DNA inquiry: Senior scientist feared criminals getting off scot-free over improper DNA tests

A senior scientist raised fears Queensland criminals were “getting off scot-free” because of improper tests being conducted on DNA samples, a commission of inquiry has been told.

The bombshell claim was aired at the ongoing commission of inquiry into forensic DNA testing in Queensland, where Dr Ingrid Moeller outlined her concerns over a major change to the process of how samples were being tested by Forensic Scientific Services.

Former judge Walter Sofronoff is leading the probe into the Forensic Scientific Services lab’s decision to stop testing samples which only contained tiny amounts of DNA.

His interim report uncovered shocking evidence that scientists gave misleading statements about the detection of DNA in crime scene samples for almost two years since the 2018 decision.

Dr Moeller on Thursday told the commission she was greatly concerned the way the state-run lab handled DIFP (DNA insufficient for further processing) samples because they were not thorough enough.

The process was changed in February 2018, but Dr Moeller said she was “a bit horrified” as different DNA profiles were being returned.

“I brought it to the attention of my manager; she immediately escalated that up to her manager,” she said.

“Since then we’ve been very vigilant with those samples and trying to process them the way they should.”

Dr Moeller met with the lab’s forensic executive director, Lara Keller, to raise further concerns, to whom she said it was possible “criminals are getting off scot-free in Queensland”.

A note from their meeting was shown to the court.

“I felt that the management team were aware of DIFP issues and were still not processing those samples,” Dr Moeller said.

Dr Moeller told the commission the process for how DIFP samples were handled was finalised when she was on leave.

She said she and her colleagues agreed it was not the right process for handling those kinds of samples.

“It was nonsensical,” Dr Moeller said.

The commission was told an incident occurred at the lab in early 2008 when a negative control showed signs of contamination – something that should not have been possible.

Dr Moeller said samples used in the case continued to be processed instead of the cause of contamination being investigated.

“Seventeen opportunities for quality improvement were raised from early February to late June that year,” she said.

Many samples were failed on the side of caution due to the contamination, including some which Dr Moeller herself had validated.

Dr Moeller said she was “quite concerned” about going to court to give evidence and explaining the incident.

“I felt it was out of my scope of abilities as a new reporter to deal with it,” she said.

“Bringing it up made me feel like I wasn’t an adequate reporter.”

Cultural issues at the lab were also raised, with Dr Moeller telling the commission that members of the team were derogatorily referred to as “those f–kers over there”.

A workplace meeting in February 2018 left many of the lab’s employees deeply distressed, she said.

Dr Moeller said one scientist raised concerns about DNA in sexual assault samples dating back to 2015 and was reassigned to a secluded section of the campus library for eight months.

The hearing continues.

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