The DNA snatchers: Police arresting innocents just to grab genetic details for Big Brother database
By James Slack
Police are arresting innocent people in order to get their hands on as many DNA samples as possible, senior Government advisers revealed last night.
The Human Genetics Commission said the Big Brother tactic was creating a ’spiral of suspicion’ among the public.
The panel - which contains some of Britain’s leading scientists and academics - said officers should no longer routinely take samples at the point of arresting a suspect.
By law, officers are only allowed to make an arrest if they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a person has committed a crime.
But the HGC, which has carried out a lengthy review of the merits of the database, said evidence had emerged of police arresting people purely so they could take their DNA.
Its chairman, Professor Jonathan Montgomery, said: ‘People are arrested in order to retain DNA information that might not have been arrested in other circumstances.’
The claim, which was backed by evidence from a senior police officer, delivers a significant blow to the Government’s defence of the database - which contains more than 5.6million samples.
Campaigners have long feared officers were carrying out mass sweeps of the population to load their samples on the database, and make future crime fighting easier.
The result is one million entirely innocent people having their genetic details logged by the state.
The Commission said one of the consequences of current DNA laws was that young black men are ‘very highly over-represented’, with more than three quarters of those aged 18-35 on the database.
Professor Montgomery warned this was creating a ’spiral of suspicion’ among sections of society.
A retired senior police officer, a superintendent, told the commission: ‘It is now the norm to arrest offenders for everything if there is a power to do so.
‘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.’
Officers in England and Wales are entitled to take samples from everyone they arrest for a recordable offence.
Proposals within the Crime and Security Bill - published last week - will for the first time put a time limit, in most cases six years, on how long profiles are stored when the alleged offender is either not charged or later cleared.
But there are no plans to reduce police powers to take samples on arrest.
One possibility is to only take DNA when a suspect is charged - making it harder for police to target innocents for their DNA.
In a 110-page report, the commission said more detailed research is required to evaluate how useful the database is in helping to solve crimes, describing current evidence as ‘flimsy’.
It accused politicians of using single case studies where the database has secured a conviction instead of carrying out a rigorous evaluation of its scale and function.
Over the past two years, more than 1.17million new profiles have been added to the database but the number of DNA-related detections fell from a peak of 41,148 in 2006-07 to 31,915 in 2008-09.
LibDem spokesman Chris Huhne said: ‘The Government’s cavalier attitude to DNA retention has put us in the ridiculous situation where people are being arrested just to have their DNA harvested.
‘Ministers make no distinction between innocence and guilt and as a result everyone is treated like a suspect.’
Liberty warned police were being given a ‘perverse incentive’ to arrest individuals just to get their details on the database.
Tory home affairs spokesman James Brokenshire said: ‘For too long the Government has had a policy of growing the DNA database for the sake of it, regardless of guilt or innocence.’