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Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Published at 16:58 GMT


Dumping DNA 'wastes police time'

About 4,500 samples were examined - and thrown away

The parents of Louise Smith, who was murdered three years ago, are calling for the government to change the law on the destruction of DNA samples collected during investigations.

[ image: Louise Smith: Raped and murdered in 1995]
Louise Smith: Raped and murdered in 1995
The issue was raised in the House of Commons by Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb. He argued that thanks to DNA, Louise's killer was caught and convicted.

The 4,500 samples collected in Louise's case might have been useful for future investigations had they not been discarded.

Louise's parents, Gill and Robert Smith, have been actively campaigning for a change of rules and have collected 9,000 signatures on a petition in protest at what they see as a waste of public funds and police time.

Louise, aged 18, was reported missing after she visited a nightclub on Christmas Eve at Yate, near Bristol, with friends in 1995.

[ image: Frost: Caught from a DNA sample]
Frost: Caught from a DNA sample
More than 10,000 local people took part in a search, but it was not until February 1996 that two boys found her body dumped in a quarry.

Louise had been abducted, raped and murdered.

DNA swabs were taken from the scene where the body was found. Further samples were then collected from young men living in the area.

In 1997, a local engineer called David Frost while he was out in South Africa. When he returned to the UK he was arrested at Heathrow Airport.

Frost later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Costly investigation

The murder investigation was one of the largest of its kind carried out by Avon and Somerset Police and cost more than 1m.

Adressing MPs in the Commons, Mr Webb said it cost 37.50 to analyse a DNA sample and 41 after fingerprints were taken, screening and photographs.

This meant the cost of taking the 4,500 DNA samples came to between 200,000 and 250,000.

Mr Webb said that Louise's parents were "dismayed" that all these costly samples were simply destroyed.

He urged the government to amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to allow for the samples to be retained for future investigations.

Civil rights concern

In reponse, the Home Office minister Paul Boateng said: "I very much take the view that DNA technology is a vital intelligence tool that we want to see at the disposal of our police service."

But he said that under current laws, DNA samples had to be destroyed if an individual involved in a mass screening was subsequently eliminated from an inquiry.

During murder inquiries, samples were placed on a dedicated database, separate from the national database, but were also destroyed if they were later found not to be linked with the crime.

He acknowleged that the screening during the Louise Smith inquiry was the largest ever undertaken, and he could therefore understand her family's desire to save public time and money.

"The voluntary retention of DNA profiles on a separate database is under consideration," he said.

But he argued that it was important to maintain civil liberties.

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