Lab boss Cathie Allen asked ‘in what universe’ she thought it was OK to amend document bound for DNA inquiry

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The managing scientist at Queensland’s troubled DNA testing lab has been grilled about why she amended a document required by the commission of inquiry.

Cathie Allen has now wrapped up her evidence – spanning four days – at the inquiry before commissioner Walter Sofronoff KC.

She and another manager, Justin Howes, were stood down from their positions at Queensland Health’s Forensic and Scientific Services (FSS) in September after Mr Sofronoff’s interim report raised dire concerns about crime scene sample testing practices at the lab.

Under questioning by counsel for the Queensland Police Service (QPS), Jeff Hunter KC, Ms Allen was this morning asked why she amended a document requested by the inquiry about testing processes.

“In what universe did you think it was okay to amend a document that was being asked for by this commission?” Mr Hunter asked.

Ms Allen responded that she gave Queensland Health’s legal team both the original document and an amended version that corrected a “mistake”.

“My expectation was that legal advice would be what should go forward – the original document, the amended document, both documents with explanation,” she said.

But Mr Hunter put it to Ms Allen that by changing the document she was “misleading the commission”.

“You’re so sensitive to the idea that your laboratory might have been making decisions rather than the Queensland Police Service, that you’re prepared to amend a document, the production of which was compelled under notice?” he asked.

“No that’s not true,” Ms Allen replied.

Mr Hunter told the inquiry it is “imperative” that the QPS has confidence in the lab “to do its best work” when testing crime scene samples for serious offences.

“What do you say to the proposition that the Queensland Police Service cannot have any faith in the work of a laboratory with which you are in any way connected?” he said.

“I don’t know what to say to that because the work that I have done with QPS has always been in good faith,” Ms Allen replied.

Ms Allen rejected the assertion that she had “lied” to and “misled” police.

Manager says she was trying to ‘do more with less’

After days of intense questioning from counsel assisting the inquiry and other lawyers, Ms Allen’s own barrister Matthew Hickie KC was on Tuesday able to question his client.

He started by asking Ms Allen why she chose to work in the DNA testing field.

“I liked the opportunity to help the community without necessarily being close to offenders or victims of crime but being able to provide some kind of service back to the community,” Ms Allen said.

Mr Hickie’s questions then turned to a controversial options paper presented to police in 2018 which led to a change in testing procedures that meant some crime scene samples containing a low amount of DNA were no longer fully tested.

Ms Allen explained the “motivation” behind the options paper.

“QPS had always advised us that they didn’t want us to do any unnecessary testing because they were aware that meant turnaround times could be longer,” she said.

The managing scientist also said there was funding pressure on the DNA forensic analysis lab which she said had seen a “decrease” of $1 million over five years.

“Additional funding was not forthcoming — requests that I had put forward to the executive director, each executive director regarding the budget that I was managing and that it needed to be more than what I had that was not forthcoming,” she said.

“Trying to do more with less is really difficult.”

Front sign of the Queensland Health Forensic and Scientific Services (QHFSS) lab
Public hearings into the lab have been going for weeks. (ABC News: Michael Lloyd )

Ms Allen said she stood no personal gain from the options paper or testing times.

“Was your personal remuneration linked to turnaround times?” Mr Hickey asked.

“No it’s not, I’m just a public servant,” Ms Allen replied.

‘Some kind of Disney villain’ 

When asked by her lawyer about the impact of the inquiry on her mental health, Ms Allen broke down.

“You’ve been depicted, can I suggest to you, through the questions you’ve been asked and the evidence of some of the others called in this commission of inquiry as some kind of Disney villain – is that your impression?” Mr Hickey said.

“Yes – that’s how I feel, yes,” Ms Allen said.

When asked what impact the stress has had on her Ms Allen became emotional and spoke through tears.

“I find it quite distressing, it upsets me as you can see – I’m just trying to do the best job that I can because I care about the community and I want to try to provide as many resources to the lab so that they can do the best possible job that they can.

“I work really hard to do that — I’m a human being and I make mistakes and … this past 12 months has been really distressing and it has had an enormous impact on my mental and physical health,” Ms Allen said.

Ms Allen said she was given no explanation for her suspension from her job.

“I went into shock when I was told. I was given five minutes to leave the campus. I found it incredible that I would be given such distressing news and then allowed to drive a motor vehicle home,” she said.

“A friend was concerned about me so she came to be with me because she was concerned what I might do,” she said.



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