15 December 2005

Watchdog calls for overhaul of PSNI forensic policies

Belfast Telegraph

Concern at how evidence is stored

By Jonathan McCambridge
15 December 2005

A new report has recommended that the PSNI urgently review its policies on how forensic evidence is stored and managed.

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) have jointly produced reports into the PSNI's scientific support services and Northern Ireland's forensic science agency.

The PSNI has its own scientific support branch carrying out crime scene duties such as fingerprint bureau, photography and mapping. There are a number of civilians working within this department.

More specialised support is provided by Forensic Science Northern Ireland, which employs 171 staff at its headquarters in Carrickfergus.

The reports acknowledge that there is an increasing reliance on forensic techniques in policing to solve crimes.

However, after the watchdog visited a number of stations to examine how they store and monitor forensic items they have expressed concern over practices.

They found that a number of vehicle examination garages were untidy, insecure and often used to store other exhibits.

The watchdog also reported: "There is some concern that a lack of forensic awareness at some crime scenes may be compromising the integrity and preservation of evidence."

It states: "Policies and processes for the storage, retention, management, weeding and destruction of forensic property should be urgently reviewed and implemented".

"Joint planning with PSNI and Forensic Science Northern Ireland should address concerns around crime scene attendance including serious road traffic collisions, better co-ordination of fingerprints expertise and revised arrangements for the submission of exhibits to the laboratory."

Inspectors also said that the investigation of volume crime such as domestic burglary and theft, as opposed to serious crime such as rape and murder, requires a higher priority within the Police Service and recommend the nomination of a 'champion' for volume crime.

Kit Chivers, the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice and Ken Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary said: "We are pleased that PSNI are already acting upon the recommendations of this report and continue to strengthen their scientific support capacity."

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