Archive for the ‘DNA Project’ Category


Lessons from Lyon: feedback from 7th International DNA User’s Conference held at Interpol

Mon, Nov 25th, 2013

It seems hard to believe that two weeks ago Carolyn and I were sitting at the Interpol’s HQ in Lyon, France where we attended the 7th International DNA User’s Conference. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of the OSF-SA, Carolyn and I were able to attend this fascinating forensic DNA conference where I not only had the opportunity to present the provisions of the new DNA Bill in South Africa to the international forensic DNA community, but where we were able to learn more about the latest developments in this technology and hear from other countries about the status of their DNA databases and the laws and regulations which govern their databases, some interesting case studies, research papers as well as debates around misunderstandings of ethical issues oft raised around DNA profiling in a forensic context.

Vanessa Lynch & Carolyn Hancock arriving at the Interpol HQ's in Lyon, France to attend the 7th International DNA User's Conference

Vanessa Lynch & Carolyn Hancock arriving at Interpol's HQ in Lyon, France to attend the 7th International DNA User's Conference

Three particular presentations stood out for both Carolyn and I, namely: Advances in DNA investigations delivered by Prof Manfred Kayser; the latest DNA analysing device called Rapid DNA which is capable of producing a DNA profile directly from a sample within 90 minutes and the highly entertaining joint presentation given by Judge Arthur Tompkins and Dr Simon Walsh discussing the use of DNA profiling in a court of law. There were over 40 different presentations relating to forensic DNA , given over the course of the three days, but I have provided a brief summary of three of our favourite presentations below, as we are sure you will find them as interesting and exciting as we did.

The Keynote presentation delivered by Prof. Manfred Kayser from the Netherlands spoke around the issue of enhancing police operations through the advances in DNA investigations. Prof Kayser calls himself a ‘curiosity driven scientist’ and certainly through the research he is doing, it’s not hard to see why. The first advancement he discussed was around the issue of male specific Y-STR’s (short tandem repeats). As we know, it is difficult to differentiate between different male DNA profiles when a crime scene sample contains more than one DNA profile. These are commonly referred to as ‘mixed profiles’. The research into this area is taking place around looking at mutations present in the DNA profile which will help identify which profile belongs to which suspect. Instead of looking at more markers on the DNA profile, Prof Kayser suggests looking at the ‘mutation rate’ present in a DNA profile — in other words, if you have a marker with a high mutation rate it’s easier to distinguish between related males. Instead of using the current DNA profiling kit called ‘Y-filer’, current research is around developing new kits which use rapid mutation STR’s called RM Y.STRS. If this research results in a useable kit which does indeed differentiate between different male profiles in a mixed profile, this will certainly be useful in South Africa where the incidence of gang rape is so high.

Another fascinating advancement Prof Keyser discussed was the ability to identify the cellular origin of a sample. This is useful when the biological source of the sample is unknown. For example, if the clothing found at a crime scene contains a crime scene stain, it may be useful in an investigation to show if that source is semen, saliva or blood. Prof Kayser submits that they will soon be able to differentiate between biological sources as varied as saliva, ‘touch DNA’ (i.e., skin cells), blood, hairs, blood, menstrual blood, semen and vaginal secretions.

Interpol HQ's Lyon

Waiting for a bus outside Interpol's HQ

Currently we are not able to establish from a DNA sample, how old it is, which would help indicate when the crime was committed. We are also not able to say at what time of the day it was deposited. This however may soon be possible as research is being conducted by looking at the melatonin and cortisol in a DNA sample to determine the time of day and age of that sample.

These advancements may all be well and good, but often one only has a single, precious DNA sample from a crime scene to work with, and in that case, because the amount of DNA is so limited, all of these tests would not be able to be performed. Prof Keyser reports that this issue may be overcome with the use of what he calls a ‘DNA Chip’ which takes a snip from one DNA sample and allows many different test to be performed using a single DNA chip.

Exciting stuff, and certainly in South Africa, these types of advancements would greatly enhance police investigations.

The issue of back logs and delays is an oft spoken about subject, and South Africa is not the only country where complaints are levelled at our Forensic Science Labs for delays in processing DNA samples… Imagine now if a law enforcement agent (as they are referred to in the USA – i.e. a police officer) was able to take a sample from an arrestee, pop it into a machine and send a request to securely submit the resultant DNA profile to the DNA Database within 90 minutes of loading that sample. This may sound farfetched, but ‘Rapid DNA technology’, as it is commonly known, is very real. And we were there to prove it. During a tea break, Carolyn and I submitted our DNA saliva samples to a Rapid DNA machine, and 90 minutes later were emailed our DNA profile! Whilst this technology is still being rolled out and is only capable of analysing 5 samples per run, in those instances where a quick result is required, this would be priceless. The advantages of this technology are that it can be performed by nontechnical users outside of the lab, i.e., police officers, there is no manual processing of the sample, the machines do not require calibration or data interpretation and it literally provides out of the box functionality. Oh, and it also doesn’t matter what type of sample is dropped into the cartridge!

What to do for an hour and a half in Lyon... hmm... Shopping? Sightseeing? Create a DNA profile?... Oh, absolutely YES please! Vanessa and Carolyn had the wonderful chance to submit their DNA samples to be tested in the new rapid DNA analyzer... 90 minutes later their profiles were ready! Simply amazing!

What to do for an hour and a half in Lyon... hmm... Shopping? Sightseeing? Create a DNA profile?... Oh, absolutely YES please! Vanessa and Carolyn had the wonderful chance to submit their DNA samples to be tested in the new rapid DNA analyzer... 90 minutes later their profiles were ready! Simply amazing!

The last but by no means least of the presentations over the course of the three days was the highly entertaining joint presentation by New Zealand Judge Arthur Tompkins and Australian Forensic Scientist Dr Simon Walsh entitled ‘That’s the defendants DNA!’. This lively debate discussed the issue of probabilities and the way in which scientists express the probability of a defendant having the same DNA profile as the crime scene profile, in court. As we well know, the weight of admissibility of any type of evidence is based on certainty, and if evidence is expressed as a probability, it may lead some to think that because it is not expressed as a certainty, its admissibility is thereby negatively affected. Dr Walsh has had firsthand experience of this in court where DNA evidence despite being presented as a probability so remote (i.e., one in an octillion chance of two people having the same DNA profile) led it to be dismissed because it was not expressed as a ‘certainty’. Dr Walsh then looked at how discriminating DNA is as evidence, and the fact that with the advances in technology in this

Vanessa and Carolyn enjoying a quick break outside the Interpol headquarters with fellow guest speaker Tim Zolandz of the FBI (CODIS Missing Persons / International Progam Manager).

