Page last updated at 00:55 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Thousands of prisoners 'not on DNA database'

By Dom Casciani
BBC News Home Affairs

DNA profiles on a print-out
The UK's DNA database is the biggest in the world

Thousands of prisoners in England and Wales may not be on the national DNA database, the Tories have claimed.

They accused the government of being more concerned about collecting the profiles of innocent people than those of convicted criminals.

The Home Office said the vast majority of inmates were on the database but it did not know the exact number.

Ministers are changing the law to retrospectively add anyone convicted of a serious offence to the database.

Police will soon be able to take DNA samples from anyone convicted of a violent or sexual offence even if they are no longer in custody.

'Innocent majority'

At present, there are about six million profiles on the national DNA database, making it the biggest in the world. Some 30,000 more are added every month.

Some 975,000 of the profiles were taken from people who have never been convicted of an offence.

As of last week, there were 83,755 people in jail in England and Wales.

But the Conservatives say the Home Office was unable to answer a parliamentary question about what proportion of prisoners were on the national DNA database.

We should make sure that anyone convicted of a serious crime has their DNA records kept, but not the innocent majority
Damian Green MP

In a statement to the BBC, a Home Office spokesman said the "vast majority" of prisoners were on the database.

Damian Green, shadow immigration minister, said the figures showed the government was pursuing a policy of growing the database for the sake of it.

"It is shocking that the government has no idea how many dangerous criminals do not have their DNA on the database," he said.

"They seem more concerned with collecting the data of innocent people than convicted criminals.

"The database should help the police. So let's concentrate on where it can help the police most.

"We should make sure that anyone convicted of a serious crime has their DNA records kept, but not the innocent majority."

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said in his answer to Mr Green that police had had the power to retain DNA taken from those convicted of recordable offences since the establishment of the DNA database in 1995.

He said legal powers had existed since 1996 to take samples from all prisoners and there had been two sampling projects in jails to identify inmates not on the system.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said the Home Office had revealed in 2008 that there were 2.3m people on the Police National Computer for a conviction, caution, reprimand or warning who were not in the DNA database.

"Among the most serious offenders are those serving long sentences that began before 2002 and they are the most likely not to be on the DNA database," he said.

"The government's policy puts the wrong people on the database while leaving some of the most dangerous criminals off it."

DNA database graphic



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