Archive for the ‘Press’ Category

 

The best Valentine’s Day Invite

Fri, Feb 18th, 2011

A strange topic you may think? Especially, if like me, you are not a fan of Valentine’s Day and all that it encompasses. However, having just landed in Cape Town from a trip to JHB last week, I received a call from General Phahlane, the Divisional Commissioner of the Forensic Lab, requesting that I please come and present at a Strategic Planning and Management Session in Mpumalanga on Monday, 14 Feb 2011. Now you can understand why it was the best Valentine’s Day invitation I have ever received!

Gen Phahlane & Col. Lindie Traut from the FSL with Willie Scholtz from the CJS

The purpose of the work session was to review the progress made with revamping the CJS and to plan the way forward with regard to the CJS within the FSL for the 2011/2012 fiscal Year. The work session formed part of the ongoing strategic planning processes currently underway in the Forensic Science Division, which is being spearheaded by its new head, Gen. Phahlane. My brief was to present to the Planning Team, The DNA Project’s overview of where we believe funds allocated to the FSL by the CJSR (Criminal Justice System Review – which you will recall was given R3bn over 3yrs) would be best spent in the forthcoming fiscal year, with a view to expanding the National DNA Database.  What a brief! The Planning Team consisted not only of the Divisional Head of the FSL, but the head of the FSL and the LCRC and all of its top management staff. It was an honour to be invited to be part of this Session and an opportunity finally to be able to present all of our hard work and research over the last few years to such a focused group of people. In addition, the new management team of the FSL are one of the most hard working and dynamic group of people I have come across and they view the work of The DNA Project as an integral part of the review process, as opposed to an opposition group with a hidden agenda. For the first time in many years, Carolyn (who accompanied me to the session) and I felt that the tides had changed insofar as the FSL recognising the critical role it plays in the resolution of crime in South Africa.

The hour long presentation I gave was received with enthusiasm and most importantly, support. In a nutshell, The DNA Project believe the 3 key areas which need to be addressed are (1) Legislation (2) Capacity and (3) Awareness. The below slide, which come out of my presentation, captures the “How” we believe this can be achieved in SA:

Re: Legislation – despite the PC dragging their heels and insisting on embarking upon their overseas trip, the FSL are two steps ahead and have already implemented extensive strategies to increase their capacity by commencing on the building of two more National Labs in KZN and the Eastern cape – by de-centralising the Pretroia Lab, it will mean that provincial cases do not clog up the Pretoria process lines and obviously will result in an increase in samples loaded. Hand in hand with this development, they believe fully in training and awareness at the crime scene. As such, we have their support in promoting the Forensic Hons degree they have helped us develop and they will be participating in lectures at the tertiary institutions offering this course. As the FSL capacity increases, they envisage employing at least another 750 analysts and as such, the more skilled analysts they can employ the better. These strategies will ensure that the FSL’s implementation plan which they will need to prepare for Parliament, will have substance and vision, two elements key to the successful execution of the DNA Bill, when passed.

But mot importantly, where The DNAP and the FSL can work together in the most critical way, is through awareness at the crime scene – I spoke of a chain being as strong as its weakest link – and this means that with all of the above strategies in place, all will fail if we cannot collect the DNA evidence left at the crime scene by the perpetrator/s. We only have one chance to do this, and this is where the public/private partnership comes into play. If we can continue to create DNA Awareness and the importance of crime scene preservation amongst the general public and sectors of the community such as within private security companies, paramedics, trauma centres, justice and schools, then they can implement training and awareness amongst Crime Scene Examiners and first responding police officers.

This leads me to my final point which is that the expansion of the National DNA Database in South Africa, and its use as a crime intelligence tool (i.e. investigations driven by DNA, rather than DNA being considered simply a piece of evidence) requires the interplay between Justice, SAPS and the FSL and….the public – which is us, The DNA Project and YOU!

All of the above points made sense to the Planning Team and even more encouraging is that they were excited about some of the ideas I presented. We left the following day with renewed hope and energy and trust in our hearts, that the new management team are going to get it right and not just right, but they are willing and able to take DNA and its potential as an evidentiary tool, to a new level in SA. The Planning Session continued over the next couple of days, and we look forward to hearing how the 2011/2012 fiscal year is going to unfold. I have no doubt that it will be a space worth watching out for….

It was indeed a “Happy Valentine’s Day” – let’s hope in this case, all our dreams come true!

Vanessa

Forensic Science Service (UK) to be closed down

Tue, Jan 11th, 2011
DNA profile in lab

The government-owned Forensic Science Service, which employs 1,600 people, is to be wound up – closing by 2012.

