Forensic scientist Angela Gallop has helped to crack many of the UK’s most notorious murder cases. But today she fears the whole field – and justice itself – is at risk
by Imogen West-KnightsThu 24 Mar 2022 02.00 EDT
Early one morning in June 1982, a smartly dressed man was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge in central London. The dead man was carrying two Patek Philippe watches, one on his wrist and one in his top jacket pocket, both of which had stopped. The pockets and seams of his suit trousers contained 5kg of bricks and rubble. He was also carrying a forged Italian passport and about £10,000 in cash. The next day, police in Rome confirmed the man’s identity. His name was Roberto Calvi and he was the chair of an Italian bank with close ties to the Vatican. Calvi had been missing for at least six days. He was due to appear in an Italian court the next week to appeal against a conviction for illegally transferring several billion lira out of the country. The press called him “God’s Banker”.
Calvi’s death was recorded as a suicide, but his family believed he had been murdered, possibly by the mafia. In 1991, almost 10 years after Calvi’s body was found, the family hired Kroll, a private detective company, to carry out a new investigation into his death. To review the evidence, Kroll in turn hired a forensic scientist named Angela Gallop. In the previous five years, Gallop had gained a reputation as an expert prepared to go beyond the methods favored by her peers – the straightforward DNA tests or fingerprint comparisons – in order to solve a crime. “She was meticulous, very open-minded, and her scientific methods were second to none. There weren’t many others doing it in quite the same way,” said Michael Mansfield, a barrister who often worked with her at the time.
The key to her work, Gallop believes, is imagination. “People always hate when scientists use the word ‘imaginative’. They think you’ve been inventing your results,” she told me not long ago. “But it is critical.” Looking at what was known about Calvi’s death, Gallop agreed that the suicide story didn’t add up. If Calvi had climbed down a ladder from Blackfriars Bridge and onto the scaffolding in order to hang himself, wouldn’t paint flecks from the poles have transferred to the soles of his shoes? Wouldn’t the movement of the bricks inside his trousers as he walked have produced abrasions on his thighs? The postmortem had found neither. That suggested another possibility: Calvi’s body had been put there by someone else.
Gallop designed an experiment to test her theory. She would need the original scaffolding from under the bridge, clothes similar to those Calvi was wearing, and a man of a similar build to re-enact the scene. Finding the man was easy enough. Russell Stockdale, a fellow forensic scientist, who also happened to be Gallop’s husband, had the right proportions for the job. And by a stroke of luck, the company that erected the scaffolding had not only kept the poles, but knew precisely which ones they were. Gallop asked to borrow them, and asked Calvi’s family for one of his suits and a pair of his shoes. Calvi’s son, Carlo, told me that at this stage, having hired private detectives at “horrendous” expense, the family would have granted Gallop anything she wanted. “I wasn’t going to tell them no,” he said.
One afternoon in 1992, Gallop stood in her garden in Newbury, Berkshire, watching as the scaffolding was rebuilt on the lawn next to her pond. Once it was up, Gallop and Clive Candy, a colleague who specialised in forensic chemistry, watched closely as Stockdale clambered on to the scaffolding wearing Calvi’s clothes. In her A4 notepad, Gallop noted down the difficulties her husband was having as he climbed, and how the bricks in his clothes were affecting his movements.
Satisfied with her initial findings, Gallop and Stockdale went to London to inspect the scene at Blackfriars Bridge. Gallop asked Stockdale to climb down a fixed iron ladder that led from the embankment next to the bridge down to the foreshore, from where it would have been possible to walk to the scaffolding at low tide. Gallop wanted to see if it was plausible that a 62-year-old man like Calvi could have done so without slipping, and without dislodging the bricks and rubble in his clothes.
“I was absolutely terrified. I’m no good with heights, or water,” Stockdale told me, “but Angela’s very persuasive.” This was not the first time Gallop had encouraged him into an unusual activity in the name of crime-solving. “We beat my favourite hat to death with a hammer once,” he said, a little forlorn. “It was never the same again.” (He and Gallop separated in 2003, but remained close. Stockdale died late last year.)
