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Major step after ‘serious’ DNA failures

Majura Forensic Facility
The Queensland government has heralded a major step in rebuilding the state’s DNA testing scheme after systemic “mismanagement” cast doubt on samples from tens of thousands of cases. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

The Queensland government has heralded a major step in rebuilding the state’s DNA testing scheme after systemic “mismanagement” cast doubt on samples from tens of thousands of cases.

Years of forensic testing of DNA samples from serious criminal cases including rapes and murders were found to have been botched by the state’s labs, according to a 2022 inquiry.

Judge Walter Sofronoff found a series of factors including “mismanagement” and “dishonesty by senior managers” had led to the failures, with police now reviewing 30,000 cases.

As the government grapples with the unprecedented review, Health Minister Shannon Fentiman announced on Saturday the hiring of three scientists as the rebuild continues.

DNA Inquiry
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, left, and Commissioner Walter Sofronoff during the handing down of the DNA Inquiry report. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard

“Rebuilding DNA and forensic services to the highest standard is a complex and challenging task, but today’s announcements are a significant step towards achieving this goal,” she said.

“The appointments of the three individuals speak to their desire to contribute toward our vision of delivering a DNA and forensic service that sets the benchmark for others to follow.

“As with any organisation, the success of Forensic Science Queensland (FSQ) will hinge significantly on building a team of respected and qualified experts in their fields.”

The three scientists, who will take on senior management roles in the rebuilt FSQ, have backgrounds in biology, crime scene investigation and human remains identification.

The addition of new scientists comes as consultation begins on the draft Forensic Science Queensland Bill, a proposed framework to govern FSQ and support its functions.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - NCA NewsWire Photos - 19 APRIL 2023: Queensland Health Minister The Hon Yvette D’ath during Question time at Queensland Parliament in Brisbane. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Glenn Campbell
Health Minister Shannon Fentiman announced on Saturday the hiring of three scientists as the process to rebuild continues. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Glenn Campbell

“The Queensland government has been clear in its commitment following the Commission of Inquiry: we want to restore the public’s confidence in DNA and forensic services,” Ms Fentiman said.

“It is why we are investing more than $95 million to manage the body of work stemming from the Inquiry, building FSQ’s foundations and recruiting the right people.”

The Australian reported a closed-door review by the peak body, the National Institute of Forensic Science, had been underway since October with the goal of “national consistency”.

In a statement, the Attorney-General’s Department said all 123 recommendations from Queensland’s DNA inquiry were being reviewed at a national level.

The news comes after the announcement that a team of police embedded within Queensland’s forensic labs is set to be expanded as a review of the 30,000 affected cases begins.

Police confirmed five officers have already been assigned to the forensic lab to “assist with case management, including case prioritisation”, and ensure police had necessary information.