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'Corruption at forensic lab sabotages convictions'

ALLEGED wide-scale corruption and theft at the country's leading police forensic science laboratory is leading to massive backlogs in the finalisation of horrific crimes, including sexual assaults.

A detailed dossier compiled by the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) has blown open the lid on alleged criminal activities by police working within the national forensic science laboratory in Pretoria.

Contained within the dossier is damning information on the alleged irregular decommissioning of a multi-million rand DNA database machine, the theft of R500-million worth of narcotics evidence, the apparent sabotaging of court cases and the concealing of information reflecting the true situation of the laboratory's caseload backlog.

The dossier was given to National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega nearly two months ago .

According to Popcru, which is calling for an investigation, police management have done nothing about the allegations, while whistle-blowers have been victimised - with two being subjected to internal disciplinary hearings.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and gender violence NGOs, DNA databases are essential in the fight for justice.

NPA spokesman Vuyisile Calaza said DNA was crucial in proving the guilt of an accused in a sexual offence.

People Opposed to Women Abuse (Powa) director Nhlanhla Mokwena said a database of DNA from perpetrators of rape would make seeking justice easier.

A report by the Medical Research Council and the Study of Violence - involving the tracking of rape cases through the criminal justice system - showed how DNA reports more often than not led to an acquittal than a conviction.

The report said DNA reports were seldom available because kits were infrequently analysed and the suspects' blood rarely taken for comparison against any DNA identified by the laboratory.

Popcru's Gauteng provincial chairman Vusi Shabalala said they had spent months collecting information to compile the dossier, which contained information on the alleged irregular decommissioning of a R46-million DNA database machine - crucial parts of which were sold for scrap metal.

Police spokesman Brigadier Phuti Setati said the matter was receiving attention.

"Popcru is being engaged. We cannot discuss the contents until the matter has been addressed," he said.

Police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi said Minister Nathi Mthethwa had been briefed on the allegations.

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