Forensic Science Northern Ireland- Incompetence or Corruption or both?

I had concerns about the rigour of the initial police investigation and had written to the Police in late February 2004 expressing my views. I asked the Chief Superintendent in charge of the Antrim area to have the collision investigated by Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI). I received a reply that the decision not to attend a fatal road accident was one for FSNI alone and was based on the evidence available. It was clear that the decision not to attend was made when the Police briefed them that the collision “arose as a result of the Nova’s presence on the wrong side of the road.” In other words the cause of the collision was already established and there was no need for FSNI to be involved. I wrote back to the Police suggesting that the evidence in the case pointed to a different cause and that FSNI should be called in to provide an independent assessment of that evidence. In the middle of March, some three months after the crash, I was told that FSNI “would have a look.”

Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) is a quasi-independent Government Executive Agency within the Northern Ireland Office and is under the ultimate control of the Secretary of State in the Northern Ireland Office. The PSNI has a contract with them to supply 1100 hours per year for road collisions which equates to approximately 80-90 fatal collisions. The average total of fatal road deaths in Northern Ireland is around 125 per year. Raymond’s death happened towards the end of the contract year and it occurred to me that, if the funds had run out, this might have influenced their decision not to attend. I understand that this is the only part of the United Kingdom where the attendance of Forensics at fatal road accidents in not compulsory. Work for the PSNI represents well over 90% of their total output and so they are very important clients.

They had lost their accreditation before November 2003 and were still trying to regain it when they took on the investigation. In fact, it is said in an official report that the PSNI considered moving their business to another Forensic provider in Scotland or the Republic of Ireland because they were unhappy with some aspects of the Forensic Service they were getting.
Another aspect of the relationship between PSNI and FSNI was highlighted in a Report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate in its 2005 Report when it said :
“Staff in FSNI and PSNI referred to the strong personal relationships which developed between scientists and police officers. For FSNI there has been an increasing need to emphasize its independence from the investigation and prosecution process and demonstrate a clear sense of impartiality within the Criminal Justice system.”
I was aware of none of this when I asked for FSNI to become involved. I anticipated a thorough, clinical scientific and independent investigation by top experts in their field.
I wrote to FSNI and gave them all the evidence I had. I expected them to find or confirm the evidence for themselves but it would point them in the right direction and not have them rely on the questionable  Police Report. I included a copy of the video I had made.
A Forensic scientist called Damien Call was tasked with the investigation. He was a BSc BA Chartered Engineer, a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a member of the Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators and a Senior Scientific Officer of FSNI. The investigation itself was to be carried out by trained assistants under his instruction.
The eight page Report was completed on 14th May 2004 but we were not to receive a copy of it until 14th July 2005. We had been told by Police that it was available to us in November 2004 and we asked for it immediately, but it took over 7 months to arrive and when it did it was without either maps or photographs. It was noted that the Report was dated 6 months and 3 days after the date of the collision and this would have had consequences for its use if certain offences were to be considered for prosecution.
I accept that FSNI did not have access to the damaged Subaru although they did have the Police photographs of it and they did have a professional Report by Constable Cochrane who inspected it. They also had the Police Report and the witness statements. I also accept that they were dealing with the case five months down the line. However, none of these shortfalls would be sufficient justification for the disgraceful Report that he produced.
The posts following this one will  give a detailed analysis of what was wrong with the first Forensic Report.

The FSNI is no stranger to controversy and the quality of Damien Coll’s work has certainly been called into question in the past. In May 2001, the FSNI lost the right to operate as a Forensic agency because of the poor quality of its work across a range of disciplines. I cannot say if Road Collision investigators were found to be included in the decision to remove its accreditation.  In any case, its accreditation was reinstated in March 2002, only to be removed again in 2003 when auditors uncovered more than 400 errors involving paperwork etc.

An official from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) which carried out the audit wrote “The continued deficiencies identified by the assessment team clearly indicated that the risk had reached an unacceptable level. The laboratory had been given many opportunities to address the issues raised over the past two years.

I cannot say to what degree the Roads Collision branch of the FSNI contributed to the decision to  remove accreditation, but it possibly explains why my subsequent complaint against Coll’s Report was buried without investigation. That is a post for another day.

Full accreditation was not fully restored until 2005.

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