DNA bungle: WA police chief thinks human error delayed advice to man wrongly convicted
1st May 2017
WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan suspects human error is to blame after it took them one year to tell a man he had been wrongly convicted of a home burglary because of a PathWest mix-up.
- Man arrested in 2004, wrongly convicted after crime scene DNA incorrectly identified as his
- Police told about mistake by PathWest last April but only notified man last month
- Police failure not misconduct blamed by Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan
Alan Staines received a suspended jail sentence for the crime after DNA found at the scene over a decade ago was mistakenly identified as his.
However, despite PathWest discovering the mistake in April last year and notifying police, Mr Staines only received official notification last month.
“My gut feel is that it’s probably just a human error,” Mr O’Callaghan said when asked if he though the mistake was related to misconduct.
“We’ve accepted that that’s a failure on our behalf and we are doing our inquiry to find out who should have done the notification.
“Why wasn’t it done? When we’ve done that we’ll make those findings public.”
The issue of the 12-month delay has been referred to WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC).
Mr O’Callaghan said the circumstances around the incident were so rare, it was unclear what process would have been followed.
He has called for PathWest to receive more support, funding and resources.
“There is no problem with DNA science,” Mr O’Callagan said.
“The work that they do there is good work, they’ve got good people and they’re very well qualified, and the science of DNA is tight.”
The error has also prompted a review by the Public Sector Commission into PathWest’s operations.
That is in addition to a “root and branch” review of the facility already underway, plus another investigation launched earlier this year after the facility’s leading scientist was sacked.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook said the results of the reviews would help determine the future direction of PathWest.
“We actually [need to] sit down and find out what, if any, of the issues that are confronting PathWest at the moment are problematic,” Mr Cook said.