The Forensic Capability Network (FCN) is taking forward plans to nationally validate forensic consumables used in SARCS, which will save £500,000 nationwide compared to centres validating separately.
All sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) in England and Wales must meet a Forensic Science Regulator requirement to validate and verify their methods by April 2022, and need to be accredited by UKAS to the standard ISO15189 by October 2023.
Consumables, such as cotton swabs, are a key part of evidence recovery as they are used to gather DNA material from complainants and suspects. SARCs typically use forensic DNA-grade items for these processes, but to gain ISO accreditation they need to demonstrate the consumables are DNA-free up to the point of use. An infamous 2009 case of the 'phantom of Heilbronn' saw German investigators launch one of the biggest man-hunts in recent European history, following a suspect who turned out to be a factory worker accidentally contaminating cotton swabs during production.
The six-month exercise led by FCN will bring together all SARCs to demonstrate that their storage and retention practices for critical consumables doesn’t introduce contamination and is fit-for-purpose. Police forces, NHS bodies, charities and private-sector providers are all invited to participate.
FCN’s Michelle Gaskell, the quality specialist leading the validation exercise, said:
“Validation of forensic processes is new to SARCs and we’re here to support you in the whole accreditation journey. Please contact me directly to confirm your interest in participating and join us at our introductory event in October.”
The one-off exercise will involve: identifying consumables used in SARCs and from which suppliers, devising a sampling regime, sampling specific items from each SARC’s storeroom, analysing each item for DNA contamination, and writing up results.
By participating in this collective exercise, each SARC can meet requirements by submitting significantly fewer samples for DNA testing than if they did this in isolation, as all results will be supported by other participants in the study.
In terms of funding, half of the cost of DNA analysis has been kindly covered by consumables provider SceneSafe. FCN has applied for funding to cover the remaining costs, but even without this the estimated cost of DNA testing for each SARC unit is only £120.
How to get involved
If you represent a SARC and want to join the national validation exercise now, please contact Michelle Gaskell, FCN Quality Specialist.
If you would like more information, FCN is hosting a national SARC consumable validation event on Thursday 7th October 2021 at 10:00. Register for the event here.