Technique opens avenues for police: Terry Kirby looks at murder investigations in which genetic fingerprinting has been used successfully

THE KILLER of Johanna Young, the 14-year-old girl murdered last month, is most likely to be one of the 3,500 males living around the small town of Watton in Norfolk, detectives believe.

At the moment, they are not saying - and probably do not know - whether scientists have created a genetic fingerprint from samples taken from her body. But if a print from a blood or semen sample is obtained, it would create the scenario for a mass genetic fingerprinting of the males in the area. If testing went ahead, it would have to be voluntary, but those who declined would merit special attention.

It was the attempt in 1987 by Colin Pitchfork to persuade a friend to impersonate him in the mass screening of males around the Leicestershire village of Narborough that led to his conviction for the murders of two teenage schoolgirls. The case was the first where genetic fingerprinting was used.

Mass screening can be carried out where the 'catchment area' of the suspect is clearly defined. It is unlikely to be of use in the investigation of the murder on Wimbledon Common, south-west London, last year of Rachel Nickell. But in that case and Johanna Young's, a genetic print can be used to confirm a suspect found by other means. Suspects can refuse to provide a sample, but where there is other circumstantial evidence this can be used against them as indication of guilt.

Attempts to solve murders and rapes more than a decade old can now be made as a result of DNA profiling. In 1978, when Candice Williams, a 13-year-old Birmingham schoolgirl was raped and strangled, Patrick Hasset, who lived close by, became a suspect because of earlier convictions for attacking girls. But his girlfriend provided an alibi and as police had no other evidence, Hasset was not charged.

In 1988, tests were conducted on swabs of semen taken from the body of the schoolgirl. The samples had been kept in frozen storage at the West Midlands Forensic Science Laboratory.

Detectives had to wait another three years because Hassett, in prison for other sexual offences, refused permission to take samples for matching; on release in 1991, he was re-arrested and consented to a hair root sample. The match was made and Hassett was jailed for life last year, 14 years after the murder.

Hair root samples are not as good as blood or semen for obtaining a DNA fingerprint, but Hassett's was one of a number of cases where convictions have been obtained. The first occured in 1988 when a man suspected of two rapes was convicted almost solely on the basis of a hair root sample match, said to be of a 1 in 150 million chance of being repeated.

Genetic fingerprinting can now be conducted 'by proxy'. In 1989, Ian Simms, 33, the landlord of a public house in the Lancashire village of Billinge, was convicted of the murder of Helen McCourt, 22, a computer operator, attacked on her way home from work.

Blood stains found on Simms's clothes were matched to genetic prints taken from Ms McCourt's parents; scientists estimated that the blood was 126,000 times more likely to come from a child of the McCourts than from anyone else. The case was only the third murder prosecution where the body was never found.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most