Renewed hope for Shandee Blackburn’s family as Queensland launches inquiry into forensic lab


Unsolved killing of woman who was brutally murdered in the street may finally see justice after government admits massive failure at DNA lab

  • Queensland government launches commission inquiry into DNA forensics lab 
  • Amid concerns facility failed to test crucial forensic evidence in unsolved cases
  • Family of Shandee Blackburn welcomed the new inquiry into unresolved crimes
  • Mum Vicki hopes inquiry will result in victims of unresolved cases getting justice

The family of a young woman stabbed to death in a frenzied knife attack metres away from her doorstep refuse to give up hope she will finally get justice after a series of systematic failings.

Queensland will launch a commission inquiry into its state-run forensics lab amid concerns the facility failed to test crucial forensic evidence in unsolved cases categorised as ‘insufficient for further processing’.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has appointed former Court of Appeal president Walter Sofronoff QC to lead the inquiry into the John Tonge Centre after serious concerns were raised.

Monday’s announcement has already prompted a Queensland Police review into 50 sexual assault cases as far back as 2018.

Potential problems with the lab first came to light as a result of a podcast series about the investigation into the tragic death of Shandee Blackburn.

The 23-year-old was stabbed more than 20 times while walking home from work in Mackay in February 2013 and left for dead metres from home.

Shandee’s mum Vicki has welcomed the new inquiry into unresolved crimes as a coroner’s inquest into her daughter’s death is reopened. 

The family of Shandee Blackburn (pictured have renewed hope she will finally get justice

The family of Shandee Blackburn (pictured have renewed hope she will finally get justice

‘Right now we’re very relieved that the government and everyone now, it’s out in the open and everybody can see and hear what failures there are,’ Ms Blackburn told the Today show on Wednesday

‘We are yet to full understand the full extent of the failures. From what I understand, it goes a long, long way, back so it will be quite extensive.

However, this step now is the starting point and hopefully going forward, we can rectify the situation and all those people that have been denied justice through the failures of the lab will hopefully have their chance at justice.

Monday’s announcement has given Shandee’s family renewed hope she too will get justice.

Her former boyfriend John Peros, a champion amateur boxer, was charged with murder but acquitted in the Supreme Court in 2017.

In 2019 a coronial inquest into Shandee’s death heard evidence not presented at Peros’ murder trial

The following year, the coroner found she died from injuries sustained during an incident involving violence with Mr Peros, who has always maintained his innocence.

Shandee Blackburn's mum Vicki has welcomed a commission inquiry into Queensland's state-run forensics lab for the victims of unsolved crimes who have been denied justice until now

Shandee Blackburn’s mum Vicki has welcomed a commission inquiry into Queensland’s state-run forensics lab for the victims of unsolved crimes who have been denied justice until now

The coronial inquiry into Shandee’s death was reopened earlier this year to consider ‘recent issues raised regarding the forensic evidence and testing of evidence in this case’. 

‘It’s something you always hope for, whether it eventuates or not is another matter and is in the hands of the coroner,’ Ms Blackburn said.

‘I have every faith that he will investigate to his full extent.’

‘With the laboratory this week, what’s vitally important for us is that all those other people that have been denied their actually get that chance now.’

Her comments coincide with the premiere of a new documentary about her daughter’s death which also shed light on the systemic failures from the Queensland DNA lab.

Shandee’s Story: The Search for Justice is based on The Australian’s true crime podcast series which also shares new information and fresh perspectives from experts, family and friends.

The stabbing murder of Mackay woman Shandee Blackburn (pictured) remains unresolved

The stabbing murder of Mackay woman Shandee Blackburn (pictured) remains unresolved

Queensland detectives are reviewing dozens of sexual assault cases from as far back as 2018 as a result of the new inquiry into the John Tonge Centre.

‘It’s up to about 50 at this stage that have come back as insufficient DNA for further processing,’ Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll told ABC radio on Wednesday.

‘So what we do is go back, but certainly I know we’re still reviewing those numbers, so that wouldn’t be all of them.’

Ms Carroll said detectives would be ‘extraordinarily thorough’ in reviewing individual cases, as the public would expect.

She said it was difficult to say if perpetrators who should be behind bars were walking free due to the lab’s testing failures.

‘I’m hoping that’s not the case,’ the commissioner said.

‘I’m hoping that we’ve all been very, very thorough, but certainly it’s our role, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re as thorough as we can be in terms of the testing.’

Shandee Blackburn (pictured) was stabbed more than 20 times while walking home from work in Mackay in February 2013

Shandee Blackburn (pictured) was stabbed more than 20 times while walking home from work in Mackay in February 2013

The new inquiry announced by the Queensland government is expected to last six month and will examine all aspects and operations of the state lab.

‘It is clear to me that nothing short of a full, open and rigorous commission of inquiry can restore confidence in DNA testing in this state,” the premier said.

The terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry will be announced this week. 

Queensland Council of Civil Liberties had led calls for public hearings to be held.

‘An inquiry such as this largely conducted in private would not command the same public confidence as a fully open and public inquisition into the lab’s processes and apparent significant problems and shortcomings,’ council president Michael Cope said in a statement.

A coroner's inquest into  Shandee's death will be reopened as a commission inquiry into the Queensland's DNA lab is launched

A coroner’s inquest into  Shandee’s death will be reopened as a commission inquiry into the Queensland’s DNA lab is launched

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