Vanessa and Carolyn enjoying a quick break outside the Interpol headquarters with fellow guest speaker Tim Zolandz of the FBI (CODIS Missing Persons / International Progam Manager).

arena, the probabilities of two people having the same DNA profile are even smaller. In other words, if the probability or likelihood of another person having the same DNA profile as that of the crime scene sample, are one in an octillion which is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 i.e. ten to the forty-eighth power, and there are only around 7 billion [7,000,000,000 i.e. ten to the power of nine] people in the world, then the weight of admissibility in respect of that evidence, you will agree, is extremely high!. Dr Walsh has suggested then that the way a probability as high as this is expressed in court should be changed and perhaps instead of expressing it in probabilities one should simply say there is more chance of you being hit by a meteor or eaten by a shark than there is of having the same DNA profile of another person. A leap of faith needs to be taken by scientists to express it as a certainty then, because the science is robust enough to allow for it. But these are issues of law, and Judge Arthur Tompkins reckons that in the words of Albert Einstein, if you can’t explain it simply enough then you don’t understand it well enough! As a Judge, he acknowledges that the likelihood ratios are getting bigger and bigger the more loci we use to identify a person through DNA profiling. But what he can’t understand is why the forensic experts won’t just say that IS the defendants DNA! He questions why they won’t simply do this and whether they are legally liable to do so now because the science is robust enough to allow for it.

7th International DNA User's Conference delegates

7th International DNA User's Conference delegates

So: why won’t scientists take the next step? Perhaps it is because the statistical analysis has not simply answered the question the justice system is asking and that is: is this proof beyond reasonable doubt that it is the defendant’s DNA?

Simply answered, yes it is.

They are not seeking the scientific or statistical answer. They are asking is this proof beyond reasonable doubt that it does. This high standard of proof in a criminal court of law as opposed to absolute proof, is enough for all other forms of evidence, so should be enough for DNA too, which is probably the most reliable form of evidence available today!

So the question is: Are you sure?
And if the scientists are sure, why don’t they simply say: yes, I’m sure?
So if as a forensic scientist, and if you are sure, then you can say that you are sure.
And you should say you are sure!
Sounds a bit like Dr Seuss, which to me always made sense anyway!

The above three presentations were just some of the highlights of the three days spent listening to over 47 countries present over 40 subjects in this fascinating field. Not only did we enjoy every one, but the camaraderie and friendships that were renewed and made, were very special.

The Interpol Conference is unique insofar as it is a relatively small group of people passionate about their work and the advances in this technology, who are able to mix on both a professional and social level too. Every evening Carolyn and I were joined by different people from different countries where we shared our stories over French food and wine, and many laughs.

Vanessa and Carolyn with Susan Hitchin, Forensics Sub-Directorate at Interpol

Vanessa and Carolyn with Susan Hitchin, Forensics Sub-Directorate at Interpol

It was with sad hearts that we said goodbye to everyone on the last day, and to the beautiful city of Lyon, where hopefully we will be invited to participate in the next and 8th International DNA User’s conference.

Thank you OSF-SA for enabling us to participate in this incredible forum.

Vanessa Lynch

No need to question the validity of DNA evidence

Tue, Nov 12th, 2013

Whenever a crime is committed and DNA used to assist in the identification of the offender, the question of whether the DNA found at the crime scene is the same as that of the criminal must be asked. In other words, whose DNA it is?

As a geneticist, and having just returned from Interpol’s International DNA Users’ Conference in Lyon where internationally renowned forensic experts spoke repeatedly of the value of DNA Databases used for criminal intelligence purposes, I was astonished to read the article in the Times today (“Whose DNA is it anyway?“, Times LIVE, November 12) which quotes Prof. Muller as saying that “the probability that someone else would have the same DNA profile as that of the sample obtained at a crime scene was one in 2 million”. In South Africa our forensic science laboratory analyses 9 different locations in the DNA molecule to determine a forensic profile and obtain probabilities in the region of at least 1 in a billion.

After the passing of the legislation, South Africa will be using technology which is even more reliable as they will be analysing 15 locations in the DNA and will then obtain probabilities of another person, other than the suspect, having the same profile as that found at the crime scene of between 1 in 10 billion and 1 in an octillion – this is an extremely exact, valid and reliable science! Furthermore, it is incorrect to say that there is a 5% chance that two people listed in even a small database would have the same DNA profile. The value of DNA evidence lies in the fact that no two people share the same DNA (except identical twins) – that is if sufficient locations on the DNA molecule are analysed, which indeed they are if 9 or more are considered.

To answer the question can forensic DNA analysts determine whether the suspect is, beyond reasonable doubt, the source of the DNA left at a crime scene – yes, absolutely. What remains is however to determine how the crime was committed and whether in fact the suspect committed the crime. These are questions that only a court can decide after the investigating officer has provided the court with information on ALL forms of evidence in the case.

For example, were there any eyewitnesses, does the suspect live in the same geographical area, what was the possible motive? DNA evidence is invariably only one form of evidence in a case, but with the chances of anyone else having the same profile being very close to zero, it is extremely compelling.

In a country that has the highest incidence of sexual assault in the world and where a child is raped every 3 minutes, who could possibly argue against the fact that our DNA database should be expanded to include people suspected and convicted of this type of offence? Add to this the well-known fact that 90% of rapists re-offend… a DNA database of previous offenders will provide investigators with valuable leads in cases where there is no known suspect and assist in crime resolution.

The new DNA Bill cannot be passed soon enough.

In order to reduce crime in South Africa we need to make use of this cutting edge technology to ensure that criminals are held accountable for their actions.

Dr. Carolyn Hancock (PhD Genetics)

Director: DNA Project

Fighting crime with science

Wed, Oct 2nd, 2013

In the search for justice is the age of the great detective over and are we now living in the era of the scientist?

The following article, written by Nigel McCrery, looks at his new book, Silent Witnesses: A History Of Forensic Science, which reveals all by looking at how science is helping us solve some of the world’s most notorious crimes:

TV shows such as CSI, whilst often far fetched, focus on forensic experts at work

TV shows such as CSI, whilst often far fetched, focus on forensic experts at work

Your average criminal today knows how to handle even the cleverest questioning. Most will say nothing at all until their lawyers are present. The expression “no comment” has become commonplace.

