Warning by spending watchdog over forensic science market

Forensic science standards risk deteriorating since operations were transferred to private companies and in-house police labs, a spending watchdog has warned.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), many police forces now use their own unregulated experts internally in crime scene investigations, and major specialised companies could be pushed out of the market.

The Forensic Science Service (FSS) in England and Wales was responsible for crime scene evidence collection until 2012 when it was shut down.

It is with some frustration that I read the National Audit Office’s analysis of what has happened to forensic capacity since the government closed the Forensic Science Service in 2012,” said Labour MP Andrew Miller, committee chairman.  

“We warned back then that the government was focusing on the financial bottom line without due consideration to the impact on forensic science research and development, the capacity of private providers to absorb the FSS’s dominant market share and the wider implications for the criminal justice system,” he added.

Figures included in NAO’s report showed that police spent £122m this year on internally commissioned work and it was also claimed that police labs could be operating cheaply without meeting accreditation standards.

There has also been a decrease in the size of the external market employed to conduct forensic services such as fingerprint and DNA analysis to help police investigate crimes, from £104m in the previous year to £81m in 2014-15.

“The private forensic science market has not taken up the slack and is struggling. And, worryingly, the NAO warn that this lack of capacity could put criminal cases at risk of collapsing,” said Miller.

The report also raised concerns over the lack of data available publicly on forensics spending provided by the Home Office, since under the current tendering system the acquisition of forensic services is not mandatory.

The report concluded that police forces taking more forensics work in-house could “undermine the market”.

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