NSW Police Force launches Missing Persons familial DNA collection pilot program

The NSW Police Force will launch a familial DNA collection pilot program on the state’s Mid North Coast next month, which aims to assist detectives with ongoing historic missing persons investigations.

Following a comprehensive review of operations, the NSW Police Force announced the establishment of the Missing Persons Registry (MPR) and the implementation of new systems and procedures, which came into effect in July 2019.

Since that time, the MPR has undertaken a review of all 769 long-term missing persons cases in NSW and identified a lack of Direct or familial DNA profiles for a significant number of historical investigations.

State Crime Commander, Acting Assistant Commissioner Darren Bennett, said the collection of DNA samples is a fundamental function of missing persons, unidentified bodies and human remains investigations.

“Currently in NSW, we have 769 long-term missing people and approximately 330 unidentified bodies or human remains cases, with just over 100 unidentified bodies or partial human remains physically on hand with NSW Health,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Bennett said.

“In a joint-agency project between the NSW Police Force and forensic and scientific experts from NSW Health Pathology on the Human Skeletal Remains Initiative (HSRI) – Direct DNA profiles for all unidentified bodies and human remains on hand have been developed.

“Due to passage of time, there is very limited opportunity for investigators to gather Direct DNA for historical long-term missing persons.

“The objective now is to collect familial DNA from the relatives of missing persons across the country to facilitate further inquiries and in the hopes of matching these samples, locate loved ones and provide answers to families,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Bennett said.

To facilitate the collection of familial DNA, MPR investigators will launch a pilot program on the state’s Mid North Coast to gather DNA samples from biological relatives of missing people across Australia.

The program will include the establishment of two pop-up centres at Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie to capture samples and other data required for upload to the National Missing Persons Victim System database.

Familial DNA samples will be uploaded into the Volunteer Limited Purpose Index (VOLMPU), where they will be searched against the Unidentified Bodies Index. At the same time, interviews will be conducted with family members to capture further information that may assist investigators.

Missing Persons Registry Commander, Detective Inspector Glen Browne, said the success of the pilot program will be heavily dependent on the collection of familial DNA samples from the families of long-term missing persons.

“The NSW Police Force recognises the devastating impact that missing persons have on family, friends and the wider community and, as part of our ongoing commitment to providing answers, are now trialling a new program to identify possible familial links,” Det Insp Browne said.

“Our investigators work collaboratively with partner agencies including NSW Health, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), to identify any possible investigative leads or DNA matches.

“To further missing persons investigations across Australia, we are calling on relatives of any missing person across the country, who resides on or near the NSW Mid North Coast, to consider coming forward and providing a DNA sample.

“The team at the Missing Persons Registry are determined to identify these remains and ensure they are safely returned to loved ones so they may finally be farewelled and put to rest,” Det Insp Browne said.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said the NSW Police Force is determined to find answers for as many families as possible.

“I would encourage anyone who is looking for answers after the disappearance of a family member to come forward and potentially find closure,” Mr Elliott said.

“Every one of the long-term missing people has loved ones who have been seriously impacted by their loss and it is crucial that we do everything in our power to ease their pain.”

Familial DNA samples are provided via buccal swab and are only compared against missing persons databases in Australia.

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