to establish the total size of the market. In our report, we were quite critical of that. Following that report, over the past 18 months or so, has the market become more transparent? Do you have more idea of the size of the market now than you had previously?

Helen Kenny: I do not know that Prospect has a view on the size of the market. Speaking from experience, as a former forensic scientist, there are difficulties in defining the work that sits with police forces and the work that sits with forensic science providers, but probably my colleagues will have a better idea on that.

Alison Fendley: It is a bit difficult for me to comment because I am not directly involved in tendering or offering operational forensic services any more, but I cannot see anything that would have made it any more transparent. Perhaps what might be clear, as was clear previously, is the size of the market that is tendered and offered externally to forensic providers. However, I do not think that there is still any clarity around the size of the market in total, including the work that is done in-house.

Dr Tully: I would agree with that.

Q7 Stephen Mosley: The estimates that we have seen, or the estimates that the Home Office has given us in the evidence that it has supplied to this inquiry, suggest that the market has shrunk to about £80 million or £90 million a year. To what would you attribute this sort of shrinkage of the market? What has caused it?

Dr Tully: It is a combination of factors. One is that more of the market is not contestable any more; it is within police forces. Another factor is that police budgets have been cut back significantly. Because forensic science is a discretionary spend as opposed to a fixed cost, that has perhaps been disproportionately affected. There has certainly been a large reduction in pricing for each type of forensic analysis, and that has been driven by the commercial market.

In many ways, the police see that as a very good thing. It can only go so far before it impacts severely on the providers’ ability to offer a full range of services, and to offer the necessary research and development and the professional development of their staff. So another way that it has been cut is through the prices being cut.

A further way in which it has been reduced is that submissions are being more closely scrutinised, so a smaller number of items would be submitted in any particular case. Again, that may be fine in the context of some cases, but we have to be very careful that very heavy scrutiny on the submission of items does not bias the outcome of cases.

Q8 Stephen Mosley: We were just talking about the money, and, from the sound of it, there is a balance between the reduction of costs, which is a good thing, and the risk of less evidence being tested. In terms of the actual output, how has that affected the work that is being done?

Dr Tully: I am sorry, but would you clarify what you mean?

Stephen Mosley: In terms of the amount of forensic evidence that is being looked at, and the number of cases in which it has been used, the success rate and the actual non-financial outputs, is forensic science doing what it is meant to be doing at the moment? Is it working better or worse than it was two or three years ago?

Dr Tully: I would say that there is certainly less forensic evidence being analysed-I cannot quantify that; I do not have any figures for how much less-and there is also probably less work being done on those items that are submitted.

In terms of trying to quantify if enough is being done and whether it is being done in the right way, one of the things that we have observed, in particular through conducting examinations on behalf of defence solicitors, is that in some instances only a very defined amount of analysis is authorised to the original provider. In not all cases does that give a full picture of the case as a whole. I can illustrate that with an example.

There was a case involving DNA, and a search of the database gave three names. It was a mixed and very complicated profile. Of those three names, one was already known to the police and was a suspect in the case. The police in that case, as I understand it, instructed the forensic service provider to see if there was any way that they could discount the other two names from being involved in this DNA profile. The forensic service provider who was doing it used quite sensible logic to do that, but the police did not ask them to conduct the same analysis on the third individual who was already a suspect. In fact, when one of our members came in later to do a defence examination, he used the very same logic to look at that third individual, and that third individual could just as well have been said not to be potentially involved.

In some instances cutting down the work is sensible and proportionate, but in other instances we have to be very careful that we do not skew the work that is required for the purposes of the whole criminal justice system just because of the priorities in an investigation.

Helen Kenny: The only comment that I would make is that, in some instances, the information is not necessarily public, and there could be a circumstance in which a challenge to the evidence results in the CPS choosing to drop the case. That is not going to be clear. I am not sure I am phrasing this very well. What I want to say is that it might be worth finding out how many cases are being dropped and never making it to court because of issues with the forensic evidence, because it might not come out in public, if you see what I mean.

Alison Fendley: Picking up on that point, I suppose that it would be a very useful aspect to look at the cost-effectiveness of the work that is being done. If the cost is being reduced and is tightly managed, as it should be, around how much work is being commissioned initially, and looking at whether that then goes on to successful conclusions to cases or whether, at the next stage on, there are issues and it ends up being dropped, I do not have the answers, but that could be an interesting study of the actual cost-effectiveness. Are we saving money in one aspect, but with that leading to more costs elsewhere?

Q9 Stephen Metcalfe: You are all expressing some concern that the spending reductions that have applied to the police are having an impact on the criminal justice system; primarily, forensic science supports the criminal justice system. In your opinion, have those reductions in the amount of work being undertaken gone too far, or are you flagging up that they could go too far?

Dr Tully: It is very difficult to give a comprehensive answer, because we do not have a comprehensive view of the whole market and exactly what is happening. I suspect that in many simple cases it is a perfectly adequate reduction of spend to provide a simple result quickly and efficiently for the criminal justice system. In the sorts of cases that we are seeing through our work for defence solicitors, there are often problems, and sometimes that is as a direct result of not the right work or not enough work having been commissioned in the first place. As to the proportion of the total number of cases, I could not tell you because I do not have the figures.

Helen Kenny: There is an argument that any pressure on spend will result in a less than optimal service and, therefore, that any cuts are already going too far. However, I am aware that there isn’t a magic money tree around the corner, so I accept that there must be proper oversight of the spend; but, in a circumstance in which an investigation chooses not to follow up on one aspect, it has the potential to cause problems down the line.

Dr Tully: In many ways, even more than just pure expenditure, it would be good if, instead of forensic services being commissioned on the basis of a tick-box menu of tests, a more partnership approach was encouraged between forensic providers and police forces, and the criminal justice system as a whole, in agreeing what was the best strategy for a case. That would be a big step forward. Unfortunately, that is not the way that the market is set up to work at the moment, and it is not the way that the procurement is set up to work. There is an understandable level of mistrust that forensic providers just want to do more work so that they get more money, but if we could have a more grown-up partnership approach to determining case strategy it would be a big step forward.

Alison Fendley: I completely agree with that. That was what I was going to say myself. From past experience, working in specific areas where, prior to this procurement regime, we did set up as partnership working, trust was built and it worked very well. In fact, the cost per case went down and the outcomes improved. It might be a bit of a utopian dream currently, but, in my opinion, that would definitely serve the criminal justice system well.

Q10 Stephen Mosley: I have a quick question for Dr Tully. You have been involved in the setting-up of PFS. How do you think these new consultancy companies are managing in the new environment? How is it working out?

Dr Tully: It is early days, and it will be a long time before everything pans out. Not every consultancy firm that has been set up will last. There probably is not room in the market for that number.

We set up Principal Forensic Services because we were committed to keeping the vast amount of experience of our members within the criminal justice system, and we are still committed to that. The procurement framework is closed to new entrants for four years, so we cannot offer our services directly to policing, other than if, in our view, we have something that is quite novel and unique and the police could therefore, in theory, step outside the framework; but you cannot enter the framework part-way through. That is one issue.

We are offering our services to any party in the criminal justice system. So far, in some evidence types, there is a lot of work re-analysing for the defence, which is, in itself, a little bit of a worry. We have all spent all our careers so far trying to build up forensic science and build up standards and quality, and we do not really want to come in after the work has been done and say that it has not been to a good enough quality and knock it all down. We would rather be involved earlier in the process in building up quality.

We are doing some work on standards for the Forensic Science Regulator, and we are doing some work with a special interest group looking at getting the research to market. We are doing some work in training, and we are also doing some work overseas. For example, two of our scientists are in Thailand this week, and a third is in Grand Cayman.

Q11 Pamela Nash: My understanding is that TUPE regulations were used when employees were transferred to the Met, SOCA, CAST and the National Policing Improvement Agency. Would you be able to give us an overview as to how that went?

Helen Kenny: That is an interesting question. TUPE obviously lays out the framework for transfers when contracts transfer to another provider. The difficulty is often in identifying who is in scope of that TUPE transfer. That was probably the biggest issue with the Met Police transfer. It covered only biologists, but, because of the way the work had been divided up, colleagues working on sexual offences were taken out of the TUPE transfer. Looking at it down the line, colleagues in SOCA and CAST whom I have had conversations with say that they are reasonably happy; everything seems to be okay, shall we say? But colleagues who transferred to the Met, particularly reporting officers, are not doing the complexity of work that they were doing before.

We all accept that when you transfer under TUPE you do not necessarily carry on doing exactly the same work-it is not exactly the same job-but there have been significant difficulties in utilising the hard-won skills of these individuals. Because the Met Police model has outsourced the DNA analysis, our colleagues are not doing the interpretation within the context of their cases that they were doing before the transfer. That is quite a big loss to the criminal justice system.

Q12 Pamela Nash: Just to be clear, are you referring to biologists?

Helen Kenny: Yes, but Home Office biologists-reporting officers, our colleagues who go to court and give evidence. Prior to the transfer, they would bring together all the evidence-the DNA evidence, the blood pattern evidence if it was there and so on-and interpret that in the round in the context of the defence and prosecution propositions. They are not doing that now. Because the DNA element of it is outsourced, you simply cannot bring that together and do that more rounded analysis. I am not a biologist, and my colleagues might have a better viewpoint of that aspect of it.

Q13 Pamela Nash: Do you have anything to add?

