Respected molecular biologist Professor Frank Gannon will head up the implementation of interim recommendations arising from the inquiry into forensic DNA testing in Queensland.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath announced yesterday that Professor Gannon would provide independent oversight of the implementation of the interim recommendations from the ongoing Commission of Inquiry into Forensic DNA Testing in Queensland.
Professor Gannon has been a Director of Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and eminent molecular biologist with almost 50 years’ experience. He has held high-profile scientific management roles throughout the world – including in the United States, England, France, Germany and Australia.
The commission of inquiry was sparked by concerns about the DNA testing thresholds used by Forensic and Scientific Services (FSS) between 2018 and June 2022.
“Commissioner Walter Sofronoff KC’s interim findings and recommendations, which the Government will implement, relate to the issue of how some DNA testing results were reported by Forensic and Scientific Services,” Ms D’Ath said.
“The Commissioner found that, between February 2018 and June 2022, FSS scientists provided untrue or misleading information regarding the detection of DNA in some sworn witness statements relating to samples with very small amounts of DNA.
“He has recommended that the relevant statements be withdrawn, and corrective statements issued.
“The Commissioner has not made any findings questioning the accuracy of DNA testing in Queensland at this time.
“In addition to implementing the recommendations, the Government will arrange for further analysis of all relevant samples to ensure confidence in the administration of justice in Queensland.”
Professor Gannon will oversee the work already under way to:
- re-issue the statements of identified cases, and
- further test identified samples to provide those results to Queensland Police Service.
While Commissioner Sofronoff did not find that previous DNA testing was inaccurate, he found that due to the possibility that additional processing of DNA samples could lead to partial or full DNA being detected in some cases, the statements issued were not factually correct.
Statements were issued stating “DNA insufficient for further processing”or “no DNA detected”.
To rectify this potential injustice, Commissioner Sofronoff has recommended:
- that all witness statements issued by FSS since 2018 that stated “DNA insufficient for further processing”or “No DNA detected” have new statements issued stating that the original statement was incorrect as the DNA may have produced an interpretable profile if further processed, and
- that the Government appropriately fund any bodies required to investigate, consider and resolve these issues.
Although no recommendation was made in the interim report regarding further analysis of samples which were the subject of the incorrect statements, the Government will now undertake a full audit of all samples relating to major crime taken between 2018 and June 2022 that resulted in witness statements stating “DNA insufficient for further processing” or “No DNA detected” and that did not progress to further testing due to DNA results falling between 0.001 ng/μL and 0.0088 ng/μL.
This will help identify whether any partial or full DNA can be detected. Where DNA is found, such results will be provided to QPS for further consideration.
“The Government has already reverted to FFS’s previous practice of testing all samples, including those with low levels of DNA, as it did prior to February 2018,” Ms D’Ath said.
“A taskforce has also been established to implement the recommendations and to support work coming out of the ongoing commission of inquiry.
“As we implement Commissioner Sofronoff’s recommendations, we’re putting additional systems in place which includes creating a hotline for anyone who believes they were involved in a police or court matter that may have been impacted by the failure to further test for DNA.
“Where cases are re-examined, police will contact interested parties, including victims of crime and their families.”
Anyone who believes they were involved in a police investigation or a matter before a court that may have been impacted should contact the QPS via the dedicated hotline (1300 993 191) or visit police.qld.gov.au.