An innocent man spent months wrongly accused of rape because of a blunder at Britain's largest private forensic science testing centre, an official report revealed yesterday.
Despite warnings of DNA contamination at the laboratory less than two week earlier, Adam Scott was arrested and held in custody – even though he had been hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime.
His case prompted calls for an inquiry into the effectiveness of the privatised DNA-testing regime since the Government closed its loss-making Forensic Science Service this year.
Mr Scott's DNA, retrieved from a "spitting incident" in Exeter, was mixed up during analysis of genetic material taken from a rape victim in Manchester. According to a report by the forensic science regulator, Andrew Rennison, Mr Scott was an "innocent victim of avoidable contamination" and "human error" by a technician at LGC Forensics. A plastic tray containing a sample of Mr Scott's DNA, which had been taken for an unrelated matter, should have been disposed of but was re-used in the analysis of a swab taken from the rape victim.
Mr Scott spent five months on remand over the Manchester rape, even though mobile phone records suggested he was 280 miles away in Devon shortly after the attack.
Mr Rennison said record-keeping by staff at LGC's laboratory in Teddington, Middlesex, was inadequate. He said the fact that trays were re-used had been identified almost two weeks before Mr Scott was charged, and that "should have triggered a more comprehensive response than that undertaken". Mr Rennison added that 26,000 samples had been processed before the flaw was spotted, but he was satisfied there were no further cases of contamination.
Last night, the pioneer of mass genetic profiling, Professor Peter Gill, called for an inquiry into private DNA testing. He said: "There have been very bad practices. The question is, if they ignored it in this case, how many other cases have they ignored it in?"
Mr Scott was charged on 23 October last year and remanded in custody until the case was withdrawn on 7 March. He is considering action against the authorities for his time spent in prison.
The UK Accreditation Service has said LGC should keep its accreditation after putting in place "a number of mandatory improvement actions".
LGC said it "deeply regretted" the contamination and treated "incidents like this with utmost seriousnesss".
LGC forensics spy case failings
A plastic tray containing a sample of DNA was re-used in analysis of swab from rape victim
This year started triumphantly for LGC Forensics, which provided the breakthrough that led to the convictions of two of the killers of Stephen Lawrence. However, the company's failings in the cases of Adam Scott and the "spy-in-the-bag" death case of Gareth Williams, right, have led to criticisms of both the company and Britain's DNA testing programme.
It emerged at the inquest of MI6 operative Gareth Williams that LGC made a major blunder that sent detectives on the inquiry down a blind alley for more than a year. The company later apologised to the family of Mr Williams after a simple typing error left police chasing an unidentified suspect – when the DNA in fact came from a police scientist.