Dr Tully: I have not been involved in the Met Police model myself, although I have spoken to some people who have been there, and I certainly reiterate what Helen says. They are doing a very different role, because it is a different operating model. One of the things we would say is that the real complexity of the science is in putting together results that may not in themselves be clear-cut, and providing that interpretation, as Helen said, in the context of the case. That is not being done to the same extent by those people who transferred under TUPE. From what I have heard, I would certainly say that that is affecting their continued morale in their role at the moment.

Alison Fendley: I have not really been involved with the Met operating model post-transfer. I was involved in some of the discussions leading up to it around TUPE, and who was aligned and who was not aligned. Those discussions did go on for some time about trying to pin down those numbers exactly, because of the difference in the different operating models, finally coming to 103 staff moving over. I cannot really comment on what has happened since then.

Q14 Pamela Nash: Helen, in Prospect’s submission to the Committee it was stated that "individuals were advised that measures would need to be taken post transfer, which made insisting on a TUPE transfer unattractive". Could you explain that?

Helen Kenny: That was at the Wetherby laboratory. The work that they were doing was to be transferred to LGC as a package. The view of FSS management, and indeed of Prospect, was that TUPE should apply. When LGC came to talk to staff, it was made clear that, should they transfer under TUPE, there would be-measures is a term just used to describe what changes the new employer might need to make post-transfer.

Q15 Pamela Nash: When you say changes, do you mean potential rights or the job description?

Helen Kenny: Yes, potential restructures and potential changes to terms and conditions. Going back to the Met as a useful example, colleagues who did casework examination worked a shift system, so they worked scheduled weekends. The Met Police were very clear that they saw no need for that in future, so those colleagues post-transfer would steadily move effectively on to a Monday-to-Friday working pattern. It was that kind of change.

There has to be an economic, technical or organisational reason for the change, but the new employer can make changes. If they are going to do that, they really need to declare it up front. LGC made it clear that they would not be able to provide work for everybody who transferred; so they would have to restructure and change certain other things. Through a combination of effectively scaring people and bribing people-that is possibly not the best way of phrasing it-they encouraged people not to exercise their TUPE rights and to transfer on a voluntary basis. Ultimately, that is what happened, against Prospect’s advice.

Q16 Pamela Nash: That is very clear. Are there any other similar examples of that, or was it only to LGC?

Helen Kenny: Ultimately, the private-sector providers were very set against TUPE. The FSS effectively put quite a lot of people, particularly those from the London laboratory, in a pool for TUPE to go to LGC and Orchid Cellmark. The new providers were very clear that they did not agree that TUPE applied. The FSS took the pragmatic decision that it was better for individuals to be made redundant by the FSS than to be out of a job without any compensation and be fighting for that through the courts.

Q17 Pamela Nash: We started off discussing the situation for the biologists. Are there other examples that you have come across of former FSS scientists not having their skills and knowledge utilised by their new employers?

Helen Kenny: No direct experience, but DNA scientists who are now working for the private-sector providers may be doing purely DNA work and not using their full range of skills. I do not know, to be honest.

Q18 Pamela Nash: May I ask your colleagues if you have had any experience of this?

Dr Tully: I have no direct experience of people who have transferred to another forensic service provider or of what they are doing. Looking at people who you would broadly say have stayed in the profession, I think there are quite a few people who have moved back a few steps from the front line. They are perhaps still involved in forensic science, working in industry for a provider of equipment or reagents, or perhaps have moved to academia, and still have some level of impact, but they will certainly have moved a few steps back from being at the front end of delivery of forensic science.

Q19 Pamela Nash: You spoke of those who have stayed in the profession. Is there a considerable number who have not?

Dr Tully: There is a very large number who have not stayed in the profession. Given all the figures that I have seen and all the experience that I have had, I would say that substantially more than half of FSS staff members have left the profession.

Q20 Pamela Nash: More than half.

Dr Tully: Yes.

Alison Fendley: I would agree with that. At the time of the closure of the FSS, certainly particular FSS laboratories had no private providers geographically nearby, so if people from those particular laboratories wanted to continue working on the front line for forensic providers it would mean moving. Not all the staff were completely mobile; the FSS employed a large number of part-time and female workers, who obviously were not always going to be as mobile as some of the other workers. Yes, a large number of people did not stay in the profession. Some people have transferred and some have gone to other providers or police forces, but a large number have left the profession.

Dr Tully: As well as just numbers, there are certain specialities that have gone. For example, FSS was the only provider that had a type approval facility to enable new devices to be approved for, say, drugs-driving analysis and so on. That has been lost, as has the specialist team set up to provide support around DNA profiling-for example, to set up all the anti-contamination and elimination databases and so on-and the specialist team that worked on statistics and interpretation and the whole case assessment interpretation. All of that has been disbanded, as has the specialist team that worked on the validation of software for forensic analysis, as there is not another centre of excellence for them to move to.

