DNA lab will help Scots scientists solve cold cases

Angus Sinclair in 1997 ' the year he killed two teenage girls. He was convicted only last year
Angus Sinclair in 1997 ' the year he killed two teenage girls. He was convicted only last year
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New technology is allowing forensic scientists in Scotland to “lead the way” in DNA profiling, after a £6 million investment.

The techniques used in laboratories at the Scottish Crime Campus at Gartcosh, Lanarkshire, offer scientists the ability to process smaller or lower-quality samples held on file for decades.

The latest technology looks at 24 areas of a person’s DNA – a big step up from the 11 areas that made up previous DNA profiling and an advance on the 17 that is the European standard.

Teams working at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Forensic Services laboratories said they were obtaining more DNA profiles than before using the DNA24/GlobalFiler technology.

Tom Nelson, director of SPA Forensic Services, said: “DNA24 provides the criminal justice system in Scotland with the most sensitive and informative DNA profiling results currently possible. It offers a major step forward in enhancing the contribution forensic services can make to the pursuit of justice in Scotland.

“This technology will be particularly invaluable in processing samples for cold cases. The recent successful prosecution in the World’s End murder trial demonstrates how DNA technology can be vital in getting justice for victims and their families long after the crime has been committed.

“The detailed analysis offered by DNA24 will be pivotal in processing DNA samples which have been held on file for many years and which are likely to be of poorer quality.

“This technology, powered by the skills and expertise of trained forensic services staff, is an innovative way forward for science in Scotland. However, it will also allow the authorities in Scotland to reach back in time, with the potential to rekindle justice for those who had all but given up hope.”

Justice secretary Michael Matheson visited the lab yesterday to formally launch the new technology, which is provided by Thermo Fisher Scientific based in Paisley.

He said: “It is fantastic to see Scotland leading the way in this field with the most advanced DNA profiling in Europe, backed by a £6 million investment from the Scottish Government.

“Scotland is getting safer and crime is at a 40-year low but new and innovative technology like DNA24 is crucial to tackling and preventing future crime throughout Scotland and beyond.

“As well as being a vital tool in the armour for tackling organised crime and terrorism, this facility will be invaluable in the investigation of historical ‘cold’ cases, helping bring answers to the families of victims of crime who are still waiting for justice to be served.

“These facilities should also serve as a powerful deterrent for potential criminals, too, as our ever more sophisticated systems and technology means our justice agencies are tackling crime head-on. There is nowhere for criminals to hide.”

The investment has included upgrading facilitates and training staff.

The World’s End case saw serial killer Angus Sinclair, 69, jailed for 37 years in November after he was convicted of murdering teenage friends Christine Eadie and Helen Scott in 1977, with the help of forensic techniques that were not available at the time of the killings.

In 1997, Lothian and Borders Police’s cold case unit instructed further forensic work to be undertaken in the case, reflecting improvements in DNA profiling technology since the murders occurred. This resulted in the isolation of a DNA profile of a male, found on both girls. The DNA of the original 500 suspects was analysed and compared to the new sample, but there was no match.

During the 24-day retrial last year, more advanced DNA analysis showed Sinclair had touched “most if not all” of the ligatures used to tie up the two girls.

Significantly, DNA found on Helen’s coat matched Sinclair’s, with the chances of it coming from another unrelated man conservatively estimated at about one in a billion.