Through the experiments in her garden and by the riverside, Gallop concluded it was almost impossible that Calvi’s death was a suicide. And although the case has never been resolved – various mafia members and associates have stood trial for the murder and all have been acquitted – Gallop did what she set out to do, which was to prove that God’s Banker had been murdered. Calvi’s family are still waiting for his killer to be brought to justice, but Carlo told me that Gallop’s findings remain essential to them, even all these years later. “I couldn’t have been more pleased about her work,” he told me. “It was exhaustive and authoritative. I was extremely impressed, then and now.”
Over almost 50 years as a forensic scientist, Gallop has seen enough grisly cases to fill several lifetimes. Murder, bestiality, rape, incest, the contents of Princess Diana’s stomach, war crimes, alleged alien abductions, an elderly woman stabbed in both eyeballs. Name a famous crime that took place in Britain since the 1980s and there is a good chance that Gallop was involved in the investigation. The killings of James Bulger, Stephen Lawrence, Damilola Taylor and Rachel Nickell, the Pembrokeshire coastal path murders. People in her field describe her as an icon, an idol, a star. “She is the doyenne of her profession,” William Clegg QC, a retired defence lawyer who specialised in serious crime, told me. “If I had a forensic issue in a case, then it was always the same instructions to the team: phone Angela Gallop.”
Picture a forensic scientist and one of the following images probably comes to mind: a mild-mannered oddball in a white lab coat, or a leather-jacketed pseudocop stalking around a crime scene. Gallop is neither of these people. She is ebullient and stylish. We first met last spring, in a converted barn where she does some of her work, near her house in Oxfordshire. We met several more times, and I never saw her without nails that matched a pair of statement earrings, and never saw the same nails or earrings twice. She has a jolly, mile-a-minute energy, and being in her presence brings to mind old-fashioned phrases like “chatterbox” and “go-getter”. One colleague described her as “a human dynamo”. The clue, with Gallop, is in the name.
Get the Guardian’s award-winning long reads sent direct to you every Saturday morning<br>
No individual has had a closer view of the way the science of crime-solving has changed in the past 40 years. Gallop started out in the 70s, at the government’s Forensic Science Service (FSS), which conducted all forensic work for the police. She then led the charge in dismantling the FSS’s monopoly by establishing rival companies in the 90s, cracked some of the UK’s most notorious cold case murders, and now finds herself at the forefront of what sometimes looks like a losing battle to save the field from collapse. In 2019, The House of Lords’ science and technology committee found that a lack of funding, an absence of leadership and poor research and development means that England and Wales, once considered world leaders in forensics, are now in crisis. Gallop sees herself as one of a dying breed of scientists who have been given the training, the time and the money to solve complex crimes. Her growing fear is that she and her peers will take those skills to their graves.
Forensic science is a relatively young discipline. Its origins can be traced back to two attic rooms in Lyon, where a Frenchman named Edmond Locard, inspired by the still-fictional techniques he read about in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, opened the world’s first crime investigation laboratory in 1910. One of Locard’s core beliefs was that every contact made between two objects leaves a trace. This idea, known as Locard’s principle, is still central to forensics. Most of us are aware of the traces left by fingerprints, hairs and body fluids, but Locard’s principle goes much deeper. We give ourselves away wherever we go. We are constantly shedding clothing fibres, brushing them on to other people, picking them up in the office, on the bus, at the pub. Then there are the tiny quantities of radioactive isotopes in everything we eat and drink, which are retained in our bones, soft tissues, nails and hair. By analysing the isotopes in human bones, scientists are able to trace someone’s movements across their entire lifetime.
Today, forensic science contains a dizzying number of specialisms. Forensic entomology pinpoints time of death by examining the insects that proliferate on a dead body. Forensic ecology can tell us where a deceased person has been from pollen in their nasal mucus. Because every brand of matches uses slightly different chemicals to make their product, forensic fire investigators can track down an arsonist by finding a single match head in a burned-out building and establishing where those matches are sold.
Gallop came to forensics almost by accident. She spent much of the early 70s on the Isle of Wight, working on her DPhil about the biochemistry of sea slugs. “There were only about six people in the world who cared what I was doing,” Gallop said, a certain sadness in her voice. (She still loves sea slugs.) Hoping to apply her scientific training to something of greater consequence, in 1974, Gallop applied for a job with the FSS, which was then part of the Home Office. She got the gig, and soon began working at a lab that had been cobbled together in a grand Edwardian house in Harrogate.
