Criminals caught by DNA

Everyday some must wonder “is today the day?”

“Is today the day they come for me?” what must that be like? waking up everyday and wondering if that knock on the door was the police coming to arrest you? this is happening everyday to people up and down the country, terrified that today is the day that their DNA will have given away the crime they committed that for so long they though they had got away with it.

Colin Pitchfork

Was the first person in the U.K. to be caught and convicted of a crime based on DNA evidence, so his story has a couple of twists in it.

In 1983 Lynda Mann was found dead and in 1986 so was Dawn Ashworth, both women had been raped and murdered, blood, semen and other samples taken at the scene showed the murderer to be a male with blood type A and an enzyme specific to only about 10% of the population. This was as far as the science went in in 1986 and so no-one could be readily identified for the crime.

DNA profiling arrives.

In 1985 researchers at the University of Leicester managed extract DNA from older samples and so build a DNA profile of someone. This was effectively the birth of the UK national DNA database.
From 1997 anyone arrested for a crime must submit a DNA sample to be stored on the DNA database.

Richard Buckland

A 17yr old boy of low intelligence with severe learning difficulties came to the attention of the Police looking for the killers of Lynda and Dawn, the reason he was suspected was because he had some knowledge of one of the bodies so he was arrested for both crimes. He even admitted to one of the crimes under questioning. He probably would have been convicted of both murders and that would have been where the story ended.

DNA proves it

Using the techniques pioneered earlier Alec Jeffreys one of the pioneering DNA genetics researchers from the University of Leicester used the previous sample from the murders to extract DNA fingerprints which proved conclusively that the same had in fact killed both women but when that DNA was compared that of Buckland there was no match.

Buckland was in fact the first person to have his innocence proved by DNA.

Another twist in the story

In 1987 the police asked 5,500 men who lived and worked in the area that the girls were murdered in to submit to voluntary blood tests for DNA matching.

Somehow Pitchfork managed to persuade a colleague, Ian Kelly, to take his blood test for him. After 6 months of voluntary testing again the police had no suspect.

It was only when Kelly’s “boasting” to another work colleague that he had taken the test for Pitchfork was overheard by a female worker and she subsequently reported this to the police that Pitchfork came to their attention.

It very quickly was proved that his DNA and the DNA extracted from the victims matched and he was convicted of the crime and given a life sentence.

Familial DNA

DNA fingerprinting has now become such an exact science that we no longer need a suspects DNA to identify them, they can be identified from the the DNA samples of other family members.

Christopher Hampton

In 2015 Hampton was charged with the murder of Melanie Road who was killed in 1984, samples taken at the time were later used to extract a DNA fingerprint of the killer from.

In 2014 a young woman was arrested for a minor domestic incident and her DNA was taken and after it was submitted to the national database it very quickly showed a strong familial match to the DNA of Melanie Roads’ killer, this quickly led police to the woman’s father who was arrested and charged with the murder after his DNA matched that of the killer.

A prison of their own making

These are but a few examples of the power of DNA fingerprinting. We are constantly reading about people who are being caught from crimes they committed 20 or even 30 or more years ago.

You would have had to lived in a cave to not know about DNA forensics which means right now there are probably 100’s and 100’s of people spending every waking moment in the very real fear that they will found out for something they did in the past. It used to be all they worried about was if they got arrested but now they have to worry about in a relative gets arrested.

A deterrent

It can also be a deterrent for some, some people who haven’t yet committed a serious crime but have been arrested for other things, or may get arrested ij the future will have their DNA stored on the database and that may just be enough in the future to prevent them from committing a crime.

Obviously some people are complete psychopaths and won’t care but luckily they are few and far between

The science of DNA profiling is fascinating and evolving all the time, it’s probably the biggest crime fighting breakthrough since fingerprints and I am sure in the future will lead to more people being convicted of crimes they though they had got away with.

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