Independent Report on Forensic Performance

Published

2012 Monaghan Trial

PUBLISHED 27 JANUARY 2016

A report by the UK’s leading quality watchdog on forensic science has found that evidence given by scientists in the 2012 trial of Ross Monaghan for the murder of Kevin Carroll was accurate and not influenced by either investigating officers or management.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the body responsible for forensic services in Scotland, today published the report following confirmation from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) that its publication would not prejudice any further legal proceedings.

On 13 January 2010 an incident occurred in the car park of ASDA at 1 Monument Drive, Glasgow in which Mr Kevin Carroll was shot a number of times – resulting in his death. As part of the subsequent investigation a jacket was submitted to the forensic science laboratory in Glasgow. The police requested the jacket be examined for the presence of firearms discharge residue. 

The laboratory performed the examination and found one particle of discharge residue. It then compared the elemental composition of the particle to materials found on cartridges recovered from a number of locations.

Mr Ross Monaghan was prosecuted for the murder of Mr Carroll. He was acquitted. The judge ruled that the evidence in relation to the discharge residue was inadmissible. In doing so he made comments which could be construed as criticising the performance of Forensic Services, then under the auspices of the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA). 

In particular he commented on what he considered to be:

  • The failure of the SPSA to comply with its own procedures; and
  • The inappropriate role of police officers in influencing the content of reports produced by the SPSA.

The SPSA, as a public authority providing services to the Criminal Justice System in Scotland, was particularly concerned with the judge’s comments. As a result it asked the Forensic Services Regulator (FSR), then led by Andrew Rennison, to perform an independent review its performance in this case.

The review, published today, reached the following conclusions:

  • The SPSA performed a comparison which would not routinely be performed - but which was not prohibited.
  • The comparison was performed at the request of the police and against the advice of the forensic scientists. 
  • There was nothing inherently wrong in the police requesting the comparison.
  • There was nothing improper in the scientists performing and reporting the comparison.
  • The report issued by the forensic scientists, taken in conjunction with the precognition and testimony, provided an accurate statement of the evidence.
  • The evidence provided by the SPSA was not, other than reporting comparisons undertaken at the request of the police, affected by the police requests.
  • No attempt was made by the police or management of the SPSA to influence the content of the evidence provided.

The FSR made a number of comments and recommendations in relation to the way in which the forensic services approached this case; these did not relate to major issues. The report concluded that the performance of Forensic Services in this case was to the expected standard.

Tom Nelson, Director of SPA Forensic Services, said:  “While ongoing legal proceedings resulted in this report only being released today, I had sight of an early draft of this report some time ago and was reassured that there was nothing improper in the liaison between our scientists and the police and that the evidence presented in this case was gathered as the result of an independent and objective assessment.” 

“I took very seriously the suggestion that any external body had, or would be able to, influence the conclusions of our forensic science experts and it is particularly reassuring that here in Scotland, where we have since 2007 had a formal separation between the police and forensic science, that these concerns have been shown to be unfounded. 

“It is the job of forensic scientists to carry out analysis to the very highest standards, but also to ensure that findings are conveyed and presented in a clear and transparent way to the court.

“I am encouraged that the investigation concludes that the evidence provided by Alison Marven and Laura Wilcock, the SPSA scientists in the Monaghan case, through the forensic report, precognitions and testimony, provided the prosecution, defense and the court with an accurate representation of the firearms evidence and its value.  

“We have accepted the minor recommendations made to improve our internal reporting procedures and the presentation of our court reports to avoid any potential misinterpretation of the forensic evidence and we have already implemented improvements in these areas.” 

-Ends -

NOTES TO EDITORS
1.Following the judgement by Lord Brailsford in the Monaghan trial, Tom Nelson, Director of SPSA Forensic Services approached the Home Office Forensic Science Regulator, Andrew Rennison, to ask him to conduct a full and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the case. After the report was completed, Mr Rennison has since retired from his role as Forensic Science Regulator.  With the exception of Forensic Services, the functions of the SPSA merged with other legacy police bodies to form Police Scotland on 1 April 2013. Under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, the provision of forensic services is a statutory responsibility of the SPA, separate from the constabulary (Police Scotland). 

2.Mr Nelson agreed the terms of reference for the investigation with Mr Rennison which were as follows a) consideration of SPSA’s policies and procedures in relation to Firearms Discharge Residue (FDR) evidence; b) whether any scientist involved in the examination of the FDR evidence in the Monaghan case felt they were subjected to any pressure, external or otherwise; c) whether the FDR evidence produced was accurate and the process followed was in accordance with SPSA’s procedures; d) whether SPSA’s relevant procedures are accredited.

3.The function of the Forensic Science Regulator is to ensure that the provision of forensic science services across the criminal justice system is subject to an appropriate regime of scientific quality standards. It is a feature of the role that the Regulator is expected to investigate complaints or concerns raised as to the quality of forensic science supplied to the criminal justice systems in the UK.