And eyewitness evidence has become less reliable, as defence teams become more adept at casting doubt upon it.

The fact is that most major cases today are closed by the use of forensic science, through the detailed attention of the people in white coats. Science has become the final adjudicator.

It wasn’t until towards the end of the 19th century that the authorities began to take a scientific approach to identifying criminals and keeping proper records. Prior to that a man wanted for a violent robbery in, say, Nottingham might be arrested in London for being drunk and disorderly but if he gave a different name he could pass through the hands of the police without them ever realising who they had in custody.


It was a Frenchman Alphonse Bertillon who finally addressed this problem. He was working as a clerk for the prefecture of police in Paris and realised that the methods of identification being used were essentially worthless. He began working on his own ideas.

The first 'identikit' innovation was to cut photographs of various faces into strips so that their features could be rearranged to form new faces

The first 'identikit' innovation was to cut photographs of various faces into strips so that their features could be rearranged to form new faces

His first innovation was to cut photographs of various faces into strips so that their features could be rearranged to form new faces. Witnesses could use these to construct an approximate image of a criminal they had seen. Bertillon had invented the first of what we would now call photofit pictures.

But his greatest breakthrough came when he began to record people’s measurements. He decided to take 11 different mea surements from each subject, including their height, the length of their arms and legs and the size of their feet. Like every Parisian tailor Bertillon knew that nobody had exactly the same measurements as anybody else.

Bertillon was sure that using his system he could identify anyone, living or dead, who had previously been measured. There was opposition to his idea. Many – including famous French detective Gustave Mace – thought it was a waste of time and money. But eventually in 1882 Bertillon was given three months to trial his methods.

At first he had little success: although he had taken the measurements of many criminals he had been unable to use his records to identify a single reoffender. But two weeks before the trial period was due to end his luck changed.

A criminal who had given his name as Dupont was brought in. Bertillon took his measurements and then went to consult his files. To his delight he found a match, not for a man called Dupont but for one called Martin who had been arrested a couple of months earlier for theft. Faced with this evidence “Dupont” confessed he really was Martin – he had given a false name in the hope of being given a lighter sentence as a first time offender.

It was a triumph for Bertillon’s system, which was soon adopted across Europe. So why don’t we all know about his measuring innovation? Because it was replaced by a simpler and more brilliant method.


Each of us has a unique set of patterns on the tips of our fingers. As far back as 300AD we find a handprint being used as evidence in a case of theft in China. But creating a workable system for fingerprints to be categorised so that they could be used by the authorities proved to be difficult at first.

Fingerprints have been used as far back as 300AD

Fingerprints have been used as far back as 300AD

It was Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, who solved the problem. Building on the work of two other fingerprinting pioneers Henry Faulds and William Herschel he set about creating the simplest possible system of classification. He focused on the triangular shapes formed where ridges on the fingertips come together, known as the deltas.

It wasn’t until towards the end of the 19th century that the authorities began to take a scientific approach to identifying criminals and keeping proper records

Galton published his findings in 1891, crediting Herschel’s help in his work but not Faulds. Galton’s system was soon taken up by the British authorities and fingerprints remain a key part of criminal inves tigations today.

Apart from being quicker than taking 11 measurements from a suspect, the huge advantage of fin gerprinting is that a criminal may accidentally leave their prints on objects or surfaces at a crime scene. If such prints are found they are an indisputable way of proving that a person was there.


But the greatest breakthrough of all in forensic science didn’t come until the end of the 20th century. And the circumstances in which it was first used to catch a violent criminal were incredibly dramatic.

On September 10, 1984, Dr Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester observed during an experiment that the DNA from members of the same family shows many similari ties but also significant differences. He quickly grasped what this meant: that we all have a DNA “fingerprint”. Any person can be identified by their own unique genetic code.

Quite remarkably the first place this advance was to be tested in a criminal investigation was in Leicestershire itself. On November 22, 1983, in the village of Narborough a schoolgirl called Lynda Mann was found dead. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Despite the best efforts of the Leicester shire Constabulary Lynda’s killer was never found and the inquiry was finally run down.

The greatest breakthrough of all in forensic science is DNA testing

The greatest breakthrough of all in forensic science is DNA testing

Tragically this wasn’t to be the end of the story. On August 2, 1986, the body of 15 year old Dawn Ash worth was found near the village of Enderby, not far from Narborough. She too had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

This time the police found a sus pect: a young lad who worked nearby as a hospital porter. After seven hours of questioning he broke down and confessed. They had their man.

But the police wanted to prove his guilt beyond doubt and to link him to the death of Lynda Mann. They therefore approached Dr Jeffreys, giving him DNA samples taken from the bodies of both girls to analyse. He was able to tell them one thing that they wanted to hear and one that they absolutely didn’t. The DNA evidence proved that the same man had killed both girls. But it was not the man they had in custody.

Shamefaced, the police adopted a radical approach and decided to take blood samples from every male in the district. It was an enor mous job but they knew they had to find the killer. However even after taking blood from thousands of men they had no match.

Then it came to their attention that a man called Ian Kelly had been telling people that he had given blood on behalf of a friend by the name of Colin Pitchfork.

It soon became clear why Pitchfork had persuaded his friend to stand in for him: when he was arrested on September 19, 1987, his DNA was a perfect match. The following year he was tried and convicted for the double murder.

Today the tiniest spots of blood or stray hairs left at a scene can be used as DNA evidence. Genetic fingerprinting has come into its own. There are many other fasci nating areas of forensic science, such as microscopic analysis of clothing fibres, poison detection or the matching of bullets to the gun that fired them.

So the game continues, science against the criminals. And science must always fight to remain ahead.

This article first appeared on the Express news website on the 30 Sep 2013

25th World Congress of the International Society for Forensic Genetics, Melbourne, 2013

Mon, Sep 30th, 2013

One of our trainers, David Swanepoel, was lucky enough to attend The International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG) Congress in Melbourne, Australia over the week of 2 to 7 September 2013 where he joined 556 other delegates from 49 different countries. We asked David to write up a report of his visit to Melbourne and share with us what he learned whilst there.

The first two days were set aside for dual-track workshops, where in depth training and discussion on various forensic-related subject matters took place. Of the various topics being presented on, I opted to attend the sessions on Disaster Victim Identification for biologists and Wildlife Forensics. The other workshops that were presented included Basic Principles and Advanced Topics in Forensic DNA Evidence Interpretation, Genomics; Implementation of messenger RNA body fluid testing in forensic case work; Forensic DNA Phenotyping; Ancestry analysis as an investigative tool using autosomal binary markers; and DNA Lineage marker Interpretation.

