Paying price of putting scientists out to grass

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The UK Forensic Science Service was renowned as world leaders in innovation and development.

It pioneered the use of large scale DNA profiling and set up the world’s first DNA database, resulting in the detection of many previously unsolved offences of murder and rape. However, in 2010 the Government pulled the plug and announced the closure of the FSS. The main reason for the closure was cost, as the FSS was losing nearly £2m every month. However, many professionals working throughout the criminal justice system expressed their unease, at what appeared to be a knee jerk decision that would directly impact on the current and future forensic standards in this country. The Government ignored these concerns as they held the view that private sector forensic companies would fill the void left by the FSS. This hasn’t happened and it is not going to happen. Due to budget cuts, the police have halved their annual spend on forensic submissions to private companies and have increased their capability to conduct in-house forensic examinations. This means private sector forensic companies are struggling and some may even be forced to close. For those companies which do survive, there are few resources available for research or innovation projects. The UK is already starting to lag behind other European countries and it is reported we are using DNA testing kits that are a decade old in design. Whereas other countries are using more modern and sensitive kits which are obtaining results from very low quality samples. How embarrassing for a country that was a former world leader in the forensics arena. Fortunately, Lancashire Police are investing heavily in in-house forensics and is seeking further national accreditation for its DNA lab, fingerprint enhancement lab and e-forensic capability. However, the police need to find another £20m of savings and the in-house forensic team may face a substantial cut to its budget. Also, it is very ineffective for 40 odd forces to be creating their own accredited forensic laboratories and services rather than using a single national FSS. Annoyingly, it is now being reported that it may have cost over £300m to close the FSS. That amount would have maintained and developed this country’s forensic capability for years to come. Instead we have no FSS, weakened private sector forensic companies and in some areas, falling forensic standards. I always thought the closure of the FSS was a big mistake and now evidence is emerging that is exactly what it was. Very sadly, it is now highly unlikely the UK will be a leading light in forensic developments ever again and it is most likely our forensic capability is going to decline.

l If you would like Mick Gradwell to give a talk to your society, a presentation or an educational lecture, contact 01253 600800 for further information.