Crime Reduction Minister James Brokenshire said the Birmingham-based service was losing about £2m a month and could run out of money in January.

Its evidence was key to the arrest of serial killer Steve Wright and in the case of missing girl Shannon Matthews.

The Prospect union, representing 1,000 FSS professionals, said the decision made a “mockery” of the justice system.

Its deputy general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Cost will now determine justice in the UK. The government is putting its faith in an untested market to deliver forensic science at a time when it has never been more important to the detection of crime.”

The decision would “destroy a world-class body” that was envied by international police and lead to an over-emphasis in profits in the sector which could threaten the quality of the science, he added.

However, the FSS had faced increased private-sector competition for police contracts and Mr Brokenshire told the BBC this was enabling forces to achieve greater efficiency.

“They’re seeing better turnaround in terms of the way in which forensics are being processed,” he said.

In a statement, the FSS said spending cuts meant police forces had less money for forensics consultancy and were increasingly taking such work in-house.

It said it had raised such concerns to the Home Office and was “disappointed” that they had not been addressed before the winding-up decision was made.

In a written statement to MPs, Mr Brokenshire had said it was vital for the government to take “clear and decisive action” to sort out the FSS after it got into “serious financial difficulty”.
“The police have advised us that their spend on external forensic suppliers will continue to fall over the next few years as forces seek to maximise efficiencies in this area,” he said.

“We have therefore decided to support the wind-down of the FSS, transferring or selling off as much of its operations as possible.”

DNA evidence gathered by the FSS led to the arrest of Ipswich murderer Wright within days of the discovery of his fifth victim.

The company also provided toxicology evidence against Karen Matthews and Michael Donovan which helped ensure their conviction for kidnapping and drugging schoolgirl Shannon.

BBC legal affairs analyst Clive Coleman said the FSS had enjoyed significant successes and had a good reputation, despite one or two failures such as the Damilola Taylor murder inquiry where DNA evidence was initially missed.

He said private enterprise, which already made up 40% of the market, should expand to fill the gap left behind by the FSS.

However, there were concerns that commercial pressures might mean additional tests and analysis were no longer done.

“There is a concern from some lawyers that perhaps if you’re simply looking at the bottom line… critical evidence might not come to light and be produced in court,” he added.

The FSS has been government-owned since 2005.

Scotland is unaffected by the announcement, as the Scottish Police Services Authority is responsible, while Nothern Ireland has its own agency, Forensic Science Northern Ireland.

Article courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11989225

Die Burger 22/10/2010

Fri, Oct 22nd, 2010

Misdadigers in SA word beskerm, hoor Interpol

Beeld: 22/10/2010 – Voorlegging deur SA vrou onstel afgevaardigdes

Fri, Oct 22nd, 2010

DNS-voorlegging deur SA vrou ontstel afgevaardigdes

City Press 17/10/2010

Sun, Oct 17th, 2010

New Ultra Fast DNA machine not wired for SA

Weekend Argus, 16/10/2010

Sat, Oct 16th, 2010

SA way behind on DNA files

DNA: The crime-fighting tool that needs to be used

Fri, Sep 3rd, 2010

This article was featured in The Witness, 3 Sep 2010 on Page 9.

DNA: The crime-fighting tool that needs to be used
03 Sep 2010

Dr Carolyn Hancock, a Director of The DNA Project

EARLIER this year Rudi Venter, who had been charged with the murder of his wife, walked out of court a free man. DNA evidence had determined he was innocent.

Venter’s wife was beaten to death with a baseball bat at their Johannesburg home in 2006. At the time, Venter said he had returned home after taking his children to school and seen two men running from the house before finding his critically injured wife. Venter was arrested for her murder a year later. Just before he was due to go to trial in February, his legal team asked an expert to interpret the DNA results from material found at the scene. It was found that DNA samples obtained at the scene contained the blood of Venter’s wife and two unidentified men. Venter’s blood was not present anywhere. Consequently, the state withdrew the murder charge.

If the DNA found at the scene had been processed at the time as a matter of routine, Venter would not have spent four years with a murder charge hanging over him.

“DNA does not only prove guilt, but it can also prove innocence,” says Dr Carolyn Hancock, a director of the DNA Project and a former genetics lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“In the United States, 258 people have been freed from prison on the basis of DNA results. The average time they had spent in prison was 13 years. Seventeen of them were on death row for crimes they never committed.”