The use of DNA profiling for human identification can extend beyond that for the sole purpose of criminal investigation and is often useful in identifying missing individuals or those who have been victims of mass or natural disasters as well. Disaster victim identification (DVI) is the application of forensic genetics in conjunction with other forms of personal identification (such as fingerprints, dental records, visual identification and personal effects) that may prove useful in identifying such individuals. The concept of ‘relentless preparedness’ was stressed at the workshop – it is vital that there are thoroughly developed procedures in place at both local and national levels to ensure that, if any disaster were to occur, the subsequent processes can be integrated as seamlessly as possible. This requires planning at all stages of the DVI processes, including those at the scene, the mortuary, the laboratory and the administrative processes linking these together.

Examples of previous disasters such as the 2004 Tsunami and the Bali bombings were discussed. Experiences from such disasters have led to a general consensus that DNA should not be used only after unsuccessful attempts at identifying individuals through other means has first taken place. Instead, DNA should be used as the primary driver of the investigations, allowing other details available to complement the DNA results. Although more expensive to conduct, DNA profiling can ensure that unnecessary re-identifications are avoided in the long run if misidentifications had occurred through e.g. incorrect visual identification or the wrong identification documents being found on a deceased individual. More information on disaster victim identification is available on the INTERPOL DVI web page.

The illegal trafficking and trade in protected and endangered wildlife is estimated to be an operation worth approximately USD 53 billion a year. This applies to numerous species of animals, plants and protists. Identifying many of these species accurately is challenging, especially for those where juvenile individuals are involved, or where parts of an individual are trafficked (and not the whole organism), such as seeds of protected plants or the limbs of animals. These items may be mislabelled in order to deceive officials at ports of entry and can then not be accurately identified.

Wildlife forensics is another interesting application of DNA profiling or barcoding, in that it allows for the accurate identification of either an individual or the assignment of a species in cases where too little sample or too little visual information is available to identify it otherwise. This is still a developing discipline of forensic science, but is progressing rapidly. Attempts are being made to standardise processes across laboratories worldwide in order to ensure that best practices are written up and can be applied. Additional information can also be found at the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science’s website.

The plenary sessions of the Congress were structured around multiple themes, and included sessions on next-generation sequencing and rapid DNA analysis; genetic identification of body fluids; Y-STR analysis for ancestry and male or paternally-linked associations; wildlife forensics; complex mixture analyses and statistical considerations and SNP analysis in forensic phenotyping (including the prediction of eye colour, hair colour, skin colour and overall physical appearance).

Various researchers, academics and forensic scientists presented the results of their studies and experiences and enabled discussions to take place on those topics which are currently at the forefront of forensic science research.

This Congress was a wonderful experience and it was an honour to have met and listened to international experts in various disciplines of forensic genetics. I left with a wealth of additional information and new contacts that I hope will be beneficial in helping move South African forensic genetics expertise and skill forwards in future.

David Swanepoel

About David: David received a B.Sc. Molecular and Cellular Biology in the fields of Genetics and Biochemistry from WITS followed by a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. David’s forensic interests also extend to the legal sphere as he is associated with the use of forensics in assisting to solve cases.

Additional information on the Congress, the presentation topics and abstracts can be found at

DNA evidence not enough to convict rape accused – Supreme Court of Appeal

Thu, Sep 26th, 2013

The title and topic of this blog article is misleading, to say the least, if viewed out of context. DNA evidence is a vital tool utilized by investigators and the criminal justice system in the ongoing fight against crime and has already helped convict many offenders, including sexual offenders, in South Africa. These convictions are due to the DNA profile of a suspect and those of biological evidence collected at a crime scene matching exactly. In such cases DNA evidence in rape cases frequently leads to a conviction.

However, in a recent case before the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), the evidence regarding the outcome of tests carried out via the most common DNA testing method used in South Africa, and internationally, has been held to be circumstantial. An article published in Beeld (“Vrygelaatweens SA se DNS-toetse” – September 19) reported that a man convicted of raping a four-year old girl as a result of positive DNA tests has been freed. In what the report describes as a ‘directional judgment’, five judges held that evidence led about the DNA tests conducted via the so-called STR-method was circumstantial. Evidence that Sandile Bokolo’s DNA was found on the girl’s private parts could not, seen alone, prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The judges pointed out that the DNA samples taken from the child matched those of at least three men, one of them being Bokolo. His conviction and 15-year sentence were set aside.

Whilst it is always disappointing to imagine that someone who may have been guilty of raping a 4 year old child is set free, it is also equally important that no one is convicted of an offence that they may not have committed. Any court must be able to show beyond reasonable doubt that the accused actually committed the crime in question. In this particular case there are a number of factors that appear to have lead to the finding by the court that insufficient evidence existed to convict Sandile Bokolo.

There are a few points which perhaps need some clarification and these include that the “so-called STR method” used in the analysis is in fact the internationally accepted and recognized methodology used in all DNA profiling of criminal cases. It is an extremely accurate science and in most instances provides irrefutable proof of who left biological evidence at a crime scene. Furthermore, the judgment does NOT indicate that ALL DNA evidence in rape cases is circumstantial evidence. Most certainly if there had been a single rapist and only one profile found in the seminal fluid found in the young girl’s body then there would be no other reasonable explanation for the presence of that person’s semen other than she must have been sexually assaulted by the suspect. In such cases additional evidence such as eye-witness testimony may not be necessary to secure a conviction.

In this case however, there was clearly a mixture of profiles from at least three men present in the fluids found emanating from the child’s private parts. In such cases it is much more difficult to say for certain that the profile of the accused exactly matches one of those found in the mixture as it is not possible to unequivocally assign profiles to the respective assailants. It is only possible to ascertain whether all the alleles (locations analysed in the DNA) of the accused’s may be accounted for by alleles found in the composite mixture. In this case there was one allele present in the profile of the accused, which was difficult to detect in the mixture. It therefore became necessary for the DNA analysts, and those providing expert testimony, to interpret whether in fact the “missing allele” was indeed present in the mixed profile obtained from the child’s body. As it could not be conclusively proven that indeed such an allele was present in the mixture, the judge ruled that there was insufficient proof to convict the accused based SOLEY on the DNA evidence.

