A cold case-solving DNA extraction tool which successfully helped police in the US is being blocked due
to an “overcomplicated” and “lengthy” validation process.
Robert Milne, who headed the Metropolitan Police Service’s Forensic Intelligence Department for 40
years, has been trying to obtain accreditation on the portable kit which helped solve an 18-year-old
murder case in the United States, but has been left frustrated by the slow system.
Krystal in 1995 and was finally convicted in 2013 thanks to the unique tool called M-Vac.
A rock was identified early on as the murder weapon used to bludgeon Krystal to death. The side of the
stone without the bloodstains was where the killer had likely gripped the weapon. That side had been
swabbed for DNA but the swabs had not yielded results at the time.
However, with M-Vac micrograms of DNA can be collected from porous surfaces such as rock, concrete
It creates a “mini-hurricane” that loosens the DNA material which is transferred to the collection bottle
and later concentrated onto a filter before being sent to a lab.
Whole strands of DNA are sucked up by the vacuum-like device, unlike a swab which can break up the
evidence on certain materials and cannot get into the grooves and weaves of clothing.
It is up to 200 per cent more effective at gathering DNA as it can be used to cover large surfaces.
But UK forces and detectives interested in using M-Vac to help solve cold cases are unable to use the
equipment. The MPS turned it down when offered help to solve the 90s murder of Jill Dando along with
the East Midlands Specialist Operation Unit, says Mr Milne.
Mr Milne, a technical consultant at Crime Scene Investigation Equipment Ltd, has been fighting for three
years alongside his colleagues to have the kit approved and is currently waiting on a compliance officer
at the Kings College in London to make an application for validation with UKAS following numerous
In order to obtain a laboratory validation the equipment was supplied last year to its DNA Laboratory after
Scotland Yard advised the company to take this route.
Despite no complaints with the kit, there is an apparent impasse with scenes of crime applications as
there are no ISO 17020 compliant forensic scenes of crime departments in the UK other than Cellmark
and Eurofins Forensic Services Limited – which the Forensic Science Regulator should have changed,
explained Mr Milne.
He said: “We are going through a palaver, it’s nonsense – the regulator told me she has never seen such
a promising development and now we’ve been going round and round.
“When police from the UK enquire they are asked to consult with their forensic services then nothing
“It is like fighting fog. We can’t have a system like this, it’s just a mess.
“The regulator should have got the qualifications of crime scene departments in the first place.”
He suggested the accreditation process should also be simplified and describes the situation as
He continued: “It is a symptom of one of the problems of forensics in this country. The technique is being
blocked and no one is looking at it.
“The fact is it three years since an M-Vac entered the UK and it is yet to be used on casework.”
Jared Bradley, CEO of M-Vac Systems Inc., says the current set-up is “slowing down cases that could
otherwise have a chance at being solved.”
Simon Iveson, of the Home Office’s Forensic Science Regulation Unit, told Mr Milne in an email
“validation is not a barrier to innovation” so trying to introduce M-Vac could be a hindrance to forces who
find it difficult enough to get current methods up to the required standards.
He said: “You offer to loan equipment to laboratories or police forensic units to assist them in running
validations. In my personal opinion, many of the police forensic units have their work cut out to get their
current methods into an accreditation scope even close to the deadline of 2020 so may not have the
bandwidth to really expedite matters; even assuming they felt the technological readiness was there and
it met their user requirements.
“I don’t really see how adding an extra method would expedite their adoption of ISO 17020, personally I
think it might even be a distraction for any but the larger forensic units.”
But Mr Milne says the future is looking up for the sector with Transforming Forensics in the process of
setting up a central hub which will oversee accreditation.
If plans go ahead, the Forensic Capability Network hub could be based at the National Crime Agency
with approximately 30 staff.
Original article was written by Sophie Garrod and published 22 August, 2018 in Police Oracle. To see article click here.