In the Media

Did the scientists who missed key Damilola clues botch other cases?

PUBLISHED September 4, 2006

HUNDREDS of pieces of evidence from unsolved murder cases may have to be re-tested after forensic scientists failed to spot clues in the Damilola Taylor case.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has told chief constables in England and Wales to check any case where there should have been a ?forensic harvest? but the Forensic Science Service (FSS) reported that it found no clues. 
It comes after an investigation into the Damilola case found that the FSS missed the clues that finally led last month to manslaughter convictions for Danny and Ricky Preddie.

Although the murder of the ten-year-old boy in November 2000 should have had the highest priority, scientists missed two bloodstains from Damilola on a trainer and a cuff. They also missed a number of fibres.

The FSS failures led to urgent talks in Whitehall. Last week John Reid, the Home Secretary, announced that Alan Rawley QC, an experienced counsel, and Professor Brian Caddy, a scientific witness whose evidence helped to free the Birmingham Six, will lead an inquiry into the service.

The association has told forces to re-examine files on cases where investigators expected material such as blood, body fluids and fibres to be recovered from crime scenes but scientists reported that they had found nothing to identify possible suspects.

Senior Scotland Yard officers have also discussed creating a forensic flying squad that would go to the scene of any major crime and check possible exhibits before they are moved.

The scientific team involved in the Damilola case six years ago should have been the best in Britain. No other unit handles the range of cases dealt with at the laboratory in Lambeth, South London.

But when, in 2002, the Forensic Alliance was called in to carry out a review of the evidence after the collapse of the first murder trial, it found a visible bloodstain belonging to Damilola on the heel of a trainer used by Danny Preddie.

Within the stain was a fibre which matched the material in Damilola?s trousers. A fibre on a sweatshirt used by the teenager was found on Damilola?s jacket, and two fibres that could match the material in Damilola?s trousers were found on a jumper belonging to the teenager. When the scientists began work on exhibits linked to his brother Ricky, they found a bloodstain from Damilola on the cuff of a sweatshirt.

The Home Office inquiry has been given a wide remit. It will review the Damilola case and the FSS?s examination procedures as well as the recruitment, training and management of scientists.