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A Leicestershire detective’s tenacity helped change the face of policing forever when he heard about a pioneering new technique to identify individuals using DNA.
Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker happened to read an article in the Leicester Mercury newspaper about Professor Alec Jeffreys’ discovery that human DNA carried a unique ‘fingerprint’ which could be used to identify individuals from a blood or semen sample.
At the time (1986), his work had been used in a landmark court case relating to paternity and Detective Chief Superintendent Baker decided it could potentially help identify the person responsible for the murder of two young girls in Narborough.
His approach to Professor Jeffreys from the University of Leicester and the subsequent testing he did on samples taken from the two victims, led to the creation of a DNA profile of the murderer, and exonerated a young man who had confessed to killing one of the two girls.
Officers immediately set about asking local men for blood samples using Home Office funding.
This mammoth effort and the confession by one local man that he had been asked to give a sample on his colleague’s behalf, eventually led them to catch the killer.
Now 35 years since Professor Jeffreys first published his scientific papers on DNA fingerprinting, he is joining Detective Chief Superintendent Baker, and Leicestershire’s Chief Constable, Simon Cole, as well as the victims’ mums to talk about the unique case and the legacy it created at a special event being held by the University of Leicester tonight (6 March).
Professor Alec Jeffreys (Photo courtesy of the University of Leicester)
The now retired Detective Chief Superintendent Baker QPM said: “At the time we had one young man in custody who had confessed to one murder, but not the other. We were convinced he had committed both and although we had a blood sample from him, there was no way to prove it was a 100 per cent match.
“Professor Jeffreys testing changed all that. The results took about two months but when they came back we were shocked to discover that the suspect had committed neither offence and we started asking men in the local area to provide samples.
“We realised the enormity of what had been discovered and how it could change the way law enforcement agencies worked across the world. We were anxious to make sure as many as possible heard about this new technique and of course we were extremely happy that the person responsible for murdering two young girls had been caught.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Baker said it was a “huge privilege” to be asked to speak at the event.
Chief Constable Simon Cole added: “I’m very much looking forward to the event at the University of Leicester which marks 35 years since DNA testing was used in the criminal world. It was a significant moment in history and arguably the most significant moment in policing worldwide.”
The event starts at 6.30pm this evening and is sold out. However, it will be available to view via the university’s website next week.
Photo of Alec Jeffreys and Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker courtesy of the Leicester Mercury