BBC News: Election 2010 BBC News

Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Friday, 9 April 2010 17:47 UK

DNA database debate is 'confused'

Linda Bowman and Gordon Brown
Mrs Bowman's daughter was murdered in Croydon, south London, in 2005.

Gordon Brown has been accused of confusing the role the DNA database played in the capture of murdered Sally-Anne Bowman's killer.

Earlier, he appeared with Ms Bowman's mother as he criticised Tory plans to remove profiles of people who have not been convicted of a crime.

Human Rights group Liberty said the reason Ms Bowman's killer, Mark Dixie, was caught was not due to the database.

Labour has passed legislation for DNA profiles to be kept for six years.

The Tories want to remove profiles of people who are not convicted after three years.

Dixie was caught after he was picked up in a pub brawl. His DNA was taken and it connected him to Sally-Anne's murder in Croydon, south London, in 2005.

'Debate confused

Mr Brown paid tribute to Sally-Anne's mother Linda who he said had "suffered the most unspeakable tragedy yet still manages to be a compassionate campaigner for good".

And he added the use of DNA helps the police put the most dangerous criminals behind bars.

But Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said election fever seemed to be confusing the debate about DNA retention.

"It has been suggested that the tragic case of Sally-Anne Bowman was only solved because her murderer was 'an innocent' on the database. In fact, he was arrested for a separate violent offence and it was then that his DNA was matched to the crime scene," she said.

"We all agree that DNA taken on arrest should be checked against unsolved crimes - this is entirely different from stockpiling the DNA of innocent men, women and children for years on end."

Labour proposals to cap the time a non-convicted person's DNA records can be kept on the database to six years, were passed on Wednesday.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the current position, of indefinite retention, is unlawful.

'Hoard DNA'

The Conservatives believe samples should be removed from the database after just three years, as in Scotland, and should only be collected from people accused of the most serious offences.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "Rather than storing the DNA of people who have not committed any offence, our priority is to record the DNA of known criminals - including prisoners and those on probation.

"Such a system would have allowed the police to catch Sally Anne Bowman's killer faster, and it will help the police to catch many other criminals in future."

The Lib Dems said it was "deeply disappointing Gordon Brown is using Sally Anne Bowman's terrible murder to mislead people about the DNA database".

Chris Huhne said: "It is completely right to check the DNA of those arrested against a database of unsolved crimes. It is completely wrong to hoard innocent people's DNA for years on end."

At present, there are about six million profiles on the national DNA database, making it the biggest in the world. Some 30,000 more are added every month. Some 975,000 of the profiles were taken from people who have never been convicted of an offence.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has said in 2008-09, some 79 rape, murder and manslaughter cases in England and Wales were matched to DNA profiles taken from people who had been arrested but not convicted of any crime.

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