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Forensic science vandalism
Wednesday 25 July 2012 by Jonathan Rayner
He is almost 70 years old and still manning the barricades nearly 24 years after his most high-profile triumph as a solicitor - the freeing of four victims of a miscarriage of justice who had spent 15 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.
Alastair Logan is the lawyer who persisted in striving to prove the innocence of the Guildford Four, imprisoned following the 1974 pub bombings that killed five people and injured 76. They were released in October 1989 when the government accepted what he had long argued: that his clients were not members of the IRA and that others had carried out the bombings.
Logan, a retired solicitor and active member of the Law Society’s international human rights committee, is in the news again because last week he told listeners to Radio 4’s Today programme that the closure of the national Forensic Science Service (FSS) was ‘an act of vandalism by the government’.
Many criminal law practitioners and others agree: forensic blunders in two recent high-profile criminal investigations have prompted renewed calls for the Home Office to reverse the closure and reinstate a national FSS in place of private forensic companies. One case concerned Adam Scott, 19, from Exeter, who was wrongly accused of rape and held in the sex offenders’ wing of a prison until it was discovered that the private provider of forensic services had contaminated the DNA evidence.
The second case concerned MI6 codebreaker Gareth Williams, 31, whose naked and decomposing body was found in a padlocked bag in his flat. The police enquiry into his death was delayed when detectives spent 18 months investigating a DNA sample found on Williams’ hand before discovering that it belonged to a forensic scientist working on the case.
Logan told the Gazette: ‘The government closed the FSS because it was losing £1m to £2m a month - but since when does a constituent part of the criminal justice system have to be profitable? The FSS was a national organisation that provided all the required skills to a very high standard. It has been replaced with a mix of private providers and in-house police “toy labs”, where the work is done with an eye for costs, not quality.‘
Logan complains that the decision to close the FSS was taken without a proper consultation and fears that unqualified people or even rogue officers could be responsible for assessing the value of exhibits. He is also concerned by the ‘fragmentation’ of expertise as private companies, on commercial grounds, refuse to share new findings.
He told the Gazette: ‘Knowledge was formerly shared in the interests of justice. Now private companies are going to jealously protect their intellectual property. The government has created huge problems for the criminal justice system. When the funds are available, and after yet more blunders, I look forward to the reinvention of the FSS.’
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The managed wind-down of the FSS has ensured that the police and the criminal justice system continue to have the forensics capability they need to protect the public and bring criminals to justice.’
Jonathan Rayner is a reporter on the Gazette
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