The Forensic Science Service was urged today by MPs to step up security to stop thefts of vital evidence and drugs from its laboratories, including the one it runs at Wetherby.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said a National Audit Office report had highlighted eight serious security breaches at FSS premises over the previous two years.

These included an arson attack at the Wetherby lab which caused £750,000 of damage, and the loss of all available forensic evidence in 37 cases, some involving serious offences.

There have also been at least three thefts of drugs from the Metropolitan laboratory. MPs said today they were "concerned" no-one had been held responsible for the security breaches and "dismayed" the FSS had failed to take timely action after a 1991 security review.

They warned: "FSS premises contain items of value to criminals, whether in the form of forensic evidence or quantities of controlled drugs. There is a risk that organised criminals will try to infiltrate the FSS.

"The FSS should draw on the experience of other agencies dealing with the criminal community, both in this country and overseas, on how this risk can best be addressed."

During evidence sessions, the FSS agreed with the committee's suggestion that it take advice from the US on drug organisations' attempts to infiltrate criminal justice agencies.

The FSS became a Government agency in 1991, since when its caseload has risen by about 50 per cent to some 97,000 cases a year and is expected to keep growing.

MPs said the Home Office had assured it the FSS was managing the workload without compromising quality.

But the FSS met only 72 per cent of delivery dates agreed with customers in 1997-98 against a target of 90 per cent. It expected to achieve 80 per cent in 1998-99 but had so far achieved only 74 per cent. Noting the FSS was taking steps to improve delivery, MPs warned: "Delays in making results available may impair the effectiveness of criminal investigations."

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