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Tories drop opposition to UK.gov DNA plans

'Real point of principle' proves somewhat bendy

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The Conservatives have dropped their opposition to the government's planned changes to the National DNA Database for fear of being branded soft on crime in the run-up to the election.

The opposition had planned to use the Parliamentary "wash-up" this week to insist fewer DNA profiles be retained from people arrested but not charged or convicted of any crime.

Now they plan to agree to government proposals to cut retention to six years for innocent people, from the current indefinite period for everyone arrested. The Tories had argued for only a three-year retention period, for those arrested for a violent or sexual offence - the same regime already in place in Scotland.

The Home Office has been forced to limit retention by its defeat at the European Court of Human Rights in December 2008. The database now holds 5.6 million DNA profiles.

Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, decided not to push for stricter limits on retention to head off a Labour attack. Ministers have lined up the mother of the murder victim Sally Ann Bowman - whose killer was detected using DNA taken from him when he was arrested after a pub scuffle in 2006 - to campaign for retention of DNA for arrests on minor offences.

The Tories' acquiescence goes against comments by Grayling in January, when he said: "The DNA issue is a real point of principle... in the final days before a general election, there will be no deals to be done.

"If we have our way, the [Crime and Security] Bill will not pass, and then it will be for a Conservative government to make rapid reforms to how our DNA database works and to ensure that its use is proportionate and that we do not continue to store the DNA of people accused of minor infractions who, in reality, have done nothing wrong."

While changing his pre-election policy yesterday Grayling reaffirmed the committment to further restrict the National DNA Database if the Tories win. The Liberal Democrats also believe the Bill does not go far enough, but it is now certain to pass later today.

The human rights regulator has warned the government that its proposals may still mean the UK is in breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee has also called for stricter limits.

Before Grayling reneged yesterday, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "This is a basic example of how they [the Conservatives] talk tough on crime but act soft." ®

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