Claremont serial killings DNA breakthrough expert admits to errors in police statements


February 13, 2020 22:09:54

The pathologist who helped make the crucial DNA breakthrough that led to the arrest of alleged Claremont serial killer Bradley Edwards has admitted making errors in statements to police investigating the murders.

Key points:

  • Sacked forensic expert Laurie Webb made a crucial DNA breakthrough that led to the arrest of Bradley Edwards
  • He later admitted in a statement he gave erroneous information to investigating police
  • Edwards admits it is his DNA found on Ms Glennon, but disputes how it got there

Forensic expert Laurie Webb, who was sacked from the state’s pathology laboratory for breaching testing protocols in 2016, made a crucial breakthrough in the Claremont case in 2009 when he matched male DNA found under the fingernails of murdered lawyer Ciara Glennon to samples taken from a 17-year-old girl who was brutally raped at Karrakatta Cemetery in 1995.

Mr Edwards, 51, has admitted to the rape of the teenager and is standing trial for the wilful murders of Sarah Spiers, Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon in 1996 and 1997.

He has pleaded not guilty.

The three women, aged between 18 and 27, all disappeared from the streets of the western Perth suburb of Claremont after enjoying nights out with friends.

Mr Webb had been expected to give evidence in person to the trial in the WA Supreme Court but instead a series of witness statements signed by him were read to the court by prosecutor Tara Payne.

In the statements, Mr Webb said he took samples from Ms Glennon’s fingernails to the UK with Detective Sergeant Jim Stanbury in 2008 so they could undergo sophisticated testing not available in Australia.

Two of the fingernail cutting samples would go on to become pivotal to the prosecution case that Edwards murdered Ms Glennon.

These samples were combined by UK scientists using an advanced DNA extraction method known as Low Copy Number testing, which resulted in male DNA — later matched to Edwards — being discovered.

In his statements, Mr Webb said the samples were packed in secure, tamper-proof envelopes, and kept separate from another batch of samples he was taking to the UK relating to another unrelated homicide.

The results of the UK tests were relayed to him in January 2009 and when he put the male component of the DNA profile into the WA database, he found it matched the samples taken from the 1995 rape victim.

In a 2016 statement made after he had been sacked from Pathwest, Mr Webb admitted he had made errors in earlier statements he had made to police, mixing up which of Ms Glennon’s hands the fingernail samples had come from.

Mistakes made recording fingernail samples

Mr Webb’s colleague Aleksander Bagdonovicius also admitted to the court to making mistakes in recording tests done on the crucial fingernail samples.

Mr Bagdonovicius said he had created a number of matrices to summarise the DNA testing undertaken by Pathwest on each of the samples taken from Ms Glennon’s fingernails.

The results were sent to police with recommendations about which samples needed to undergo further testing.

However, under questioning by state prosecutor Carmel Barbagallo, Mr Bagdonovicius admitted he made a series of mistakes in preparing the matrices.

These included cutting and pasting the results of one sample into the results column for another, making it incorrect, erroneously recording that a test had been conducted on a sample when it hadn’t, and mistakenly recording the wrong date that samples had been tested.

While Edwards admits it is his DNA that was found on Ms Glennon’s fingernail samples, he disputes how it came to be there, and his legal team has been trying to cast doubt on the veracity of Pathwest procedures and processes, suggesting that contamination of the samples could have occurred.

It was also revealed today that DNA profiles obtained for the three young women were compared to that of a long-term suspect in the case, public servant Lance Williams.

Mr Williams was considered by police to be the prime suspect in the murders because of his habit of cruising around the streets of Claremont late at night, and they subjected him to intensive surveillance over a number of years before ruling him out.

He died in 2018.

Trial resumes after three days of delay

Today was the first time the trial has heard new evidence since last week.

On Monday, Justice Stephen Hall adjourned proceedings for two days because of the discovery by Pathwest of 400 pages of new material related to the case, and extended that adjournment for another day yesterday.

The discovery of the new material meant Mr Bagdonovicius and other Pathwest witnesses yet to testify had to make additional statements to police, which lawyers for both sides have yet to examine in detail.

It remains unclear exactly what the new material is and how it impacts on the trial.

The trial will resume tomorrow.








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