FIREARMS specialists from the Forensic Science Service have shown Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds how their expertise can play an important role in the solving of gun crime.
Staff at the Service’s Northern Firearms Unit are called on to support the police at the scenes of shootings around the clock, throughout the north of the country.
And it’s analysis back in their Greater Manchester laboratory which can often shed light on the circumstances surrounding a gun crime.
Their work can include the interpretation of the scene of a shooting, working closely with colleagues in other forensic disciplines and with senior investigating police officers.
However the Unit faces an uncertain future following the Government’s proposals to close down the Forensic Science Service, with its work transferred to the private sector.
On Friday Mr Reynolds was given a tour of the facility and met with staff to discuss the proposed closure of the Service.
Following the visit, he said: “The Northern Firearms Unit brings together a team of highly knowledgeable and skilled staff.
“Their painstaking work can play a vital part in determining how a shooting took place and identify the number of weapons that could have been involved.
“And their outstanding skill and attention to detail has played a major role in the solving and conviction of a significant number of high profile crimes.
“But the concentration of expertise contained in the Northern Firearms Unit could be lost if the Forensic Science Service is allowed to close.
“Inevitably there will be private companies who could bid for the work. But the risk is that they will cherry-pick the quickest, least labour intensive and most profitable parts of forensic work.
“Without a fully independent, expert and trusted forensics service, the true cost of these changes could be the quality of justice that is given by our courts system. And that is too high a price.”
Currently the team from the Greater Manchester branch of the Northern Firearms Unit are available to attend crime scenes – from Cumbria to the Midlands – whenever they are needed, regardless of the time of day or night.
They support the training and development of less experienced staff. And they have the flexibility to devote the time necessary to an investigation.
Leaders of the Prospect union – which represents 1200 of FSS’s 1800 employees nationwide – are concerned about the impact the government’s plans will have on staff but also the impact it will have on the criminal justice system and forensic science in the UK.
It has been acknowledged that the Service is currently making significant operating losses. But the union says the current reorganisation of the Service – which has included closure of sites in Chepstow, Chorley and Birmingham and led to 750 job losses – would have played a major part in reducing costs.
Following the visit to the unit Mr Reynolds intends to find an opportunity to raise the issue in the House of Commons.
Published February 23, 2011