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Government outlines new proposals for DNA database

Government outlines new proposals for DNA database

HOME OFFICE News Release (082/2009) issued by COI News Distribution Service on 7 May 2009

New proposals to reassure the public that the right people are kept on the DNA database were outlined by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith today.

DNA and the use of forensics play an essential role in fighting crime and providing justice for victims. The UK has been recognised as the world leader in developing the use of the national DNA database and catching criminals through reviews of so called "cold cases". Between April 1998 and September 2008 there were more than 390,000 crimes with DNA matches, providing the police with a lead on the possible identity of the offender.

A public consultation - 'Keeping the right people on the DNA database' - includes plans to:

* Destroy all DNA samples like mouth swabs, hair or blood as soon as they are converted into a profile;
* Automatically delete profiles of those arrested but not convicted of serious violent or sexual crimes after 12 years;
* Automatically delete profiles of those arrested but not convicted of all other crimes after six years;
* Retain indefinitely all DNA profiles and fingerprints of those convicted of a recordable offence;
* Remove profiles of young people arrested but not convicted or convicted for less serious offences as a teenager when they turn 18;
* Change the law to retrospectively add all serious violent and sexual criminals who were convicted before the DNA database was established, including those who are now back in the community;
* Change the law to allow the police to take DNA from those who were convicted of serious violent and sexual crimes abroad upon their return to the UK; and
* Keep fingerprints for those arrested but not convicted of serious violent or sexual crimes for 12 years, and six years for all other crimes, before automatic deletion.

As the Home Secretary announced last year, the rules for retaining DNA for those who have committed serious offences must be as tough as possible but the approach should be flexible for others including children. Immediately after the Home Secretary's speech in December all profiles relating to children under 10 years were taken off the DNA database.

In 2006-7 alone there were 41,717 crimes with DNA matches. These included 452 homicides, 644 rapes, 222 other sex offences and 1,872 other violent crimes. There were also thousands of matches with less serious crimes, including more than 8,500 domestic burglaries.

The database has provided a pioneering method not only for catching the guilty but also in proving innocence. It played an essential part in solving thousands of cases, including:

* Finding Mark Dixie guilty of the murder of Sally Ann Bowman, an 18-year-old murdered close to her home in 2005;
* Convicting Steve Wright for the murder of five prostitutes in 2008;
* Linking Kensley Larrier to a rape in 2004 after his DNA was taken following his arrest for possessing a dangerous weapon two years earlier;
* Ruling out the prime suspect who confessed to the murder of one of two schoolgirls found dead. Pioneering work showed that semen samples taken from the girls did not match that suspect, but indicated that the cases were linked as the semen in both cases came from the same person, who in due course was identified as Colin Pitchfork who was jailed for life for the two murders; and
* Clearing Sean Hodgson of the death of a young woman after nearly 30 years in prison earlier this year.

The new proposals deliver a commitment by the Home Secretary to balance public protection from crime with the need to maintain the rights of the individual.

Launching the public consultation, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said:

"It is crucial that we do everything we can to protect the public by preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. The DNA database plays a vital role in helping us do that and will help ensure that a great many criminals are behind bars where they belong.

"As I said in December, I have real sympathy for all those victims and victims' families who have concerns that any move could undermine a system that helped trap murders and rapists, such as Sally Ann Bowman's killer. These new proposals will ensure that the right people are on it, as well as considering where people should come off.

"We will ensure that the most serious offenders are added to the database no matter when or where they were convicted. We also know that the database has provided matches for a significant number of serious crimes as well as providing thousands of matches for less serious crimes that cause great concern to victims, such as burglary, which is why we are proposing to keep some profiles for six years."

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. The consultation document can be viewed at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk

2. Between April 1998 and September 2008, there were over 390,000 crimes with DNA matches, providing the police with a lead on the possible identity of the offender. In 2007-08, 17,614 crimes were detected in which a DNA match was available. They included 83 'homicides', 184 rapes and a further 15,420 additional detections. Between May 2001 and December 2005 approximately 200,000 DNA profiles held on the National DNA Database which would previously have had to be removed before legislation was passed in 2001 because the person was acquitted or charges dropped, resulted in nearly 8500 profiles from some 6,290 individuals being linked with crime scene profiles, involving nearly 14,000 offences. These included 114 murders, 55 attempted murders, 116 rapes, 68 sexual offences, 119 aggravated burglaries and 127 relating to the supply of controlled drugs.

3. The consultation applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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