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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Give Us Your DNA
A DNA sample being taken from a person
Panorama: Give Us Your DNA
Monday, 24 September 2007
A specially commissioned opinion poll for Panorama has revealed that two thirds of people would be in favour of a national DNA database.

Sixty-six percent of those questioned by ICM said they would approve of a new law requiring all adults to give a sample of their DNA to help with the prevention and detection of crime.

There are currently over four million DNA profiles on the database and in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those who are arrested for a recordable offence - anything from drink driving to murder - have to give their DNA sample for the database. Even if they are innocent their DNA will still be kept.

Victims and witnesses who have volunteered their DNA are also on the database.

People put too much faith in DNA. They're giving it an infallibility which it does not have
Professor Allan Jamieson, senior forensic scientist
In Scotland the position is different.

At present only the DNA samples of those found guilty of an offence may be retained, although a limited review of procedures was announced on September 24, 2007 by the Scottish government.

Transference traces

DNA has unquestionably transformed forensic science.

The clear-up rate for burglaries has hugely improved, "cold cases" have been solved and murderers put away in jail, with the critical assistance of tiny - microscopically small - traces of DNA.

However, is this a system that we can trust?

Panorama speaks to senior forensic scientist Professor Allan Jamieson who is Director of The Forensic Institute, based in Glasgow. He warns that too much trust is already placed in DNA results.

He says: "People put too much faith in DNA. They're giving it an infallibility which it does not have."

He explains that finding DNA traces does not always tell you what you think it does.

"We've shaken hands. My DNA will be on your hand.

"You may touch something outside of this room that I have never touched, and therefore my DNA will be somewhere where I have never been," he adds.

Mistaken identitiy

And, although rare, mistakes can happen.

If...the vast majority of the public believe that that is genuinely in the interest of criminal justice, then that is clearly an important factor
Chief Constable Tony Lake, Chair of the DNA Database
In Swindon a man with Parkinson's Disease was arrested, and charged with a burglary in Bolton.

He was frail and had never been there. But his DNA sample - it is claimed - matched one taken from the crime scene.

Eventually the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) admitted that he could not have done it.

The Chair of the Database, Chief Constable Tony Lake says that having everyone on the database would help them to solve more crimes, but that winning public approval is key before it can become a reality.

"We enjoy a very high degree of confidence by the public in policing in this country, and I think that we...we tinker with that at our peril, and I think that if we can have the debate and we have the discussion and the vast majority of the public believe that that is genuinely in the interest of criminal justice, then that is clearly an important factor."

Murder conviction

Gill and Rob Smith from Chipping Sodbury are in favour of a universal database.

In 1995 their 18-year-old daughter, Louise, went missing after visiting a nightclub with friends.

Seven weeks later her body was found hidden in a local quarry. She had been raped and murdered.

A sample of DNA
The issue of a national DNA database worries some experts
The police found the murderer's DNA at the scene. They then took samples of DNA from thousands of local men to find a DNA match, and the killer.

It took 14 months to find him, and he was someone with a completely clean record.

It was this case that led to a change in the law in England and Wales so that samples of the innocent could be kept, moving a step closer to a universal database.

Rob Smith, the murdered girl's father, says that they were told that if there had been a more extensive database it would have taken a maximum of two weeks to identify her killer.

Her mother Gill believes everyone's DNA should be taken from birth.

"I think going back years people would have been worried about birth certificates when they first came out, I think they would have been nervous about fingerprints when they came out and we're all used to it now.

"We just accept them now and I think DNA will be accepted too...I think everybody...from birth."

Database concerns

However of those questioned for the ICM poll for Panorama 64% were against the idea of taking samples from newborn babies.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,006 adults aged 18+ by telephone between 24th and 26th August 2007
Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults
(ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules)

Although those polled were in favour of having all adults on the database, there are plenty of experts who are worried.

Last week, The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said in its latest report that the database should be reduced in size.

They said that it was "unjustified" to keep people on the DNA database who have not been convicted of any offence.

They want the law in England and Wales to be brought in line with Scotland where they only keep the DNA profiles of convicted criminals.

However our poll suggests that there would be public support for an expanding the database.

The programme also features the case of a man who was imprisoned for armed robbery but freed on appeal after it was concluded his DNA had actually been planted by a detective from the Metropolitan Police's Flying Squad.

Panorama: Give Us Your DNA will be broadcast on Monday, 24 September 2007 at 2030BST on BBC One.

Watch Panorama: Give Us Your DNA

Transcript - Give Us Your DNA
11 Oct 07 |  Panorama
Review held of DNA holding powers
25 Sep 07 |  Panorama

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