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After a testing day, D'Ath brings in Gannon to clean up DNA mess

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The painstaking task of shortlisting thousands of invalid DNA samples for reassessment, revealed by an inquiry into Queensland’s forensic service, will fall to molecular biologist Professor Frank Gannon.

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With yesterday’s explosive revelations casting doubt on the Forensic and Scientific Services’ (FSS) testing procedures, which may have allowed hundreds of violent offenders to escape justice, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath has placed her trust in Gannon to “rectify this potential injustice”.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed that two senior staff connected to the state’s DNA lab had been stood down in the wake of the revelations.

The damning findings were revealed in interim recommendations handed down by Commissioner Walter Sofronoff KC from the ongoing Commission of Inquiry into Forensic DNA Testing in Queensland that was sparked by concerns about the DNA testing thresholds used by FSS between 2018 and June 2022.

Opposition spokesman Jarrod Bleijie said the failings had rocked “the foundations of Queensland’s justice system”.

“This is possibly the biggest maladministration since Labor’s health payroll bungle, if not bigger,” he said.

Sofronoff found that FSS scientists provided untrue or misleading information regarding the detection of DNA in some sworn witness statements relating to samples with very small amounts of DNA.

Sofronoff has recommended that the relevant statements be withdrawn, and correct statements re-issued.

“The Commissioner has not made any findings questioning the accuracy of DNA testing in Queensland at this time,” D’Ath said.

“In addition to implementing the recommendations, the government will arrange for further analysis of all relevant samples to ensure confidence in the administration of justice in Queensland.”

D’Ath said Gannon would oversee the work already under way to re-issue the statements of identified cases and further test identified samples to provide those results to the Queensland Police Service.

“While Commissioner Sofronoff did not find that previous DNA testing was inaccurate, he found that due to the possibility that additional processing of DNA samples could lead to partial or full DNA being detected in some cases, that statements issued were not factually correct,” she said.

“Statements were issued stating ‘DNA insufficient for further processing’ or ‘no DNA detected’.

Sofronoff has determined that if the samples had have been tested further, they may have yielded an “interpretable profile”.

He has recommended that all witness statements issued by FSS since 2018 that stated ‘DNA insufficient for further processing’ or ‘No DNA detected’ have new statements issued stating that the original statement was incorrect.

He has also recommended that the government appropriately fund any bodies required to investigate, consider and resolve the issues under suspicion.

D’Ath said the government would undertake a full audit of all samples relating to major crime taken between 2018 and June 2022 in line with Sofronoff’s recommendations.

“This will help identify whether any partial or full DNA can be detected. Where DNA is found, such results will be provided to QPS for further consideration,” she said.

“The government has already reverted to FFS’s previous practice of testing all samples, including those with low levels of DNA, as it did prior to February 2018.”

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