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Home > Forensic Science Ireland annual report 2017.

Guiney, Ciara (2018) Forensic Science Ireland annual report 2017. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 67, Autumn 2018 , pp. 10-11.

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 Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) delivers a scientific service that supports the Irish criminal justice system by analysing samples that are gathered at crime scenes (e.g. DNA, chemistry, and drugs). Substances are submitted for analysis mainly by An Garda Síochána but also by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), Customs and Excise, and the Military Police. In order to monitor the chain of custody, FSI has set procedures in place: substances are first accepted by FSI reception or case intake staff, then items are stored safely and securely, after which they are passed to a relevant scientist for analysis. In May 2018, FSI published its second annual report.1 What follows is an overview of the results and progress made by the FSI team in 2017.

 

Results and progress of FSI team

Overall, 15,200 cases were submitted for analysis in 2017, which was an increase of approximately 8% since 2016 (n=14008). The demand for analysis went beyond the available resource capacity of FSI. Moreover, cases submitted varied in complexity and involved the prioritisation of several high-profile cases that involved drug seizures and gangland murders. These challenges resulted in backlogs, particularly for drugs submissions.

 

Over 50% of cases (n=8456) received by FSI centred on substances that violated the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977—2015. Figure 1 provides a summary of drug trends between 2007 and 2017 for drugs that were submitted to FSI for analysis. Following a peak in overall drug submissions in 2009, submissions declined until 2012. Between 2012 and 2014 a slight increase was evident. Although a decreasing trajectory was shown between 2014 and 2016, between 2016 and 2017 a slight increase was illustrated. Analyses of submissions for drugs that contravene Sections 15 and 17 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts increased between 2015 and 2016 and again between 2016 and 2017.

 

Figure 2 provides a summary of the number of cases analysed by drug type in 2017. The majority of cases submitted were for cannabis (39%), followed by powder (usually cocaine) and then heroin, 30% and 14%, respectively.

 

Figure 3 compares drug submissions between 2016 and 2017, showing that submissions for cannabis and heroin decreased by 5% and 6%, respectively.1,2 In contrast, submissions for powder (usually cocaine) and tablets (usually MDMA) increased by 6% and 5%, respectively.

 

 

 

New substances

The emergence of new substances creates another challenge for FSI, as no reference standards are available to which they can be compared. In 2017, some 15 new substances were identified in Ireland.

 

Court appearances and defence visits

In 2017, FSI employees gave evidence in court in 104 cases, covering drugs, sexual assault, armed robbery, burglary, explosives, and firearms. In addition, defence scientists visited FSI on 49 occasions to re-examine evidence, for example, DNA and drugs seizures.

 

Presumptive testing

Presumptive drug testing (PDT), which was introduced in 2011, enables Gardaí trained by FSI to carry out tests using commercially available chemical test kits to determine if suspect materials are controlled drugs (e.g. cannabis herb or resin; cocaine). The rationale behind this approach was to reduce the frequency of Section 3 drug cases being submitted to FSI so that they could target their resources on Section 15 (dealing) and Section 17 (cultivation) cases. However, 1,700 of 4,282 Section 3 cases submitted to FSI were indeed cannabis cases, which could have been assessed by PDT. FSI continues to liaise with An Garda Síochána to promote the use of PDT.

 

DNA database

Another useful resource implemented by FSI in 2015 was the DNA database. This database allows Gardaí to make investigative links between people and unsolved crimes. Cases can be linked individually or in clusters. In 2017, some 601 hits occurred and which assisted 913 cases. There were two types of hits: linking crime scene samples and linking persons to crime stains.

 

Linking crime scene samples

Crime scene samples linked to other crime scene samples were reported 66 times in 2017 and resulted in 138 investigative links, two of which were related to drugs.

 

Linking persons to crime stains

Person-to-stain matches were reported 535 times, which assisted 775 cases, of which 28 were related to drugs.

 

Conclusion

The annual report illustrated that the FSI service contributed substantially to assisting law enforcement agencies in the fight against crime. The demand for analyses far exceeded FSI resource capacity and this gap is expected to further increase in 2018. However, a new workforce plan aims to target this issue, enabling FSI to improve the services it provides, widen its capabilities and personnel.

  

1  Forensic Science Ireland (2018) Forensic Science Ireland annual report 2017. Dublin: Forensic Science Ireland. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/29055/

2  Forensic Science Ireland (2017) Forensic Science Ireland annual report 2016. Dublin: Forensic Science Ireland. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27308/

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