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Lost chemicals adding to forensic delays


Heather-Lynn Evanson

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STALLED CASES in the Magistrates’ Court awaiting lab results from the Forensic Sciences Centre are about to be further delayed.Thousands of dollars’ worth of reagents needed to conduct tests were lost during industrial cleaning at the centre and as a result experts were unable to carry out experiments, especially in cases of murder and drugs.
The loss was revealed by senior forensic scientist Len Sehntwali yesterday, who was called upon to explain why he could not testify in the preliminary inquiry into a murder case in its final stages in the District “A” Magistrates’ Court. Sehntwali was supposed to be the final witness before the prosecution closed its case.He said the loss had been discovered after the reopening of the centre which was “out of commission” for 18 months. In addition, he said, some of the reagents had reached or passed their expiry dates during the 18 months.“Those materials that were used for testing, those reagents, those are the ones that got damaged and I have not been able to get onto DNA and we have not been able to do any DNA testing or some of the confirmatory testing,” Sehntwali said.“In order to produce internationally recognised results, results that can [withstand] the test of this court or any other court, we really do not want to rush in here with any results that could not go through the rigour of this court,” he stated.As it related to the murder case, he said he had only been able to do preliminary testing. The scientist apologised and said the centre was not trying to frustrate the courts.When asked by Magistrate Pamela Beckles as to how soon the centre would be ready with results, Sehntwali said in about two months since the reagents had been re-ordered.“But when you are dealing with overseas orders, sometimes they come in within a three-month period or sometimes they take six months because – I’m not blaming anyone – but sometimes the process takes a while from the local side and then from the overseas side in terms of receiving the payment and shipping. “I wouldn’t want to stick my head out but I would say two months,” Sehntwali told the court.“We’ve really tried and we haven’t taken this lightly,” he said, while stressing that the security of the lab was maintained at all times during the industrial cleaning, with evidence being stored in another part of the building.The centre’s closure meant that while evidence was heard in cases where results had been completed prior to the closure, many cases including drugs and murder cases, had been adjourned while courts waited on lab results.

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