The dismissal of all charges against a member of a well-known republican family from County Derry after a process of remand and highly restrictive bail lasting three years has once again exposed the use of discredited evidential practices in the Six Counties.
On Friday [August 28], British crown prosecutors were forced to concede, not for the first time, that the presence of low copy DNA cannot be construed as evidence.
This was only the latest high profile case, involving the use of low copy DNA, to collapse in the Six Counties. Indeed, the use of this type of dubious forensic technique appears to be primarily confined to controversial cases involving republicans.
As such, its use appears to be the latest tactic in the British state’s armoury to ensure lengthy periods of detention, in the form of selective internment by remand, for those who oppose the British occupation in Ireland.
In that respect, this latest British tactic merely replaces the notorious forced and fabricated confessions, often made under circumstances tantamount to torture, which the state used for years to imprison many innocent people for lengthy periods.
The use of highly dubious forensic evidence was an integral part of the notorious frame-ups and miscarriages of justice in cases such as the Birmingham Six that led to the imprisonment for 16 and a half years of six Irishmen for offences of which they were later proven to be totally innocent.
More recently, the widely discredited low copy DNA technique falsely implicated a 14-year-old teenager from Sussex, England in the Omagh bombing, who would have been around six years of age when the bombing took place. His DNA is understood to have been included on a British DNA database as part of a previous paternity test.
However, despite being identified as a potential suspect, his details were not passed on to the PSNI as the forensic scientists were obviously aware that an English schoolboy, who had never even been in Ireland, could not have been involved.
However, had that boy had been from South Armagh, East Tyrone, West Belfast or elsewhere in the Six Counties, he and members of his family would most likely have been imprisoned because of that false and misleading low copy DNA result.
That case followed on from a statement made in a court by a leading forensic scientist, Ann Irwin, which revealed that PSNI members had attempted to coerce scientists into covering up “mistakes” made in PSNI investigations. Irwin insisted that this was a practice going back many years. In her evidence to a Belfast court at the trial of a Tyrone man in 2003, she outlined how the PSNI had asked her to collude in covering up the fact that materials for forensic examination had already been open to contamination by British military personnel as a result of the PSNI’s own failure to implement proper procedure for handling the evidence.
In another case in 2003, charges against two County Down men [originally arrested in 2002], were dismissed after 14 months when their solicitors unearthed documents which clearly showed that there had been tampering with evidence, as well as falsification of forensic results.
Among the documents discovered by those solicitors was a letter from a forensic scientist, Gerry Murray, which stated: “On 19/06/03 at 15.00 hours I met Detective Chief Inspector Derek Williamson PSNI, Ardmore, Newry, at FSNI [Forensic Service] to discuss my statement of 8/4/03 in relation to case number 4891/02. Detective Chief Inspector Derek Williamson requested that I prepare a modified statement, omitting a number of sections from the original statement. He provided me with a copy of my original statement with the relevant sections highlighted.”
Despite clearly seeking to intimidate a forensic scientist into making changes to an evidential statement which would be later used in court, no disciplinary or other action was ever taken against Williamson.
On the contrary, Williamson has since been promoted and is now the detective chief superintendent in charge of the PSNI’s Serious Crime Branch. One of the investigations which Derek Williamson now leads is that into the attack on Masserene British army barracks in March – where the presence of low copy DNA appears to be central to the continued internment by remand of those charged.
Between December 21 2007 and January 14 2008, the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] in the Six Counties conducted what was announced as a ‘precautionary internal review’ of current cases involving the use of low copy DNA analysis. Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, a CPS spokesperson unsurprisingly later claimed the review did not find anything “to suggest that any current problems exist” with low copy number DNA profiling and that it would remain available as potentially admissible evidence.
A number of other existing cases involving low copy DNA, which amount to internment by remand, are also due to be contested.
That such practices are still used by the forces of the British state in Ireland clearly shows that British rule in Ireland can only be maintained by coercion, defamation, slander and the denial of the most basic civil and human rights.
The CPS and the PSNI have both colluded in falsifying cases against republicans in the Six Counties. Were it not for the diligence of their defence teams, those republicans would now be serving lengthy terms of imprisonment because of political policing.
It is highly unlikely that any members of the CPS or any PSNI personnel will ever appear before the courts accused of perverting the course of justice.
One fact which is completely clear is this – the same corrupt political policing practices allied to a pliable political prosecution service, which, 35-years-ago, led to the Birmingham Six spending over 16 years in prison, are still operating today in the Six Counties.
The silence of the two constitutional nationalist parties in the Six Counties in relation to the British state’s efforts to imprison people on the basis of spurious, tampered and altered evidence makes a mockery of those parties same demands for a return of limited policing and justice powers to the Stormont administration.