The Australian

DNA Evidence Claim Clouds Australian Convictions
Annabelle McDonald
July 08, 2006, © The Australian

ABOUT 60 convicted criminals could have their cases reopened amid claims the DNA evidence used to incriminate them was unreliable.

Ron Grice, a former Queensland Health Scientific Services scientist, said he was haunted by memories of submitting potentially unreliable DNA evidence to the courts. He believed about 5 per cent of the 1200 cases he had handled relied on samples too small to be retested.

Mr Grice yesterday attacked the culture of the QHSS, saying it was not uncommon for he and his colleagues to mix up DNA samples belonging to different cases. Despite the existence of internal errors, he said, QHSS encouraged him to record DNA test results to be used by the courts, even if the samples were too small to be retested.

"When I was at the John Tong centre, quite often we used to put our own blood as controllers and quite often my (colleague) would walk down the aisle and say, 'I've just committed another rape at the Gold Coast'," Mr Grice told a DNA forum at Griffith University on the Gold Coast yesterday.

"If you can't resample and you can't retest, you say an internal error might have occurred and we can't possibly send this bloke to jail. Time and again, our samples are so small they could not possible be retested - I used to do it myself and it still gives me nightmares when I lie in bed.”

"You'd go off to court and argue yes, you found an incriminating bit of DNA on a particular item, when really you couldn't resample the item and you didn't even have enough samples to retest."

Mr Grice said he tested about 120 cases a year, of which he feared about 5 per cent relied on samples that were too small to be retested.

Despite his concerns, he did not voice them in court, partly because defence lawyers did not have enough forensic knowledge to ask about the testing procedure, and partly because QHSS wanted results, even if the samples could not be retested.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson yesterday defended the practices of the state's forensic scientists but said cases documented by Mr Grice should be re-examined.

A forensic sciences spokeswoman at QHSS yesterday confirmed that it continued to supply DNA test results to the courts, even if the samples were too small to be retested. But she said processes were in place to prevent miscarriages of justice.

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