Today, forensic labs are made floor-to-ceiling of wipe-clean surfaces and all the air in every room is replaced 20 times every hour. In the 70s, things were different. “There was a marble basin in one of the bathrooms we did all our blood grouping in,” Gallop said, “and we used the ballroom for our big X-ray crystallography machine.” Scientists did not wear protective covering over their noses and mouths, which meant that when they examined blood-stained clothing they would sometimes taste iron in the back of their throats from breathing in the particulates that dried blood creates, a substance she refers to as “blood dust”. Recalling this era, Gallop seemed almost nostalgic.
In the early years, the work was gruelling. The police could send as much evidence to the FSS as they wanted, and the government would foot the bill. “There was so much to get through, police were sending whole wardrobes of clothing,” Gallop told me with exasperation. “And if you missed something the police could say,” – here she adopted a pompous voice – “‘Oh, you missed a spot of blood on that cardigan among the other 56 items.’”
In 1977, Gallop and her FSS colleagues moved out of the converted house and into a proper lab in Wetherby, West Yorkshire. Over the years, the facilities improved, but Gallop felt overworked and understimulated. In 1986, she decided to strike out alone. The idea for Forensic Access, her first company, was to provide genuinely expert forensic expertise to the defence. At the time, only lawyers for the prosecution had access to FSS expertise. If defence lawyers wanted to challenge forensic evidence, they could hire independent consultants, but many had no accreditation. They were, in Stockdale’s words, “hired guns”, who would say whatever they were paid to say in court. Forensic Access, Gallop hoped, would change all this. She set up a small laboratory in her own home, a three-bedroom 60s chalet-style house in Newbury. “With everything, I’ve always just thought: I’m gonna make this bloody work!” she told me with delight. “How difficult can it be?”
The answer was: very difficult, at least at first. To drum up customers, Gallop contacted criminal law solicitors and advertised her services as a forensic biologist in the Yellow Pages. Soon she found herself fielding calls from jealous husbands who wanted her to establish whether their wives had been unfaithful: what those in the business used to call “dirty knicker cases”. Clients would bring Gallop a suspicious piece of clothing, and she would test it for semen. That was the easy part. Trickier was breaking bad news to clients. On one occasion, Gallop recalled, a client “just became incredibly tense, his knuckles were white and he was frozen in the doorway in the house. I thought, oh Jesus, he could take it out on the messenger.” After this, she had a panic button installed in the laboratory.
Little by little, Gallop built a reputation for her skill and trustworthiness. More salubrious customers arrived. In one early case, she was asked by an officer from the Department of Health to confirm that a reddish-brown smear on a cheese and tomato sandwich they examined during a restaurant inspection was human blood. (It was.) By late 1986, Forensic Access had grown enough for Gallop to hire full-time employees and move its operations out of her house and into a proper laboratory.
Recently, Gallop has started to write books about her career, in order to leave behind a record of her life’s work. Her first, When the Dogs Don’t Bark, came out in 2019 and details her early cases. A few months after we first met, I tagged along to a meeting between Gallop and her ghostwriter Jane Smith, again in the barn, where they were working on a second book, which came out earlier this year. Gallop sat flicking through an archive of case files with her pearlescent turquoise nails, happily mumbling things like “drowning” under her breath. “Marvellous case,” she said as she produced the one she was looking for, about an impaling.
Gallop has to be careful about what she puts in her books, in case they become guides for getting away with murder. Midway through this meeting, Gallop and Smith discussed an element of forensic technique that is not public knowledge. “There are one or two things we don’t want people to think too deeply about, because it would make our job a lot more difficult,” Gallop said. They decided, ultimately, that it was too revealing to include. “Maybe we just keep that one up our sleeve,” she said, tucking a case back into her file.
