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South West Forensic Services: Hundreds of fingerprints waiting to be analysed

Thana Singam
Image caption Thana Singam believes the three burglaries in 2017, January and April 2019 are connected

Hundreds of fingerprints are waiting to be analysed by experts because of "deeply concerning" forensic delays.

Figures show more than 830 fingerprint cases were waiting to be analysed by South West Forensic Services in May.

Examination of some digital material was being delayed by up to 12 months, according to the Police Federation.

South West Forensic Services said it was urgently recruiting staff to "cope with demand" and it was "committed to safeguarding victims of crime".

In Cornwall, a multiple-burglary victim has been paying £400 per week for an overnight security guard to protect his shop because he has no confidence in the police catching the culprit.

Image copyright Thana Singam
Image caption The suspect entered the service station via the roof during each burglary

Three months since the latest burglary, Thana Singam, from Hatt Service Station, said he was still waiting to hear whether the police had found a fingerprint match.

"They told me forensic results would take six weeks," he said.

Mr Singam said the cost of stock taken and repairs of damage caused had totalled more than £20,000 across the three burglaries.

Devon and Cornwall Police said: "We will always prioritise the most serious and high-risk cases first and are doing our utmost to provide the best service possible."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Figures for May showed 830 fingerprint cases were still due to be analysed by South West Forensic Services

Dr Gillian Tully, the Forensic Science Regulator, said the government had acknowledged a need nationwide for more funding to help deal with backlogs.

A former employee of South West Forensic Services - which launched in 2014 and covers the Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Avon and Somerset and Wiltshire police force areas - told the BBC the "whole point of regional forensics was to save money, but quality has not been maintained".

"The service is letting down the public and highly trained, skilled staff. Everyone is unhappy and investment is desperately needed," they said.

Figures obtained through a BBC Freedom of Information request showed delays in digital forensic cases, which include tablets and mobile phones, increased in a two-month period.

For Devon and Cornwall, 160 cases - including almost 700 devices - were waiting to be examined in May - compared to 119 cases in March.

Earlier the force said 123 cases remained in the queue.

Image caption Andy Berry of the Police Federation said delays meant "losing the opportunity to prevent further crimes and further victims"

In May, forensic bosses said there were delays of at least three months but Andy Berry, from the Police Federation, said investigators had told him about a six to 12-month wait for digital material.

In one case, he said an officer reported a 10-month wait to examine a phone belonging to a suspected child sex offender.

Mr Berry said "fingerprint identification also needs to be swift" and delays meant "losing the opportunity to prevent further crimes and further victims".

He said all delays were "deeply concerning and it was letting the public down".

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Martyn Bradford, director of South West Forensic Services, said a formal review and changes of working practices would help address backlogs.

He said queues in fingerprint and digital analysis was "a common problem" and forces across the UK were looking at new technology to make it more efficient.

"Due to the growing amounts of data and the complexity of devices, the speed of processing [digital] exhibits is becoming more challenging," he added.

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