Archival Science

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UK Cold case archive

the closure of UK's cold case archive and dispersal of forensic scientist/archivists to small agencies cos they ran out of monies - the guy delivering the bad news keeps saying "we know the archive is important but we are just not accepting new things into the archive cos we have no money, but the data from old entries will be accessible" and the woman asking the questions keeps saying "but if the specialist people who manage and keep the archives are gone then no one will know how to access it...."

Media Coverage

From Clues to unsolved crimes will be lost if forensic archive is broken up:

Clues to hundreds of unsolved crimes of killing and rape lie in a vast archive of evidence gathered over the years by the Forensic Science Service.

But the future of the critical resource has not been secured, despite warnings by police and scientists that the evidence in it provides the only hope of solving cold cases dating back years right across the country. There is anger and frustration in criminal justice circles that, with the service closing in March, there has still not been a decision on who will take over and manage the archive. One scientific source said: "When it was announced last December, it was made very clear that the archive was a critical area of concern that needed to be thought through. Yet here we are in September and nothing has been done."

Gathered from investigations that can date back decades, the forensic archive includes a vast array of items from crime scenes: clothing, shoes, hair, swabs of bodily fluid, tapings recording microscopic splatters of paint, each item of which could turn out to be the only hope for detectives trying to solve historic murder and rape cases. Most of these cases will only be cleared up as a result of breakthroughs in DNA testing that can create clearer profiles from material from the archive. If a DNA profile is achieved, it is run through the national DNA database to look for a direct or a familial match.

One such case solved in this way was the rape and murder of Colette Aram, aged 16, in 1983. The killing was the first case ever to be featured on Crimewatch, but for 26 years remained unsolved. Her killer, Paul Hutchinson, was captured and finally convicted two years ago after what are known as low copy number DNA techniques were used on Aram's clothes and a letter sent to police. The techniques for the first time created a DNA profile, which led police to Hutchinson.

A review of cold cases sponsored by the Home Office in 2004 highlighted shortcomings in police record-keeping that would have made some convictions impossible were it not for the archive. During the first phase of Operation Advance, the police had no record of, and no evidence from, 60% of cases identified by the service. The criminals convicted through the operation had committed more than 100 offences, many serious, since the original evidence had been taken. "The whole notion that the archive is about the past is wrong. These people who have archived material can continue to offend way into late life," one forensics specialist said.

Scientists are gathering all the samples together in two locations in the Midlands and London as they wait for a decision on who will be running the resource. One proposal being considered is that the National Policing Improvement Agency take over the archive. But the agency is itself being closed down by the Home Office in December 2012.

Prospect's response

From Cold case archive to remain as national resource... but fears remain:

"While the announcement of the archive’s future goes some way to allaying one of the concerns voiced by MPs, international scientists, geneticists and other stakeholders in the justice system, Clancy said fears remain over the diminished forensic research and development capacity, the lack of properly regulated accreditation for forensic laboratories and the loss of specialist skills.

“Despite assurances from the Association of Chief Police Officers and the minister that the police and the private sector could deliver the breadth and extent of FSS’ services, the minister has been unable to provide evidence that there is the capacity to match the role of “supplier of last resort” in the case of a sudden surge in forensic work, such as in the aftermath of the 7/7 attacks.

“Since the declared intention has always been that FSS will not take on new work from October, we question the wisdom of risking the loss of other specialist skills and capacity outside the archive function, until private sector providers have proven they have the experienced staff and assets required and that the market is sufficiently mature to sustain their operation,” he said."

Official site

From Forensic Science Service - Oficial Website:

The Forensic Science Service is a leading provider of analysis and interpretation of evidence from crime scenes. We provide a comprehensive service, from crime scene to court room, and analyse more than 120,000 cases each year.