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Gov advisers slate Home Office over innocents' DNA retention

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The Court allowed nine months for the UK government to get its act together and consult on the matter – and by dint of a certain amount of judicious foot-dragging, this has now been stretched to almost a year.

The latest Crime and Security Bill, published last week, includes proposals for "protecting the public by ensuring the right people are on our DNA database by indefinitely retaining the DNA records of convicted offenders and holding the DNA of those who are acquitted for a proportionate amount of time". This proposal now appears to include a commitment to hold on to the DNA of individuals not even charged with an offence for up to six years.

Two MPs – Jenny Willott for the Lib Dems and Diane Abbott for Labour - have been particularly outspoken in their criticism of the government stance on DNA retention, and both have held constituency surgeries designed to help innocent constituents have their DNA removed from the database.

Following her own surgery last Friday, Ms Willott said: "The DNA clinic has been of interest locally. There is a remarkably high level of understanding on this issue now in my constituency.

"People are angry at the way the government has dragged their heels in responding to the ECHR report. For most people, this is a simple issue of conscience and principle, that if you’re not actually found guilty, you shouldn’t be on the database full stop."

She added: "This report is right to highlight that the government has made the accumulation of innocent peoples’ DNA a national police priority. But there is no evidence to show that this has actually increased conviction rates."

Diane Abbott commented: "The Government’s decision to retain the DNA of innocent people for six years is simply not good enough. The point is you are either guilty or you are innocent. I do not agree with the Government’s attempts to create 'half innocent' people and I do not agree with the holding of innocent children’s DNA. I am concerned that the proposals are still not compliant with ECHR."

However, a Home Office spokesman rejected this, saying: "Research shows no clear link between the level of offence for which an individual is arrested and the seriousness of any subsequent offence with which they may be associated. DNA samples are taken on arrest for recordable offences carrying prison sentence. The Government is clear that this is the right threshold for taking and retaining DNA.

"We know that the DNA database is a vital crime fighting tool, identifying 410,589 crime scenes between 1998 and March 2009 with a DNA match and a possible lead on the possible identity of the offender." ®

Bootnote

Although proposals to update the law on DNA retention are now before Parliament, it is unlikely that these will pass before the next election. Unless an incoming government makes DNA a priority issue, the law could well stay unchanged until late 2011.

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