Sadly in this case there was no other corroborating evidence such as eye-witness testimony or proof that the accused had been at, or near, the place at which the crime took place. As a result the conviction was set aside. With this in mind, it is important to remember that DNA is very seldom the ONLY form of evidence in a case. However when a DNA profile of an accused exactly matches that of a profile found at a crime scene, it provides very real and significant weight to the case and certainly places the accused at that crime scene. In such cases, where there is not a mixture of profiles present in the crime scene sample, the evidence should not be viewed as circumstantial.


A visit to forensic crime laboratories in Tennessee, USA.

Mon, Sep 16th, 2013

Last month, one of our Director’s, Carolyn Hancock, was lucky enough to be able to visit two crime laboratories whilst spending time in Nashville, Tennessee. The first was the Nashville Metro Police Department Crime laboratory which is due to be opened shortly, and the second was the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Read more about Carolyn’s visit below:

Coming from South Africa and being part of the DNA Project, my visit to these two crime labs were of huge interest to me and I started my day with great anticipation – and was not disappointed! As many of you who follow this Blog will know, whilst South Africa has some of the best forensic technology in the world, we also have the highest rate of sexual assault and the second highest murder rate in the world. In addition, we are still waiting for the final enactment of the DNA Bill which will ensure that all those arrested or convicted of murder and sexual assault amongst other crimes, will have their DNA taken and kept on a database so as to improve our conviction rates and to identify serial offenders. As figures are also “my thing” I looked up some statistics which would be relevant to my visit, these being the incidence of certain crimes which have been reported during the last year in the State of Tennessee as opposed to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the province in which I live… Bearing in mind I have taken these figures from various sources on the Internet and that they may not be entirely accurate, they do provide a glimpse into the difference in our two societies.

If one works out what the crime rates are per 100 000 people to better compare the figures the murder rate in KZN is 5 ½ times higher and the rate of sexual assault 1 ½ times higher. The bottom line is, yes, our rate of serious offences is substantially higher and we have less forensic resources at our disposal. The sexual assault figure in particular is misleading and I think needs some clarification…. The reported figures I used represent the 1 in 9 cases of sexual assault which are actually reported and where there is approximately a 14% conviction rate. In other words the situation is far worse than the figures suggest. In reality the level of sexual offences committed in KZN is probably at least 12 times higher than that of Tennessee. When looking at how children are affected I found that last year 800 children were murdered in KZN alone and that 41% of sexual assaults involve children – reports suggest that every 3 minutes a child is raped in South Africa, and that the conviction rate for child rape is a minuscule 3%!!! The bottom line is we HAVE to start using DNA more efficiently in South Africa to address these very real, and senseless acts of severe violence.
Criminal acts occur everywhere and Tennessee is no exception, but they are actively working to address crimes of all types – even at the level of the Nashville Metro Police Department. Here they are building a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory that will include drug ID, firearms, DNA, latent prints and toxicology – all under one roof. I was thrilled to be shown around their laboratory that is still under construction by Damian Huggins the Deputy Chief of the Investigative Services Bureau as well as Tabitha Bullock who will head up the DNA unit. It was a fascinating morning where I could not help but wish that even some of our police stations could guarantee that forensic experts would not only timeously collect evidence at crime scenes but also have a local facility where it would be comprehensively analysed.

From there it was on to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) where Ed Jones the Deputy Director, and Chuck Hardy the DNA Grants Project Leader met us. Wow…. not only is the building impressive but I was immediately struck by their mission statement: “That Guilt Shall Not Escape Nor Innocence Suffer”. I was warmly welcomed and the afternoon started off with my being able to share with all the forensic analysts a little of the situation in South Africa along with what The DNA Project is doing in an attempt to constructively address our unacceptably high levels of crime. Thereafter I embarked on another amazing tour – this time of the working laboratories. Once again, all the forensic disciplines are contained in one building to facilitate the analysis of all types of evidence. The set up is similar to that which South Africa has just opened in Plattekloof in the Western Cape – a model that I hope will be duplicated in other Provinces.  Two experiences were of particular interest to me; the first was being able to enter an enormous room where a double decker bus can fit…. This is so that analysts can comprehensively search the vehicle for any forensic clues which may indicate the source of the crime committed. The second was spending time with Chuck Hardy and the analysts in the DNA section. Chuck has actually recently visited South Africa for a conference but spent a mere 24 hours here!!! I really enjoyed seeing and talking about the equipment and methodology they employ as well as discussing the collection kits used by TBI to obtain samples from both convicted offenders and arrestees – all the profiles of which are of course stored on their CODIS Database. The “Database’ being contained in a particularly innocuous looking hard drive ……

And so, I would like to sincerely thank everyone who shared their time and knowledge with me for a truly inspiring day – one that I will always remember and appreciate. I return to South Africa more determined than ever that we CAN and WILL make our beautiful country a safer place for us all.


 Change a life with a bike #changealife2013

Thu, Sep 12th, 2013

One of our biggest and most generous sponsors, the Change a Life Trust, finishes its annual cycle tour this week where some 70 company executives have been burning up their lycra over 570km around the Lubombo mountains in Swaziland. Cycling champion Robbie Hunter and super multi-discipline sportsman Martin Dreyer accompanied the execs on this fairly gruelling route.

Computershare South Africa established the Mike Thomson Change a Life Trust in 2008 to sponsor initiatives that support victims of crime and grassroots programmes that address the causes and symptoms of crime. The trust supports the DNA Project, iChoose to Change a Life, the Martin Dreyer Change a Life Academy, the Allan Thomson Kushido Karate-do and Nemato Change a Life.

This year’s cycle tour is expected to raise R3.5-million, bringing to almost R20-million the total amount it has donated to these anti-crime and youth development projects in South Africa. Although the field is dominated by men, some of the women doing the race include Qedani Mahlangu, the Gauteng MEC of infrastructure development; Nicky Newton-King, the chief executive of the JSE; Ruan Jooste, the associate editor of money and investing at the Financial Mail; Ursula du Plooy, the executive director of Computershare South Africa; Katy Caldis, the head actuary at Liberty Health Holdings; and Diane Radley, the chief executive of Old Mutual Investment Group South Africa.

Tour history

The 2008 tour consisted of three days along the Zambezi River, with cyclists riding 450km from Victoria Falls through parts of Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and Zambia. Some 81 executives entered, and R2.3-million was raised. In 2009, 62 cyclists spent five days riding through Northern Cape, Free State and into Swaziland. Almost double the previous year’s amount was raised, at R3.5-million.

