Cops, lab cleared on DNA
WA Police and PathWest have been cleared of any misconduct for failing to notify a man that he had been wrongfully convicted of a crime until a year after the mistake was uncovered.
Alan Stephen Staines was arrested in 2004 after PathWest scientists incorrectly identified him as the source of a DNA sample that was found at the scene of a home burglary.
The error was discovered by PathWest in April last year and the agency immediately notified police that a bungle had occurred. But Mr Staines, 34, was not told about the mistake until April this year.
The delay was referred to the Corruption and Crime Commission in May by AttorneyGeneral John Quigley who said he was “deeply concerned” that “serious misconduct” may have occurred.
But the CCC yesterday confirmed its inquiries had not identified any issues that warranted further action being taken.
“This matter was reported to the Corruption and Crime Commission by the AttorneyGeneral, and was assessed in line with the commission’s usual procedures,” a spokeswoman said. “Based on the information available, the commission decided to take no further action.”
Police and PathWest have never given a detailed explanation of what caused the delay.
But former police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan indicated in May that “human error” was the cause, not any deliberate attempt at a coverup or corruption. It is understood an internal police investigation has since identified that a single individual was the source of the delay.
It is also understood the person responsible did not deliberately withhold the information but had simply forgotten to take the necessary action that would have resulted in the notification going ahead.
Lawyers for Mr Staines recently lodged an appeal on his behalf in order to have his conviction finally overturned.
Despite being innocent, he was encouraged by his lawyer in 2004 to plead guilty to the crime in order to avoid what could have been a three-year jail sentence.
The decision resulted in him being given a 12-month suspended sentence instead.
But Mr Staines claims the conviction has hindered his employment opportunities and turned some members of his own family against him. He has also indicated he intends to seek compensation, but no formal application can be made until his name is finally cleared by the courts.
Mr Quigley has already issued an apology to Mr Staines on behalf of the State Government for the mistake.
Shearer Alan Staines at home in Kendenup, north of Mt Barker. Mr Staines was wrongly convicted of a home invasion after staff at PathWest bungled a DNA test, allowing the real offender to go unpunished for more than a decade. Picture: Danella Bevis