People who know Gallop often describe her as someone who likes people. More important for her line of work is the fact that people like her. She has needed to persuade people to use her services and to liaise successfully between the police, the lab, the court and, later in her career, the shareholders: to be a scientist, but also a canny businesswoman. Gallop has a warm, slightly goofy charm. “I do just smile when I think about her,” Deb Hopwood, an expert in hair analysis who left the FSS to work with Gallop, told me. Another former colleague, a cannabis expert called Anne Franc, recalled a series of arduous strategy meetings to which Gallop brought a Buzz Lightyear toy. When the team’s energy flagged, she would press a button to make the toy’s wings pop out and then say “To infinity and beyond!” It became a catchphrase for the team. “Once Angela’s decided to do something, then that something will happen,” said Franc.
In 1997, Gallop set up another company, Forensic Alliance, which would offer forensic expertise to the police. By this time, it was no longer legal for the FSS to have a monopoly on forensic work for the police, and forces in England and Wales had to pay for this work out of their own budgets rather than from a central fund. “The FSS were in trouble from that point,” says Chris Gregg, a former detective chief superintendent who later went into business with Gallop. “They were having to look in the mirror and think, well, we’ve got serious competition.”
Gallop began approaching police forces with the offer of looking into their cold cases for a competitive price. Her pitch was simple: if Forensic Alliance didn’t solve the case, nobody would complain because the cases had already gone cold. But if they did, the police could take the credit. A detective at Merseyside police, David Smith, offered Gallop a particularly grim case. In 1997, a 74-year-old woman named Alice Rye had been discovered dead in the bedroom of her home on the Wirral, tied up half-naked, with a kitchen knife driven into each of her eyes. The initial investigation had failed to discover any conclusive evidence. When Gallop took on the case in 1999, her team re-examined the initial evidence and found DNA belonging to the prime suspect. He was arrested and later sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in prison. Smith was impressed. “She brought a different type of thinking,” he told me. “And it made me look good.”
Later in 1999, South Wales police asked Gallop to review a case that had remained unsolved for more than a decade. On Valentine’s Day in 1988, in a cramped, dingy flat above a betting shop in Cardiff’s docklands, Lynette White, a sex worker, was found dead. The flat was covered in blood and White had been stabbed more than 50 times.
The initial investigation had been a fiasco. In 1990, five men, all of whom were black or mixed-race, were tried for the murder, and three of them were sentenced to life in prison. One of those three, Stephen Miller, was White’s boyfriend, and had confessed to watching as his friend, Tony Paris, killed her. But two years later, their convictions were overturned. It emerged that the police, who wanted the case closed quickly, had aggressively questioned Miller on 19 separate occasions over four days and for a total of 13 hours, working him into such a state of confusion and distress that he made a false confession. The three men were released, as there was no reliable evidence to tie them to the scene of the crime. At the time, the police resisted calls for the case to be reopened, saying that the three men were still the prime suspects and that they had only been released on a technicality.
In 1999, when South Wales police commissioned Gallop and her team to take another look at White’s murder, it was partly because of advances in DNA techniques since her killing. “But it’s not all about new technology,” Gallop told me. “It’s finding the things to test. It’s understanding the crime scene.” In the initial investigation, some blood had been found in White’s flat that did not come from the victim or any of the suspects. Its presence had never been explained. Eleven years later, the chances of turning up new evidence seemed slim. In 1988, the police had sprayed the entire flat in luminol, a chemical used to detect blood, which has the unfortunate side-effect of destroying DNA. The flat had also been repainted twice since the murder. But Gallop thought that if they looked in the right places, they might still find blood that could yield a DNA profile. “With Angela, it’s the adage of no stone unturned,” Gregg told me. But, he added, Gallop’s greatest skill is knowing which stones to turn and when.
During their investigation, the police had removed strips of wallpaper from the bedroom where the attack took place. Gallop got hold of these strips and attached them to boards, in order to reconstruct, in her laboratory, the room. By examining the blood spatter patterns on the wallpaper, she established that any remaining blood might be found on a particular section of the skirting board in the flat, under the new layers of paint. She had the police cut out this section and bring it to the Forensic Access lab, where she asked a colleague, April Robson, to scrape away the paint. It took two weeks of delicate work with a scalpel, but finally, under the paint, was the microscopic flake of dried blood they were looking for.
