Forensic misadventures aren't a uniquely Houston, Texas, or American problem. The
BBC, Guardian, and other British news outlets have published numerous articles in the past week about the blunders of a private forensics company,
in a Manchester rape case. The mistakes resulted in the dropping of charges against a man who claimed he had never even been to the city. The company "says the error was caused by contamination in its laboratory."
According to the Guardian, "LGC says it has rectified the causes of the blunder but is refusing to answer other questions or give detail." The
Manchester Evening News reports, however, that the accused's DNA sample, taken in another matter, was allowed to come into contact with swabs from the rape. The self-reporting of the error upon it's discovery is to the company's credit and something that doesn't always occur on this side of the Atlantic.
Nevertheless, the revelation of the error raises questions about the integrity of other convictions obtained with evidence tested by LGC, the largest provider of forensic testing in the United Kingdom. The company was originally formed in 1996 after the privatisation of the Laboratory of the Government Chemist and subsequently purchased by a private equity firm in February, 2010. It's business has reportedly increased as a result of the decison, some ten months later, by Her Majesty's Government to shut down it's Forensic Science Service. The decision to shut down the Crown's FSS was considered a cost-saving measure. The financial costs of the fallout of this particular scandal are likely difficult to determine as news reports about the number of cases being reviewed vary. Ironically, LGC was
praised in the Daily Telegraph just a few months ago as a model of privatisation.
Local advocates of privatisation, outsourcing, or independent crime labs should take note. It doesn't matter who runs the lab if the proper procedures
aren't in place, aren't followed, and aren't challenged by defense counsel. Even if they are, mistakes still happen. No one should take any machine or forensic lab's word at face value, regardless of who operates it. People accused of crimes they didn't commit don't and competent criminal defense lawyers don't either.
Grits for Breakfast has a post on the leading crime lab accrediting body in the U.S. and their controversial record as it relates to sanctioning problem labs. This is an issue I've heard discussed at seminars, but this the best quick entry into the topic.
For some odd reason, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner has been commended by the Texas Forensic Science Commission for self-reporting the "dry labbing" at the facility.