Page last updated at 17:40 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 18:40 UK

DNA test hope in murder inquiry

Heather Barnett
The body of Ms Barnett was found by her children in November 2002

Police investigating the murder of a Dorset woman are hoping an advance in DNA science could trace her killer.

The stabbed and mutilated body of Heather Barnett, 48, was found by her children, then aged 11 and 14, at home in Bournemouth, in 2002.

A new technique called DNA SenCE can work using just three or four human cells found at a crime scene. Normally at least 200 cells are needed.

So far, forensic tests to solve the crime have had limited success.

Detectives investigating Ms Barnett's murder have appealed several times on BBC One's Crimewatch programme for help in tracing the owner of 9cm (4in) strands of cut hair found placed in Ms Barnett's hands when her body was discovered.

The new technique works by stripping away contamination and exposing vital evidence.

Materials seized at the Bournemouth crime scene will now be re-examined.

Ric Treble of LGC Forensics, the company that developed the new technique, said: "DNA SenCE magnifies the normal DNA profile to a factor of about 60-fold to enable us to really tease out profiles from materials that we really would not have been able to."

Analysis of the hair showed the owner visited an area between Valencia and Almeria in eastern Spain and the Marseille to Perpignan area of southern France for up to six days, some eleven weeks before the hair was cut.

The owner of the hair also visited the urban area of Tampa in Florida, US, for between eight and 17 days before the hair was cut, according to experts.

Controversial test

Heather Barnett's family have welcomed the new DNA technique.

Her sister, Denise Barnett, said: "We were told right at the very beginning that whoever did it, planned it and was forensically aware so that there was very little forensic evidence at the scene.

"Therefore one hopes that this new technique may actually allow them [police] to make sufficient copies of the DNA that they would then be able to draw up a profile."

Det Insp Jez Noyce, of Dorset Police, said: "I am very hopeful this new technique will provide a breakthrough.

"We have been working closely with LGC Forensics and seeking to identify any DNA profiles which will be suitable for them.

"I am very hopeful we can get a profile which will lead to the killer."

However, new DNA techniques such as this have been controversial.

Last year, use of low copy number testing - a similar but different process - was briefly suspended after the Omagh bombing trial judge questioned its credibility.

A government-commissioned independent review has now said it is "fit for purpose".

The new forensic work is expected to take months to complete.




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