Page last updated at 15:24 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 16:24 UK

Police 'must purge innocent DNA'

DNA molecule (SPL)
The retention of DNA records has proved to be controversial

Ministers should instruct police in England and Wales to stop retaining the DNA of innocent people, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said.

Last year human rights judges called for an end to the holding of samples from nearly a million people arrested but never convicted of an offence.

But the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) advised staff to add new samples until the law was changed.

The human rights group said this breached the law.

In December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that blanket retention of all suspects' DNA was disproportionate.

And the judges focused their criticism on the "limited" opportunities for those found not guilty, or mistakenly arrested, to have their DNA data removed.

The shadow Home Office minister Damian Green called on the home secretary to bring in new rules on DNA retention.

"Completely innocent people should not be treated like suspects for life," he said.

Last month, police agreed to delete DNA records it held of the MP.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said ministers were "dragging out" their response to the court ruling and thousands more innocent people could find themselves on the database.

Acpo advice

John Wadham, of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "The police are at the forefront of the fight against crime.

"The importance of this fight cannot be underestimated but it should comply with the government's legal obligation to protect the privacy of innocent people, as outlined by the European Court.

"The government should take the opportunity to clarify the law now and avert future costly and time consuming legal action."

A Home Office policy consultation closed more than a month ago but ministers are yet to publish a response.

Ministers have suggested setting limits on the length of time suspects' DNA profiles can be held.

A time frame of between six and 12 years, depending on the seriousness of the alleged offence, has been mooted.

The Acpo advice, contained in a letter that was leaked to the Guardian, said changes to the law were not expected to take effect until 2010.

'Special treatment'

It stated: "Until that time, the current retention policy on fingerprints and DNA remains unchanged."

"Acpo strongly advise that decisions to remove records should not be based on (the government's) proposed changes. It is therefore vitally important that any applications for removals of records should be considered against current legislation."

Meanwhile, Chief Constable Chris Sims, of Acpo, said: "At the time of the judgment it was made clear to police forces that existing law on DNA retention remains in place while the government consults on a legislative response.".

In Scotland, DNA samples taken when people are arrested must be destroyed if the individual is not charged or convicted unless they are accused of a violent or sexual crime. Northern Ireland's database is administered separately but operates under the same rules as the system in England and Wales.

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