Daily Mail

Gene geniuses who make sure yesteryear’s killers can’t rest easy

- CHRISTOPHE­R STEVENS Cold Case Detectives HHHHI Murder in The Pacific HHHHH

There was a time, not so long ago, when ITV thought ‘genes’ meant heartthrob Nick Kamen stripping off in a launderett­e for a Levi’s ad.

Now, genetic science underpins half the channel’s primetime schedule. earlier this week, John Bishop and hugh Bonneville shared a DNA Journey, and discovered their ancestors were neighbours on a Dublin street 180 years ago.

Cold Case Detectives (ITV) turned to the darker aspects of DNA, testing the clothing of victims in historical crimes and unsolved investigat­ions.

Files from as far back as the 1950s are being reopened, because genetic material that survives in the most minute quantities can now be analysed reliably.

One forensics expert explained that ‘ touch DNA’ leaves traces from the most fleeting contacts. It’s no longer necessary to find splashes of blood — the gene genies can extract informatio­n from particles of sweat and skin left by a hand on clothing. even a slap in the face can be enough to deposit genetic evidence on the skin.

What the police use today will doubtless be available to us all soon. It’s easy to imagine a time, not far off, when a handheld scanner will provide detailed

identifica­tion of everyone you’ve brushed up against. No need to look for lipstick on a collar — one quick swipe will reveal when an errant husband has been canoodling with his ex.

Detectives in South Wales were able to arrest a man who raped a woman in a Cardiff park 30 years earlier. Video from a police interview with Anthony Carling, aged 64, showed him squirming helplessly as he was confronted with proof of a crime that he must have assumed could never be pinned on him.

Carling had no choice but to plead guilty — and got a 12-year sentence.

The main part of the programme followed a team on a case that has nagged Cardiff CID for decades: the abduction and murder of six-yearold Carol Ann Stephens, who disappeare­d while playing with friends on a street near her home in 1959.

Detectives suspected sweets salesman ron Murray, then 36, who was also thought to have murdered his wife by gassing her as she slept. But the evidence was circumstan­tial and never enough for a prosecutio­n.

Murray died half a century ago.

Demonstrat­ing his guilt with DNA would be a symbolic victory — and a warning to child killers that their evil deeds will never be forgotten or forgiven.

One of the remarkable aspects of another historic investigat­ion, into the 1985 bombing of the Greenpeace flagship rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour, is how many of the detectives, witnesses and eco-activists are still around to tell the story.

There was a sense, in the second part of the superb documentar­y that all of them still felt disbelief at the events.

retired police all agreed there’d never been another case to match it in their careers. One garrulous ex- detective, Chris

Murder In The Pacific (BBC2),

Martin, talked at some length about the impressive equipment that suddenly became available: ‘We were very proud in 1985 to actually own a fax photocopie­r machine. The resources for that investigat­ion were spectacula­r.’

And a woman at a car rental agency who hired out a camper van to two suspects remembered being agog at the idea they were wanted by police. She decided they must have been poaching trout from a local lake — the most heinous crime she could imagine.

But the show’s masterstro­ke was to produce, in the last seconds, a French special forces veteran — who admitted being one of the bombers. Quite a coup.

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