Again in 2010, R3.5-million was raised, with 69 cyclists riding 480km in Malawi over six days. In 2011, 70 executives rode the length of the Namib desert in Namibia, taking four days to complete 530km. The route started in Windhoek and headed westwards across the desert before ending in Walvis Bay. The race was tough – day one was a hot 121km, with a gruelling 201km trek on day two, followed by 111km through the desert in sweltering heat. Day four was 101km, with cyclists finishing along the salt road with the Atlantic Ocean to keep them company.

Then, in 2012, 75 cyclists strapped on their helmets to ride 550km through the Waterberg mountains in Limpopo. They climbed 5 000m through the bushveld and undulating terrain of South Africa’s northernmost province. Some of the comments from that tour are testimony to the effort put in by everyone. “I’ve finally managed to watch the Change a Life High Five Tour Documentary. Enjoyed the tour all over again. What you’ve built is amazing. I am very proud to be part of the Change a Life family,” said Nthime Khoele, the principal and co-founder of equity company Bopa Moruo.

Mike Estment, chief executive of NFB financial services group, said: “Thanks for an absolutely wonderful tour. It was all seamless, sublime and special.”

And Eric Janet, the managing director of Luxalite, an optical goods manufacturer, added: “I wonder if the Tour de France is as organised and as well run as your Change a Life tours are? With the tour having come and gone the fond memories of such a wonderful experience will linger on for many years to come.”

Sponsors of this year’s race include British Airways, Dischem, Europcar, Hollard, Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Nedbank, Old Mutual, Pick n Pay, Sun International and Vodacom. Computershare matches rand for rand all funds raised from cyclist entry fees, which this year is R30,000 per cyclist.

This blog is an adaptation of the original article written by Lucille Davie

10 Sep 2013 06:47

UFS offer first undergraduate degree in Forensic Science

Mon, Sep 2nd, 2013

When The DNA Project was established in 2005, there was no specific training course for forensic DNA analysts being offered at any tertiary institution in South Africa. This became one of the key objectives of the DNA Project: namely to develop a group of competent, professional forensic scientists to perform forensic science examinations to assist the courts of law secure convictions through the use of DNA evidence. To meet this objective, the DNA Project worked together with the Criminal Justice System Review Task Team and leading academics from around the country to develop a postgraduate qualification at Honours level, aimed at training people with specific skills in forensic DNA analysis.

The first University to take on board this Honours course in 2010 was the University of the Free State, which is now in its third year of offering this course to students. Today, the UFS is taking our initial intiative one step further by now being able to offer an undergraduate BSc degree in forensic science – the first of its kind in South Africa. According to the department of genetics, the degree will target, among others, people working on crime scenes and criminal cases in forensic laboratories and the South African Police Services.

Entrance requirements for the undergraduate degree will be calculated on an admissions point score basis of at least 34, which will be based on an the results obtained in the applicant’s national school-leaving examinations –  as well as a combined minimum point of 17 for maths, life sciences and physical science. Applications for this new degree close on 30 September 2013 and a minimum of 80 students will be selected for admission to the course next year. On completion of the undergraduate programme, postgraduate-level students can continue with forensic science, forensic chemistry, forensic genetics or forensic entomology.

Professor Johan Spies, chair of the department of genetics in the faculty of natural and agricultural sciences, said the university had already received more than 60 applications without any advertising which shows how many students are interested in this career path.  Over-subscription to the new degree was a distinct possibility, and in the very long term, the UFS has plans to expand. However, at the moment the university is limited by laboratory and facility space. Spies said there was no doubt that television programmes like “CSI” had stimulated interest in the subject. “And not only in forensics, but others too. When those TV series are being aired, the genetics department always receives a spate of enquiries.”



The new degree

Being the first higher education institution in South Africa to offer the degree was a coup, and Spies said that other universities had shied away from offering something similar mainly because the degree was so complex.

“If you want to do all aspects of it properly, you need to include medical, physics, genetics, IT, even accounting…there are many facets to the subject. We started with the postgrad course, and it went quite well, so began looking at it on an undergraduate level.

“I visited a number of different universities in the United Kingdom to see how they did it, and then used that as a model on which to base our own course.”

New staff have already been appointed, including a lecturer who studied at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and another who is completing a doctorate in chemistry.

Forensic Hons Student at the UFS

Forensic Hons Student at the UFS

At the moment, the department of genetics has nine lecturers, but Spies said it would also be involving staff from other departments to help with specific areas of certain modules.

This blog entry is an excerpt adapted from an article written by Peta Lee from The University World Press . To read the full article click here.

An overview of the new DNA Bill

Tue, Aug 27th, 2013

Sitting alone in the Public Gallery above the National Assembly in the early evening of  22 August 2013, I watched in disbelief as the long awaited DNA Bill, officially know as the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures ) Amendment) Bill B9-2013, was almost not voted into Parliament due to a technical glitch on the electronic voting system. Having fought so long to see the passing of this Bill, it felt surreal that after listening to a range of high level South Africa Politicians laud the DNA Bill as groundbreaking and an excellent crime fighting tool, throughout the course of that same afternoon, it looked as if one of the most technologically advanced pieces of legislation was going to be stalled yet again, but this time due to the failure of technology itself. How ironic that the final voting on the Bill had to be done by a head count which thankfully realised a quorum to vote in the Bill. It seemed fitting drama to the 9 year struggle we have fought to see this critical DNA Bill being passed into law.

