Rethink crime lab closures says Sarah Payne

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The mother of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne has joined dozens of leading scientists in condemning the Government's decision to break up a forensic service which has helped solve some of Britain's most notorious crimes.

Sarah Payne spoke out in support for the Forensic Science Service (FSS), whose work uncovered vital clues which led to the conviction of Roy Whiting for her eight-year-old daughter's murder in 2000.

Her criticism came after a letter, signed by 33 forensic scientists, was published in a national newspaper, warning that Britain's justice system would take a "backward step" if the Government pressed ahead with its plan to close the FSS.

Winding up the service, the letter claimed, would see the country lose its position as world leader in crime-scene investigation.

The Home Office announced earlier this month that the FSS was likely to run out of money by January 2011 and would be closed by March 2012, putting about 1,650 jobs at risk.

Ms Payne, who campaigns on child abuse issues, said: "As a victims' advocate, I can tell you that 90 per cent of most current sex offender cases rely on forensic services to prove their cases.

"Over the years we've worked with thousands of victims who wouldn't have got justice if it were not for the highly-regarded FSS.

"Roy Whiting, and countless other offenders I can think of, would not be in jail if it were not for the FSS.

"When it comes to justice, all things should be equal. There should be no 'who can do it the cheapest?'. It should be who can do it the best, and the FSS are the very best."

Ms Payne added that privatising forensic services would leave "the door wide open" for bad practice and "unqualified services with no accountability".

"It will undermine impartiality and the public's faith and confidence in the justice system," she said.

The FSS has been a Government-owned company since 2005 and its investigators helped snare Soham murderer Ian Huntley and the Suffolk Strangler, Steve Wright, who killed five prostitutes in Ipswich.

Signatories to the letter criticising its closure include Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, who pioneered DNA fingerprinting, a technique credited with revolutionising criminal investigation in the 1980s.

Sir Alec said: "I would like to know a little more about the thinking – if indeed any thinking at all went into this quite bizarre decision – and whether that thinking involved any understanding whatsoever of the nature of forensic science and its importance in delivering justice."

It was "an absolute flagship of British forensic science" and a 24m-a-year loss "does not sound like a great deal", he said, given the contribution it had made over two decades.

The NHS made a loss, he pointed out. "Would you shut that down? Of course not. The Forensic Science Service is a service to the country; it is not supposed to be a profit-making business."

Professor Niels Morling, president of the International Society for Forensic Genetics, who coordinated the letter, said the appeal to save the FSS had drawn support from scientists around the world.

"Our plea to the British Government is: 'Please consider what you will do next – ask where (you) will be in five or 10 years time if this goes ahead?'

"Where will the research be? Who will do the development work? Who will look after the quality of forensic science in a competitive market? Closing the FSS is a backward step."

The Government insisted that research would continue to provide innovation in the field and help solve crimes.

200 science jobs at risk in Yorkshire

The decision to wind up the Forensic Science Service (FSS) has put 200 highly-skilled jobs in Yorkshire under threat.

The FSS has a laboratory in Wetherby and its scientists have uncovered crucial evidence in some of the region's most shocking cases.

They were involved in the investigation into the July 7 terror attacks in London, in which 52 innocent people died after four bombers from Yorkshire blew themselves up.

Other cases include the abduction of Dewsbury schoolgirl Shannon Matthews and the murder of Lesley Molseed, whose body was found on moorland near Ripponden in 1975.