Currently, this cannot happen in South Africa as the processing of DNA for forensic purposes by the South African Police Force Forensic Science Laboratory is prioritised according to five categories. Top of the list is a request from prosecutors when they have a suspect. The laboratory then undertakes to do a complete DNA analysis within 120 days or by trial date.

Bottom of the list are those cases with no known suspect. “This is what we believe should change,” says Hancock. “With a DNA database, reoffenders would immediately be identified.”

For this to happen, aspects of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977 need to be amended in order for the country’s police force to be able to routinely use DNA for forensic purposes. The act is out of date; back in 1977, nobody had started using DNA for forensic purposes and consequently the act doesn’t specifically regulate the use of DNA for criminal intelligence purposes.

To address this omission, the Criminal Law Forensic Procedures Amendment Bill was drafted in 2008. It deals with the use of DNA and looks to allow police access to fingerprint databases other than their own, such as those of the departments of home affairs and transport, which routinely take fingerprints for identification purposes.

The draft bill was subsequently divided into two parts — one dealing with fingerprints, the other with DNA. The fingerprint legislation has been adopted. As a result, in addition to about five million fingerprints recorded by the SAPF, the police will now be allowed to search the other databases and access around 33 million fingerprints.

The DNA part of the bill is on hold while the parliamentary portfolio committee overseeing the bill reviews presentations regarding the issue and travels overseas to see how DNA analysis is done in other countries. It is unlikely that any decision will be made on the bill until next year.

If the bill is passed, which seems likely, capacity issues will have to be addressed if it is to be implemented effectively. One solution, given the lack of capacity of the SAPF, would be to outsource work to private laboratories.

“The capacity does exist out there to make this work,” says Hancock. “The immediate demand could be met. The use of private labs for the analysis of reference samples taken from arrestees would be a short-term solution, but they are used everywhere else and it is regarded as international best practice.”

But there remains a need for more qualified personnel within the SAPF and to that end, Hancock, as part of an initiative funded by the sponsors of the DNA Project, has been instrumental in developing a post-graduate qualification in forensic DNA analysis so that the state will have access to well-qualified personnel. This degree is already being offered at the University of the Free State and will be offered next year at the University of Cape Town. “The course material is freely available to any South African post-graduate institution,” she says.

Although the draft bill might be on hold, the DNA Project is promoting and publicising the use of DNA analysis in the fight against crime. The DNA Project is a non-profit, public-benefit organisation lobbying for the expansion of a national DNA database and it proposes that DNA profiles be created from DNA samples collected from crime scenes and from all those suspected or convicted of a crime.

“In this country, such a database would be hugely beneficial because of the number of criminals who reoffend,” says Hancock. “If you get them on the database the first time they commit an offence, then if you don’t convict them for their first offence you will hopefully do so when they reoffend.”

The DNA Project has just launched a new campaign aimed at promoting DNA awareness in South Africa. “We are primarily targeting community police forums and security companies,” says Hancock.

“The latter are often the first on a crime scene. You press a panic button and they are the first to respond. We want to ensure that anyone who is first at a crime scene ensures that any DNA evidence is preserved as it can easily be contaminated or destroyed. This evidence should be collected by trained SAPF crime-scene investigators.”

This nation-wide campaign sees the DNA Project offering free DNA awareness workshops to educate people as to the benefits of utilising DNA evidence for crime detection and prevention, and the need to contain and not contaminate a crime scene. “We would like to offer these workshops, which are free of charge, to those who are likely to be the first to arrive at a crime scene. For example, first responding officers, security guards, police reservists and paramedics.”

The DNA project is hoping to get this message to 10 000 people this year and they also have government funding to reach as many schoolchildren as possible. “Genetics is part of the school curriculum,” says Hancock, “and forensics is something they study — and many of them watch CSI on TV.”

The workshops will provide a basic understanding of how DNA profiling can be used to assist in criminal investigations in South Africa and the importance of preserving DNA evidence which may be at a crime scene. “This is essential as no matter how good our legislation or our laboratories are”, says Hancock, “we need to have the evidence properly preserved and collected at the crime scene.”

FORENSIC DNA evidence plays a vital role in criminal investigations because it can identify and help convict a suspect who is guilty of committing a crime or prove the innocence of a suspect who has been wrongly accused of a crime.

WHAT IS DNA? WHERE IS IT FOUND IN THE BODY?

