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Police doctor warns of more miscarriages of justice in rape cases in row over DNA testing

A police doctor has warned of potential miscarriages of justice in rape cases after medical examinations were outsourced to the private security company G4S.

Dr Steven Hopkins claims that he was asked to take DNA samples from both rape victims and suspects, risking cross-contamination. 

He refused but believes other doctors employed by G4S Medical Services may have done so.

The allegation will further undermine confidence in the Criminal Justice System following the collapse of two rape trials caused by the failure of Metropolitan Police to disclose evidence.

Dr Hopkins, in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph, said he feared the “collapse of the cases of Liam Allan, Isaac Itiary and others” may be “only the tip of the iceberg”.

The Metropolitan Police has ordered an urgent review of every live rape investigation, including 30 cases about to go to trial.

Liam Allan, who was dragged through the courts on a false rape allegation

G4S vehemently denied the claim made by Dr Hopkins and insisted it never had a policy of requesting the same doctor take samples from both victims and suspects. If he had been asked to do so, said the company, then the request was made in error.

Dr Hopkins said that one of his roles as a police doctor was the examination of  victims and suspects in rape cases to obtain DNA samples. 

The evidence could prove “sexual contact”, critical in obtaining convictions.

But he said G4S Medical Services, for whom he worked from 2011 to 2015 in Lincolnshire, had asked him to take swabs from both victim and suspect in a case. “I refused point blank,” said Dr Hopkins, who now works for the police in Wales for a different private company in whom he has complete confidence. He said he was asked to do so by a call centre working for G4S Medical Services and was told the practice was “quite safe” and had been done “hundreds of times”.

In his letter to The Telegraph he said: “Medical examiners may find themselves under extreme pressure to perform such examinations on both the victim and the suspect in the same rape case. This is not safe as there is a major risk of cross contamination.” 

He went on: “I wonder how many innocent men are now in prison as a result of such contaminated evidence.”

In 2015, Dr Hopkins took his complaint to his local MP, who passed it to the Home Office. That in turn prompted the Forensic Science Regulator Dr Gillian Tully to issue new guidance for the collection of DNA evidence in rape cases.

G4S Medical Services said in a statement issued last year that it did not have any such policy of requesting that doctors examine both suspects and victims but had tightened up procedures regardless.

Isaac Itiary

On Wednesday, Head of clinical governance for G4S health services, Angela Lennox said: “In cases of sexual assault, forensic evidence can make a huge difference between the success and failure of a case, which is why it is vital that the integrity of the evidence is preserved. For this reason, we have strict guidelines that prevent the same doctor collecting medical evidence from a victim and a suspect in the same case.

“Our records show that Dr Hopkins did not raise an incident report that he was asked to examine a suspect and a victim from the same case during his time at G4S. He did not raise this through the G4S whistleblowing system, nor did he cite this as the reason for leaving the business in 2015.”

Dr Tony Knight, former G4S clinical director, said: “Our procedures and policies then and now are very clear, that no doctor should examine suspects and victims from the same case unless there were pressing clinical reasons.”

It is not clear how many cases could have been affected prior to the tightening up of rules. The work of police doctors and forensic examiners has been outsourced by forces to a number of different private companies.

Dr Hopkins has called for an urgent audit of all cases handled prior to 2016 in which doctors might have carried out dual examinations. He said DNA tests were now so sensitive the risk of cross-contamination was very real. He had been advised to take a swab from a victim, then go home have a shower and change clothing before taking a DNA sample from the suspect. He said that DNA evidence could still be at risk of contamination via his car of doctor’s kit bag.

Yvette Cooper, Labour MP and Chair of Home Affairs Select Committee said: “If G4S Medical Services was asking police doctors to take DNA samples from both the suspect and victim in the same case, there is a serious risk of cross-contamination, which would put justice at risk. This raises serious questions for the Home Office and for the management of contracts, as well as for G4S.”

G4S, the world’s largest private security company, has been at the centre of a series of controversies over several years, including the bungled handling of the security contract for the London 2012 Olympic games, which led to the resignation a year later of its chief executive. 

Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/20/police-doctor-warns-miscarriages-justice-rape-cases-row-dna/

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