Numbers can be misleading in themselves. Of the London toxicology team, eight of the reporting officers are still in the profession and they have about 40 years’ experience between them. However, 14 have left the profession, and they had 240 years’ experience between them. Generally, it is often the more experienced and the more expensive people who have left. A lot of people from the north retired a few years early; again, the top-end expertise has often been lost.

Q21 Graham Stringer: You have given us some very interesting numbers there. Will you clarify how many people is more than half who left?

Dr Tully: I do not have precise figures.

Graham Stringer: I mean roughly.

Dr Tully: The figures that I saw in the Home Office submission suggested that about 300 and something-is that correct, Alison?-stayed or transferred, or were employed by other forensic service providers, and that over 700 or thereabouts did not. That is as near as I can get. We did quite a lot of digging around to find out what happened, and I can give specific examples, but I cannot give a complete overview on who left and who stayed.

Alison Fendley: In total, the FSS made over 1,200 people redundant, but not all of them would have been scientific staff. The figures in the Home Office submission were supplied by the FSS, regarding the number of scientific staff that were made redundant-the figures that Gill referred to. Of those who have gone on elsewhere, from the FSS and latterly from FAL’s perspective, it is difficult for us to keep track if we do not know exactly where everyone has gone. So a lot of it is anecdotal and comes from talking to people we have known over many years. Certainly, there have been issues from a geographical perspective, as I mentioned previously. More scientists from particular laboratories have left the industry than from those that had other providers nearby that were easier to move to.

Q22 Graham Stringer: You touched on this in an earlier answer, but was that to do with the balance between the generosity, or not, of the redundancy payments and the terms on offer from the new providers of the service? Where was the balance?

Helen Kenny: That is difficult to answer. For some, it just is not always possible to move. If you are settled and have family, it is just not possible to up sticks, or it is not financially viable, particularly if you are the second earner. I hesitate to say that it is more likely to be women, but I think evidence suggests that it is.

Given the terms on offer from the other providers, one of the biggest drivers against people moving is the insecurity of employment. A lot of the jobs on offer from private FSPs are now fixed-term or short-term contracts, because of the nature of the work and the procurement strategy. In a sense, you cannot blame the providers for not wanting to give someone a permanent contract when they might only have them work for them for two years. That is a driver against it, as well.

The Home Office figures do not include the three sites that closed earlier, which were due to close as part of the transformation process. I am not totally certain that the figures encompassed all the scientists who used to work at the FSS.

Q23 Graham Stringer: Dr Tully, may I revisit a question that I asked you last time you were here? A key for most of us is whether people who have committed serious crimes are going to get away with it because less contextual analysis is being done and because of the loss of skills and experience within the Forensic Science Service.

Dr Tully: It is important to separate what was happening in the market and what is still happening in the market from the closure of the FSS. I would be very hesitant to reply on the basis of just what happened to the FSS, because that was a symptom of what was already happening in the market.

There will inevitably be cases where people are not being convicted because the forensic evidence has not been done to a sufficiently high standard or with the extra context, because a profile was not obtained in the first place or for one reason or another. That would always have happened, but with the decreasing size of the market, and the continuing cuts and instability, it is more likely to happen.

Q24 Chair: Before we move on, Ms Fendley, I think I am right in saying that the Forensic Archive can give your customers the last contact details of the forensic officer that worked on a case. Is it easy to do that? Can we not work out from that where the staff have all gone?

Alison Fendley: When old staff left, they left us their contact details at that time. What we have at Forensic Archive are their last-known contact details. Staff were all asked to keep us updated if those details changed, but we cannot guarantee that that will happen. What we have are the last known contact details of staff when they left the FSS. If they are required to give evidence in court or to provide a further statement on work that they had done previously, the prosecution can approach us and fill out the appropriate Data Protection Act form. We will then provide those last known contact details.

Q25 Chair: In a few years, when people have moved on again, there could be a bit of a black hole.

Alison Fendley: There could well be. It depends how diligent ex-staff are in keeping those details up to date.

Q26 Stephen Metcalfe: The Chair has already touched on the area that I wish to explore, which is around the archive itself. Some of us were fortunate enough to visit you on Monday to see the work that you have been doing since the closure of the FSS. Would you explain to the Committee how the archive has been set up and how it is managed?

Alison Fendley: Yes, absolutely. Forensic Archive Ltd is the residual body set up to manage the archive on behalf of the criminal justice system. It is the archive of FSS retained materials and case files, and FSS material only. I should just clarify that Forensic Archive Ltd is technically exactly the same company as the FSS, and it has the same company number. It is obviously much smaller, and we have changed the company name to reflect the fact that we now do a very different thing.

