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D I A R Y
The Old Un’s diary All the news that matters. And some that doesn’t
Beyond reasonable doubt? Fifty years ago this month, James Hanratty was hanged for the murder of Michael Gregsten and the rape and attempted murder of Valerie Storie on the A6.
Major doubts remain about the conviction despite a 2002 appeal which used recently developed techniques of LCN (low copy number) DNA profiling to obtain a match between DNA from Hanratty’s exhumed body and semen found on Valerie Storie’s knickers. The Hanratty family argued that contamination could have occurred, an argument dismissed as ‘fanciful’ by the three appeal court judges (including one Mr Justice Leveson, as he then was).
But now, ten years on, the supposed certainties of DNA testing look ever more fragile. Take the recent case of Adam Scott from Exeter who was charged with a rape in Manchester even though he said he had never visited the city. He was not a suspect until a private forensics company, LGC Forensics, said samples from the crime scene matched Scott’s DNA. The chance that he was not involved was a billion to one, the firm claimed. The company later acknowledged that the result was false – Scott’s
DNA had accidentally come into contact with a sample from the rape scene.
Concerns about the reliablity of DNA profiling are not only centred on contamination. The specific technique of LCN DNA testing (which obtains a result using the tiniest particles) has itself become mired in controversy. In 2007, Sean Hoey was acquitted of the Omagh bombings when the judge threw out LCN evidence after expressing doubts about its reliability. During that case Peter Gill, one of the inventors of the LCN technique, revealed under cross-examination that LCN was complex and involved ‘shades of grey’. LCN is only accepted as a technique in fifteen countries worldwide.
You can read much more about the DNA evidence used to uphold Hanratty’s conviction in Norma Buddle’s excellent booklet, the fourth in her series on the case, available from Housmans Bookshop in King’s Cross, London or www.housmans.com/books.php
Emergency – Ward 23 If anyone doubts the parlous state of the NHS, they should look at an appeal we have received from Ward 23, a care of the elderly ward at the Royal Bristol Infirmary. In
One of the inventors of LCN profiling admitted that the technique involved shades of grey. It is only accepted in fifteen countries an emailed request the Ward Clerk, Sue Nicholls, asks for money for basic toiletry items for its patients, some of whom have no living relatives: ‘Even the smallest of items such as a bar of soap would benefit our patients. We are also hoping to buy special chairs and footstools for them.’
Not much to ask, you might think. But, Sue says, ‘There is only enough money for medicine and the costs of staff. We get single sachets of shower gel and shampoo, but they are unscented and don’t lather. Vile stuff.’ Fundraising is an ongoing business on the ward, but Sue reports that she is often rebuffed by people who say they give their money to sick children and cancer charities instead. ‘The elderly can be overlooked. We are really grateful for anything we can get.’ Donations should be sent to Ward 23, Upper Maudlin St, Bristol, BS2 8HW.
Meanwhile, at Moorfields, a friendly doctor tells us that the famous London eye hospital has seen a huge influx of applications from the doctors of one particular country – Greece. So as we rightly fret about the state of our own NHS, spare a thought for the impoverished Greeks – they are now seeing their own health service buckle as even the medics flee overseas.
May 2012 – THE OLDIE 7