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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 18:46 GMT
'Unlawful evidence' can be used in trials
Unlawfully stored DNA samples may be used in trials
Two men accused of a brutal rape and a murder will remain free despite a House of Lords ruling that "compelling" DNA evidence could have been used against them.

The man accused of rape was acquitted while the alleged murderer won his appeal after judges ruled that DNA evidence against them was inadmissible.

But on Thursday, the Lords announced there was no legal principle that unlawfully obtained evidence could not be used in a trial.

However, the men cannot be tried again on the same charges.

Serious crime should be effectively investigated and prosecuted

Lord Steyn
In both cases, the DNA samples apparently linking the men to the crimes, were taken by police investigating earlier offences, of which the men were cleared.

By law, such samples cannot be kept and used in further, unrelated investigations.

However, Lord Johan Steyn said the Appeal Court's "austere interpretation" which banned such DNA evidence from trial went against both the letter of the law and "good sense".

A man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was accused of tying up and raping a 66-year-old woman in her London home in January 1997 then shutting her in a cupboard where she remained for 18 hours.

He was acquitted when a judge heard that key DNA evidence was collected for an unrelated burglary charge, of which he was acquitted.

Lord Steyn
Lord Steyn says judges went against good sense
The Law Lords were asked to consider the point of law raised in this rape case but also ruled on the trial of Michael Weir.

Mr Weir was sentenced to life for the murder of 79-year-old war veteran Leonard Harris in 1998.

He was freed in May after the Court of Appeal found the conviction relied on a DNA sample collected for unrelated offences.

Unlawful investigation

Lord Victor Cooke said using such DNA samples for further investigations was unlawful - but added the Police and Criminal Evidence Act did not say the results of the inquiry were inadmissible.

Lord Steyn said: "It is in the interests of everyone that serious crime should be effectively investigated and prosecuted."

This is an absolute travesty of justice

Norman Brennan
Victims of Crime
Following the ruling, Frank Harris, the son of murdered Mr Harris, condemned the Crown Prosecution Service as "incompetent" for missing a deadline to take his case to the House of Lords for a formal appeal.

Director of Public Prosecutions David Calvert-Smith QC apologised for the blunder which saw the papers lodged a day late.

Director of the Victims of Crime Trust Norman Brennan said: "This is an absolute travesty of justice. We cannot allow criminals who commit serious crime to walk free on technicalities.

"Decisions such as this have brought our criminal justice system into disrepute."

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