In the Media

Met police to hire 180 forensic scientists

PUBLISHED October 10, 2011

Unease as Scotland Yard hires 180 scientists Scotland Yard is hiring 180 scientists from the soon to be defunct Forensic Science Service to bring its scenes of crime work inhouse - raising fears amongst criminal law experts that the independence and integrity of expert prosecution evidence could be jeopardised. As a result of the government's closure of the FSS talks have been underway between the Metropolitan Police, the Home office and the scientists' union, Prospect, to move the scientists to the Met's own forensic laboratory which is being expanded to take on part of the work originally done by the FSS. The minister for crime and security, James Brokenshire has signed off on the move but the scientists union is seeking assurances from Scotland Yard that the independence of its members will be protected. "The Met will be using these scientists in a recovery and interpretive role in the field, at scenes of crime," said Steve Thomas, national officer for Prospect. "They know that there are concerns from the scientists around conflict of interests and it will be a cultural difference for the scientists. We are seeking assurances about the management and independence of the scientific work they are doing." The move will see the pendulum swing back 30 years to the time when the Metropolitan Police forensic laboratory provided the expert evidence for detectives. But the Met lab was merged in 1996 with the new Forensic Science Service to create a national forensic facility independent of the police - partly because of concerns over the independence of scientists working within the police. Criminal lawyer Simon McKay said he felt a "considerable sense of unease" at the news. "The whole evolution of expert evidence over the last decade has been to continue to strive for experts to be able to demonstrate their independence and integrity in criminal jurisdictions. And this is completely regressive," he said. "It was always going to be the natural consequence of closing down the FSS. Essentially these scientists are going to be working for the police." McKay cited historic miscarriages of justice such as the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the prosecution of Colin Stagg for the murder of Rachel Nickell, as examples of the dangers of scientific experts working too closely with the police. The MP Chris Mullin said in the Commons in the aftermath of the Birmingham Six case that Dr Frank Skuse, the forensic scientist whose evidence helped convict the Birmingham Six, "conspired with police officers to pervert the course of justice." The Met's director of forensic services, Gary Pugh, told the science and technology committee earlier this year that the force needed to ensure continuity of provision, and as such would be expanding its own forensic capability in preparation for the closure of the FSS in March. "To remove the FSS as a provider of forensic science services in twelve months will be an operational challenge of unprecedented magnitude," he said. "(It) leaves the need for capacity to undertake forensic examinations in around 300 suspicious death investigations, 1,500 rape and sexually motivated crime case and 1,500 crimes of serious violence while also picking up a large legacy of cases.. "The MPS is developing a new operating model where the recovery, interpretation and reporting of forensic evidence will be undertaken by the MPS and the DNA profiling and analytical science will be undertaken by commercial providers." Crime Police Sandra Laville © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds