Gene Genius – why DNA is a vital tool for investigators.



Deoxyribonucleic acid.

You may well remember learning about this at school, along with its sidekick Ribonucleic acid (unless like us you preferred hanging around the bike sheds to the science lab).

Fortunately, for those of us who find it hard getting our tongue around words of more than one syllable, Deoxyribonucleic acid has come to be more commonly known and loved as DNA. Which is good, as we can manage three letters.

DNA has long been a feature of the kind of work we do here at Anderson Chance. It is often invaluable as a source of evidence in many criminal cases. Advances in forensic science have meant that even cases from many years ago can now be reviewed and solved using DNA.

Back in the 1980s, DNA analysis was not a tool that was readily available to investigating officers. But those police forces who had the foresight to keep samples taken from a crime scene, are now able to use modern DNA analysis to review unsolved cases, and sometimes secure a conviction.

For example, the case of the Melanie Road murder in Bath in 1984. Melanie’s body was found early in the morning of June 9th 1984. She had been raped and stabbed multiple times. Police took swabs of blood and semen from her body and the surrounding scene, and stored them for evidence. They were not, however, able to find her murderer.

In 1995, the National DNA Database was set up, enabling DNA samples from crime scenes to be uploaded onto one single database. This meant that investigators could compare and cross reference samples from different crimes in order to link to a perpetrator. The samples taken from Melanie Road were uploaded onto the system, but for years, no match was found.

32 years after Melanie’s murder, a 41 year old woman was arrested in Bath for a domestic incident. DNA samples were taken from her and uploaded onto the DNA database. Investigators were stunned to discover that her DNA was a match for samples taken from Melanie’s body. Realising that the woman concerned could not possibly have been the murderer, they turned to her immediate family. Her 64 year old father was asked to provide a DNA sample, and as a result Christopher Hampton was arrested, charged, and later convicted of Melanie’s murder. It was the DNA which proved incontravertable in this case, and led to a conviction three decades after the murder.

In recent years, we have seen an increasing use of DNA in our investigative work for more innocent reasons.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking to research not just their family history, but their entire genetic origin. Several companies offer you the chance to discover who your ancestors were, using cells from a simple mouth swab. You are sent a swab kit, use it to obtain some cells from the inside of your mouth, send it off in the post, and a few weeks later you are sent details of your genetic make-up.

Some even provide you with a handy database which automatically matches you to other family members, both immediate and distant – provided they too have taken the test.

It is this use of DNA that is responsible for a new direction for Anderson Chance. We have had many years’ experience in helping people track down missing family members or adopted relatives, but we are now seeing an increase in the number of clients who want our help to find family based on their DNA results.

In some cases, this DNA test has actually shown that people are not who they thought they were. We had one client who discovered that they were adopted following a DNA test – and this was some 46 years after their birth. With our help the person tracked down not only their birth mother, but a whole new family of brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.

While its full form may be impossible to get your tongue around, there can be no doubt that DNA really is a magic bullet. We’re not huge fans of abbreviations, but the next time your children tell you they CBA to learn about DNA, why not tell them how GR8 it is?

(And if you need our help, you know where we are…).