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Another DNA Boost to Madeleine's Case

DNA technique 'fit for purpose'

The technique has been used in high-profile cases around the world

A controversial method of obtaining DNA profiles is "fit for purpose" in court, an independent review has concluded. The government-commissioned study said low copy number DNA analysis, which can establish a profile from just a few cells, was "scientifically robust". But it recommended improvements in how police forensic teams collect the cells to ensure there is no contamination.

Use of the method was briefly suspended last year after the Omagh bombing trial judge questioned its credibility. Professor Brian Caddy's report concluded the technique was fundamentally sound, but not being used as effectively as possible.

Omagh trial

During the Omagh trial, Mr Justice Weir expressed reservations about low copy number (LCN) DNA testing after it wrongly linked a sample taken from a car bomb in Northern Ireland to a 14-year-old boy in Nottingham. However, an upgraded version of the test later cleared the boy.

The technique... is scientifically robust and appropriate for use in police investigations. Professor Caddy

The Police Service of Northern Ireland suspended its use after the acquittal of Omagh bomb suspect Sean Hoey. Police in England and Wales also suspended the technique, but it was reinstated as admissible evidence after a review of relevant cases by the Crown Prosecution Service found no problems. However, fears remained that dozens of high-profile convictions secured with the help of the technique - including for murder, rape and terrorist offences - could be unsafe.

Professor Caddy, commissioned by the government's Forensic Science Regulator, made 21 recommendations in his review.

National standard

These included establishing a national training standard for police forensic teams and scenes of crime officers on collecting samples, and ensuring there is no contamination. Because of the minute quantities of material involved, the potential for contamination by outside sources is much greater.

The review called for a national standard for "DNA clean" crime scene recovery kits, and for a consensus between the three forensic science firms who operate the technique on how to interpret results.

Low Copy Number DNA Testing
LCN DNA evidence has been used by the Forensic Science Service since 1999
It enables DNA profiles to be produced from minute amounts - often invisible to the naked eye
The tiny particles used vastly increase the potential for contamination

It recommended an advisory panel guide the courts on how to interpret such low template DNA evidence and said any profile obtained using the technique should be presented to a jury in a criminal trial with caveats.

Professor Caddy said: "I am satisfied low template DNA is fit for purpose within the criminal justice system.

"I found that the technique, as developed by all the forensic suppliers, is scientifically robust and appropriate for use in police investigations."

Failure rates

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

He is in discussion with the Crown Prosecution Service, National Policing Improvement Agency and Home Office, and will make his own recommendations to ministers soon.

Home Office Minister Meg Hillier also welcomed the reports conclusion.

Paul Hackett, from the government's Forensic Science Service, said the report was a "ringing endorsement" of the technique, which had the support of all agencies involved.

"It is very much case dependent and I think broad-brush statements about its reliability are somewhat inaccurate," he said.

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

LCN DNA evidence has been used in high-profile cases around the world, including the Peter Falconio murder trial in Australia, that of serial rapist Antoni Imiela in the UK, and the search for missing child Madeleine McCann.

Case by case

Forensic expert Professor Allan Jamieson, who questioned the validity of LCN DNA when he gave evidence for the defence in the Omagh bomb trial, said its use should be carefully considered.

"The real issue is: do we know what it means when you see a profile?" said Prof Jamieson, director of The Forensic Institute in Glasgow.

"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."


On DNA Profilling PDF
Application of Low Copy Number DNA Profiling by Forensic Science Service, Trident Court, Birmingham, UK

FingerPrints for Dummies on PDF


The study of the development, the classification, and the identification
of the prints left by the papillary ridges of the skin.

Low Copy Number
Low copy number (LCN) DNA profiling is a technique sensitive enough to analyze just a few cells. When this kind of analysis is carried out, special considerations are needed to interpret the results. In particular, it is important to consider the implications of allele dropout and the possibility of contamination from a laboratory source. A rationale for interpreting LCN DNA is described.


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1 comment:

  1. Maybe the suspension of the LCN method is why the DNA evidence in the Madeleine case that was initially reported as good suddenly became inconclusive. You can be sure though that if this circus ever goes to trial, the method of sample collection will be strongly attacked

    As I stated before I believe team McCann planted the crying story. Yes it looks bad that they went out the following night even after their child told them that they cried out for them, but this statement is used to add credibility to the other statements. Upon reading this some people will think, “Well if they were honest enough to tell this to the police then their other statements must be true.” Clarence in reference to this article says, “Kate and Gerry have been utterly honest and open with the police.” Clarence is not stupid; he is very calculating.

    What does this article seek to convey?

    1.The McCanns have not held anything from the police they have been completely honest.

    2.The abductor had been in the room before May 3, it was a planned abduction.

    3.The child was alive on May 2

    4.The shutters were faulty allowing easy access to the room.

    5.Apart from the McCanns only the police could have known this information, and they released it when the McCanns were trying to make something good come out of their tragedy. Conclusion they want you to believe: The police are out to make them look bad and are trying to frame them for a serious crime.

    The McCanns are more concerned about a murder charge than the public opinion of their parenting skills. They will try anything to rid themselves of this affair.

    But who can say when so much spin is put on this case and their isn’t a PJ spokesperson to refute all the media nonsense. Sometimes I feel like I’m standing in a room of wall-to-wall mirrors when I try to decipher this grand farce.


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