Human error is being blamed for the loss of DNA evidence in the case of a man who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge when his trial for attempted murder was abandoned .
Michael Bennison, 29, was jailed for four years on Thursday after pleading guilty to unlawful wounding over an incident in which his girlfriend was stabbed multiple times. He had also pleaded guilty to an assault against a man in the street whom he had kicked in the head and jumped on in a row over noise.
North Yorkshire Police said last night it took any loss of evidence “extremely seriously” and revealed the misplaced DNA swabs which led to Bennison’s trial over the attack on Amy Evans, 27, being abandoned were most likely mistakenly destroyed.
But a senior officer insisted the loss did not directly lead to the decision to halt the trial against him for attempted murder.
“A full internal review has been conducted and concluded that the swabs in this case were most likely destroyed prematurely as a result of human error,” he said. “Processes have been changed to reduce even further the possibility that such a mistake can be repeated.”
Judge Mr Justice Ramsey said Bennison posed a “high risk” to the victim and all women having heard how he had stabbed Miss Evans, once in the side and five times in the back. “There was an intention to commit serious harm,” he told him.
The court heard that on December 14 last year Bennison was travelling in a car in York with the female victim and another man when an argument broke out.
When they arrived at their destination they got out and the woman produced a knife.
But Bennison took it from her and stabbed her six times before running off.
The trial for attempted murder was halted at Newcastle Crown Court last month after the Crown Prosecution Service told the court the DNA evidence was “not available” and it had accepted a guilty plea to unlawful wounding.
Describing how the evidence came to be lost by North Yorkshire Police, Nick Adlington, prosecuting, said on Thursday the “swabs went missing from the forensic science service in York.”
In last night’s statement, Detective Chief Supt Simon Mason, head of crime operations at North Yorkshire Police, said two knives recovered from the scene were inspected for possible evidence. One was considered too rusty to have been involved while the other was forensically examined.
“Processes used to gather fingerprints can damage recovery of any DNA that may be present,” he said. “We therefore swab such items first as a precaution in the event it is necessary to compare any potential DNA recovered on the swabs to people involved.
“It is these swabs (which may or may not have had relevant DNA from the knife on them) that were misplaced in the system and unable to be used for later comparison with a sample Ms Evans agreed to provide shortly before trial.
“Had they been available, further examination... would only have shown the presence or otherwise of DNA on the knife (whether victim or offender) providing evidence of who had come into contact with it.”
He concludes “such DNA evidence would have done no more than simply prove the police had likely found the weapon used and in the absence of such potential evidence through loss in itself did not render a continued prosecution for attempt murder impossible.
“Rather it was a combination of factors that led to acceptance of a guilty plea for what was nevertheless a very serious assault instead of subjecting Ms Evans to the emotional stress and anxiety of giving evidence against her former partner in court.”