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It could take years: 100,000 DNA tests may need to be repeated, government says


More than 100,000 samples may need to be re-tested after another DNA testing bungle was exposed at Queensland’s troubled forensic lab.

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It may take three years to clear the backlog, prompting the Queensland government to look at legislation changes to extend the amount of time DNA samples can be held.

A second inquiry into the state-run lab has found an automated DNA extraction method used from 2007 to 2016 known as Project 13 was “fundamentally flawed”.

“It should never have occurred,” Health Minister Shannon Fentiman said on Monday.

“It was never scientifically validated.

“The DNA lab really did away with scientifically sound methodology – they sacrificed that for speed.”

No individual was to blame for implementing Project 13, with Ms Fentiman describing it as an “overall lack of governance”.

“There was a complete lack of accountability and scientific methodology – there was no quality assurance in place,” she said.

Retired Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett recently led the second inquiry that looked into Project 13.

Ms Fentiman had called for the second review after whistleblower Kirsty Wright raised Project 13 concerns she claimed had not been addressed at the initial 2022 inquiry into the state-run lab.

“All of Dr Kirsty Wright’s concerns about Project 13 were valid,” Ms Fentiman said.

Dr Bennett found current DNA lab boss Dr Linzi Wilson-Wilde did not draw attention to Project 13’s deficiencies when she gave evidence at the first inquiry.

But she said Dr Wilson-Wilde did not deliberately mislead the inquiry, noting she was making very good progress implementing recommendations from the initial probe and overhauling the lab’s culture.

Dr Bennett made two recommendations – review all cases that used Project 13 testing and that they also form part of the historical case review under way following the initial inquiry.

Ms Fentiman on Monday said that meant up to 103,000 samples may need to be re-tested, which may take three years.

She said legislation amendments would be introduced next time parliament sits to extend the amount of time DNA samples can be held.

But Ms Fentiman said she was very pleased with Dr Bennett’s finding there was no evidence the public should not have confidence in the lab.

The 2022 inquiry headed by Walter Sofronoff KC over four months found many DNA samples went untested and the lab incorrectly ruled others “insufficient”.

The scientist in charge of the lab at the time – Cathie Allen – was sacked in May after the first inquiry found thousands of criminal cases had been compromised.

After a police review, it was revealed 37,000 cases dating back to 2007 were impacted by the DNA testing bungle.

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