Looking down on the National Assembly from the Public Gallery before the DNA Bill was officially voted in, 22 Aug. 2013

Looking down on the National Assembly from the Public Gallery before the DNA Bill was officially voted in, 22 Aug. 2013

The DNA Bill represents a welcome stand by the South African Government to regulate this important area of the law, which has to date been operated in a legal vacuum. The DNA Bill officially establishes a National Forensic DNA Database (NFDD) for the purposes of crime detection and investigation, the exoneration of convicted persons and for the identification of missing persons and unidentified human remains. The growth of South Africa’s NFDD is directly linked to the implementation of this law which will allow for the inclusion of profiles onto the NFDD, as well as allowing for comparative searching between the different types of profiles. This is important because the greater the number of profiles on the database, the greater the chance of finding a match between the crime scene profile and a known profile on the database. In other words, if we increase the number of profiles on our database, we will increase the chance of finding a match and linking it to a suspect or at the very least deriving criminal intelligence therefrom. The DNA Bill with its compulsory taking of DNA samples from arrestees and convicted offenders*, ensures that the database is populated for this purpose. But how will this translate into crime resolution and how will it help secure convictions in South Africa? In essence, entering DNA profiles obtained from samples from all those suspected and convicted of a Schedule 8 Offence, and comparing those to profiles obtained from biological evidence left at crime scenes, will achieve the following:

Earlier arrest of offenders: the mandatory collecting of DNA samples from arrestees means identifying criminals at an earlier stage in the criminal justice process, and will allow for more efficient prosecution practices.
Quick identification of linked/serial crimes: By helping to convict or rule out a suspect at an early stage, a DNA database saves valuable police and other crime detection resources, leaving them free for other investigations or to be deployed towards more crime prevention.
Valuable criminal intelligence: linking crimes, even where there is no known suspect, and identifying serial offenders earlier and patterns of criminal behavior.
Earlier exoneration of innocent suspects: the exclusion of a suspect from an investigation frees the innocent as soon as possible and will not permit someone falsely accused to remain in jail when they should not be there.
Easier identification of bodies or missing persons: especially where the degradation of a body prevents identification through visual recognition or fingerprints.
Crime reduction and deterrence: persons identified by DNA are convicted, imprisoned and removed from the community preventing them from committing further crimes and deterring them from reoffending after release due to their profile remaining on the NFDD which can positively link them to crimes they may intend on committing.

*The rationale behind obtaining DNA profiles from all convicted criminals is because research has shown that:
1.       it acts as a deterrent and addresses the issues of accountability, both of which pose a huge issue in South Africa in respect of repeat crimes being committed by the same person;
2.       it could be used to link the offender with previous crime scenes where DNA profiles have been uplifted from crime scenes;
3.       research has shown that there is a high possibility of the convicted offenders repeating crimes either after release, or during parole. By retaining the DNA profile, any subsequent crime stain may be linked immediately to that person, whose full details will be on the NFDD. The rate of recidivism in South Africa is extremely high motivated for this convicted offender index to be imposed retrospectively. This will ensure that any convicted offender currently in prison, in remand or on parole must have a DNA sample taken and analysed before release.

Whilst currently the DNA Bill is linked to the seriousness of the initial offence for which the person was arrested or convicted, this does not necessarily predict the seriousness of subsequent offences with which the person may be associated. As a result, the current policy which only mandates the collection of samples from individuals arrested for  Schedule 8 Offences, runs the risk of missing numerous detections of other types of less serious offences which do not fall under schedule 8. The Committee has however recognised this limitation but due to possible capacity demands on the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in the initial phases of the implementation of the DNA Bill, it allows for this provision to be revisited after 5 years when the legislation will be reviewed.

So whose profiles will be entered onto the NFDD and how long will those profiles remain on the NFDD?

NFDD Profile Retention criteria summarised:
1. Crime scene samples and profiles are retained indefinitely.
2. Profiles migrated to CO index upon conviction, or removed following acquittal or if charges are dropped.
3. Subject to the Child Justice Act, a child’s profile is only retained for a set term after conviction. Adults – indefinite unless pardoned.
4. Retained until the purpose of the profile has been served.

The integrity of the NFDD: The DNA Bill adequately puts proper safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of the NFDD with severe penalties for any misuse of the information stored on the NFDD. Currently, no such protection exists in respect of the repository of DNA profiles held by the FSL which is yet another reason why laws regulating this area of the criminal justice system are urgently required.

Collection of DNA Samples by Police Officials by way of a Buccal Swab: The DNA Bill allows certain categories of specially trained police officers to collect a DNA sample from arrestees and convicted offenders through the simple process of a cheek swab. This is in line with Best International Practice as well as Interpol Recommendations (of which South Africa is a member country) and is convenient, logistically practical, and non-invasive. In addition the DNA sample itself will be destroyed once the forensic DNA profile has been entered on the NFDD. This is important because the DNA sample itself contains the full genetic make up of that person whereas the Forensic DNA profile derived therefrom is simply a unique identifier which provides no other behavioural, medical or personal information about that person other than their sex.

The successful implementation of the DNA legislation is going to depend largely on the continuous oversight and guidance of the National Forensic Oversight Ethics Board (NFOEB) which will be established in terms of the provisions of the DNA Bill. The Board will consist of 10 members, 5 of which will be selected from members of the public with knowledge and experience in forensic science, human rights law or ethics relating to forensic science, to be nominated by the public and appointed by the Minister of Police. The chairperson will be a retired judge or senior advocate with experience in human rights. A representative from the SAHRC will also be appointed. Only 3 of its members will be selected from the State. The fact that the NFOEB will be weighted in favour of members from the public means that it is truly an oversight body which will ensure that the correct balance is maintained between the state and public interests. The responsibilities of the Board are numerous and include, amongst others, monitoring the implementation of the legislation; providing proposals on various improvements in the forensic DNA field; oversight of operational processes to ensure best practices and quality assurance systems are followed; and the handling of complaints.

In order for the NFDD to be effective, the quality and quantity of DNA samples delivered to the Forensic Science Laboratories for analysis must be optimised. The Bill highlights the fact that training on the preservation of forensic evidence at a crime scene need to be addressed in South Africa. To this end, rigorous training has to be implemented amongst key sectors of the SAPS and community, namely: amongst first responding community police forums and police officers, emergency services, private security services as well as the general public. All of these sectors need to be able to assist in protecting and containing, as opposed to contaminating, a crime scene, thereby enabling trained forensic personnel to collect and retain usable DNA evidence for profiling and subsequent prosecution. The DNA Project has over the last 5 years embarked on a massive awareness campaign to help spread awareness in this regard through the implementation of crime scene awareness workshops as well as the distribution of awareness materials and via various media platforms – these programmes will continue to be implemented nationally and are more important now than ever.

Vanessa waiting to crack the champagne when the DNA Bill is finally promulgated!

Vanessa waiting to crack the champagne when the DNA Bill is finally promulgated!

There are two more steps before we see this Bill officially enacted: it needs to pass though the NCOP (National Council of Provinces) and thereafter, it will be sent to the President for his signature. At that point, the DNA Bill will officially become law. And then? Well then the REAL work begins as we all need to help ensure that its implementation is successful and that it translates into crime resolution. With all the above requirements adhered to, DNA profiling in a criminal context will help reduce the scourge of crime prevalent in South Africa today in a smart, advanced and constructive manner. After all, this is what we are fighting for.