The archive consists of 4 million to 5 million case files and retained materials, currently housed on two sites in the west midlands. There was already a central archive held by the FSS, and that is one of the two sites that we use, but each operational laboratory also had its own archive, probably going back about five years or so, of their most recent case files and materials. With the closure announcement, that all had to be consolidated quite quickly and brought together on the two sites that we have now, which has led to this conglomeration of 4 million to 5 million items.

I say 4 million to 5 million, because we do not know exactly how many, but it is an awful lot, as people who have been round will attribute. Some of the material that we hold is very old, going back to the 1920s and 1930s. Obviously, that archive had been built up over many years, with different management systems and so on. One of the key projects that we want to do, now that we have consolidated all the material, is to get on and provide a proper modern catalogue of exactly everything that we hold there.

As I said before, it holds just the FSS material and, therefore, it is a static archive; it is not being added to. Material is going out when it is required by police forces or other agencies within the criminal justice system, but there is nothing new coming in.

Q27 Stephen Metcalfe: Over a period of time, will that make the archive redundant or will it always have an historic value as well?

Alison Fendley: Currently there are agreements around how long certain material needs to be held relating to the seriousness of the case involved-30 years, seven years and three years. But there are also some cases where we are always going to hold on to that material; that material is never going to be destroyed. These are unsolved cases or cases where there might be frequent challenges, ones where the individual involved often tries to look up ways of appealing and that kind of thing. Although the archive could reduce in size over the years if material is destroyed that technically no longer needs to be held, I would say that there will always be a repository of material that needs to be held in perpetuity.

Q28 Stephen Metcalfe: Thank you for that. At the moment you have a three-year secure tenure, for want of a better description, but you say that you might have to keep material for 30 years, or indefinitely. How do you envisage the future for Forensic Archive Ltd? How will it become a sustainable entity, enabling it to fulfil that very core function of keeping things perhaps indefinitely in a state where they might be held for some years?

Alison Fendley: You say, "How can it become a sustainable entity?" There is no charge involved in it so we can never be self-sustainable in the current situation. It is funded by the Home Office at a cost of around £2 million per year for the three-year tenure. I understand that we are going to have a triennial review at the end of those three years in 2015, and a number of options are beginning to be floated, but, as yet, nothing is set in stone. It is very early days for those conversations. One view that might make sense would be to look at it becoming, rather than just the FSS archive, a national archive, at least of some of the material that is out there.

As I understand it, private providers currently send most of the materials back to the police forces for them to archive. I am sure that the police forces all have a variety of views on that. Some of the larger forces might be absolutely fine with that and have the facilities to cope, but some of the smaller forces may find it an issue. I am just surmising here; you would obviously need to ask the forces themselves. I can see that one future for it is being a national archive of forensic material for the criminal justice system going forward.

Q29 Stephen Metcalfe: Obviously, the archive was set up quite rapidly, and you have explained the scale of the task that you have in hand with 4 million to 5 million items. However, the estimate in May 2011 was that it was under 2 million items. Pulling all those together has created quite a task for you, and you have explained how you are cataloguing it. Some people have expressed the concern that the archive is difficult to access and that sometimes the wrong materials are sent out or that material cannot be found. Do you link the speed at which you were set up with that problem? What would you say to the people making those criticisms?

Alison Fendley: Initially, there were some issues with timing, providing a service while still consolidating and setting everything up at the same time. We keep track of performance, and since the summer we have been meeting or exceeding all the SLA targets on timeliness.

The system is still quite new and is still bedding in. Lots of people are accessing the archive for the first time and do not really know how to go about it. We have recently set up a website to assist with that, and we have a helpdesk number for people to call for information and advice. Perhaps part of the issue is that the archive can be accessed only by a defined number of customers. For example, it cannot be accessed directly by defence solicitors or scientists, or in fact by other providers-by FSPs. Those requests would have to come via the police force. For example, if an appellant contacts the archive, if they are looking to build a case for appeal, we would advise them to go back to the originating police force. They would need to talk to that police force to make the request to access the material.

Q30 Stephen Metcalfe: Are those requests ever denied by the police?

Alison Fendley: I do not know.

Q31 Stephen Metcalfe: That was a quick aside. Why is Forensic Archive Ltd the same company as the Forensic Science Service was, with the same company number? Is that because you are a residual of what was left?

Alison Fendley: Yes. Various options were looked at, and it was perhaps one of the easiest from a technical and speed perspective, and for things like continuing to act as the sponsoring employer for the pension.

Q32 Stephen Metcalfe: Cataloguing the 4 million to 5 million items is a large task. How much have you done of that so far, and how long do you think it will take you to do the whole archive?

Alison Fendley: We estimate that it will take about a year. We have only just started ramping up. For a month or so before Christmas, we were trialling out the process on a very small scale and refining it. We started ramping up in January, and we have probably got through about 120,000 items so far. It is a fair amount, but a small percentage of 4 million to 5 million. As I say, we anticipate that it will take us about a year in total to do that work.

