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Thursday, 30 April, 1998, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Warning over forensic 'cowboys'
Hundreds of new jobs will be created in the Forensic Science Service
A leading forensic scientist is calling for a complete overhaul of his profession to avoid the risk of miscarriages of justice.

Dr Zakaria Erzinclioglu, former director of the Forensic Science Research Centre at Durham University warns the criminal justice system could be undermined by "cowboy" practitioners unless it is more tightly regulated.

The warning comes as the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announces that 300 new jobs are to be created in the Forensic Science Service (FSS), because of its success in tackling crime.

Writing in the journal Nature, Dr Erzinclioglu says "quack practitioners" are infesting the courts.

Birmingham Six
The Birmingham Six were freed in 1991
He warns that unless the system is overhauled, notorious miscarriages of justice like those of the Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven and Judith Ward could occur again.

He says despite attempts to correct the mistakes of the past, forensic science in the UK is now in a "very poor and disordered state".

This is partly a direct result of making the FSS an independent agency of the Home Office, he says.

Whereas FSS services used to be free to the police, apart from an annual contribution, police forces now have to pay the full cost of forensic work on a case-by-case basis.

Dr Erzinclioglu says: "The FSS must now compete with other practitioners in the market place, many of whom are either incompetent or dishonest. Forensic science is totally unregulated and sharks and cowboys abound.

"Apart from the specialist field of forensic medicine (or pathology), there is nothing to prevent anyone - qualified or not - from advertising themselves as a forensic scientist, whether purporting to be a specialist in toxicology, ballistics, DNA, document forgery, blood analysis or whatever."

Dr Erzinclioglu is proposing that the FSS be made into a statutory body under the control of the judiciary.

Dr Erzinclioglu
Dr Erzinclioglu: "Sharks and cowboys abound"
A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "The police service reserves the right to go to the marketplace.

"We have to meet the very high standards required by the courts and in real terms rely almost exclusively on the Forensic Science Service in whom we have great confidence."

A Home Office spokeswoman added: "Ministers are considering proposals from within the industry to introduce cross-industry standards.

"But we understand that the police have full confidence in the FSS and the forensic community generally."

BBC News
Dr Erzinclioglu tells BBC News 24 that forensic scientists should be answerable only to a judge (2'38")
BBC News
The BBC's Christine Stewart says Dr Erzinclioglu left profession over his fears about abuses in system (0'33")
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