Rapists feared still at large as police fail to update DNA database
PUBLISHED October 23, 2012
The Independent Police Complaints Commission found failings by one force, Devon and Cornwall police, which led to a rapist remaining free a decade after he was first arrested for an unrelated crime.
If the force had upgraded DNA evidence to the national database, the perpetrator could have been brought to justice earlier, it is suggested.
The watchdog has now sent advice to all police forces in England and Wales, saying there is "no doubt" historic forensic samples could be "sitting" within their archives.
"There can be little uncertainty that other police forces could also have crucial forensic evidence locked away, during which time forensic science techniques have evolved which could potentially identify serious and serial offenders," it said.
The recommendations follow an IPCC investigation into the case of a 16-year-old girl who was raped in Plymouth in 1989.
A DNA sample was taken at the time, but not been loaded into the National DNA Database (NDNAD) when it came into existence in 1995.
It meant that the man responsible, Shaun Harrison, was not linked with the attack when a DNA sample was taken from him by Devon and Cornwall Police following his arrest for drink driving in 2000.
It was only in August 2010, when the Forensic Science Service (FSS) pointed out that the stain evidence from the historic rape had not been uploaded, that Harrison was associated with the crime.
He pleaded guilty at court and was sentenced to eight years in custody for the 1989 rape, and a further four years for a rape he committed in 1994.
The IPCC has now sent recommendations to all police forces in England and Wales, advising them to consider reviewing their policies in light of the case.
Their report states: "It is apparent that there were a number of opportunities for Devon and Cornwall Constabulary to have reviewed this particular case over the years and have failed to do so.
"On a national level there is no doubt that Devon and Cornwall Constabulary are not the only police force to have historic forensic samples sitting within the FSS archives, with the potential to be re- analysed and upgraded onto the NDNAD.
"The police service as a whole has a moral duty to victims of crime and a responsibility to reduce future crime being committed by proactively targeting the offenders."
Two other offenders have also been successfully convicted since Devon and Cornwall police updated cold case records.
William Pope was sentenced to six years in custody in February 2012 for an indecent assault occuring on January 7, 1993.
Alexander Shepherd was convicted of rape and violent assault carried out in 1990, being sentenced to six years and four months in custody earlier this year.
Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the IPCC, said: "Scientific advances have made it possible for historic crimes to be solved through the use of DNA analysis. However, that process is not automatic because of the cost involved.
"Our investigation found that Devon and Cornwall missed opportunities over the years to review this case. This meant that Harrison's and others DNA samples were not upgraded in line with forensic advancements.
"The force has accepted all of the IPCC recommendations and has assured us that it has systematically ensured that all of its samples have been upgraded and a number of perpetrators of serious sexual assault crimes have since been brought to justice."
A spokesman for the IPCC added there was no evidence to suggest similar errors had occured at other forces, but said the findings were important enough to be shared.