The PSNI won’t say how many of its 3,000 Troubles-era guns have been DNA tested because it is “too embarrassed” to admit how few it has actually examined, an MLA has said.
The claims came after a face-to-face meeting where TUV leader Jim Allister quizzed Chief Constable Simon Byrne about startling revelations in the News Letter this week that police hold 3,000 crime-linked weapons which can potentially be tested for DNA evidence.
The sheer volume of the weapons and the admission that they still hold potentially untapped forensic evidence caused shock and surprise among victims, politicians and former police officers, with one leading victims’ coalition calling for a full public inquiry into the matter.
Mr Allister said: “At Wednesday’s meeting with the chief constable I took the opportunity to raise with him the issue of thousands of weapons from the terrorist campaign held by the PSNI. The chief constable confirmed that the News Letter story was accurate. I was astounded when he went on to confirm that the weapons have not been systematically tested for DNA.”
He added that terror victims will find the news “both incredible and unacceptable”.
The News Letter asked how many of the 3,000 weapons had been DNA tested, but after pressing for a response over three days, the PSNI declined to say, citing “investigative and operational reasons”.
TUV leader Mr Allister added: “They are not saying because they are too embarrassed, I would have thought, by the relatively small number that have been DNA tested.
“If it was a situation where 90% had been done I am sure they would be telling us.”
The MLA said he asked Mr Byrne if the figure of 3,000 weapons held by the PSNI was correct and was told that it was.
“And I said ‘well why have these weapons not been tested – surely we should have a database?’. And I was told they would be tested as investigations became interested in that particular weapon.
“So I pressed the need for being proactive and testing all the weapons. And the chief constable could see the wisdom of what we were talking about and said he would consider it.”
The MLA said there was “no good reason” police should not have a database of DNA from the weapons similar to the fingerprint database it holds.
“There should be a proactive and exhaustive investigation into these weapons. It is incredible that this has not already taken place.”
Mr Allister added that with elderly veterans of Operation Banner being brought before the courts, it was “remarkable” that police would have such potential evidence against terrorists “and yet not use it to its full potential”.
Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke responded to Mr Allister’s comments, saying that the 3,000 weapons include “both Troubles and non-Troubles related weapons” and that they would have been forensically tested to the standards which existed when they were recovered.
This would typically have included ballistic, fingerprint and fibre tests as well as DNA techniques of the time, he said.
Many of the weapons are from cases already reviewed, he added, meaning “many” will have already undergone some form of scientific analysis which was not available when they were initially seized, including “in many cases” DNA examination.
Such results are accessible to Legacy Investigation Branch detectives and are re-examined as part of any review process, he said.
However, he did not affirm Mr Byrne’s reported pledge to consider testing all 3,000 weapons proactively. Instead he said that any tests which could develop a prosecution case will be conducted “on a case-by-case basis” using the most up-to-date scientific methods, in addition to any previous test results already carried out.
This is “the most effective way”, he said, with links between cases “properly examined” to establish if they can offer up further evidence.
After reading the PSNI comments about their meeting, Mr Allister said police are still missing his main point – that systematically testing all 3,000 weapons for DNA could throw up fresh investigative leads not otherwise obvious to detectives.
“They still do not address the need for a proactive up-to-date forensic examination of all weapons held to see if they open up any investigative leads,” he said.
“There is no logical reason proffered as to why this should not happen. What ACC Clarke is talking about is reactive examination in response to a particular investigation.”