Police arrest people just to get their DNA, inquiry warns

Arrests now routinely made in order to add samples to the national DNA database, commission claims

Police officers are now routinely arresting people just to add their DNA sample to the national police database, according to an inquiry.

The damaging allegation was made in a review of the national DNA database by the government's human genetics commission.

The highly critical report includes evidence from a retired police superintendent who said that it was now the norm to arrest offenders for everything possible.

In the past, he said, officers had been told only to use arrest powers against serious offenders or suspects who were likely to flee, but this had changed since the creation of the database in 1995.

In a letter to the commission, he said: "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."

The chairman of the commission, Prof Jonathan Montgomery, warned that "function creep" had transformed the database from one of offenders to one of suspects.

He said: "It's now become pretty routine to take DNA samples on arrest. So large numbers of people on the DNA database will be there not because they have been convicted, but because they've been arrested."

Senior police offices rejected the claim that arrest were being made in order to obtain DNA samples.

Chief Constable Chris Sims, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on forensics, said: "DNA evidence has helped to solve numerous crimes as well as bringing offenders to justice. But the police service recognises its use must be reasonable and retain the support of the public."

The government has promised to introduce a six-year limit on the time DNA profiles of innocent people can be kept on the database.

The decision followed a landmark European court judgement ruling that the current policy of indefinite retention of DNA profiles was illegal.

The Home Office estimates that there are 980,000 innocent people on the DNA database.

 

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