SLICE ‘em and dice ‘em television series like Silent Witness and Waking The Dead have long been popular. Their literary equivalents, authored by Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell are devoured by millions of enthusiastic readers. Dr Temperance Brennan, Nikki Alexander and Kay Scarpetta are the heroes but the real star of these works of fiction is forensic science.
We all know who the Home Secretary was who presided over this shambles, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, who has a well-deserved reputation for being on top of the detail - or does she?
This country has been a world leader in forensic science for many years. DNA profiling was developed by Professor Jefferys of Leicester University and the world’s first convicted murderer on the basis of DNA evidence in 1988 was Colin Pitchfork. After a mass DNA screening he was found guilty of raping and murdering two girls in Leicestershire.
Unfortunately any pride we have as a country in using our scientific expertise to bring the worst criminals to justice should definitely be cast in the past tense. The parlous state of our forensic science I think would shock the devotees of those popular stories mentioned above.
A little history is in order – one of the first acts of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government in 2010 was to announce the closure of the Forensic Science Service in England and Wales. The reason as always was financial, there was less work for the Forensic Science Service because different police services were saving money by doing work in house and the private sector providers were taking an increasing share of the market for the simpler, repetitive process.
Over the last six years the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has completed three inquiries into forensic science. They have exposed complacent Home Office officials and at least one incompetent Minister. The Home Office’s scientific advisor, Professor Silverman, for instance failed in his primary responsibility to consider the implications for science when the recommended closure was first considered. The Committee found the Junior Minister, the Lib Dem Jeremy Browne, to be incompetent and irresponsible, having failed to do the analysis and establish the facts necessary in order to take an evidence based decision.
Sorry Silent Witness cast but we're going to have to dispense with your services
The Government has failed to develop a complete strategy for forensic science. There remains a pressing requirement for more forensic research including into how well the science contributes to the criminal justice system. The Government is not insisting, as it should, that police forces doing their own forensic work are accredited to the standards expected elsewhere in the industry. This not only leads to accusations of conflicts of interest but incompetencies.
All of this is sad and depressing but the consequences are simply that murderers and rapists who otherwise would have been convicted will get away with their crimes.
Three times Dr Gillian Tully has appeared before the Committee, first as the Research and Development Manager of the Forensic Science Service and latterly as the Regulator for Forensic Science. Each time she has been asked whether there will be less convictions for serious crimes because of the ill thought through destruction of the Forensic Science Service, each time she has answered unambiguously that the fragmentation of the service and the inability of current providers to provide contextual analysis means that more villains will be walking on our streets.
The decline in effectiveness and commitment to forensic science must be reversed. The Government needs to get back to the drawing board to develop a workable strategy otherwise next year’s fiction will not be about breakthrough science catching murderers it will be about the blunders of officials and politicians making it easier for perpetrators to remain at liberty.
Finally we all know who the Home Secretary was who presided over this shambles, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, who has a well-deserved reputation for being on top of the detail - or does she?
Graham Stringer is a regular columnist for Manchester Confidential. He is the Labour Member of Parliament for Blackley and Broughton with a majority of 12,303. He was elected to Parliament in 1997 for the now abolished constituency of Manchester Blackley. Prior to this he was the Leader of Manchester City Council from 1984-1996. He is one of the few MPs to have science experience, as a professional analytical chemist. He is a member of The Science and Technology Committee at Westminster.