Q33 Stephen Metcalfe: So you have to do about 100,000 a week from now on.

Alison Fendley: Yes.

Stephen Metcalfe: That is a lot of work.

Alison Fendley: It is, absolutely.

Stephen Metcalfe: Good luck.

Q34 Pamela Nash: That was very quick maths. Just to follow on from that, do you have enough resources at the moment to complete the cataloguing of the archive?

Alison Fendley: Once we had the green light to go ahead with the cataloguing project from the Home Office, and the funding behind it, since Christmas we have been ramping up and employing extra staff to do it. We already have some people in, and there are more interviews happening today, for example, so over the next few weeks we will be ramping up. Yes, we anticipate that we will have enough. Initially, around the start-up of the archive, we were struggling resource-wise. That was more to do with the fact that the number of requests coming in was vast compared with what was initially anticipated, but that has tended to drop down now and plateau out.

At this point in time, we are confident that we will have enough resource. The plan the archive manager is running is that, if necessary, we can flex the resource between cataloguing and what might be determined as business as usual, in order to make sure that both the day-to-day activities of the archive plus the cataloguing can continue as they should.

Q35 Pamela Nash: I am not entirely clear about which functions the Forensic Archive has taken from FSS. I and colleagues who visited it a couple of years ago were astonished at the amount of work that was going on on legacy cases. Has any of that work been carried over to the archive?

Alison Fendley: The archive has no scientific resource at all. There were discussions when we were looking at the set-up of the archive and its structure, and what services it might provide with the Home Office, but it was made very clear that there was no appetite to maintain any kind of scientific service or resource as a wraparound to the archive.

I know that some customers are still getting used to that and finding it a bit frustrating. For example, we get a lot of requests relating to cold cases, but we cannot offer any assistance for a scientific perspective on that, whether it is just reviewing a case file to determine exactly what materials are retained, or taking that a stage further and making some recommendations about what might be possible from a scientific perspective. We cannot do that any more, so we recommend to customers that, if they request a case file, we will send it out to them. They will then undertake that review themselves or employ an FSP to do it for them, and they will then come back to the archive to request whatever items they might want to do further work on.

Q36 Pamela Nash: Will those additional layers of bureaucracy stop cold cases being looked at again?

Alison Fendley: I do not think that it will stop it. We are certainly getting large numbers of requests, but there is definitely frustration and it definitely holds up the start of the process.

Q37 Pamela Nash: Does it increase costs?

Alison Fendley: Part of the issue that the police are having is that it definitely increases their costs, because especially that initial advice and information was generally provided free by the FSS and they are now having to pay for it.

Q38 Chair: Some police forces have decided to do their own thing in terms of archiving future work. I am sure that the Met Police Commissioner has a fridge in his office, but it is not suitable for storing materials indefinitely. There must be significant capital costs being incurred by police forces that have decided to do their own thing rather than have a centralised archive.

Alison Fendley: I am sure that not every police force has invested in the vast walk-in freezers that you saw on Monday that we have at the archive because we have such a vast amount of material, but you can get much smaller freezers that still get to and can maintain the same temperatures. Yes, there will be some capital costs, but they obviously will not be as great. It will be proportionate to the amount of material that they are holding.

Q39 Chair: Are you concerned that some of these police forces, and indeed some of the private providers, do not have the capacity to archive in a way that will meet the scientific standards that are required by defence and prosecution lawyers?

Alison Fendley: It is difficult for me to tell. I really do not know what the forces out there have-what kind of provisions. I am sure that they would have some freezer and fridge storage, for example, if required. Perhaps they may question keeping the material for as long because of lack of capacity, but I am just speculating at this point. I am sure that the private providers will not want to be storing material long term, and certainly not for free, because there is a cost involved in maintaining the right equipment and the amount of space that it takes up.

Q40 Chair: Criminals do not recognise county boundaries or anything like that. Will the fragmentation of the archiving service not make the cross-referencing of cases much harder?

Alison Fendley: That is a potential issue, but it is not necessarily one that has arisen just because of the closure of the FSS. The FSS was not the only supplier, and it was not supplying across the whole country, so it was an issue that was potentially there already. But, yes, it could be an issue, with some material being held, say, by Forensic Archives, some being held by different police forces and some by private providers. If an officer was looking to investigate crimes that had happened across force boundaries, there would be a lot more initial legwork and digging to be done to pull all that together.

Q41 Sarah Newton: The Chair has picked up on all the questions that I wanted to ask you about the fragmentation that was highlighted by the last inquiry. There is something else that I would like to pursue about looking at the comparisons between the new forensic procurement framework compared with its predecessor. Ms Fendley had started on this, but I would like to expand it to the rest of the panel, asking about the comparison between the old way it used to happen and the new way. I would like to hear your comments on that.

