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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 01:36 GMT
Police DNA data review launched
DNA profiling work
Nearly 40% of black men are on the DNA database
The government has launched an inquiry into the way the national police DNA database is used to fight crime.

The Human Genetics Commission will oversee the review of the running of the National DNA Database.

The "citizen's inquiry" will see members of the public research whether it is right to store the DNA of people not charged or those who are acquitted.

Their conclusions, to be published in the spring, will feed into a report on the forensic use of DNA due next year.

System criticised

The police can currently store DNA samples from anyone arrested in England or Wales for a recordable offence which typically can lead to jail.

More than four million DNA samples are currently held and they remain indefinitely on the database even if someone is subsequently released.

The citizen's inquiry will add to public understanding and will hopefully help develop broad agreement for the forensic use of DNA in the future
Tony Lake
Acpo

Critics say the system holds a disproportionate amount of DNA from ethnic minorities and that it retains the details of too many innocent people.

In September, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics called for anyone not convicted of a crime to have their details wiped from the database.

The group of eminent lawyers and scientists said it was "unjustified" to keep records of people when they had not been convicted of any offence.

The government's inquiry, funded by the Sciencewise project through the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, will invite members of the public to contribute to the debate on the database's use by police.

Black males

HGC chairman Sir John Sulston said he wanted to hear the public's views on whether storing the DNA profiles of victims and suspects who were not charged or were subsequently acquitted was justified by the need to fight crime.

"The database has a preponderance of young men with a third of all black males currently on it. And people are on it for life," he said.

"On the other hand, a steadily increasing number of serious crimes, including murders and rapes, are being solved and criminals brought to justice with its help."

He added that police powers to take DNA samples without consent were stronger in England and Wales than any other country and that there was an "important balance to be struck between individual rights and public safety".

As part of the inquiry, there will be six weekly discussion sessions involving 30 people in Birmingham and Glasgow, and 200 further observers from across the country will be used to assess the use of the database.

Tony Lake, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the DNA system was an "invaluable tool" which assisted police in identifying and eliminating suspects in thousands of investigations.

But he added that it was important for the system to be "reasonable and proportionate" and to operate "with the confidence of the public".

"The citizen's inquiry will add to public understanding and will hopefully help develop broad agreement for the forensic use of DNA in the future," he said.

Science and innovation minister Ian Pearson said the government hoped the scientists and the public involved in the inquiry would be able to come to a conclusion on the current and future use of DNA by police.

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