Scotland Yard to review methods after blunders

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard is to tighten up the way it collects and stores forensic science evidence after blunders were made during the search of the flat belonging to Barry George, the man convicted of murdering Jill Dando.

The Metropolitan Police are also reviewing the way in which investigations analyse and store huge quantities of information and witnesses statements.

Although the 50-strong murder team was praised for securing the conviction of the 41-year-old serial stalker and sex offender, it has been criticised for sloppy procedures in collecting forensic science evidence, which could have cost it the case.

Details of the internal review came as George spent his first night at Belmarsh prison in south-east London, having being jailed for life on Monday for shooting dead Ms Dando on the doorstep of her home in south-west London. George, who is said to be devastated at the 10-to-1 guilty verdict, has been placed on suicide watch. Scotland Yard confirmed yesterday that they had no plans to interview him about any other crimes.

During George's trial at the Old Bailey it was revealed that some of the officers who searched the suspect's council flat in Fulham did not wear over-shoes, the lead officer was not wearing gloves and detectives were responsible for washing their own oversuits and cleaning their shoes. These lapses could have resulted in the crime scene being contaminated by material from outside. The police have now issued new guidelines to officers.

There has also been revised advice on storing evidence following the potentially disastrous mistake in taking the jacket containing the particle of gunpowder residue that linked George to the murder scene to a photographic laboratory. It should have been immediately sealed in a plastic bag and scientifically examined.

While being photographed, the jacket was exposed to a crate close to where guns and ammunition had been kept, allowing the defence to argue that there was a risk of contamination. Other potentially vital forensic science evidence, including another jacket in which a couple of particles of discharge residue were later detected, and 104 boxes of possessions and papers removed from George's home, all had to be discounted because it was discovered that they had been kept close to an open cage containing firearms.

The Met are also to re-examine the computer systems used to store and cross-refer data. In the Dando inquiry, more than 2,400 statements were taken and 2,100 people named as potential suspects. The police were criticised for failing to question George for nearly a year after he was first identified as a suspect.