Hosein: Backlog of 42,000 ballistic, 33,000 DNA samples government labs

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Forensics Science Centre, St James, Port of Spain –

CONCERNS raised by Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein as he alleged critical shortfalls in the criminal justice system which, he said, are contributing to the failure to solve murder matters or crime, have been dismissed by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.

Hosein made the claims at a UNC media conference at the Opposition Leader’s Office, Charles Street, Port of Spain, on Sunday morning.

Speaking to Newsday by phone later Sunday, Hinds said Hosein was just wasting his time with folly as he had a lot of work to do.”

At the media conference, Hosein said the inability of the Forensic Sciences Centre to do ballistic testing on gun samples and the non-functioning of the lab for DNA testing for three years, has contributed significantly to the inability of the courts to successfully determine murder cases or gun-related cases.

He said, in TT, where there were over 421 murders for the year, the majority committed by guns, only nine murders had been determined by the courts for the period 2020 to 2021.

MP Saddam Hosein at a UNC media conference at the Opposition Leader’s Office, Charles Street, Port of Spain on Sunday. – SUREASH CHOLAI

Referring to questions he filed in the Parliament for answers from the Ministry of National Security, Hosein said responses revealed the slow processing of evidence had to do with a clogging up of the system at the Forensic Sciences Centre (FSC). He said the centre was critical to solving crime as it related to ballistic testing of weapons and DNA samples to identify victims.

Hosein said some 42,000 samples were awaiting ballistic testing at the FSC along with 32,784 DNA samples.

He said the DNA samples were for the period September 2015 to February 2022.

For three years, during this period from 2018 to 2021, he said, the DNA lab was not functioning, the ministry had told him.

Hosein was critical of both the Prime Minister who sits as head of the National Security Council, and Hinds under whose purview the Forensic Sciences Centre falls.

Noting comments by Justice Frank Seepersad earlier this week about the need to speed up the processing of evidence, Hosein called for the proper resourcing of the various arms of law enforcement as a solution.

Agreeing with a statement he attributed to Dr Rowley that laws alone could not deal with “runaway” crime in the country, Hosein said, “For seven years we have been telling the Prime Minister we have enough laws on the books.

“What we need are the resources. What we need are the skills. What we need are the strategies. What we need is a plan in order to tackle this runaway situation of crime.

“You need to resource the police, you need to help the DPP’s office. You need to resource the Judiciary. You need to re source and properly function all the arms of the National Security Council.

He spoke to the importance of the evidence for the safe prosecution of a murder.

He said it was unbelievable and unacceptable that, according to the ministry, the average time for samples to be submitted for ballistic testing were between one and 60 days. Hosein said he was flabbergasted that there was still a backlog of 42,000 samples.

“Let’s bring the logic here, you have a backlog of 42000 samples, but then in same breath you telling us you could test a sample in one day. Then that figure should have been much lower than what you are reporting.

“If you have 42,000 samples awaiting ballistic testing at Forensic, then it tells you – the State – of how many cases keep getting adjourned and adjourned and adjourned.”

He painted the picture of the prosecution being unable to pursue a matter because ballistic reports were not available, similarly with DNA testing.

He read an extract from what he said was the ministry’s response to a question on DNA testing which is done on a priority basis.

He said, because the lab was not operational between the periods, March 8, 2018 to September 3, 2021, there was a backlog of both prioritised and non –prioritised samples.

“Prime Minister, as head of National Security Council, you are telling us now that for three years the DNA lab was not working and you are telling us that you are serious in the fight against crime?

“You can’t be serious about the fight against crime.”

Hosein said , while police statistics showed there were 134 gangs operating in TT and some 1,462 identified members, only one person has been charged under the Anti-Gang act for 2022. There has been no conviction under this Act, he said.

Fitzgerald Hinds –

When Newsday contacted Hinds for response, he said he was engaged in a critical meeting at the time and could not answer questions as a result.

Asked if he could be called for a response later, Hinds responded, “I will not appreciate it because I think they are wasting my time.

“They would not be wasting your time or the country’s time, because news is news.

“I think they are wasting my time. I have work to do. (They are) wasting my time with folly. There is a lot of work to be done in this place and that is what we are doing.”