Families of murder victims deplore loss of 'cold case' unit

The closure of the Forensic Science Service will make it harder for police to track killers, critics say

Hundreds of murderers could escape justice for ever because of the Government's decision to disband Britain's "cold case" detection unit, experts warned last night.

British detectives are struggling with a growing backlog of more than 1,000 unsolved murder cases, figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday have revealed. But critics claim that their chances of catching many of the killers will be hindered by the cost-cutting proposals to shut down the Forensic Science Service (FSS) and pass its 120,000-case annual workload on to private laboratories.

Ministers have decided to disband the FSS, which has been losing £2m a month, by next March as part of their deficit-cutting plans. Allowing private companies to analyse crime-scene data – including DNA evidence and gunshot residues – for individual forces will jeopardise the future of the service's 1,600 staff.

But ministers have also been warned that the loss of FSS expertise could spell the end for thousands of cold cases lying on the files of police forces across the UK.

Neil Atkinson, of the National Victims' Association, said: "We are utterly dismayed. We represent those with most to lose – the families bereaved through murder. The British public needs to understand that, contrary to the propaganda of this and previous governments, victims of serious crime are on the periphery – not at the heart – of the criminal justice system."

The Labour MP Andrew Miller, chairman of the Parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee, which published a scathing report on the Government's plans, said: "Cold-case reviews are at risk."

The threat is greatest in the most serious cases awaiting a breakthrough. The IoS has established that British police forces are sitting on a caseload of more than 1,100 unsolved murders, some dating back more than a century. The true total is likely to be much higher as most forces responding to freedom of information requests on the subject provided only details of cases from the past few decades.

The list of victims of killers who have so far evaded justice includes scores of pensioners and 11 babies. It also includes the children Ricky Neave and Genette Tate and the television presenter Jill Dando.

The vast majority are victims of crimes that have attracted little publicity and, as time passes, have less and less chance of being solved. Although the murder rate has fallen in the past decade – from 904 to 642 in England and Wales in the seven years up to 2010/11 – a hard core of unsolved crimes has remained stubbornly high.

Police insist they never give up on resolving all their cold cases, reviewing them regularly in the hope of a breakthrough, but they admit they are heavily dependent on FSS forensic experts. Dr Gill Tully, FSS head of research and development, said: "Many years can be saved and justice can be brought about more quickly and efficiently."

Keith Aris, whose 73-year-old mother, Connie, was battered to death in her Cheltenham home 26 years ago, has given up hope of seeing her killer brought to justice. "We still think about her a lot. Of course, I'm still looking for justice. We have to live with her death all the time. We are not happy about what the Government is doing."

Steve Thomas, of Prospect, the union that represents many FSS staff, warned that "thousands of years of expertise" could be lost if FSS staff are forced to leave the system.

The Crime and Security minister, James Brokenshire, said: "Our focus remains on providing continued high-quality forensic services to the justice system, now and in the future. We remain confident our plans for winding down the FSS will deliver this."

Additional reporting by Lucy Fisher

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas