Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 12 and 13

“More of the same” summarises days 12 and 13 of the case. Thursday (Day 12) began with the excellent Doctor Nat Cary back in the witness box with more forensic pathology. Paula Clennell was the last body to be found, and from a forensics point of view the most important, because unlike the other victims she appeared to have been dumped in a hurry; Dr. Cary’s used the word ‘haphazard’ in contrast to ‘posed.’

Paula’s body had several sinister injuries; bruises to the neck, but also a scratch on the shoulder and small blood spots on her skin. The neck injuries seemed consistent with “a hand or hands or from the use of a forearm or crook from an elbow.”

Timothy Langdale QC is conducting Steve Wright’s defence. He didn’t dispute Dr. Cary’s evidence as such but he did suggest some alternative explanations for how it might have come about. All the victims had morphine in their bloodstream, several, including Paula Clennell) had cocaine as well. So perhaps a victim or victims died of drugs overdose somewhere, and was hurriedly dumped? Dr. Cary didn’t think so; in such cases the bodies are generally taken out and dumped in a nearby street.

Timothy Langdale starts to spar with Dr. Cary at this point; Dr. Cary concedes that is is possible that Paula Clennell died of a drugs overdose, but that “it is an unreasonable possibility.”

Next up is another forensics man, DNA profiling expert Doctor Peter Hau.

In previous entries I expressed a lot of skepticism around the probability figures of 1 billion to 1 (1000 x 1,000,000) associated with full profile DNA testing. But after some rather tedious research this afternoon, along with a conversation with a friend who is a professional statistician, I’m now willing to accept that number, at least with some of the samples collected from some of the bodies.

Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence Dr Hau gave all day was that there were no full DNA profiles of anyone on any of the three victims found on dry land; except that of Steve Wright. Gemma and Tania were naked and immersed in water for weeks which means they were ‘washed’ and so didn’t yield any DNA.

There wasn’t much DNA evidence from Wright’s car, the one he seemed to clean on a regular basis, inside and out, sometimes at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. But seven tiny spots (flecks) of blood were found in the boot; there was a 1 in 56,000 chance that this blood came from Paula Clennell.

Gloves were mentioned again – two pairs found in the driver’s door pocket. A weird detail; on one glove contained DNA from Sam Jefford, Anelli Alderton’s boyfriend.

And so it went on, Dr. Hau’s final comment on Thursday afternoon was that in his opinion Steve Wright was wearing those gloves (stained with own semen) when in close physical contact with Anneli Alderton and Anette Nichols.

Day 13, a Friday featured Dr. Hau once again. It’s striking how this case seems (so far) to revolve around painstaking sampling and testing for DNA matches. It’s also surprising what hasn’t been found. For instance, internal swabs on all the victims failed to reveal so much as a partial trace of Steve Wright’s semen. But as Dr Hau pointed out, it’s perfectly possible to use a condom to have sex with someone and leave no trace of semen within the vagina. Semen was found on Wright’s reflective work jacket but damningly again, so was blood from Annette Nichols (probability one billion to one).

Timothy Langdale QC was able to score a point or two for the defence; Anette Nichols had DNA from someone unknown on her body, as did Paula Clennell, and there is some chance that this DNA comes from the same individual.

Mr. Langdale did considerably better with the matter of the tiny bloodspots found in the car. Probably because of the extremely small sample size, Dr Hau had no luck with testing individual spots, so had to combine all seven in a diluted sample. This he admitted wasn’t standard practice. In a statement two weeks ago he claimed that you can’t normally tell if DNA has come from tiny blood flecks or some other bodily fluid. But a few days ago he changed his opinion and now thinks the DNA came from the blood spots found in the car. Timothy Langdale gave him a suitably hard time about this, pointing out that the car hadn’t been tested for saliva.

And so it goes on and on. The prosecution is amassing a huge amount of circumstantial evidence, most of which seems to hold up. Despite making some occasional points, the defence doesn’t seem to do more than challenge some assumptions and occasionally question some of the technique.

On Friday I had a serious talk with someone following the case who’s also been ‘live’ in the court on several days. She says much of the time the atmosphere is dry, dull and academic. She pities the jury having to sit through a lot of this stuff. She’s also heard that the prosecution will wrap up it’s case within the next few days. Then we’ll get a chance to see how the defence responds, and if there’s a plausible explanation or explanations for all this detail.

Dr Hau is back tomorrow.



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