That flake of blood yielded a DNA profile. Searching the DNA database did not initially produce a match, until they ran a search for people whose DNA was very similar but not identical. This search brought up a 14-year-old boy who had committed a minor crime. He was not a suspect – he hadn’t been born when the murder was committed. But the police were interested in speaking to members of his family, including a reclusive uncle named Jeffrey Gafoor. The police tracked Gafoor down and asked him for a DNA sample, which he provided. Gafoor then left the station and went to buy a lethal dose of paracetamol. But the police had him under surveillance, and were able to intercept him before he killed himself. Gafoor went on to plead guilty to the murder of Lynette White. In 2003, he was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of 13 years in prison.
By the 2000s, whenever police forces needed to commission big cold case reviews, they would call Gallop. In 2004, the Metropolitan police asked her to examine forensic evidence relating to the death of Princess Diana. Gallop helped establish that there were no grounds to support allegations by Mohamed Al-Fayed of a murder conspiracy involving the Royal Family.
During the same period, the FSS, which had been underfunded for decades, was declining fast. Between 1997 and 2004, the organization had, under pressure from private companies such as Gallop’s, reduced its turnaround time for cases from almost a year to closer to six weeks, but this had come at a cost. “There was this change of culture whereby the forensic scientist was almost living in fear,” said Doug Stoten, who worked at the FSS at the time. “Management is on my back, I’ve got to meet my target, I’ve got to turn around this case. And a lot of the scientists thought, hang on, that’s going to impact on quality, and mistakes are going to be made.”
There were high-profile failures. In November 2000, Damilola Taylor, a 10-year-old schoolboy, was killed in Peckham, south London. The FSS did not identify evidence that could be linked to any suspect. In 2003, the Metropolitan police gave Gallop this case to review, and very quickly she and her team discovered a bloodstain on a trainer that belonged to one of Taylor’s suspected killers, a local boy called Danny Preddie. Danny and his brother, Richard Preddie, who were 12 and 13 at the time of the killing, were sentenced to eight years in youth custody on the strength of this evidence.
Sometimes the main obstacle to solving a case is money. Between 2000 and 2010, police budgets increased by 31% and they spent more on forensics. Then, during the following decade, under first the coalition government and then the Conservatives, this progress was undone. Police budgets in England and Wales were cut by 19% in real terms between 2010 and 2018, and police spending on forensics fell from about £120m to about £50m. One of the more niche approaches Gallop is skilled in, and one she’s scared we’re going to lose in the future because of its cost, is searching for textile fibre evidence, the tiny bits of clothing you leave wherever you go. This involves a process called taping, where a scientist presses strips of sticky tape all over the surface of an object, picking up tiny pieces of debris – skin flakes, clothing fibres, paint fragments, glass, soil. Then they examine each strip, millimetre by millimetre, under a microscope. It sounds simple, but it’s expensive and time-consuming. This is rarely the kind of work that police want their budget spent on. Instead, as David Halliday, an ex-FSS forensic fire investigator, put it: “Out on the ground, the police officer wants a new patrol car.”
But Gallop has seen over and over again how useful taping can be. In 2006, she was approached to work on what are known as the Pembrokeshire coastal path murders, which dated back to 1985, when Richard and Helen Thomas, middle-aged siblings, were shot in their home near Milford Haven, a port town in Wales. After the shootings, the house was burned down with the bodies inside. Four years later, a member of the public informed a local policeman that they had seen a curiously large swarm of flies on a stretch of windswept clifftop near where the Thomas’ house had been. Here, the bodies of a husband and wife, Peter and Gwenda Dixon, were discovered. They, too, had died of gunshot wounds. Both sets of killings went unsolved. But in 2005, a Dyfed-Powys detective named Steve Wilkins noticed a possible connection between these murders and a third unsolved case, the violent sexual assault of some teenagers in the same area in 1996. In 2006, he commissioned Gallop to review all three cases, because the man he suspected – John Cooper, a 62-year-old farm worker from the local area, who was serving a 14-year prison sentence for armed robbery – was due for parole.
Wilkins, like detectives all over the country, did not have an unlimited budget for these reinvestigations. So he told Gallop and her team that they were to look for DNA evidence and nothing else. For months, they searched in the obvious places: the rope that had been used to tie Peter Dixon’s hands, items of Gwenda Dixon’s clothing that had almost certainly been handled by the killer, the swabs taken from their bodies. But they found nothing. Gallop’s team felt hamstrung. What they wanted to look for was clothing fibres that could connect garments worn by John Cooper to the scenes of the crimes.
