Concerns over closure of Forensic Archive

12 June 2013

The archive of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) is understood to hold in excess of 1.7 million case files going back in excess of 30 years.  It is understood that the closure of the archive to any new business is hoped to lead to a considerable financial saving, although the Government anticipates that the maintenance of the archive as it is will have an annual cost of 2 million pounds.

It is now proposed that individual police forces will maintain their own archive and each of the 43 individual forces will be responsible for keeping all relevant material and negotiating their own contracts with individual service providers to do so.  However it is understood that each force is not going to receive any increase in their annual budget for this purpose. 

Alastair Logan is a member of the Law Society's Human Rights Committee and has himself previously been involved in high profile appeal cases.  He describes the closure as an 'act of vandalism'.  Speaking to the BBC, Mr Logan said the move would create a 'lottery' between two archives, one old and centralised, the other new and fragmented.  "You now have 43 forces keeping their own bits and pieces, insofar as they decide to keep them at all. If a perpetrator of a rape, rapes in London and then Manchester, how will it be possible for the London people to know about the Manchester offence?".

 Andrew Miller MP the Chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee stated "I genuinely fear for justice – both in terms of victims and the accused".  He said of the closure that "it really just is another home office shambles".  In referring to the possible set backs to scientific advances as a result of the closure, he stated that "unless we get this right, the chances of exploiting new advances in science will be diminished and so justice will be the loser".

However a Home Office spokesman has said that the Police and criminal justice system will continue to have proper access to forensic records and that the archive will be under the guardianship of the Home Office and will provide materials on request to authorised users.

Dr Peter Bull a Forensic Expert from the University of Oxford said that the measures would be totally inadequate in his view.  He warned that the new archive system could well lead to major miscarriages of justice, with innocent people being kept behind bars and some criminals remaining at liberty.  He described the prospect as "horrendous".

Only time will tell.