The latest warning from the union follows a report by the Commons Science and Technology Committee, which flagged up the lack of transparency behind the proposals and called for a halt to closure until the true financial implications become clear.
Prospect’s FSS members, who have already warned of a lack of provision to safeguard future criminal cold case reviews, now fear further niche but key functions could be lost due either to a lack of capacity or expertise among private sector providers.
They include work into:
- gunshot residue
- specialist toxicology and analytical services
- fire investigation
- fingerprint development.
“To match this without significant disruption, competitors would need to double their capacity – unlikely in the short term – and commit to significant capital purchases and training to cope long term. Despite the importance of this work, nobody has spoken to FSS staff about how the service could be maintained either by any future owners of the FSS, the police service or the private sector.”
Similarly, said Clancy, the service is the only organisation in England and Wales to offer ‘flashburning’ – an examination of fibres that can determine whether an individual was present at ignition.
“The Fire Brigades Union has contacted Prospect to express its opposition to closure but yet again no provisional arrangement to cover the loss seems to have been discussed. This is systematic of the whole badly thought out process which will denude the criminal justice system of independent, impartial advice and cause cost to determine justice.”
AREAS UNDER THREAT
FSS has at least 80% of the total gunshot residue work in England and Wales with up to five times more instrument capacity and more reporting officers than commercial providers. Work for the Metropolitan Police currently comprises around 70% of the FSS’ workload, often with much larger cases than other forces – one current case has over 100 items which will keep one instrument fully occupied for around six months.
Competitors could not double their capacity in the short term and would need significant capital purchases and training to cope long term. Transferring existing equipment would cause a disruption and require skilled operatives – none of FSS’ current experts are looking to move out of London.
Toxicology and analytical services
FSS is the only provider with expertise in DART-MS instrumentation, invaluable for analysing potentially contaminated foodstuffs in cases of consumer terrorism – an area of limited expertise in the private sector.
The FSS is the leading, if not only, provider of statements providing an assessment of whether or not a quantity of drugs seized could reasonably be considered to be purely for personal use. This is a key component in persuading suspects to plead guilty to possession with intent to supply, thereby saving the expense of a court case. Using public analysts or hospital laboratories to deliver this type of toxicological analysis would mean that they are not accredited to the same standards as forensic providers.
FSS is the only forensic provider with dedicated fire investigators, as opposed to forensic scientists with other areas of expertise who also carry out fire investigation.
FSS is the only organisation in England and Wales to offer ‘flashburning’ – an examination of fibres that can determine whether an individual was present at ignition. Many police forces seek the assistance of the fire brigade when investigating suspicious fires, which can present problems as they tend not to be forensically trained.
The FSS has considerable expertise in the development and interpretation of fingerprints, particularly in blood. For example, in some instances it is important to be able to determine how the mark was made, and therefore whether the fingerprint was left before the blood got on the surface. The expertise needed for this is different from expert comparison of fingerprints and is limited among private sector forensic providers. While many police forces carry out expert comparison of fingerprints and some, or all of the development work, it is the expert interpretation of how the marks came to be that is at risk.
FSS has also developed an approach to fingerprint development that provides the greatest chances of recovery of DNA material, by collaborative working between biologists and fingerprint staff. Prospect fears that the opportunity for subsequent recovery of DNA will be adversely affected if the comprehensive service that the FSS currently offers are closed.