After 18 months, Wilkins was running out of money and patience. He threatened to take the case away from Gallop, but she convinced him that they should meet in person at the police station. “They were so unpleasant,” she said, grinning. “This whole team sitting there, stony-faced.” Gallop told them that if they wanted the case solved, they needed to let her look for what she wanted to look for: fibre evidence. I asked Wilkins about his memory of this confrontation. “Oh, Angela is more than happy to argue the toss with you,” he said. As we spoke, I was reminded of something William Clegg, the QC, said to me about watching Gallop being cross-examined in court. “It’s a bit like trying to tell off a very stern headmistress,” he said, “you don’t get very far.” Gallop got her way: she would keep the case, and her team would be allowed to look for textile fibre evidence.
Whoever killed Gwenda and Peter Dixon had covered their bodies with branches from nearby trees. Gallop suspected that the reason her team had had such trouble finding DNA was because the killer had been wearing gloves. If that was right, fibres from the gloves would be on those branches. And as it happened, those branches had been sitting, unexamined, in evidence bags at Milford Haven police station for almost 20 years. On the branches, Gallop and her team found the fibres they were looking for, which they were eventually able to prove came from gloves owned by Cooper. And as a result of taping other items of Cooper’s clothing, they found a tiny flake of blood that belonged to one of the victims.
Gallop and Wilkins remember this moment distinctly. Wilkins was in the car driving home from a policing seminar in south Wales when his phone rang. “She said: ‘Steve, are you driving? Pull over,’” Wilkins recalled. Gallop told him that she and her team had found the DNA linking Cooper to the crime. “I think I actually proposed to her,” Wilkins said. Cooper was found guilty of the double murders in 2011, and is now serving four life sentences.
If they hadn’t looked for textile fibres, they wouldn’t have found the DNA. Examinations of textile fibres were also key to solving the murder of Stephen Lawrence. But tapings of evidence are being taken less and less. “Because fibre evidence is perceived to be very expensive, [it is] not used,” Bob Green, vice-president of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, told me, “and yet it can be vital.”
One day last summer, Gallop gave me a tour around the main Forensic Access lab, which is located in an anonymous business park in Oxfordshire. Here, a team of 24 scientists do their daily work: examining tissue samples from victims, studying textile fibres from crime scenes, using the in-house firing range to determine how far an attacker was standing from their target, and so on. In many areas, it looks like any office – an empty Colin the Caterpillar cake box sat on one of the desks – and in others, it does not. One internal window that we passed was blacked out, and I was informed that this was because one of the scientists was usually working on “body parts” in there.
As we toured the lab, Gallop’s pride was palpable. But the shiny facilities of Forensic Access do not reflect the current state of forensic science in England and Wales, which has been getting worse for at least a decade. Even Gallop, who describes herself as an “appalling optimist”, is worried. To her, the mid- to late 00s were the high point for forensic science in England and Wales, when private companies and the FSS competed for work. But in 2012, the government closed the FSS, claiming that it was too expensive to keep running.
Many, including Gallop, view the decision as disastrous, not least because the government used to fund important forensic research through the FSS – research that is now simply not being done. They also mourn the loss of the training that used to be given by the FSS, training that Gallop herself received in her early career. “There are some people in the business who will point the finger at Angela for the demise of the Forensic Science Service, because she created another commercial provider that would go into business in opposition to it, and that’s when the rot set in,” says Niamh Nic Daéid, director of the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at Dundee University. “I think that’s a bit unfair. But what she did do was demonstrate that a private sector laboratory could deliver services into the justice system.” Gallop has written that rather than being closed, the FSS should have been “modernised and made properly commercial”, though whether a “properly commercial” outfit would have pursued the kind of research and training that made the FSS institutionally valuable is debatable.