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. This is the name for the chemical which is found in almost every cell in the human body and which is the blueprint or recipe for that person’s characteristics. Everyone’s DNA is unique (unless they have an identical twin). A person’s DNA is also exactly the same in every cell of their body. For example, the DNA pattern, also known as the DNA profile, in a human’s blood is the same as the DNA in his or her skin cells, body tissue, semen and saliva, which makes it possible to compare crime-scene evidence such as semen stains, saliva on cigarette butts and blood on clothing, with DNA obtained from a blood sample or cheek scraping taken from a suspect.

WHAT IS A DNA PROFILE?

A DNA profile is simply a unique list of letters and numbers obtained from a person’s DNA that acts as a personal identifier. A DNA profile contains no information about a person’s physical characteristics, their mental predisposition or anything about their medical his-tory. In the same way as fingerprints link a suspect to a crime, DNA provides scientific evidence that can identify or exclude a suspect from a police investigation. It can also be used to identify a victim through DNA from relatives, even when a body cannot be found. DNA profiling can also link two or more crime scenes. When evidence from one crime scene is compared with evidence from another, the police can tell whether it was the same person who had committed two different crimes. Even very old cases, which the police thought would never be solved, may contain DNA evidence that can be used to identify the person who committed that crime.

HOW CAN DNA HELP TO IDENTIFY A SUSPECT?

Once DNA samples have been collected from a crime scene and processed at the Forensic Science Laboratory, the DNA profile, which is the identification number taken from the DNA sample, can be compared with the DNA profiles taken from a known suspect. If no known suspect exists, the DNA profile taken from the crime scene is still valuable, as when it is entered onto the national DNA database, the police can see whether that DNA profile links to another known DNA profile on the DNA database or perhaps it may even link several different crimes to each other.

— DNA Project.

DNA DOES NOT ONLY PROVE GUILT, BUT IT CAN ALSO PROVE INNOCENCE. IN THE UNITED STATES, 258 PEOPLE HAVE BEEN FREED FROM PRISON ON THE BASIS OF DNA RESULTS. THE AVERAGE TIME THEY HAD SPENT IN PRISON WAS 13 YEARS. SEVENTEEN OF THEM WERE ON DEATH ROW FOR CRIMES THEY NEVER COMMITTED.

DNA Laws are being passed everywhere but here!

Mon, Aug 23rd, 2010

Many of you may have caught Carte Blanche last night where I was interviewed on behalf of The DNA Project (click here if you missed the Carte Blanche interview). The overwhelming message was that we urgently need to pass DNA legislation in SA in order to utilize our DNA Database in such a way that it provides criminal intelligence. DNA is the gold standard for criminal investigation throughout the world and yet here in SA, where it is needed the most, we are being held to ransom by the members of Parliament who have yet to resume deliberations on the DNA Bill.

Why? Why are our Parliamentarians so slow on the uptake to implement laws to regulate this amazing technology which we have at our disposal?

The first phase of the DNA Bill which dealt with fingerprints was adopted in March 2010 – it is now August 2010 and we have not heard a word from the Portfolio Committee as to when they will be returning to Parliament to consider Phase Two – DNA. The World Cup is over, and everyone else seems to have gone back to ‘business as usual’, but every inquiry I make as to the whereabouts of the people who are supposed to be looking at this bill, are met with a blank stare or worse yet, “I don’t know”. This is unacceptable. But what can we do about it? We can speak up! That’s what.

Have a look at the following link: http://www2.wnct.com/news/2010/jul/15/13/dna-sample-testing-system-expanded-new-nc-law-ar-300849/

Don’t you wish we had more politicians who acted like the Governor of North Carolina in the USA, Bev Perdue? How many of our politicians have been effected by a violent crime just like she was? But what are they doing about it?

Perdue calls DNA testing the 21st-century fingerprint and she believes it will help prevent violent crime across her state. “In many, many cases DNA becomes the difference maker,” says Governor Bev Perdue. Starting in February, police across North Carolina will take DNA samples from anyone charged with murder, rape, or other violent felony crimes. The General Assembly passed the bill in July 2010.  Officers say it will prevent crime and solve cold cases. “It also helps us exonerate the innocent because it is so precise,” said Roy Cooper, North Carolina Attorney General.

Perdue says DNA samples will keep repeat offenders off the streets, preventing crimes like the murder of her dear friend Kathy Taft.

“This became personal to me especially because one of my 30-year best friends was murdered during the spring,” said Perdue. DNA testing was used to bring Taft’s murderer to justice in May this year.

The North Carolina State law enforcement has solved nearly 1,400 crimes using the existing DNA database.  Now with earlier testing, they’re looking to solve even more.