Dr Tully: As we are not suppliers to the national framework, it is quite difficult to comment in detail about the second generation national framework versus the first, but I have a few general comments.

One that I have mentioned already is the large swings of work from provider to provider, creating a level of instability in the market that is not good for staff retention or development, or for research and development, or for the financial stability of providers. Another is that, fundamentally, the procurement system is set up to purchase tests, and forensic science should be about much more than analytical tests. That would be our main issue. At the moment, it does not encourage partnership working. The results of tests should really be brought together. Often they are not clear, and they need to have that level of specialist interpretation, all of that being brought together in the context of a case.

There is also the fact that the procurement of forensic science is driven purely by the police, and it is under police budgetary controls. The police are under enormous financial pressure. Entirely understandably, they are trying to control costs. The fact that forensic science for the whole justice system is purchased by only one player within that justice system is an ongoing concern. As I mentioned earlier, it can lead to bias in what is being asked to be analysed.

Helen Kenny: There is a tension as well between the customer who is paying for the work, which is the police, and the customer who is ultimately the end user, which is the criminal justice system. There will be times when the limitations on police budgets will mean that the criminal justice system does not get the service that perhaps it would have got in a former existence. Certainly, Prospect members express frustration that they are not being allowed to do the good, excellent job that they were able to do before because of the constraints in terms of paying for the work.

Q42 Sarah Newton: I am sorry to cut in, but I think that this is the point that you were making. Is that because they do not have the opportunity to be part of a team or partnership working right from the outset of a case, looking at what types of forensics would need to be deployed to have a better understanding of the case, right the way through to seeing it in court? Is that the issue? That also comes back to the fragmentation, with this being purchased here and that being purchased there, and only the police deciding how the information should be used.

Helen Kenny: Yes, that is a pretty good summary.

Q43 Sarah Newton: Would you like to add anything more to that because that is what you were saying before?

Alison Fendley: In a previous life, I worked very much on this basis with a number of police forces in developing a specialist sexual offence service. The key was all about partnership working, and all parties involved found that it worked very well. It does not really fit in with the current procurement system, which is a shame, because, as I said before, we discovered that the cost per case did come down through that way of working. There was that holistic view and an understanding from the start about all of the aspects of the case and what was trying to be achieved. It was easier for the scientists to make a recommendation about going for the examination that would really get to the heart of the question that needed answering.

The danger with the commoditised procurement issue is that you are losing that holistic view. Who has that holistic viewpoint? Obviously, I am no longer involved in this, but from past experience I would say that all parties found that that partnership worked very well.

Q44 Sarah Newton: Since the last inquiry, we now have police and crime commissioners. I would be interested in knowing your views on how they might be involved in the procurement process.

Dr Tully: I have no idea as yet. However, I suspect that they will be under tremendous pressure to reduce police budgets. It is a concern that there will be further budgetary pressure, but it is very difficult to predict what impact that will have.

Helen Kenny: I think it will be different in different areas. They have different viewpoints and different agendas. It is an area that we really need to keep an eye on, but I think that it is too early to say.

Q45 Sarah Newton: Where individual police forces are doing the commissioning, do you think that there would be the possibility of the commissioners getting involved in the commissioning of the service to get this partnership working and to enable partnership working rather than the fragmentation that you alluded to?

Alison Fendley: It is a nice thought. I really don’t know. I am a bit sceptical at this stage, but we will wait and see.

Dr Tully: There is one other point that I would like to make more generally regarding the procurement framework at the moment and the way that contracts are handed out. Quite often, a contract is awarded to one of the forensic service providers with a very short length of time to ramp up to be able to do it. Until they have been awarded the contract, they cannot gear up to do the work, because it often requires new equipment, new people and so on.

These short time lines, with big amounts of work transferring from one provider to another and with really rapid expansions, are a risk. If you try to do a rapid expansion in any industry, you know that it introduces additional risk. It is a risk for the providers, and I am sure that they do not want to have to ramp up and ramp down again very quickly either.

Q46 Jim Dowd: First, I apologise to our visitors for missing the beginning of the session. I have been at the Department of Health, busily saving Lewisham hospital and abusing the Secretary of State, but more of that anon.

This question is principally for Dr Tully, looking at research and development. How would you characterise the condition of forensic science R and D in the UK in the light of developments over recent years?

Dr Tully: If I am brutally honest, the state of research and development in the UK in forensic science is dire. That is largely because there is insufficient funding to do the research and development well. I notice that many submissions to the Committee assume that FSS R and D had been Government-funded. In fact, it was not over recent years. Wherever that funding came from, basically £3 million to £5 million a year has been removed from the total pot of spending on forensic science research. Across academia, there is enormous pressure on funding in all areas. The general view seems to be that it is even more difficult to get funding for forensic science because it is so applied and multidisciplinary.

