The year in forensic science – 2012 part 1

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What have the hot stories been? What about my personal forensic science highlights of 2012? Read on!

 

Curtains for 2012

The year 2012 got off to a flying forensic start.

On the 1st of January my paper on the analysis of hair samples from children living in methamphetamine labs was accepted into Forensic Science International (see summary here).  This was obviously a personal highlight.

 

Hot on the heels of that and of much greater national significance was the Stephen Lawrence murder verdict.

The apparent unprovoked racist murder in 1993 of black teenager Stephen Lawrence shocked the nation.  Within hours the Police had a suspect list that included the men finally convicted of his murder, however not all ran smoothly from there on.  An initial trial failed, and it required a change in the double jeopardy law for the men to come to court again.

In 2007 the Police instructed a full forensic case review.  As a result of which new evidence was found:

  • Fibres were found providing a two way link between Lawrence and the two men accused of his killing, Gary Dobson and David Norris.
  • Blood found on the jacket of Dobson (and within the evidence bag) was analysed and provided a DNA match to Lawrence.
  • Hair was found in the evidence bag containing Norris’  jeans which gave a match to Lawrence via mitochondrial DNA.

The pair were found guilty on 3rd of January 2012 and were jailed for life.  An excellent review of the case including the evidence can be found on the BBC website.

 

In March one of the biggest shake ups in UK forensic science provision in years occurred when The Forensic Science Service (FSS) was shut.

Originally founded in 1991 the FSS was an impartial service, consultancy and training provider to the Police forces of England and Wales, as well as Customs and other agencies.  The FSS was recognised internationally as one of the major players in forensic science delivery and also importantly in forensic science research.  The decision was taken in 2010 to wind down the service which was apparently losing £2M per month.  At the time of the wind down the FSS employed approximately 2000 people and provided 60 % of the forensic science work in England an Wales.  This work has now gone mainly to three main private companies.

The longer term implications of the closure of the FSS are not known yet.  Many predicted an increased likelihood of miscarriages of justice due to corners being cut in private labs (according to a New Scientist survey of (mainly) FSS workers). Certainly there seems to be a lot of uncertainty around the provision of forensic science research of real use to the forensic science community (see my posts here and here on my thoughts).

Also in March LGC was reported to the Forensic Science Regulator by Greater Manchester Police. I will deal with case in part 2, as the Regulator issued his report in October.

 

Bradley Wiggins London 2012 Olympic Time Trial

Photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/dougshaw1/7692260014/

The summer produced two sporting ( and sports drug testing) highlights in the Tour de France and the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The biggest story from France was that doping was not a story.  BBC Sports Personality of the Year Bradley Wiggins came out on top in what is widely believed to be the cleanest Tour for some time.  He then bounced back one week later to win Gold in the Olympic individual time trial (shown left).

2012 Testing

More than 6000 samples of blood and urine were tested over the course of the two Games, up to 400 each day.  This was said to be the biggest testing scheme ever.  The tests were undertaken by the Drug Control Centre of King’s College London, in partnership with GSK at their facilities in Harlow.

Eight positives were reported during the Games, two from in-competition tests and six from pre-competition controls.  In the Paralympics there were two positives for human growth hormone (HGH) from samples taken from Russian powerlifters.  This was a world first – the new test for HGH were only approved by WADA in late 2011.  These were the first two positives using the new methodology and both athletes subsequently admitted it too!

One medalist, Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus, was stripped of her Gold in the shot put after testing positive for metenolone (an anabolic steroid).  She finished ahead of NZs Valerie Adams, who has subsequently been elevated to Gold.

Other positive tests were for methylhexaneamine, testosterone, cannabis, ferusomide and EPO.  The very low number of positive tests may be due to cleaner sport or it may be due to the pre screening of many athletes.  Quite a few athletes were barred from competing in London due to advance testing.

There is more to come in part 2, including drugs and exhumations!  Any guesses as to what’s coming or suggestions for your favourite stories?

 

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Dr Tom Bassindale

About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. Dr B is currently a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. And yes... he watches CSI.