DNA lab scientist moved from role after raising concerns about testing processes: Inquiry

A senior scientist who had reported concerns about certain sample testing within a state-run forensic laboratory had been temporarily removed from her role after rejecting the outcome of the investigation.

The Commission of Inquiry into Forensic DNA testing in Queensland heard on Wednesday evidence that senior scientist Amanda Reeves had been relocated to a different role away from the DNA laboratory after she had raised issues with how her complaint had been handled.

The inquiry is looking into the 2018 decision to not further test samples with low levels of DNA, with senior scientists telling police there was as little as a two per cent chance of seeing a result.

Michel Lok, who was the general manager of community and forensic services from 2017 to 2021, told the inquiry on Wednesday part of his role was to oversee the reintegration of Ms Reeves.

Mr Lok said Ms Reeves’ removal from the laboratory had occurred prior to his commencement as general manager, but he’d been made aware she was relocated due to a complaint she made about testing.

DNA Inquiry
Camera IconMichel Lok, who was the general manager of community and forensic services from 2017 to 2021, gave evidence before the inquiry on Wednesday. NewsWire / Sarah Marshall Credit: News Corp Australia

He said Ms Reeves had concerns about parts of the scientific process and didn’t believe those concerns were being addressed, even going as far as lodging a public industry disclosure about the issues.

An external consultancy group, Workplace Edge, was then engaged to assist transitioning Ms Reeves back into the laboratory team after an internal review found her relocation of roles was inappropriate.

A New Zealand laboratory had been engaged to review the testing processes Ms Reeves was concerned about but the report had found the process was adequate.

Mr Lok said Ms Reeves was not given a copy of this report initially and believed this is why she elevated her concerns.

“She may not have understood the outcome and may have felt her concerns were not addressed,” he said.

The inquiry heard her relocation was simply because management had come to a view that while she held her concerns about the processes she couldn’t hold her role.

Counsel Assisting the Commissioner, former Court of Appeal judge Walter Sofronoff, suggested Ms Reeves had been relocated because if she was questioned about the processes while giving evidence in a courtroom, she could contradict evidence to the laboratory procedures.

Mr Lok said it was an “unusual step” to remove her from her role temporarily, but he understood it was because of management’s concerns.

DNA Inquiry
Camera IconMichel Lok gave evidence about how he oversaw the reintroduction of a senior scientist who had raised concerns with management about sample testing. NewsWire / Sarah Marshall Credit: News Corp Australia

“It was quite clear Ms Reeves particularly didn’t want to be removed out of that workplace but she was,” he said.

“The logic, I recall, (was) she’s a reporting scientist and if she’s asked in a court case and she says she doesn’t agree with it … it may bring into question all cases brought into the laboratory.”

Mr Lok said he oversaw her reintroduction to the team and how it was managed by the consultancy group, which also was employed to better understand the culture of the laboratory.

He said Workplace Edge also worked with the staff to develop organisational change to support staff more effectively.

“The approach I recall was a number of discussions and interviews with Ms Reeves and the members of the DNA team, what the challenges were and what the barriers were for the reintegration,” Mr Lok said.

“Then start to build a day to day relationship to be productive in her role … and idealistically to do some team building.”

The inquiry continues.

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