Thursday 21 September 2017

Almost 400 people linked to crimes - including murders, sexual assaults - since the new DNA database went live

Dr.Geraldine O’Donnell Director of DNA at Forensic Science Ireland at their offices in the Phoenix Park. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Dr.Geraldine O’Donnell Director of DNA at Forensic Science Ireland at their offices in the Phoenix Park. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

More than 385 people have been linked to specific crimes - including two murders and five sexual assaults - since the new DNA database became operational, according to figures seen by the Irish Independent.

In 77 cases, the person was linked to multiple crimes, including a serial burglar linked to 13 different crime scenes.

In total, the DNA database linked more than 530 crimes to particular individuals up to the end of 2016.

"The match rate of the National DNA Database is high, demonstrating its effectiveness in detecting crime and protecting the public," said Dr Geraldine O'Donnell, director of DNA at Forensic Science Ireland (FSI).

"2016 was our first full year of having the database in operation - its impact on crime detection has already been very significant. It really has been a game changer in terms of crime detection."

Profiles - taken from convicted criminals, former offenders and serious crime suspects - are checked against the DNA profiles in the database taken from crime scenes (known as crime stain samples) by the Garda Technical Bureau.

The crime stain samples are also searched against profiles from other crime scenes to check for possible links between crimes.

Any matches found by scientists are admissible in evidence in criminal trials.

These crimes have ranged from burglary and criminal damage to crimes against the person including sexual assault and suspicious deaths.

Initial results have been encouraging.

Assaults

While specific cases cannot be detailed as they remain at the investigative stage, among the striking figures from the database are that two murders and five sexual assaults have been linked to persons on the database, as well as eight further assaults.

Of the 385 people linked to specific crimes, 321 were suspects who had DNA samples taken - while 64 were offenders who had previously been convicted.

Since the database started, DNA samples have been taken from more than 12,000 people.

Figures from the FSI also reveal that, on 43 occasions to the end of 2016, DNA samples from one crime scene were linked to samples from other crime scenes. These resulted in 105 investigative 'hits' between unsolved crime stains, including four 'murder or fatal shootings', two assaults and one armed robbery.

FSI operates the DNA database from a facility at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park as it awaits work to start on a new €60m facility in Kildare later this year.

The database finally became operational in November 2015 amid concerns over privacy, fairness and data protection, but it was established decades after some other countries - such as the UK - had started their own national databases.

FSI director Dr Sheila Willis says it is not quite as glamorous as television shows like 'Crime Scene Investigates' suggest.

"The reality is, like every other type of evidence, there is a requirement to evaluate how it got there. So the DNA is the 'who?'. But the traditional questions in forensic science - the how and what and when - are not addressed well by DNA.

"Often this is skipped over. So while the technology they use on TV is quite realistic, although simplified and speeded up, and glamorised by having one super person who can do everything, that's not real life. But DNA is a hugely powerful tool."

Read more: 11,000 DNA samples taken

Irish Independent

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