Qld inquiry focuses on murder DNA failure

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An investigation into the ailing Queensland forensic lab has resumed, with the lab’s failure to obtain useful DNA from the savage murder of a young woman in Mackay coming under intense scrutiny.

Potential problems with the lab have come to light due to The Australian’s podcast series on the Shandee Blackburn murder investigation.

The 23-year-old was stabbed more than 20 times on her way home from work in Mackay in February 2013.

Shandee Blackburn’s former boyfriend, John Peros, an amateur boxing champion, was charged with murder but was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2017.

In August 2020, the coroner found that Ms Blackburn had died from injuries sustained in an incident involving violence with Mr Peros, who used a bladed instrument.

Examination of the lab’s failure to obtain useful DNA from Ms Blackburn’s murder will be the focus of the resumption hearings of the Inquiry Commission into the Queensland Government-run Forensic and Scientific Services Laboratory Thursday.

Evidence from the inquest revealed that staff were concerned about serious testing shortcomings when significant changes to DNA thresholds were introduced.

The unusual threshold adopted by the lab in 2018 was designed to save money and improve efficiency, but resulted in thousands of evidence samples at crime scenes not being tested.

The investigation, led by former judge Walter Sofronoff, also learned about the toxic environment within the lab and identified management failures at the highest levels of the lab.

Two final days of public hearings have been set, with a final report expected in a few weeks.

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