The failure by police forces to properly store evidence ‘risks wrongful convictions’, according to a charity investigating miscarriages of justice. Freedom of Information requests made by the Inside Justice revealed that eight out of 10 police forces in England and Wales were not aware of the relevant guidance. The National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance, published by the Home Office in 2019, sets out the requirements regarding the storage, retention and destruction of records and materials that have been seized for forensic examination.
The charity, which was founded by the journalist Louise Shorter, has released a short film highlighting the issue, seeking to pressure the police to adhere to guidance around post-conviction storage and retention of evidence collected. The six minute film (What happens when evidence isn’t kept?) includes an appearance by the daughter of Roger Kearney, who is serving life in prison for a 2010 murder he says he did not do.
The Kearney case was revisited in a BBC documentary, Conviction: Murder at the Station, which saw Inside Justice’s discovery that physical evidence – which included a carrier bag with a bloody handprint on – had been lost, contaminated or destroyed by Hampshire Constabulary. ‘Our intention was to re-test these crucial items from the crime scene which were calling eyewitnesses to the murder,’ Louise Shorter said, adding they had felt there was ‘a real chance of identifying the killer.’
In response, Chief Constable Gavin Stephens said it was ‘vitally important’ that police are involved in rectifying a miscarriage of justice. ‘The national guidance is something to pay very close attention to,’ he added. ‘Policing cannot operate without the confidence of our communities. There are lots of things that make up confidence; one of them is the fairness of the justice process.’