Page last updated at 08:16 GMT, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 09:16 UK

DNA records 'criminalise people'

DNA strand
Thousands of DNA samples from innocent people are now retained.

DNA profiles of those not convicted of a crime should be removed from the database in England and Wales, a government-funded inquiry has said.

Control of the database should be taken from government and police and given to an independent body, the inquiry urged.

Javed Aslam, one of the 30 panel members on the Citizen's Inquiry, said keeping the records would be "the first step towards a totalitarian state".

But the Home Office said the database helps to secure convictions.

The UK has the largest police DNA database in the world - with more than four million people on file.

All serious offenders should be put on the database - and there must be safeguards to protect the innocent
Dominic Grieve, shadow home secretary

The four-month inquiry was overseen by the Human Genetics Commission (HGC), which will now make a further report incorporating those public views, expected next year.

Under current laws, the database holds DNA records from suspects arrested in England and Wales, regardless of whether they are subsequently charged or convicted.

And innocent people who volunteer to give a DNA sample during a police inquiry also have their details kept on record.

The database also contains profiles from some people detained in Northern Ireland, and in Scotland - but in Scotland records of those innocent of any crime are deleted after a time.

Among the study's conclusions was that guilty people who have served their time should eventually have their DNA records erased because retaining the profile "continues to criminalise them".

This is despite the fact that DNA records have been used to solve a number of "cold case" inquires in recent years.

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Sir John Sulston, chairman of the Human Genetics Commission which established the Citizens Inquiry, said it was a problem of defining the database's purpose.

"We need to go back to the basic question - what is this database for?

"Is it really intended as an ID database, which is perfectly arguable, and then you could use it for many purposes, including solving crime, including the identification of lost bodies.

"Or do we regard it, as I believe the police do at the moment, as a criminal database?

"If it is the latter there is a stigma attached to being on it and we have to be absolutely clear about that purpose," he added.

'Totalitarian state'

The inquiry was conducted by 30 members of the public in two linked panels in Birmingham and Glasgow.

Panel member Mr Aslam said: "For me, it is the first step towards a totalitarian state if we start recording these things now."

Before 2001, the police could take DNA samples during investigations, but had to destroy the records if the person was acquitted or charges were not proceeded with.

But the law was changed in 2001 to remove this requirement, and changed again in 2004 so that DNA samples could be taken from anyone arrested for a recordable offence and detained in a police station.

The use of the database to solve old crimes is seen as one of the major benefits of retaining the information.

The public should also be better informed of why their DNA might be taken and the consequences, the panel concluded.

The panel's view was not unanimous - some members backed retaining all profiles indefinitely, even after a person's death.

'Protect the innocent'

Opposition parties have criticised the use of the database. Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman David Howarth said "there must be better ways of catching criminals than spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money adding innocent people to the DNA database".

For the Conservatives, shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: "All serious offenders should be put on the database - and there must be safeguards to protect the innocent."

However, the Home Office said the database had revolutionised the way the police protect the public.

A spokeswoman said it welcomes an "open discussion on the issue of how the National DNA Database is used".

However, she said it provides the police on average with almost 3,500 DNA matches each month and is a "key" instrument in the fight against violent crime, burglaries and rape.

She added that, in a 12-month period between 2006 and 2007, DNA evidence had been used in police investigations into 644 rapes, 222 other sexual offences, 1,900 violent crimes and more than 8,500 domestic burglaries.


SEE ALSO
Police ordered to delete records
01 Nov 07 |  England

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