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News > Life After Hymers > Andrew David Barclay

Andrew David Barclay

David describes his love of chemistry was an 'irritation' to Headmaster Roach...
Dave Barclay (at Hymers 1956-1962)
Dave Barclay (at Hymers 1956-1962)

What splendid and varied careers Hymers fits you for; in recent issues they range from High Court judge to sports presenter! Sadly, my own life after Hymers is more ‘surely you must be good at something’, which pretty well reflects my life at Hymers as well.
I must have been quite bright at 10 or 11 because my first recollection of Hymers is sitting in the very Gothic and very scary main hall, sitting the Governor’s scholarship. I was awarded one but managed to get a place via the 11+ anyway. At that time my main interest lay in reading, especially Conan Doyle, and my firm intention was to become a modern Sherlock Holmes (although I would have drawn the line at the deerstalker). I still read voraciously, and can claim that I have never read a book of any sort without gaining some useful fact from it. Indeed some 50 years after reading ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ a recollection of small part of the plot was used to determine the time a body was left on a beach in the Edinburgh ‘World’s End Murders’, and thus convict Angus Sinclair.

At Hymers my first form master was ‘Felix’ Walker who was one of those born disciplinarians who only has to look at you to read your mind. But after that first year things went steadily downhill academically, with very negative comments on my reports from HR Roach and indeed every teacher except Mr Bennett. These comments included such gems as ‘there is a fool in every form and Barclay is the one in mine’. Part of the problem was that I could never think of a smart remark without saying it, or a daft thing to do without leaping into action.
I recovered briefly around the time of O levels and not only passed them but won an English prize. HR Roach of course was a classicist and my intention of joining the science sixth proved an irritation too far for him. He had me fetched from Dr. Underwood’s chemistry class and restored to the arts sixth; I returned to chemistry; the janitor removed me again. Eventually he wrote, clearly more in sorrow than in anger to my parents (a letter I still treasure) pointing out that studying chemistry ‘was a waste of a good mind’-I had no idea he thought I had a mind at all! There is no doubt that Hymers did everything possible for me, providing a rounded education, a happy time and surprising tolerance. I have always been appreciative and grateful.

After A levels, off I went at 17 to study dentistry at Edinburgh - straight into the second year, and straight out again at the end of that year. I changed to Scottish history and geography, simply because I lacked mathematics, and was promptly removed from that at the end of the year as well. To complicate matters even further I had now acquired a wife and imminent child; I supported us all by advising a local bookie on odds for a couple of years, but when my wife became pregnant again I got a proper job at ICI nylon works on Teesside. Working in the lab there, I quickly managed to corner the market in nonroutine analysis (for example when a plant caught fire, as they seemed to do with exciting regularity) and found I was able to work out the sequence of events from the subsequent analysis results; a precursor to my subsequent forensic career.

In October 1968 however my ex-tutor at Edinburgh contacted me to say he had arranged for me to attend Hull University, the nearest one to Teesside. This was a considerable surprise to me and my wife and indeed to ICI, but the latter gallantly offered to fund my first year and to guarantee my job. (Thus revealing that they rather expected me to fail for a third time). I did manage to get a degree from Hull and then ‘Sherlock Holmes’ emerged and led to an MSc in forensic science. In 1972 I became a toxicologist at the forensic lab in Birmingham, where my job entailed analysing and then giving evidence in court on poisoning murders and in serious drugs offences such as importation of heroin. I just loved giving evidence and being cross-examined, and trying to prevent the barristers throwing sand in the jury's eyes by myself manipulating the barristers, in order that the last comment the jury heard from me was the most relevant evidential point. Less sensibly I also managed to stab a judge whilst demonstrating a knife (seven stitches), and impale my own foot to the witness box floor with a machete (only 5 stitches). Then came arguably the pinnacle of my career - the Birmingham Coroner and I had been running a campaign against the drug Distalgesic used in many fatal self-poisonings in our area, and I was featured in the Colour Section of ‘Private Eye’ . Even better, this article aroused considerable displeasure in my employers, the Home Office.

