A Forensic Market in Flux

Close up of forensic scientist looking down the eyepieces of a microsocpe

Over three and a half years on from the closure of the Forensic Science Service, and you might be forgiven for thinking that the market for forensic services would have settled down.  However, it would appear that things are as changeable as ever as budget cuts bite, the money spent on forensic science shrinks further and the long promised government strategy for forensic science has yet to be published.

In July 2015, another company became a casualty of this situation.  Working in the niche field of fibre analysis, Contact Traces had provided a vital specialist service and their scientists were involved in many high profile cases.  They also made many valuable contributions to research in fibres, and their loss will be felt further afield in this respect.  As the company leaves the UK forensic market, forensic fibre analysis is in serious decline despite a dedicated campaign by its owner and chief scientist, Tiernan Coyle, to highlight the problem.  There are now no more than a handful of scientists with fibre expertise in the UK and there is a high risk of the skills and experience, which take a considerable time to build, being lost.  Forensic Context’s expert, Kerri Allen, is one of the few scientists with extensive experience in this field  and can undertake review of work carried out by the Crown and provide advice and expertise in appeal cases and cold case reviews.

The perception that DNA will provide the necessary evidence persists.  However DNA can’t always provide the answers, and with the use of more sensitive DNA profiling techniques, which mean that ever smaller amounts of DNA can be detected, issues of how and when the relevant DNA was deposited are increasingly critical.  In the absence of a way of reliably ageing DNA, these questions remain largely unanswered and it may be necessary to turn to other evidence types, such as fibres, to provide information to assist.  Transferred fibres persist for a relatively short time, therefore their presence can go some way to helping establish a time frame for the contact which led to their transfer.  And there are many examples of cases where no useful DNA evidence was found, but fibre transfers were instrumental in securing a conviction (for example the murder of Sarah Payne and the case of serial rapist Antoni Imiela.

There have also been some significant mergers between forensic science providers over the last few months.  Manlove Forensics Ltd announced their takeover by ArroGen Forensics in June 2015.  And in September Keith Borer Consultants (KBC) announced that they had become part of Orchid Cellmark Ltd, one of the main forensic providers to the police forces in the UK.  KBC have been a long-standing provider of expertise to the defence, and state that their customers should expect no change in the services they provide . Most recently LGC Forensics, one of the main forensic science providers in the UK and part of the larger LGC Group owned by Bridgepoint Partners since 2010, has been put up for sale.

And finally to the government strategy for forensic science.  The promise is that it will be published in Spring 2016, and we are all eager to see what it will hold.  However, if the changes in forensic science provision continue at the current pace it is going to need a concerted effort to ensure that it is up-to-date.