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Ministerial Inquiry Into DNA Testing Anomalies


9 March 2000

Ministerial Inquiry Into DNA Testing Anomalies

ESR today acknowledged findings of the Ministerial Inquiry into anomalies into DNA testing saying it had already implemented a number of the recommendations from the Inquiry report.

“ESR also welcomes the Inquiry finding that at the time this problem occurred there was no evidence of general contamination or other problems that impacted on the reliability of DNA evidence in criminal prosecutions,” said ESR Chief Executive Dr John Hay.

“However, the exhaustive review processes we have been through have been useful in helping to identify some areas in which ESR’s already rigorous testing procedures can be improved. This fits with the ESR continuous improvement philosophy and the ongoing audit process which is part of our international accreditation.”

Dr Hay said ESR accepted that, on the balance of probabilities, accidental contamination was the most likely cause of the problem.

“It is unfortunate that, like four previous extensive inquiries into this incident, the Ministerial Inquiry was unable to find a direct cause for the anomalous findings.”

Dr Hay said ESR had already implemented the report’s recommendations in the areas of sample packaging and handling and laboratory work station lay out.

“We are also progressing the assessment of options relating to ventilation and are reviewing how we accommodate our DNA testing facilities. This has involved looking at a building programme at our Mt Albert site,” said Dr Hay.

“It is important to point out ESR has international accreditation for its DNA testing laboratories. That accreditation is rigorous. To meet it we employ highly skilled and experienced staff as well as highly sophisticated processes.”

Ends

For further information contact:
Dr Keith Bedford
ESR, Mt Albert
Telephone 09 8953952 or (025) 2363371
www.esr.cri.nz for detailed information
Background to Ministerial Inquiry into DNA Testing Anomalies

Operation Rex – Ministerial Inquiry

 The findings at the centre of the inquiry arose from the investigation of two Wellington murders (one known as Operation Rex and the other Operation Pad) and an assault in Christchurch.

 During DNA testing of crime scene material from the murders, DNA material “matching” the person assaulted in the Christchurch case was discovered.

 Police investigated the possible involvement of this person in the Wellington murders and ruled it out.

 A concern was raised that the “matching” of DNA in the three cases indicated contamination. However, initial ESR inquiries could find no cause or evidence of contamination.

 However, because of the seriousness of the issues, three independent reviews were initiated by ESR. These were undertaken by a New Zealand based scientific expert with considerable experience in quality assurance issues, an Australian forensic DNA expert and Police.

 The reviews showed ESR’s DNA testing processes were at the standard required of an internationally accredited laboratory. The reviews canvassed various options for the presence of the extraneous DNA:
 Somebody sharing the same DNA profile as the Christchurch man was present at both Wellington crime scenes – this was considered an extremely remote statistical possibility
 General contamination or mix-up in samples – this was ruled out by the reviews
 An isolated event or procedure failure caused the results – the reviews found no evidence to support this
 Deliberate contamination - ruled out by reviews.

 A fourth independent review was undertaken by another Australian forensic DNA expert in the course of an audit of the ESR Biology laboratory operations. This audit was arranged to fulfil the requirements of the accreditation scheme and the ESR quality system.

 All four reviews found ESR’s standards met or exceeded those expected of an internationally accredited agency.

 The issue of the anomalous findings was raised during the Operation Rex trial.

 Due to continued concern over the anomalous results, and the inability of the extensive inquiries to find a cause, on 17 June 1999 the then Minister of Justice, Hon Tony Ryall, convened a Ministerial Inquiry into the situation.

ENDS

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