"World class" Regional Forensic Science Facility opens at Lancashire Police headquarters

A ground-breaking forensic science centre to “take the fight to the criminals” has opened in-house at Lancashire Police headquarters - 10 years after the county's service was scrapped.

By Catherine Musgrove
Saturday, 18th September 2021, 4:55 am

The multi-million pound Regional Forensic Science Facility based at Lancashire Constabulary’s Hutton headquarters is the first of its kind in England and Wales, bringing together expertise from Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria, Merseyside and North Wales to complete drug analysis, footwear examination, firearm classification, a toxicology and a forensic science courier service.

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner, Andrew Snowden, said: “This facility is immense, it’s world class. But we’re only able to do it by coming together.

“Criminals don’t respect geographic boundaries, so it’s only by working together that we can deliver the results our residents expect.”

Samples being tested

The launch of the facility means that forensic services are being brought back in-house in Lancashire on a major scale for the first time in 10 years, since the closure of the forensic science service in Washington Hall, Euxton, which came with the loss of 200 jobs.

All but three scientists moved out of Lancashire, and although a small drugs lab was running in Hutton, many samples were sent 80 miles away to a private facility near Leeds.

At the time, concerns were raised that this would slow the process down and private companies would be serving shareholders interests rather than residents.

Why move away from the private sector?

Danyela Kellett, forensic services manager

Danyela Kellett, forensic services manager, said the decision to launch the new facility was made after problems became apparent in the private sector around 2018 and 2019.

She said: “The marketplace had a lot of crises. We were hearing about people manipulating results at Randox, there were cyber attacks, delays because of Covid, and the revenue has not been enough for these private companies.

“Also, in the marketplace, drugs results could take three to four months to come back, whereas here we’re looking at 10-14 days, though we can still turn results round in a few hours if needed.”

She added: “There are also efficiencies to have working as a collaboration. We are not a profit-making external organisation. We don’t have a profit margin and we are only using and spending what we need.”

The new base at police headquarters in Hutton

The Regional Drugs Facility

The first stage of the Regional Forensic Science facility went live this summer with the opening of The Regional Drugs Facility. This was launched officially yesterday with top brass from the policing world in attendance.

It sees the forensic analysis of drugs for all five forces now carried out at state-of-the-art forensic science labs in Hutton, which has resulted in 15 new jobs in the county. The team can handle up to 300 cases per month, which includes the analysis of more than 1,000 exhibits.

Detective Chief Supt Jo Edwards, who has been leading on the facility, said it would speed up the justice system across the board, and working collaborately will help share information and identify patterns.

Inside a lab

She said: “We can seize evidence, examine a substance, tell what purity it is, match strains and look at the packaging.

“We share trends around drug seizes anyway, but when you have five forces all sending drugs into one place, you can see patterns around supply much quicker and we can then think about how to approach that.”

She added: “This collaboration will also enhance our academic alliance with UCLAN and the RDF and will provide a platform for students to work in a regional forensics facility, while also enhancing our opportunity to tackle future threats through academic research and innovation.

“By investing in-house, we have been able to increase jobs in this area as well as invest in this facility – this will create a sustainable, cost effective service with improved speed and quality and we believe the forensic service we will offer here in the North West will be second to none.”

>>>Click here to read more about the academy.

Around 100 UCLan students every year are working in the Lancashire Forensics Science Academy (LFSA) - a collaborative initiative between University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and Lancashire Constabulary.

Established in 2019 the LFSA brings together forensic science experts, practitioners and students to work alongside each other in the purpose-built research and laboratory facilities.

Students get real-life expertise, and the police get research exposure.

Professor Ian Allison, the Executive Dean for the Faculty of Science and Technology at UCLan, said: “We’re really at the cutting edge with this. It’s very unusual in the field for students to get this kind of real world experience, and it puts them ar a great advantage.”

In total, around 120 staff members will will be working for the facility as a whole.

Lancashire Constabulary will continue to employ its own forensic scientists who collect such things as body fluids and blood from crime scenes, and DNA profiling will still be sent to private labs, as the work is often very complex and savings can be made on economies of scale.

Police and Crime Commissioner

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden added: “It is fantastic to see this collaboration come together and it’s encouraging to see it based here in Lancashire, building on the forensic science facilities already delivering results and helping secure convictions.

“Since becoming Commissioner one of the things that stood out about the officers and staff who works in policing here in the county is the drive to make things happen, deliver for the people of Lancashire and ultimately make us all safer.

“By working in partnership across the region and combining our resources where possible, we can ensure more investment can be made into the front line, so we can get tough on criminals and get them behind bars.”