Vanessa Lynch & The DNA Project Team

DNA Database – for cats?

Sat, Aug 24th, 2013

British Cat DNA Database Helps Convict Killer

David Hilder David Hilder

LONDON (AP) — Fingerprints are not the only thing that killers can leave behind – add cat hair to that list.

A British university reported that its DNA database of British felines helped convict a man of manslaughter, illustrating how the genetic material of pets can be used by crime scene investigators.

“This is the first time cat DNA has been used in a criminal trial in the U.K.,” said Jon Wetton from the University of Leicester. “This could be a real boon for forensic science, as the 10 million cats in the U.K. are unwittingly tagging the clothes and furnishings in more than a quarter of households.”

Although drawing DNA from human hair, saliva, or blood samples has long been a part of crime scene investigations, animal material has also provided invaluable clues. The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, has used animal DNA to catch criminals for more than a decade – including one case in London in which blood left at the scene of a nightclub stabbing was matched to a murder suspect’s bull terrier.

In the latest case in Britain, investigators tapped the same lab to identify the cat hair discovered around the dismembered torso of David Guy, 30, who was found hidden in a trash bag on a British beach in July 2012. Detectives matched the hair to a cat belonging to the man’s friend, David Hilder, but because the genetic material was mitochondrial DNA – which can be shared among large number of animals – the strength of the match couldn’t be known.

That’s where the cat DNA database came in.

Wetton – who had previously helped to set up a similar database for dogs – worked with doctoral student Barbara Ottolini to create a repository of cat DNA for the Hilder case. They gathered samples of mitochondrial DNA from 152 felines across England over a six-week period.

“Only three of the samples obtained matched the hairs from the crime scene,” Wetton said, suggesting that while the match wasn’t perfect, it was still a pretty good indication the hairs on the torso came from Hilder’s cat.

“No one’s going to be convicted on this alone, but if it’s helping to reinforce other sorts of evidence then you can paint a picture in the jury’s mind,” Wetton said.

In this case there was a host of additional evidence – including traces of Guy’s blood discovered at Hilder’s residence in Southsea, in southern England – and it was enough to secure the 47-year-old’s conviction.

On July 30, Hilder was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 12 years before he is eligible for parole.

Authorities said in statements after the trial that Hilder and Guy’s relationship – and the motive for the latter’s killing – remain unclear. The two were neighbors, but prosecutors described their relationship as “love/hate.” They said the violence may have even been spurred by an argument over the cat.

Wetton said he hoped the cat DNA database could serve in future cases.

As for the cat itself – Tinker – police said it was alive and well and living with new owners.

The University of Leicester has created the UK’s first cat DNA database – which has already helped convict a killer writes the University of Leceister Press Office

Experts in the University’s Department of Genetics have compiled a database of DNA from 152 cats around the country.

The database was used to demonstrate the likelihood that cat hairs found on the dismembered torso of Hampshire man David Guy belonged to “Tinker”, a cat owned by main suspect David Hilder.

This evidence was used as part of the prosecution case leading to the successful conviction of Hilder for manslaughter.

Dr Jon Wetton, who led the project, said: “This is the first time cat DNA has been used in a criminal trial in the UK. We now hope to publish the database so it can be used in future crime investigations.

“This could be a real boon for forensic science, as the 10 million cats in the UK are unwittingly tagging the clothes and furnishings in more than a quarter of households.”

In July 2012, the torso of David Guy was found on a Southsea beach wrapped in a curtain on which eight cat hairs were found.

Hampshire Constabulary sent the hairs to California for analysis, where the scientists examined the cat’s mitochondrial DNA – a type of DNA contained in small structures within cells, and passed down the maternal line.

The mitochondrial results showed not only a match with the suspect’s cat, “Tinker”, but also that the same DNA type had not been seen among 493 randomly sampled US cats.

The police were keen to know if the type was equally rare in the UK – and, more specifically, in the area of the crime.

Hampshire police tracked down Dr Jon Wetton – who had created a similar database of UK dogs while working with the Forensic Science Service (FSS).

Dr Wetton said: “I was approached by Hampshire police, who wanted to know the evidential strength of the match. I explained that could only be determined with reference to a database of UK cats – which did not exist at the time.

“Having produced a similar database for UK dogs during my previous employment with the Forensic Science Service, we proposed creating a UK cat database from scratch.”

With PhD student Barbara Ottolini carrying out the lab work, 152 cats from England were tested, within an impressively short timescale.

The team were able to get the samples from a company, which handles analysis of blood samples from pets for vets across the country.

The samples showed cats’ ages, gender and postcode – with 23 cats from Southsea and another 129 from a range of places throughout the rest of the country.

Only three of the samples obtained matched the hairs from the crime scene, confirming that it was indeed an uncommon type in the UK.

This evidence was presented at Winchester Crown Court, and formed part of the prosecution case successfully convicting David Hilder for manslaughter.

Dr Wetton said: “Within each cat hair are two types of DNA, individual-specific ‘nuclear DNA’ detectable in the roots of some larger hairs, and ‘mitochondrial DNA’ which is shared by all maternally-related individuals and can be found even in the finest hair shafts.

“Animal DNA offers a way of linking people to places and items through the transfer of their pet’s hairs.”

PhD student Barbara Ottolini said: “The police were lucky in this case, as most mitochondrial types are common when tested with the technique we used here.

“We would like to use cutting-edge DNA sequencing methods to identify further variation in cat mitochondrial DNA to maximise the discriminating power of the evidence”.

As well as continuing to use the database for analysis of mitochondrial DNA, the team also hopes to use their collection of cat DNAs to evaluate much more discriminating nuclear DNA tests.

Prof Mark Jobling, who leads the lab where the work was done, said: “Having created a similar database of UK dogs while working with the Forensic Science Service (FSS), Jon Wetton was the ideal person to lead the creation of a similar database of UK cats”.

The work was paid for by Hampshire Constabulary, and indirectly by the Leverhulme Trust, which provides the support for Dr Wetton’s post.

Dr Wetton said: “The FSS closure has massively reduced forensic research capacity within the UK. It will increasingly be Universities that will have to take up the slack, but funds are needed.

“One of the missions of the University of Leicester’s Alec Jeffreys Forensic Science Institute is to source such funds, so that larger-scale research projects can be undertaken in the future at the home of DNA fingerprinting.”