Forensic science under MPs’ microscope

Forensic science under MPs’ microscope

Less forensic evidence is being analysed, with potential implications for the quality of information available to inform criminal cases, expert witnesses have told MPs.

Helen Kenny, former Prospect branch secretary at the Forensic Science Service, which was closed in March 2012, gave oral evidence to the Commons science and technology select committee inquiry into the aftermath of the FSS closure in January.

Kenny was part of a witness panel that included Alison Fendley, executive director of Forensic Archive Ltd, and Dr Gill Tully, a consultant at Principal Forensic Services Ltd.

Kenny said more than half of the forensic scientists employed by the FSS have left the profession altogether, partly due to concerns over the insecurity of employment with other forensic service providers.

When pressed for an assessment of whether people would get away with serious crimes as a result of the changes, Dr Tully said that there would be cases where people were not convicted because forensic evidence was not of a sufficiently high standard, lacked context or simply not sought. Dr Tully thought this was more likely to happen in the current market.

The real value of forensic science was in putting together evidence and results which, in isolation, may not be clear cut, said Kenny.

All three witnesses agreed that the government does not have a clear strategy for forensic science. Procurement in the external market is driven largely by price and the market remains fragile.

Kenny also highlighted the challenges that had arisen in transferring staff to other forensic science providers, including resistance to honouring their obligations under the transfer of undertakings regulations (TUPE).

All three witnesses agreed that forensic research and development is poor, largely due to insufficient funding. The Technology Strategy Board has established a special interest group for forensic science, but this does not have research funding of its own.

Watch the evidence session at