September 05 2023
With a career of over 30 years in the Forensic Science Service and private practice, I am now a Casework Consultant at Keith Borer Consultants. I deal with biological evidence, such as body fluids and DNA, across a wide range of case types from murders to burglaries. I also have expertise in hairs, fibres and damage to clothing.
This diary outlines my typical week.
First job of the day is to complete an estimate for a new enquiry. The file contains quite a lot of papers and several Streamlined Forensic Reports to look through to ensure that the estimate covers all of the relevant aspects. Once complete, it is sent to the solicitor for them to include in their Legal Aid application.
Next, it’s on to some final amendments to a report which has been peer reviewed. The evidence includes blood on a pair of training shoes in an assault case. I visited the forensic science laboratory last week to re-examine the trainers and consider whether it was possible to determine how the tiny blood stains detected on them had been deposited. The allegation is that the defendant kicked the complainant, but the defendant says he was nearby when the assault took place, but not involved. It’s important to have as much information as possible from both parties when assessing the findings in a case.
Once the report is complete and has been emailed to the instructing solicitor, I move on to continue working on a case involving DNA on a firearm – there are complex mixtures of DNA to consider and specialist statistical evaluations to review. Half-way through, however, I have to stop to peer review a colleague’s report in an urgent case – the trial starts today and defence team are waiting!
I’m on the train this morning, travelling to a forensic laboratory to examine microscope slides in a sexual offence case. The level of semen present on intimate swabs collected from the complainant is particularly critical in this case, and therefore it is important to examine the slides to confirm the findings reported by the ‘prosecution’ scientist. I use the term loosely, as all forensic scientists go to great lengths to work impartially and independently of whoever instructs them. Whilst at the laboratory, I also make photocopies of the examination notes for the relevant items (such as clothing, reference DNA samples and swabs) and request copies of the DNA profiling results which will be sent to me by secure email.
Finally, I get back to working on the ‘DNA on a firearm’ case which I started on Monday. Once the DNA results have been interpreted, I review the examination notes and other documentation and make further notes regarding the findings and my interpretation. Now I can put ‘pen to paper’ (these days, fingers to keyboard!) and write my report which, once completed, will be reviewed by a colleague.
Then on to the sexual offence case from yesterday’s laboratory visit. For this case, I need to consider the published scientific literature as well as case papers and data, so I spend a while reading the relevant papers to assist with my overall interpretation.
I get a phone call from a solicitor who is asking when the report in his DNA case will be available – it hasn’t been started yet, as we are waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service to give their authority for the papers to be released by the prosecution laboratory – so it’s difficult to give a precise time estimate. This is often a source of delay and some frustration. The solicitor promises to chase the CPS again.
I’m asked to take a call about a new enquiry for assessment of damage to an item of clothing. This would be a new examination, rather than a review of work which has already been completed. I’ve been asked to consider whether the damage could have been caused in the manner alleged by the prosecution or alternatively in the way suggested by the defendant. I indicate that it might involve setting up simulations to try to replicate the damage. Arrangements will also need to be made to transport the relevant item of clothing to our laboratory ready for examination. Once the solicitor submits the relevant papers, I can produce an estimate for Legal Aid funding to be sought.
I complete my report for the sexual offence case and it goes to a colleague to peer review, a crucial step embedded in our quality management system. The report is delivered to the solicitor by the end of the afternoon.
In another case, a reference mouth swab kit has been returned by a solicitor and needs to be submitted for DNA profiling analysis. Where a defendant disputes that the profile used for comparisons with the DNA profiling results in a case is his, or when an older version of his profile was used (generated using one of the older DNA profiling techniques), we often provide a simple mouth swab kit for collecting a new reference sample to be profiled and used only for our comparisons. I sort out the necessary paperwork – the sample will now be sent to our DNA profiling supplier – and I should have the result back in around a week or so.
An urgent request came in late yesterday for a Joint Expert Report for a trial starting next Wednesday. My report, written some weeks ago, largely agrees with the ‘prosecution’ scientist’s and the court has directed that we try to set out the points on which we agree and any on which we disagree (as required by Part 19.6 of the Criminal Procedure Rules relating to expert evidence). The solicitor confirms the additional Legal Aid funding quickly. By lunchtime, I have made contact with the other expert and by mid-afternoon I have produced a draft version of a joint report for their consideration and, if necessary, discussion. Hopefully this can be finalised on Monday and an unnecessary trip to court avoided for us both.
At Keith Borer Consultants, we have a team of Casework Consultants who are experts in a wide range of forensic evidence types. Colleagues work from our main office in Durham, our satellite office in Huntingdon, or from home. Call us on 0191 332 4999 if you wish to speak directly to one of the team – they will be happy to provide a free, initial assessment of the scientific evidence in your case. Alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, including details of your requirements and pertinent case papers (Forensic Statements, Police Report, Counsel’s Advice) and we’ll aim to have an estimate with you within 24 hours.