Man charged with rape on inaccurate DNA evidence

2 October 2013

DNA tests in the case were carried out by a private firm which wrongly linked the DNA of Adam Scott from Devon to an allegation of rape made by a woman in Manchester.  Mr Scott was charged on the 23rd October 2011, following the results of DNA tests which claimed to show that the results linked him to the crime.  It was only in March 2012 that the charges were eventually dropped, when it was found that a plastic tray containing a sample of his DNA had been re-used in the analysis of a swab from the rape victim.

It was only a number of weeks later that concerns were raised amongst officers investigating the allegations as their enquiries into Mr Scott's phone records suggested that he had been in Plymouth only a few hours after the alleged attack, throwing doubt on the results.  

Forensic Science Regulator, Andrew Rennison, said that Mr Scott was 'an innocent victim of avoidable contamination'.  Mr Rennison's report into the matter stated that the contamination was the result of human error due to the fact that a technician had "failed to follow basic procedures for the disposal of plastic trays used as part of a validated DNA extraction process". 

This case raises once again the concerns of many over the closure of the Forensic Science Service who had previously supplied forensic services to the police.

The error in the re-use of the plastic trays was identified on the 11th October 2011 and should have lead to a 'more comprehensive response' than that which occurred. 

Mr Rennison said "these errors were compounded by the failure at LGC to consider the possibility of contamination despite concerns expressed by the investigating officer about the reliability of the DNA profile".

A Home Office Spokesman has commented "Andrew Rennison's independent report has found the incident was caused by human error an failures at LGC Forensics to respond to warning signals.  Both he and the UK Accreditation Service are content that processes have been put in place to stop this happening again".

This will be small comfort to Mr Scott and his family.  Mr Scott's mother told BBC Radio Devon "they need to make sure that everything they are doing is checked and double-checked to make sure everybody has a fair chance.  I would not wish this on anybody or anybody's family – what we've had to go through for 5 whole months".

Mr Scott's solicitor told BBC Radio 4 that it had left her 'dumb-struck' that this could happen and said  "I am sure [LGC] are very very sorry it's happened because it is a black stain – a terrible fundamental error".

We should all be thankful that the error was noted at a relatively early stage.  Forensic evidence is seen by mostly people as unarguable.  Sometimes a Defendant can instruct his own forensic expert to investigate specific issues as to possible cross contamination, but how easy this particular error would have been to find by an independently instructed expert is difficult to evaluate.  The mistake could have easily lead to the conviction of a man for a serious offence of which he was entirely innocent.

LGC is the biggest private provider of forensic services.  A spokesman said "the Forensic Regulator and the United Kingdom Accreditation Service have expressed their satisfaction with our investigation into the incident, the corrective actions and LGC's overall contamination avoidance and checking processes.  LGC treats incidents like this with upmost seriousness and we look forward to continuing to provide excellent forensic services to the Criminal Justice System".