In November 2006, officials and the police service brought to Ministers' attention an issue of which they had just been notified by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) about the use of a specialist DNA analysis technique known as Low Copy Number (LCN) which has been used by the FSS in a proportion of cases since 2000. This technique is designed to enable a DNA profile to be obtained from much smaller amounts of material than was previously possible.
Within 24 hours of becoming aware of this issue I agreed that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) should set up a Gold Group to undertake an operational review of current forensic practices involving this technique, any remedial action and establish if there are any cases that might need reinvestigation. On operational advice from the police, the initial stage of this operation was kept confidential.
My top priority was to ensure that the methods now in use meet the necessary standards. Chief Constable Tony Lake, the ACPO lead on forensics, was appointed to run the review and put together a team of experts including scientists, police and others with a specialist knowledge of the issues including an independent DNA expert. CC Lake's first priority was to ensure current processes in use by forensic suppliers were adequate for purpose. ACPO is close to completing that work and has found no evidence that we should be concerned about procedures being used today.
His second priority is for the police and FSS to identify cases where there might be benefit in re-analysis. The CC is now moving to this next phase which is to inform forces and provide them with the information required to assess which should be prioritised. Therefore CC Lake wrote to all Chief Officers yesterday to explain the next steps in taking forward a co-ordinated programme of re-analysis. This is a complex, scientific process which is time and labour intensive and—depending on the number of cases identified—will take months rather than weeks.
We need to establish what lessons can be learnt from the handling of this issue within the FSS. I have asked for a report from the FSS on how this issue arose, how it was handled and the lessons to be learned for the future operation of the FSS.
ACPO has been and will continue to keep Ministers regularly updated on progress. I will keep the House updated on substantive progress.