One consequence of the FSS closing is that, to save money, police forces have started to do more testing in their own forensics laboratories, rather than outsourcing the work to specialised forensics companies. The result, said Jim Fraser, a forensic scientist at the University of Strathclyde, is “a real dog’s breakfast”. Police officers, who may have no training in forensics, are often tasked with choosing which simple forensic tests to have carried out. Their options are restricted to a limited “menu” of tests, and younger forensic scientists are being trained in how to do just one or two of the tests on that menu, and not much more. “The real nadir of all this is when, instead of sending in an item for examination for blood, where the pattern might tell you something about what happened, the police cut a stain out and just send the stain in for DNA,” said Fraser. In summary, he said: “The police have completely fucked forensic science in England and Wales.”
After we left the Forensic Access laboratory, Gallop drove in her shiny, blood-red Tesla to her home in rural Oxfordshire. (“I’ve had some really, deeply nice cars,” she admitted to me later. “I like going quite fast.”) When we arrived, two sleepy Siamese cats were listening to the radio by an aga in the same shade of red as her car. As we drank tea in the garden, Gallop spoke about the wider crisis in the criminal justice system in England and Wales. Legal aid has been cut by almost half since 2005, and the courts currently have such large case backlogs that people are waiting more than a year for their cases to be heard. Meanwhile, the general quality of forensic work continues to deteriorate, as police increasingly do work that she believes should be conducted by specialists. “I don’t see how you can expect the people in the organisation that is charged with going out, finding criminals and then helping to prosecute them, to come up with independent, impartial, scientific evidence,” Gallop told me. “I think that is completely wrong.”
Sometimes all this talk of cuts and declining standards can sound rather abstract: a series of statistics, percentage decreases, laments about a lack of research that might possibly yield something at some point in the future. But the real meaning of forensic science is felt in lives saved, injustices averted, victims consoled. In February, I spoke to Damilola Taylor’s father, Richard, on the phone. He agreed to speak to me about what Gallop and her team’s work meant to him, although it still makes him distraught to speak of what happened to his little boy, more than 20 years later. Had the evidence that helped convict the killer not been found, he said, “it would have been a lifetime depression for me and my family. It helped us a lot in getting closure. In being able to move on.”
A few months ago, Gallop met John Actie, one of the five Cardiff men who were wrongly accused of the murder of Lynette White. He spent two years in jail. The meeting, which took place in Actie’s local park, was being filmed for a documentary that will air on Channel 5 in April. For Actie, it was a moment he will never forget. “Without Angela Gallop, my life would have been fingers still pointing at me, people nudging each other and whispering,” he told me. “She’s cleared up so much for us and our families.”
Gallop doesn’t often come face to face with the living people involved in her cases. This was the first time she’d met someone falsely accused of a crime she then solved. She found it moving and humbling. “I suppose it also made me determined to continue to do my bit,” she said. And then she went back to work.
Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, listen to our podcasts here and sign up to the long read weekly email here.
… we have a small favour to ask. Tens of millions have placed their trust in the Guardian’s fearless journalism since we started publishing 200 years ago, turning to us in moments of crisis, uncertainty, solidarity and hope. More than 1.5 million supporters, from 180 countries, now power us financially – keeping us open to all, and fiercely independent.
Unlike many others, the Guardian has no shareholders and no billionaire owner. Just the determination and passion to deliver high-impact global reporting, always free from commercial or political influence. Reporting like this is vital for democracy, for fairness and to demand better from the powerful.
And we provide all this for free, for everyone to read. We do this because we believe in information equality. Greater numbers of people can keep track of the global events shaping our world, understand their impact on people and communities, and become inspired to take meaningful action. Millions can benefit from open access to quality, truthful news, regardless of their ability to pay for it.
If there were ever a time to join us, it is now. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism and sustains our future. Support the Guardian from as little as $1 – it only takes a minute. Thank you.
If there were ever a time to join us, it is now. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism and sustains our future. Support the Guardian from as little as $1 – it only takes a minute. Thank you.
$7 per month
$15 per month
ContinueRemind me in May
The long read: Forensic scientist Angela Gallop has helped to crack many of the UK’s most notorious murder cases. But today she fears the whole field – and justice itself – is at risk — Read on http://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/mar/24/queen-of-crime-solving-angela-gallop-forensic-scienceForensics: The queen of crime-solving | Forensic science — FORENSICS and LAW in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends