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Police get ready for body parts audit

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UK police forces are steeling themselves for an audit of body parts. The grim task will enable forces to take stock of the parts collected as evidence over the years and release to relatives those parts no longer needed for legal purposes.

The need arises first and foremost because body parts form are also evidence at a crime scene. In some instances the original owner of a hand or leg may still be around to lay claim to the detached limb, but in others body parts may be evidence of a far more serious crime such as murder.

In those cases, police are obliged to hold on to parts for as long as the matter may return to the courts for further proceedings. This may mean holding on to bodies and body parts for a very long time indeed: not just until the crime is solved, but beyond that, until all appeals relating to the original crime have been heard and the legal process is exhausted.

A spokesman for ACPO is keen to stress that this is not a case of different forces faced with an outbreak of Saw-style murders, now attempting to put together whole bodies from the various pieces in their evidence lockers. This is a recognition that over the years, police may have ended up holding on to body parts that they no longer need, with some even pre-dating 1984, when new rules on the holding of evidence were passed.

The move is therefore an attempt to ensure that, wherever possible, the deceased are granted due respect and relatives are finally able to achieve closure by burying their dead.

In an official statement from ACPO, their lead on forensic pathology, Assistant Chief Constable Debbie Simpson, said: "Following a suspicious or unexplained death, the police routinely use powers to retain material taken from bodies at post mortem examinations.

"Samples are retained as part of the investigation to establish cause of death and for evidential purposes such as toxicology examination. In some cases material is retained for significant periods both as a requirement of the criminal investigation and in order to fulfil legal requirements.

"In April 2010, the Human Tissue Authority informed NHS and local authority mortuaries that it would be auditing post mortem samples retained by them. While samples held by police for the prevention, detection or prosecution of crime do not by law fall under the HTA, ACPO is coordinating an audit of human tissues in historical suspicious death and homicide cases among all UK police forces, to establish the current situation in terms of police holdings.

"The audit will allow us to identify and consider the most appropriate way of sensitively dealing with tissue no longer needed for criminal justice purposes."

We did ask the Met if they knew how old their oldest body parts were, but they were unable to comment at this moment in time, possibly underlining the need for the proposed audit. ®

Bootnote

In a recent case, Humberside police announced that they had successfully put together two feet, one found on a beach in Cleethorpes, the other washed up on an island off the coast of Holland, as belonging to the same victim. They were, however, keen to reassure the public that these two feet were in no way connected to a third foot recently been found on their patch, on the bank of the River Humber.

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