Forensic Science Services (UK) visit SA – sponsored by The DNA Project

Pictured above: Mr Alan Matthews (FSS UK Database Manager) and Director Joubert (Section Head, Biology, FSL) share information at the FSL in Pretoria

The Forensic Science Services (FSS) have just completed a week long visit to the SAPS Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Pretoria, following completion of a diagnostic review at the FSL. The visit, arranged by Vanessa Lynch of The DNA Project, was specifically aimed to further improve the FSL’s current capabilities and capacities to conduct DNA forensic analyses, and for general forensic laboratory improvement.. The FSS in response to the DNA’s Project’s initiative, submitted a proposal to the DNA Project to conduct a Diagnostic Review within SA’s FSL to enable the FSS to better understand the current situation in SA and the vision of the future of forensic DNA in SA. Issues such as scene of crime requirements, legislative impact, technical processes, procedures and techniques currently used within the FSL, were explored. The outcome of the Diagnostic Review by the FSS will be a comprehensive and strategic findings report with recommendations to support the enhancement of DNA processing in SA including a number of proposed solutions from the FSS to meet those recommendations. The report will be rendered to the DNAP together with the FSL at the end of March 2008.

The FSS and its National DNA Database is considered worldwide, to be the benchmark of DNA Forensic practices and DNA Databasing. The Manager of the UK Database, Mr Alan Matthews confirmed that when the UK National DNA database (NDNAD) was launched in 1995 it was anticipated that 35,000 DNA reference samples would be processed in the first year. The reality was that the UK police submitted over 135,000 samples. This showed the perceived value this ‘new’ forensic tool had to assist the police and Criminal Justice Systems with criminal investigations. In order to achieve this, a strategic approach was taken which required by the co-operation of the FSS, Police & the National Police Training Centre (NPTC) as well as the Home Office. This partnership was designed to:

Increase the police submissions of DNA samples from crime scenes and suspects

Increase the quality of police submissions

Decrease the number of samples being rejected for administrative failures

Decrease the number of DNA samples failing to give DNA profile

Increase the understanding of the need for proper packaging, storage and chain of custody

of DNA evidence

Increase the police understanding of legislative issues and the changed police processes

• ensure the Rapid development in the size of the National DNA Database

Increase the impact of DNA profiling on crime detection and clear up rates

The above action made a significant impact on crime. Every week in the UK suspects arrested for relatively minor crimes are being matched, by the use of the NDNAD, to DNA evidential material recovered from undetected homicides and serious sexual offences. The investigative power of these techniques cannot be ignored. Vanessa Lynch of the DNA Project, recognizing the significant contribution the FSS’s historical journey san make to alleviating crime in SA, is exploring a proposal by the FSS proposes to make this expertise available to the South African Police Service working in partnership to design and deliver an equivalent training programme. To this end, the DNA Project seeks to effect change at Crime Scene level by the implementation of a “Training Bus” – The DNA Project is investigating the development of a “training bus” to handle training of lower level police officers in the handling of a crime scene (where currently a large majority of crucial evidence is lost). The FSS training teams developed mobile training solutions which toured major police sites over 18 months allowing ‘First Attending’ police officers and other specialists access to the training materials and the DNA ‘experts’. These solutions included the provision of a mobile classroom based on a 7.5 tonne truck and the provision of a suite of laptop computers to provide a ‘fixed’ classroom environment.

Whilst in Pretoria performing the Diagnostic Review, Mr Allan Matthews, the International Business Director for the FSS, gave an informative dialogue in which he illustrated how the use of the UK’s National DNA Database has translated into thousands of crimes solved and offenders convicted as a result f the above co-ordinated approach in the UK. In the longer term, as a result of the introduction of DNA profiling and the power of the NDNAD, the UK has seen a significant impact on overall crime rates, particularly in those offences classified as volume crime (burglary and car crime). Every week in the UK suspects arrested for relatively minor crimes are being matched, by the use of the NDNAD, to DNA evidential material recovered from undetected homicides and serious sexual offences. The investigative power of these techniques cannot be ignored.

Vanessa Lynch also held in depth discussions with a senior State Attorney, key role players within the Forensic Science Laboratory as well as the Manager if the UK DNA Database, Mr Alan Matthews to discuss ways in which the DNAP can help lobby support for legislative changes. The FSS to this end, will provide the DNAP with recommendations, based on the UK’s journey through no less than 6 (six) legislation amendments over the past 15 years, which allowed for the regulated and judicious management of the DNA Database in the UK. Issues such as sample retention, use of profiles and database searching are all being addressed in order to ensure compliance with Human Right Issues as well as restrict use of the DNA database to criminal intelligence. These efforts need to be supported by collating all the research being done, drawing a proposal for submission to the SA Law Commission Review and ensuring that the public lobby support for this initiative.

The FSS is an internationally renowned centre of excellence for casework, research, training and consultancy. It has assisted over 60 countries in the field of forensic science. FSS experts visit forensic facilities overseas, to review work practices, advise on the latest technology and promote the implementation of techniques validated in its own laboratories. It has over 2,500 employees based across the UK and the FSS has six sites that process DNA samples for casework, with three sites that deliver specifically to the UK NDNAD. The three DNA profiling units for the UK NDNAD have state of the art automation facilities to ensure the most efficient processing of samples.

The UK’s National DNA Database® was the first of its kind in the world and has received widespread acknowledgement as the most important advance since fingerprinting in the prevention and detection of crime. It is a dynamic database, as profiles are constantly added to it. The Forensic Science Service® is contracted to run The National DNA Database® on behalf of the Home Office. Following requests from other countries the FSS has produced database software (FSS-iD™) based on its experience running and developing the UK database.

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