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Police DNA Mistakes

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Published by the Pirate FM News Team at 4:13pm 23rd October 2012

Pirate FM has learnt how a rapist went free for more than 20 years because of DNA mistakes at Devon and Cornwall Police.

46 year old Shaun Harrison from Plymouth was jailed last month, thanks to advances in technology.

But the Independent Police Complaints Commission found at the time of the attack against a 16 year old in 1989, samples were not upgraded to a national database.

It happened in three other cases too.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into the processing by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary of a DNA sample in a rape case concluded that the force did not upgrade all their historic DNA samples in some serious crimes.

The IPCC independent investigation followed a referral on 10 June 2011 by the force of a case where Shaun Harrison was charged and convicted of the rape of a 16 year old in Plymouth city centre on 22 September 1989.

The IPCC investigation found that the force had not instructed the Forensic Science Service to load the sample onto the national DNA database, which was established in 1995, despite being advised by the FSS of this process.

In August 2010, a man contacted the police and confessed to committing a rape in Plymouth in 1988. Following DNA testing of evidential material he was found not to have committed any such crime.

However, the sample from the rape in 1989 had been upgraded on the database because of the false confession and there was a match with Shaun Harrison. In fact, Harrison's DNA had been entered on the database in November 2000 after he had been charged with drink-driving.

Following the identification of the events surrounding Harrison's DNA sample a complete review was carried out by Devon and Cornwall Police with the FSS into other historic serious sexual offences where forensic material had been retained.

This led to the upgrading of forensic samples in three further cases occurring in 1989, 1990 and 1993. Positive DNA results were obtained and the issues raised in these cases was referred to the IPCC and added to the independent investigation.

IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass said: "Scientific advances have made it possible for historic crimes to be solved through the use of DNA analysis. However, that process is not automatic because of the cost involved.

"Our investigation found that Devon and Cornwall missed opportunities over the years to review this case. This meant that Harrison's and others DNA samples were not upgraded in line with forensic advancements.

"The force has accepted all of the IPCC recommendations and has assured us that it has systematically ensured that all of its samples have been upgraded and a number of perpetrators of serious sexual assault crimes have since been brought to justice.

"The key issue identified by the IPCC is the way that police forces have to specifically request that DNA samples from historic cases be upgraded in line with forensic advancements. The IPCC has shared its learning recommendations with the Association of Chief Police Officers and is also arranging for the learning to be shared with the police service through a Learning the Lessons Bulletin."

Read the full report.

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