By 1999 I was in charge of the largest and, we felt, by far the most entertaining toxicology section in the UK forensic science service-our water fights were absolutely legendary. The Home Office then decided that the Forensic Science Service should become an agency, charging the police directly for forensic services. I was selected as part of the agency start-up team despite psychometric testing showing that I was almost totally upper right brain dominant ie really not a scientist. Afterwards I was kept on as part of the senior management team, and from 1990 to 1996 my role was to devise and implement projects designed to make the use of science in serious crime better. These included scientific surveys and reports, and a training video called ‘Think Forensic’ which won a training BAFTA and led to me getting a snog from Jenny Agutter, which been an ambition ever since ‘Walkabout’ (only elderly Hymerians will understand that reference).
But in 1996 my life changed for ever. A new police support organisation to investigate serious crime (National Crime Faculty) was created at the Police staff College Bramshill and I was attached part time for 6 months to help set up the physical evidence side.

In each of the first three intractable cases a clinical psychologist and I reviewed, new evidence was obtained, the cases were all detected and NCF’s reputation soared; as did our staffing from 5 persons to 120 in 15 months, with our caseload doubling every two weeks. As part of my support role I wrote a job description for the Head of Physical Evidence, who would be in charge of pathology, fingermarks, forensic and evidence recovery. Not by coincidence, the job description I wrote exactly matched my own skills and experience, and so I transferred permanently from management back to casework as Head of Physical Evidence. It emerged that I had a previously unsuspected ability to synthesise apparently unconnected facts in crimes and link them to the seething mass of facts that had filled my brain from all that reading. Sort of like Sherlock…

Over the next 10 years until I retired in 2006, NCF reviewed around 325 stuck ‘live’ cases or alleged Miscarriages of Justice with around 63% being detected (solved). The main reason for this success was that for the first time a team with skills, scientists with experience of stranger murders and rape series, were being given access to all the information without the preconceptions which arose in the initial investigation. We had literally seen it all before.

Gradually it became accepted that it was possible for a scientist to be an ‘investigator’, a role the police had previously limited to detectives. Notorious cases included the Soham girls, Milly Dowler, Sarah Payne, the LLandarcy murders and of course the murder in 1988 of Lynette White which produced the Cardiff 3 Miscarriage of Justice. This was fully resolved in 2002 by the conviction of the real offender Geoffrey Gafoor. But determining the responsibility for the clearly manufactured evidence against the Cardiff 3 meant that my involvement lasted from the initial review in 1998 until 2014!

I gained experience of many other jurisdictions as well, because as word spread we were asked to review cases in Australian, USA, Canada, Germany, Holland and South Africa usually with a psychologist, an experienced detective and myself leading the physical evidence review.
In 2004 I was chosen as ‘Homicide Investigator of the Year’ by the USA funded International Homicide investigators Association, and undertook a comprehensive review of the unsolved ‘Claremont Killings’ in Perth, Western Australia. (The Claremont killings are currently (2019) at trial, after 21 years.) Other Australian highlights included my review of the Andrew Mallard case from Perth. Andrew had served 12 years for a murder that my review found after only 4 days work he was ‘no more likely to have committed than any other person in Perth at the time’. In addition, on day 5 the review identified the real offender Simon Rochford , and subsequently proved it, primarily by pathology and paint evidence from the weapon used. On that same trip the 1966 Canberra murder of Jamie Redstone was solved after 40 years and again the offender was identified (and admitted it) by classical evidence, without any DNA in sight.
In 2004/5 I was the forensic advisor to the Parliamentary Select Committee Enquiry into Forensic Science. Hah! Poacher turned gamekeeper.

After I retired from the civil service in 2006 I lectured extensively to police and lay conferences and to Universities at home and abroad. I still do, including a visit every couple of years to Hymers to horrify the 6th form. I have also published a couple of crime thrillers as ‘AD Garrett’, and done lots of media work as an advisor or front of camera, mostly in true crime programmes. I guess the two most interesting TV programmes were ‘Despatches - Madeleine McCann’ where I was one of three experts reviewing the case and the polonium poisoning of Yasser Arafat where I led the Aljazera investigation in 2012, which proved conclusively that he was murdered with Polonium in 2004.
Nowadays I am a very respectable Honorary or Emeritus professor at Robert Gordon, Huddersfield and Hull Universities where I lecture to science or criminal psychology students, and Hull Uni recently awarded me an Honorary Doctorate. I am still asked to review cases from all over the world, and am currently preparing a report on the 1975 murder of the madame of Perth’s leading brothel.

Oh, and I am still married to that nice lady from 1964, so my failed Uni career had a least one major plus!

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