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Gov advisers slate Home Office over innocents' DNA retention

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The Human Genetics Commission has slammed the government over the rampant expansion of the UK's DNA database.

One retired police officer told the Commission that the databases existence had changed policing practices, with some officers making arrests purely to get samples on the system.

The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) is the Government’s group of independent advisers on developments in human genetics: it is hoped that its "nuanced" critique of government policy will avoid a repetition of the Nutt affair and the Home Secretary will not, on this occasion, go so far as to sack his experts for providing advice that is out of step with his own views.

The HGC report, Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, concludes that although Britain has the largest police DNA database in the world – five million strong and still growing – this has been developed piecemeal without a specific Act of Parliament. The database needs to be regulated on a clear statutory basis and supervised by an independent authority.

HGC Chair Professor Jonathan Montgomery said: "DNA evidence plays a significant role in bringing criminals before the courts and securing convictions. But it is not clear how far holding DNA profiles on a central database improves police investigations.

"We have to strike a proper balance between identifying offenders and protecting privacy, including that of innocent people – we should not compromise that privacy without good reason."

On retired police officer told the researchers that in contrast to practices in his early career, it was now "the norm" to arrest people for "everything there is a power to do so" in part to expand the database.

"It is apparently understood by serving police officers that one of the reasons, if not the reason, for the change in practice is so that the DNA of the offender can be obtained: samples can be obtained after arrest but not if there is a report for summons. It matters not, of course, whether the arrest leads to no action, a caution or a charge, because the DNA is kept on the database anyway,” the ex-copper said.

The report further concludes that:

- There is insufficient evidence at present to be able to say what use it is to hold DNA profiles from different people

- There needs to be very careful consideration of the equality impact of the database and any proposed changes to it

- There needs to be a clear and independent appeals procedure for unconvicted people who want their DNA removed

- All police officers should have their own DNA collected as a condition of employment

- The UK needs to make progress in working with the rest of Europe on exchanging DNA information and standardising procedures.

Government difficulties began last December, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled, in the case of Marper and S, that it was illegal to retain DNA profiles and fingerprints belonging to two men never convicted of any crime.

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