RECOVERED: Police search for a body washed up near the canal during the Durban Storm.
DURBAN - Evidence relating to more than 450 drug cases washed away, zero security in a hired building where laboratory staff work and the possible removal to other provinces of thousands of case specimens linked largely to drug and rape offences.

These were some of the “devastating” findings made by the DA’s Dianne Kohler Barnard when she and eManzimtoti councillor Andre Beetge paid an oversight visit to the SAPS forensic science laboratory to assess damage caused by the recent Durban storm.

In a statement released after the visit on Friday morning, the situation at the laboratory was described as “catastrophic”.

Kohler Barnard said their visit revealed that the laboratory had flooded three times since the October 10 storm.

“In fact, the laboratory section that is housed in one of four buildings spread about eThekwini is now closed and the 120 staff will be moved to the three other national laboratories in Gauteng, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape for the foreseeable future.

“The costs of transporting and housing the staff, as well as moving thousands of case specimens related predominantly to drugs and rapes, promises to run into the millions,” said Kohler Barnard.

She said the key findings during the visit were:

* Evidence relating to 456 drug cases was washed away.

* Land bought eight years ago for the new KZN laboratory lies empty with no sign of possible development;

* The laboratory staff are in four different buildings in the area rented by Public Works, with little or no security and are “unft for use” by staff.

* The expert unit that examines biological, chemistry, explosive, questioned documents, scientific analysis and ballistics, is housed in a building where ballistics testing has resulted in bullets travelling straight through walls, endangering other staff.

Kohler Barnard confirmed that the DA had submitted parliamentary questions to national Police Minister Fikile Mbalula asking “for a firm start and projected completion date of the building of the provincial forensic laboratory in Pinetown.

“We have also asked what the extended backlog is in terms of crime-related samples in KZN and South Africa,” said Kohler Barnard.

Neither the SAPS nor the provincial Department of Public Works responded yesterday to questions sent to them to verify or comment on the findings made.

But last night Sam Pillay from the Anti-Drugs Forum in Chatsworth said such findings, particularly over the lost evidence on drug offences, was “devastating news”.

“This would mean all those cases will be thrown out of court because there will be no evidence and those suspects, whether dealers or end users, will be out and walking the streets.

“It takes a lot of time to get these guys behind bars and this will mean thousands of hours of good police work will be lost. It’s absolutely important that we have such labs operational,” said Pillay.

THE INDEPENDENT ON SATURDAY