GeneWatch PR: Stitch-up of DNA law in Northern Ireland will undermine trust in policing

A GeneWatch UK briefing published today reveals that DNA taken on arrest in Northern Ireland can already be legally retained for life from innocent people, including children (1, 2). The controversial law was introduced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whilst the Assembly was suspended, using a loophole in the Northern Ireland Act.

"No Northern Ireland politician voted for this law, and no one in Northern Ireland was consulted", said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "This grubby stitch up by ministers in London will not help to build much-needed public trust in policing".

Computerised DNA records have been exported from Northern Ireland to the National DNA Database in England since September 2005, with no legal requirement for removal if an individual is acquitted or not charged. The Scottish Parliament rejected similar proposals in 2006 and DNA profiles sent from Scotland to the DNA Database in England are deleted from the Database when a person is acquitted or proceedings dropped.

"Your DNA is unique to you. It can be used to trace wherever you have been and who you are related to, and reveal private information about your or your children's health", said Dr Wallace. "Keeping DNA records permanently on a computer database gives enormous power to those who operate the database, or any criminal who infiltrates the system".

The new GeneWatch briefing calls on the Northern Ireland Policing Board to adopt a policy which requires the removal of DNA profiles from all databases when an individual is acquitted or proceedings dropped. Individuals' DNA samples should also be destroyed. The controversial law has not yet been fully implemented in Northern Ireland. In England and Wales, DNA is now taken routinely on arrest without consent from anyone aged ten or above. As a result, the National DNA Database in England has become the largest in the world, containing computerised DNA profiles from 4 million people. About a million people on the Database, including at least 100,000 children arrested in England and Wales, have not been convicted of any offence. However, the recent rapid expansion of the National DNA Database has failed to increase the likelihood of solving a crime using DNA.

For further information contact: Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile)

Notes for editors:

(1) The GeneWatch UK briefing "Police retention of DNA from Northern Ireland" is available on:

(2) In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, DNA may now be taken without consent from anyone aged ten or above on arrest for any recordable offence. Recordable offences include begging, being drunk and disorderly, taking part in an illegal demonstration, or minor acts of criminal damage or theft by children. The Home Office in London has recently proposed taking DNA and fingerprints for all offences, including parking offences or dropping litter.

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