Forensic DNA lab gives sickening feeling, says scientist

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 Forensic DNA lab gives sickening feeling, says scientist

A senior scientist told a commission of inquiry into forensic DNA testing that Queensland's government-owned laboratory gave her a sickening feeling and she called for an overhaul of its production-line testing processes.

Kylie Rika started working in the laboratory in 2005 and remains a senior scientist in the forensic DNA unit.

The lab is under scrutiny after years of mounting concerns over testing failures, and last week's bombshell interim report from Walter Sofronoff KC found untrue or misleading statements had been issued to the courts.

Some crime scene samples were reported as having no DNA detected or DNA insufficient for further processing, when in fact further testing might have yielded results, according to the statements.

It has resulted in fears of miscarriages of justice and the need to review DNA samples from potentially thousands of major crimes, including rapes and murders, from 2018 onwards.

On Monday, Ms Rika expressed concerns about changing the threshold at which samples received further testing in 2018, but was ignored in a toxic working environment.

Ms Rika was questioned by Matthew Hickey, a lawyer representing two managers at the laboratory.

If her perceptions of how she was treated by the managers were incorrect, Hickey asked.

Ms Rika said she had been ignored and excluded The overall culture of the laboratory, and all the things that have happened over the years, has given me a sickening feeling about coming to work and having to do the right thing by the science, by the cases.

Because I advocate very strongly for them and what they need to do their job properly, I am also very strong by my own staff members. Counsel for Queensland Health Glen Rice KCRice KC told the inquiry that 2008 was a watershed year at the laboratory.

He said that it was when scientists were given full samples of items from crime scenes to pre-prepared samples that arrived in tubes ready for processing.

At that point Ms Rika asked if the process in the lab changed from a case management style to a production line style? She said yes, I was told by my managers that the Queensland police wanted to free up as much of our time by holding onto all the items and doing the sampling themselves and sending a sample in a tube, to free up as much time as possible because the examination of large items is a very time-consuming process.

When asked if the move to a production line approach saved time, Ms Rika replied: In some ways it did.

We are now accumulating a backlog because of the changes that were made back then, and in other ways no, because now we are here and because I've spent the last time preparing work for the commission of inquiry.

She said that it may have increased the speed of samples going through the system initially, but with the downside of the factory style, whereby we weren't looking at cases in their entirety, and possibly missing cases, which has made a huge impact on our workload.

Ms Rika said she would advocate for a return to a case management approach to crime sample testing at the lab.

Ms Rika agreed that if that would mean a major change to the structure of the laboratory and a major cost benefit analysis, Mr Rice asked.

The inquiry is due to hear from another scientist working at the lab as well as Queensland police officers in the coming days.

The final report is due in December 2022.