Study backs controversial DNA method

A controversial technique for obtaining DNA profiles from tiny samples is scientifically sound, an independent review concluded today.

The study, commissioned by the Government last year after doubts were raised over the reliability of low template DNA testing, made a series of recommendations for improving the collection and interpretation of samples.

Professor Brian Caddy, who led the review, said the technique is fundamentally safe, but is not being used as effectively as it might.

Low copy number (LCN) DNA testing - a particular technique within low template analysis - hit the headlines last December when the judge in the Omagh bombing trial questioned its scientific validity.

Mr Justice Weir expressed doubts over LCN testing after it wrongly linked a sample taken from a car bomb in Northern Ireland to a 14-year-old boy in Nottingham.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) suspended its use of LCN testing after the Omagh trial but the technique continued to be used by prosecutors in England and Wales.

Low template testing can build up a DNA profile from just a few cells, which can be deposited by something as simple as holding a glass or door handle but are too small for standard DNA profiling.

Today, the Caddy Review made 21 recommendations for improving the use of low template testing, among which are the establishment of a programme to educate police scenes of crime and forensics officers on collecting samples for low template analysis; national standards for the interpretation of low template results and the development of an advisory panel to guide the courts on how to interpret low template DNA evidence.

Any DNA profile obtained using low template techniques should be presented to a jury in a criminal trial with caveats, the report said.

Professor Caddy said the report's authors are happy that the science of low template DNA testing is sound and secure.

"We also believe that the work on the interpretation of DNA is good, but needs to be developed more," he said.

"The drive is towards the setting of standards of recovering DNA from crime scenes, and having set those standards, making sure they are properly implemented."

Andrew Rennison, the Forensic Science Regulator, said he is confident that the technique is safe for use in the courts.

"Scientific evidence has to be considered on a case-by-case basis by the prosecution, defence and the experts, and you can never say the science in a case proves something absolutely," he said.

"I'm perfectly satisfied that we should be using these techniques.

"I'm satisfied the science is safe and fit for purpose, but there is work to be done around collection and interpretation."

He refused to comment on previous occasions, such as the trial of Sean Hoey for the Omagh bombing, where low template testing was called into question.

"I'm not concerned about previous cases or current cases. I'm concerned with producing something that's better than it is now," he said.

Mr Rennison said he is in discussion with the Crown Prosecution Service, National Policing Improvement Agency and Home Office, and will make his own recommendations on low template testing to the Government soon.

Home Office minister Meg Hillier thanked Prof Caddy and his team for their work.

"I am very pleased that they conclude that the science behind the technique is robust," she said.

Police forensic teams and scenes of crime officers need a national standard of training to make them aware of the potential and limitations of the low template technique, Prof Caddy said.

"What happens at present - they will recover DNA from the crime scene by a particular method in that particular police force," he said.

"They need to be trained more to identify whether it will be LCN DNA, and make sure there's no contamination involved."

The study pointed out that failure rates for low template DNA analysis are high - one police force estimated success rate in achieving a full profile at about 6%.

Because of the minute quantities of material involved, the potential for contamination by outside sources of DNA - from a police officer or forensic laboratory worker, for example - is much greater in low template testing than in standard DNA techniques.

In the light of this, the review called for the establishment of a national standard for "DNA clean" crime scene recovery kits.

Dr Andrew Linacre, of Strathclyde University, who also took part in the study, said low template analysis presents particular challenges to the forensic scientist: because of the tiny quantities of material under examination, statistical anomalies are not unusual.

These would not lead to one person being wrongly identified as another, he said, but there needs to be more research to reach a consensus on how to interpret unexpected results.

The report said the Forensic Science Regulator should develop a consensus between the three providers performing low template analysis on how to interpret low template DNA profiles.

The regulator also needed to explore the means of establishing a professional organisation for forensic science providers to enable them to develop common standards and share research without compromising the commercial value of their work, the study said.

Chris Sims, Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) spokesman on forensic science said: "Professor Caddy's review of the science of low template DNA profiling provides a helpful explanation of the science and a basis for improving the contribution of DNA profiling to crime investigations.

"The service wants and needs reliable and sound DNA techniques. ACPO looks forward to working with the forensic science regulator and other agencies to take these recommendations forward."

Professor Allan Jamieson, director of The Forensic Institute in Glasgow, said there was no doubt that very small amounts of DNA could be amplified.

"The real issue is: do we know what it means when you see a profile?" he told the BBC.

"For example, when you mix two people's DNA together, it's like mixing the coins in their pockets together. They end up on the table and you have to say which coin came from which person. You simply can't do that."

Asked whether this sort of DNA evidence should be used in court cases, he said: "I agree to some extent with the CPS who say it's a case by case basis."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world