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DNA Database

Volume 542: debated on Monday 19 March 2012

In announcing the closure of the Forensic Science Service, the Minister for Immigration said:

“A competitive market can help drive down prices and improve turnaround times”—[Official Report, 17 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 58WH.]

Last month, a contaminated DNA sample led to the wrong person being charged with rape, and next month the manufacturing consumables DNA database will be destroyed because the private sector does not have the necessary research infrastructure. What will the Minister do to ensure that we maintain our world-beating forensic capability, both for research and criminal justice?

The hon. Lady referred to a specific case which she is no doubt aware the forensic science regulator is investigating. There is absolutely no indication that the case is linked in any way to the transition of services from the Forensic Science Service to commercial providers. She highlighted the need for certain electronic records to be maintained; as part of that transition, electronic records held by the FSS will transfer to the National Policing Improvement Agency by the end of this month. She asked about innovation; it is still very much part of the work that we are looking to forensics providers to do. That is why that is in the contract, and why we will follow through on recommendations.

We do need to speed up a bit. If the Minister could provide slightly shorter answers, that would be helpful to the House.

In 1999, Michael Weir was convicted of the murder of Mr Harris. The only link to that crime was DNA found on a glove of Michael Weir’s. Michael Weir’s DNA was taken after he was arrested on a drugs-related charge that had been discontinued two years earlier; he had been discharged. Will the Minister confirm that under the Government’s new plans for DNA retention, Michael Weir’s DNA sample would no longer have been on the database, and Mr Harris’s murderer would never have been brought to justice?

My hon. Friend has consistently argued for the indefinite retention of DNA profiles. We certainly recognise the importance of DNA in solving crimes. It is rarely possible to say that convictions could not have been obtained without DNA evidence, although of course the availability of DNA evidence can frequently help to focus an investigation. We have been clear on ensuring that those convicted of crimes remain on the DNA database indefinitely, and speculative searches are undertaken on each occasion.

May I press the Minister a little further on the high-profile rape case that collapsed due to sample cross-contamination at LGC Forensics? Also, a New Scientist survey shows that three quarters of forensic scientists expect that the coalition’s closure of the FSS will cause more miscarriages of justice. Will the Minister outline the steps that he is taking to ensure that the integrity of the criminal justice system is not undermined by a lack of confidence in the available forensic science services?

We have absolute confidence in the provision by forensic service providers, and I know that the hon. Lady accepts that private providers are well equipped and well able to offer services to police in future. On her specific question in respect of the individual case, I repeat that the forensic science regulator, Andrew Rennison, has launched an immediate investigation into the case. The initial investigation suggests that this is an isolated case. Although we will learn any lessons to be learned from the formal inquiry, there are no indications at this stage that it undermines the use of DNA or private providers providing services to the police.