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LGC Forensics helps solve Crimewatch’s first-ever murder case appeal

02 Feb 2010
Tags:  Forensic

LGC Forensics used modern DNA forensic techniques to help Nottinghamshire Police solve the 1983 murder of Colette Aram

LGC Forensics, the UK’s leading independent forensic science provider, has successfully helped solve the first-ever murder case appeal by the BBC television programme Crimewatch. In June 1984, Crimewatch appealed to the public for information that might help Nottinghamshire Police solve the murder of 16-year-old, Colette Aram. A reconstruction of the investigation that led to the conviction this month of Colette’s killer was shown on BBC One’s Crimewatch programme on Wednesday 27 January at 9.00 pm.

In November 2007, LGC Forensics was approached by Nottinghamshire Police to assist them with their re-investigation of this case. In particular, LGC was asked to extend the analysis of cellular material (blood and semen) found on a paper tissue thought to be associated with the murder. An earlier investigation by scientists from another provider had established that the material analysed did not match the DNA profile of anyone on the UK National DNA Database (NDNAD).

The first step was to determine whether there were any ‘near misses’ on the NDNAD which might indicate the presence of a family member. LGC Forensics used a powerful new familial searching technique, developed in its research laboratories, which provided a list of people - identified from the ‘near misses’ on the NDNAD and prioritised according to how similar their DNA profiles were to the one from the material analysed.

The LGC scientists then used another advanced DNA technique known as Y-STRs*, to provide more information. Y-STRs are passed down the male line, from father to son, and they therefore provide powerful links between males in the same family. The top 300 names on the prioritised list from the NDNAD were then also tested for Y-STRs, but there were no matches with the Y-STRs in the material on the tissue. As more samples were added to the Database so more individuals were prioritised and tested for Y-STRs.

Eventually, after samples from approximately 600 males had been analysed, one of them was found to match the Y-STR profile from the tissue. This immediately threw the spotlight onto this person’s family and, on 7 April 2009, reference samples were taken from his father - Paul Hutchinson - and two of his uncles, Hutchinson’s brothers.

Time was of the essence because clearly only one of the three men could have been responsible for the material on the tissue. The samples were delivered by helicopter to LGC’s Runcorn laboratory in Cheshire where DNA reference samples such as these are analysed in a dedicated facility. The DNA team rapidly processed them and interpreted, confirmed and reported the results to Nottinghamshire Police all within nine hours. In January 2010, Paul Hutchinson was found guilty of the murder of Colette Aram and sentenced to a minimum jail term of 25 years.

Steve Allen, Managing Director of LGC Forensics, commented: “The Colette Aram case demonstrates yet again how imaginative combinations of modern forensic science techniques and sheer tenacity can be extremely effective in helping to solve crime, no matter how long ago it might have been committed. This case joins a long list of other cold cases of which we are very proud to have been able to make a critical contribution including, the murders of Damilola Taylor and Rachel Nickell”.

*Y chromosome short tandem repeats

Notes to editors:

About LGC Forensics

LGC Forensics (www.lgcforensics.com) is the division of LGC with specific expertise in a broad range of forensic services, to address the simplest to the most complex of cases, in major crime. We provide casework and analytical services in DNA techniques, controlled drugs, toxicology, ecology, questioned documents, digital crime, firearms and ballistics and forensic pathology in support of modern policing.

With eight forensic laboratories across the UK and two in Germany, LGC Forensics is able to provide a range of bespoke services at a local level, therefore attracting a wide variety of customers drawn from police forces and other law enforcement agencies, HM Coroners, government departments, defence lawyers, as well as private corporations and individuals.

LGC Forensics has access to a wide range of other specialist teams across the LGC Group including a close working relationship with the largest group of Home Office Pathologists, Forensic Pathology Services and a unique Victim Identification and Mass Fatalities Team. LGC Forensics laboratories are located in Teddington (Middlesex), Bromsgrove (Worcestershire), Culham (Oxfordshire), St. Neots (Cambridgeshire) Runcorn and Risley (Cheshire), Tamworth (Staffordshire), with a specialist firearms facility in Leeds. German operations are located in Cologne and Berlin.