Court backs tests of minute DNA
DNA testing can help the Crown Prosecution Service build up its cases
By Michael Buchanan
A controversial technique for analysing minute amounts of DNA has been backed by the Court of Appeal.
The court said challenges to the science behind Low Copy Number (LCN) DNA testing should no longer be permitted in most trials.
The Forensic Science Service, which has been routinely using LCN DNA testing in cases since 1999, welcomed the ruling.
It came as the court rejected an appeal from brothers Terry and David Reed who were convicted of murder in 2007.
DNA testing has been criticised by some scientists for being unreliable.
But a spokeswoman for the FSS, which analyses evidence from crime scenes, said the judgement endorsed the work the FSS had done in developing and improving LCN DNA over the past decade.
The Reed brothers, of Easton, near Middlesbrough, were convicted of the murder of Peter Hoe.
The forensic scientist in their August 2007 case at Teesside Crown Court had used LCN testing on two pieces of plastic fragments found at the murder scene.
David and Terry Reed: DNA evidence was 'critical' in the conviction of David and Terry Reed
But following their conviction, a judge in Northern Ireland, hearing a case against a man charged with the Omagh bombing, said the LCN technique had questions about its validity as an evidential tool.
That led to its temporary suspension as the Home Office carried out a review of its applicability for court purposes.
In early 2008, that review concluded that it was scientifically robust and therefore appropriate for court cases.
The judgment on Monday provides further backing for the technique.
In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeal rejected evidence from Bruce Budowle, a former senior scientist with the FBI.
He told judges that DNA profiles obtained using the LCN method were not of high enough quality to be put before a jury and should only be used to help an investigation.
The Court of Appeal's ruling has been welcomed by the Crown Prosecution Service which said it needs to study the judgment in detail before concluding how it will practically affect cases.
“The defence’s successful and skilful assault on the forensic method may be of some assistance to the parents of missing toddler Madeleine McCann. Their legal team will be watching closely to see if LCN DNA as an evidential process is seriously undermined by the Omagh case. The couple became labelled as suspects because of minute traces of their daughter’s DNA were allegedly found in a car they had rented after her disappearance” in the Guardian, December 20 2007
PJ Files: The FSS/Lowe Report
BBC - Open Secrets: Low copy number DNA testing
Crown Prosecutor Service Press Release : Review of the use of Low Copy Number DNA analysis in current cases
DNA test halted after Omagh case, BBC
Team McCann & UK media Spin:
How Portuguese police tried to force Gerry to confess with a DNA trap, Telegraph
Kate and Gerry McCann: Beyond the smears, Times Online
DNA test could find kidnapper, Belfast Telegraph
Science behind the technique - DNA Low Copy Number, FSS
FSS press release on the Omagh bomb trial