There is some research going on within forensic service providers, and all the providers in their submissions to the Committee this time said that the tight margins that they are getting at the moment are impacting on their ability to conduct research and development. However, the research that they do will be for a commercial return on investment, which was similar to how FSS had to conduct its research.

The research that academics do will be on the more fundamental research, which is equally important to the criminal justice service. However, there is a bit in the middle that is required, and that takes it from the fundamental research and provides, for example, the data to support interpretation of forensic evidence. Collating large amounts of relevant data is not academically challenging and is unlikely to get funding from research councils. Nor does it have any commercial return on investment, yet it improves and builds the quality of forensic science as it is reported to the courts. It can also change how you can report forensic science in the courts. For example, if you know how DNA transfers from one substrate to another, and maybe another, you can report much more about what might have happened in a particular case, rather than just whose DNA profile is there. If you do not have those data, you just cannot put that level of interpretation on it.

One area that is of particular concern is that there is no funding to do the kind of research that does not sit either in academia or in commercial provision. The US Government have recently announced funding for both fundamental and applied research in forensic science, recognising this very issue in the light of a major report into forensic science and what needs to happen there.

There is some positive work going on, in that the Technology Strategy Board has set up a special interest group for forensic science. That is very positive in that it will bring together practitioners and academics and industry and so on, and help form the right partnerships. It is also doing some work that I am involved in on how to get R and D to market, how to make sure that it is of an appropriate quality before it goes to court and so on. All those are very positive things, but, sadly, the special interest group itself does not have any funding to enable research to happen.

The other thing to say is that big strategic changes in technology are just not going to happen by themselves. There is the whole genomics revolution to capitalise on, but it is not just going to happen. It will not be introduced to forensic science without some level of strategic oversight, but that also seems to be missing. We welcome the fact that ACPO has published a document setting out what it sees as its immediate needs in forensic science and what would help them. Obviously, that is one part of the story. What the police would like to see is one part of a bigger picture-that is what the courts would like to see-but there is the underpinning science that needs to go underneath that as well.

Q47 Jim Dowd: That is a very full answer. Has the Home Office review on forensic science R and D had any impact, for good or ill?

Dr Tully: It did result in the setting up of a special interest group, which is a positive thing. Also, an annual conference is being started as a result of that. However, one of the key recommendations of that report was that the research councils should get together with the stakeholders and consider very carefully whether to make forensic science a strategic priority for funding. As far as I know, there has been no progress whatsoever in that area. That is really what it comes down to.

Q48 Jim Dowd: Is that because they have not yet considered it or they have rejected it?

Dr Tully: I do not know. I looked through the Home Office submission, and that recommendation was combined with another one, but no information was given on why that has not happened.

Q49 Jim Dowd: You mentioned the loss of £3 million to £5 million of R and D funds. I presume that that has not been made up in any significant way by the private providers. Have their R and D activities increased at all in recent times?

Dr Tully: It is difficult for me to comment on that directly, although I notice that in all the submissions they all said that their ability to conduct R and D was being constrained by the very low margins they have at the moment.

Jim Dowd: It is not a very bright picture at all.

Q50 Chair: Without the R and D, it means that the technologies that are applied will stay static and we will rely on other countries to develop technologies on which we used to lead.

Dr Tully: Yes. There is research going on in other countries, and clearly forensic service providers and academics will keep an eye on that and seek to make use of it. Certainly, the UK has no way of maintaining its leading edge unless further funding is provided.

Q51 Chair: That is what the Americans said in the first place.

Dr Tully: That is what the Americans are now providing.

Q52 Stephen Metcalfe: When we came to see you 18 months or so ago, there were some projects that the FSS was working on. What happened to those and the intellectual property associated around them?

Dr Tully: The intellectual property, as far as possible, was sold. One of the projects that you saw when you came to see us was the development of a better DNA interpretation software. That has transferred to LGC Forensics, and they are now just about to implement that. It is good to see that it is being used. The intellectual property around the really novel way to interpret fingerprint evidence has transferred to the Home Office, but as far as I know it has not done anything since, and there has been no progress since that time. The intellectual property around the rapid DNA device, as far as I understand because I had left by the time it completed, was sold at auction to an American company.

Q53 Stephen Metcalfe: As far as you are aware, nothing was lost as such; it all got transferred out into the wider marketplace.

Dr Tully: Certainly for both the rapid DNA and the fingerprints, nothing has happened on them since the point at which we closed. Intellectual property rapidly becomes out of date.

Chair: It is a fairly gloomy picture, but thank you very much for your evidence this morning. It has been enlightening. Thank you for coming.

Prepared 11th February 2013