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Forensic Science Service

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 22 February 2007

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In November 2006, officials and the police service brought to Ministers' attention an issue of which they had just been notified by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) on the use of a specialist DNA analysis technique known as low copy number (LCN), which the FSS has used in a proportion of cases since 2000. The technique is designed to enable a DNA profile to be obtained from much smaller amounts of material than was previously possible.

Within 24 hours of becoming aware of this issue, I agreed that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) should set up a “Gold Group” to undertake an operational review of current forensic practices involving this technique, take any remedial action and establish whether there are any cases that might need reinvestigation. On operational advice from the police, the initial stage of this operation was kept confidential.

My top priority was to ensure that the methods now in use meet the necessary standards. Chief Constable Tony Lake, the ACPO lead on forensics, was appointed to run the review and put together a team of experts: scientists, police and others with specialist knowledge of the issues, including an independent DNA expert. CC Lake's first priority was to ensure that current processes in use by forensic suppliers were adequate for their purpose. ACPO is close to completing that work and has found no evidence that we should be concerned about procedures being used today.

His second priority is for the police and the FSS to identify cases where there might be benefit in reanalysis. The CC is now moving to this next phase, which is to inform forces and provide them with the information required to assess which should be prioritised; therefore, CC Lake wrote to all chief officers yesterday to explain the next steps in taking forward a co-ordinated programme of reanalysis. It is a complex, scientific process that is time- and labour-intensive and, depending on the number of cases identified, will take months rather than weeks.

We need to establish what lessons can be learnt from the handling of this issue within the FSS. I have asked for a report from the FSS on how this issue arose, how it was handled and the lessons to be learnt for the future operation of the service.

ACPO has kept Ministers regularly updated on progress and will continue to do so. I will keep the House updated on substantive progress.