Trusting The Silence

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2 Responses to Trusting The Silence

  1. C.L. says:

    Shandee’s Story: Victims call for forensic lab inquiry

    Evidence of disturbing failures in Queensland’s government-run laboratory to detect DNA in rape and sexual assault cases must be investigated, a victims group and the state opposition say.

    The revelations that no DNA was being found in key samples where it should have been were “deeply troubling” and raised concerns about the lab’s handling of other cases, Queensland Homicide Victims Support Group chairwoman Samara McPhedran said.

    “They do suggest that there may be families who have lost loved ones where perpetrators haven’t been held accountable potentially because of failings in forensic laboratory practises,” Dr McPhedran said. “Certainly it seems appropriate for those allegations to be carefully investigated and very thoroughly examined.”

    Investigative podcast series Shandee’s Story returned with an episode this week that reported forensic biologist Kirsty Wright’s findings of systemic failures in sexual assault and rape cases.

    The cases often involve vulnerable and brutalised women and children who rely on the lab to find supporting evidence.

    In some cases, a medical officer swabs the surface of the accused man’s penis in an attempt to identify any cells from the alleged victim. Many good-quality cells are transferred from the male being swabbed, which should provide a DNA profile every time, Dr Wright says.

    However, a scientific paper based on the lab’s own data shows that from February 2018 to September 2019 there were 320 of these samples, and the lab found “no DNA” in 52 per cent.

    If the lab cannot detect the male’s DNA, there is no chance of finding a victim’s DNA.

    Dr Wright says it is evidence that the lab’s problems and errors go far beyond the already-serious failures previously revealed in the podcast series.

    Shandee’s Story is investigating 23-year-old Ms Blackburn’s unsolved stabbing murder in Mackay in 2013. As Health Minister Yvette D’Ath on Thursday insisted the issues could be looked at by a coroner reinvestigating Blackburn’s murder, Opposition Leader David Crisafulli backed calls for a thorough and independent inquiry.

    “There is no doubt that if you don‘t have a proper unit that can do those analyses in real time, people will not get justice. At the moment clearly it is failing,” he said. “We stand ready to work with the government to deliver whatever change needs to be done.

    “But there is no doubt that cases will go unsolved, justice will not be found unless we fix the way forensic testing is done in this state.”

    Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk appeared unaware of the new criticisms of the lab when questioned at a media conference.

    “The coroner has reopened his inquiries so we should have a look and see what the inquiry says,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

    When told that the serious issues related to many cases, she said: “I will get the Health Minister to address that.”

    Highly experienced Queensland lawyers and scientific experts, including Australian DNA testing pioneer Angela van Daal, have previously publicly joined Dr Wright in calling for an independent inquiry into the lab.

    But Ms D’Ath maintained there was “no evidence of systemic failings” in the lab, praising its work during the Covid pandemic.

    “There has not been one body that has come forward that operates in this space every single day and said we have systemic failures,” she said.

    Dr McPhedran, a University of Queensland law school honorary associate professor, has an extensive background and expertise in violence prevention.

    She said there were many well-known barriers in the justice system that prevented sexual assault offenders being held accountable.

    “They range from shame and stigma and fear all the way through to the core process itself,” she said.

    “The collection of physical evidence of assault through DNA can be an absolutely crucial part on whether a case proceeds – and how that matter will be dealt with in the courts.”

    Coroner David O’Connell wrote to Ms Blackburn’s mother, Vicki, last week to inform her that he had decided to reopen the coronial investigation.


    David Murray, National Crime Correspondent, The Australian

  2. Ivan Denisovich says:

    But Ms D’Ath maintained there was “no evidence of systemic failings” in the lab


    The latest forensic disaster, in which one of Australia’s most respected forensic scientists, Kirsty Wright, laid out the serious errors and problems in the Queensland government-run laboratory’s handling of forensic evidence in the murder of Shandee Blackburn, is, as they say, the tip of the iceberg. And it was only the pressure of public opinion, fuelled by relentless media reporting, that finally moved the Queensland government to call for an inquiry involving international experts, into the lab’s handling of cases dating back almost two decades. But the iceberg has within it other forensic labs, and many other issues that need reform, not least an outdated appeals process that is not fit for purpose…..

    Failures in police investigations are evident in 55 per cent of wrongful convictions, according to Griffith University Law School research, while forensic failures were seen in 31 per cent, and prosecutorial errors in 17 per cent of wrongful convictions studied. Judicial error was a contributing factor in 32 per cent of wrongful convictions……

    South Australia is still under the cloud of the country’s greatest forensic disaster. The chief forensic pathologist, Dr Colin Manock, was at all relevant times ‘unprofessional, incompetent, untrustworthy’ according to documents lodged with the Supreme Court. Dr Manock gave ‘expert’ evidence in some four hundred criminal trials over his 26- year tenure, resulting in convictions which are now all deemed unsafe and require re-opening. This is an unprecedented volume of potential miscarriages of justice for any jurisdiction. For example, Dr Manock’s testimony in the case of the deaths of three babies in 1992 and 1993 was discredited in a 1994/95 inquest by the coroner. Yet he was allowed to keep practising. Right up until he retired……

    The statistics in the performance of the differently organised, non-judicial institutions of the CCRCs in the United Kingdom suggest that there is a gap in Australian criminal law and practice and in our institutional arrangements that is not being met. It is imperative that this disparity should be remedied without delay’……

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