And I love this message from Perdue for lawmakers who still call DNA testing unreasonable search and seizure. “We have 21st century science and technology that allows us to catch really bad people faster and it is really unreasonable for the elected leaders and all of us to not move forward to make our streets as safe as we can,” she said. Hear! Hear! (wish you were here!)

Attorney General Roy Cooper says the law has privacy safe guards.  It’s a felony to misuse DNA and law officers will delete DNA records from the state’s database if the person is acquitted or their charges are dismissed. In addition, Law enforcement from the local level to the SBI will now of course have new responsibilities and they’ll undergo training on how to use the swabbing kits for collecting DNA.

Now, how difficult could that be to implement in SA? What exactly is preventing us from writing a story like the one above?

Vanessa

ps. since writing this blog, one of the portfolio committee members tasked with reviewing the bill has responded to my email requesting further information on the lack of progress of the bill – see the below commentary to follow what has transpired to date. I will continue to post the responses as I receive them. V.

a complaint about the VUKA! ad

Wed, May 19th, 2010

I received a letter from ASA (Advertising Standards Authority of SA) yesterday enclosing a complaint from one viewer who had watched the VUKA! ad last month….

Some of you may know that The DNA Project was the recipient of a VUKA! Commercial entitled ‘Leaving Something Behind’ – which was produced and donated to The DNA PROJECT by the media industry in Cape Town last year. It gives little warning to the audience of what they were about to see, suffice to say it is a very powerful piece. For those who have seen the commercial on their computer screen, the impact is a thousand fold when seen on a big screen. You can literally sense people draw breath as the opening scene begins, and when the minute segment has ended you can tell that people are visibly moved by this hard hitting production which highlights what we live with in SA and how we need to be reminded every now and again that crime is not OK. The VUKA Commercial won a place in the top 30% category and is being flighted by DSTV free of charge on its various channels for the duration of 2010. [ the VUKA! Awards (“Wake Up” in Nguni) were introduced in 1999 as a platform to reward and nurture South Africa’s filmmaking talent while providing vital exposure to social causes and charities via Public Service Announcements (PSAs) as the competition genre. M-Net and the DSTV platform flights an average of 60 free charity commercials every year, with the top 30% of VUKA! Awards PSA entries being broadcast on M-Net and selected DStv channels. The on-going exposure of critical social issues via the M-net and selected DSTV platform has resulted in resources being directed towards needy causes whose messages are broadcast into over one million homes in South Africa, the African continent and Indian Ocean Islands.]

The complainants objections to the ad were that it was too explicit and graphic to be shown during family time [it is always shown after 8pm]. She went on to say that the advert is absolutely disgusting and in bad taste and too vulgar to show at any time of the day.

I have been asked to respond so that ASA may adjudicate on the objection and determine whether in fact the ad is appropriate for public viewing.

Interestingly, this is the first complaint and only the second negative response I have received about the advert. Every other response has been positive – yes, it has disturbed people, it has made them go ‘cold’ on viewing, but the conclusion has always been that unfortunately it is necessary, as this IS what we live with in this country and the ad shows that there IS something we can do about it.

I have no objection to people expressing their opinions and I believe that I too have the right to express mine – we obviously will not always agree with one another. However, I think the complainant has missed the point of the ad – it is not designed to disgust people, it is designed to snap people out of their complacency and acceptance of our crime riddled society. And I think it does just that. But I do think the message in the end is powerful – in our favour. It states that ‘no matter what they (the criminals) take, they always leave something behind’, and it is for that reason that we feel we have the upper hand at the end of the one minute ad.

The VUKA! ads are all based on emotive and hard hitting issues that effect our society, and it is pointless to wrap them in tissue paper and pretend they don’t exist. I know how it feels to have a family member brutally murdered, and there are too many others out there who have suffered at the hands of crime, whether by being a victim of rape, assault, hijacking or having lost a loved one at the hands of a criminal in SA. And this ad is NOTHING compared to how that feels. This is easy to watch compared to watching people suffering day in and day out due to crime.

I ask that you now watch the ad, and please, add your comment below as to what you think about it and whether you think it ought to be pulled or whether it ought to stay. Your input is valuable and I am interested to know whether I stand alone in how I feel, or perhaps whether I may have missed the point too?

Click here to view the ad: ‘Leaving Something Behind’ –

with thanks
Vanessa

The Star: 28 Apr ’09 – The Signatures of Innocence & Guilt

Tue, Apr 28th, 2009

http://www.dnaproject.co.za/trigger/uploads//pdf/The Star 28 April 2009.pdf