Air Force reservist turns crime whistleblower

25 January 2023

Air Force Reservist Squadron Leader Kirsty Wright has been named The Australian newspaper’s Australian of the Year for her remarkable work helping to expose systemic flaws and wrongdoings in the Queensland Health Forensic and Scientific Services DNA laboratory over ten years.

Squadron Leader Wright, a specialist reservist in forensic biology based at Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane, joined up with journalist and crime podcaster Hedley Thomas in her civilian capacity to look into disparities with DNA evidence in the 2013 unsolved murder of a young Queensland woman Shandee Blackburn.

What Squadron Leader Wright and Hedley Thomas, of The Australian, uncovered led to a Commission of Inquiry into the operations of the Queensland Government’s Forensics Laboratory that analyses DNA evidence gathered from serious and violent crimes across Queensland.

It concluded that largely due to her efforts, victims of crime and the police were betrayed by ‘grave maladministration involving dishonesty’ at the state’s lab. Crime scene samples rich in DNA had been written off as having no evidentiary value – prompting the head of the Commission to recommend a review of thousands of major crime cases stretching back more than a decade.

“I see this as recognition of the importance of speaking out and doing the right thing,” Squadron Leader Wright said.

“I was just a normal person who found myself in a situation, with the skills I have, that I had an opportunity to really make some change and really help people.”

Director General History and Heritage – Air Force, Air Commodore Rob Lawson voiced Air Force’s pride in Squadron Leader Wright’s remarkable work.

“I consider that the actions for which Kirsty is being recognised epitomise the Air Force/Defence values and we are proud to have her on our team,” Air Commodore Lawson said.

People can learn more about Squadron Leader Wright’s investigative work in Hedley Thomas’ Walkley Award winning podcast Shandee’s Story. 



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