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UK.gov back to the drawing board on DNA retention

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The government has dumped a heavily-criticised plan to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people for up to 12 years, after the researchers behind evidence it was based on disowned the policy.

Today, the Home Office said the forthcoming Crime and Policing bill won't include the proposals.

It's now unclear what ministers plan to do in response to their defeat at the European Court of Human Rights last December. Judges said retaining innocent people's DNA profiles indefinitely was illegal.

A Home Office statement said today: "The Government will take the most expedient route to address the issue as soon as possible in order to comply with the European Court's judgement."

A spokesman declined to provide any information on what the new policy will be.

At present in England and Wales, DNA is taken from every person arrested. At the last count the National DNA Database contained 986,000 profiles belonging to people never convicted of a crime. Individuals can apply to chief constables to have theirs removed, but ACPO has told the same chief constables it is "vitally important" they resist such requests.

By contrast, in Scotland profiles are "retained from all convicted persons indefinitely, but would be retained from unconvicted persons only if proceedings were raised against them for a relevant sexual or violent offence".

The Westminister government proposed retention of innocent people's DNA for six to 12 years as part of a consultation exercise over the summer. It based the policy in part on research by the Jill Dando Institute, but was last month publicly condemned by the scientists for using unchecked numbers.

"We were under pressure from the Home Office to publish, and felt we had no option but to allow them to use this work," Jill Dando Institute director Gloria Laycock told The Register.

"That was probably a mistake with hindsight," she said in another interview. "We should have just said 'you might as well just stick your finger in the air and think of a number."

A spokeswoman for Liberty today cautiously welcomed the decision not to retain DNA profiles from innocent profiles for up to 12 years. The group said it would await new proposals before celebrating, however.

Director Shami Chakrabarti said: "This is another victory for Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention which protects the personal privacy of everyone in Britain.

"This law was breached by the largest DNA database per capita in the world and would still be breached by the Home Office's discredited proposals."

Alternative proposals to try to bring the UK policing in line with human rights law are expected in the Crime and Policing Bill, in the Queen's Speech on November 18. ®

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