Australian-first $3.6m DNA program launched to solve long-term cold cases

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday August 3, 2020

Reece Kershaw (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The government has granted $3.594 million to an Australian-first forensic program which aims to resolve long-term missing persons cases.

Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw launched the National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons at the AFP’s Forensics Complex in Canberra on Sunday.

Expected to run for two and a half years, the program would be funded by money that has been seized from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The initiative has been modelled on DNA-led missing persons programs from across the globe, including from the International Commission on Missing Persons, and the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. It would use modern forensic techniques to allow the advanced DNA profiling and matching of unidentified human remains and missing persons.

Associate Professor Jodie Ward, a forensic DNA identification specialist from the University of Technology’s Centre for Forensic Science and the AFP’s National Missing Persons Coordination Centre, will lead the program.

One of the first steps in the program will be for every state and territory jurisdiction to audit their active unidentified human remains and long-term missing persons cases and enter metadata into the National Missing Persons and Victim System, Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton said.

There are an estimated 500 sets of unidentified human remains, with some of the bones discovered more than 50 years ago. There are also 2600 long-term missing persons in Australia, Kershaw noted.

“They are not just a statistic. They are someone’s child, parent, husband or wife. They are people who aren’t there for birthdays or the family celebrations that mark all the significant milestones in life,” he said.

“This could lift the lid on many cold cases across the country. Not only could this program provide much-needed answers families are searching for, it could also lead to justice. Some have been waiting for more than half a century. Even with the passing of decades, the AFP and our partners will never give up. Victims will not be forgotten.”

The commissioner encouraged the family members of missing persons to contact the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre if they want to get involved or find out more information on the program.

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