WA cops took a year to clear innocent man


Western Australia Police say they regret taking a year to tell the Director of Public Prosecutions a DNA profiling mistake had led to an innocent man being convicted.

The man was charged in 2004 over a burglary and agreed to plead guilty, despite protesting his innocence, because his lawyer apparently told him he risked jail time if he lost a trial on the back of strong DNA evidence.

Attorney-General John Quigley said on Thursday the Department of Health's forensic testing service, PathWest, had incorrectly matched the innocent man to DNA belonging to another man with the same name because they did not check their birth dates.

PathWest notified police about the error in April last year, but the DPP was only told last week, when officers travelled to the man's regional home to deliver a letter about what had happened.

"The letter also encouraged the person to seek legal advice as to further steps that could be taken," WA Police said in an emailed statement. "WA Police accepts its notification should have been dealt with more expeditiously and we regret the oversight."

The wrongly convicted man, who was aged 20 or 21 at the time he was charged and was not jailed over the offence, has received a formal apology from the state.

He wants to clear his name through an appeal, which Mr Quigley says the DPP does not oppose, and will be represented by WA Bar Association president Matthew Howard.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Roger Cook has asked the public sector commissioner to conduct an immediate inquiry into PathWest's operations and Mr Quigley has referred the matter to the Corruption and Crime Commission.

Mr Cook demanded answers from the North Metropolitan Health Service, which is responsible for PathWest and is undertaking its own audit to determine whether any other similar errors may have occurred.

The service would not comment while the probe was under way.

Mr Quigley and Mr Cook said they were disturbed, surprised and disappointed by the wrongful conviction, which had a huge impact on the man, showing up on his record when he sought police clearance for work.

Mr Quigley said the real offender had an extensive criminal record and went on to commit other crimes.

He said he was sure the matter would alert the courts to scrutinise DNA evidence more carefully.

Separately last month, it emerged a forensic biologist for PathWest, Laurance Webb, was sacked because he breached testing protocols four times between 2008 and 2014, including failing to conduct quality control testing and have work peer reviewed.

A DPP spokesman said it was found Mr Webb didn't compromise evidence, so no incorrect results were given to the police or the DPP.