GeneWatch PR: GeneWatch response to police DNA figures

GeneWatch UK today reassured the public that rapists and murderers would not walk free as a result of innocent people's records being deleted from the DNA Database. Misleading claims were today printed in the Times, based on yesterday's police evidence to the committee of MPs considering the Protection of Freedoms Bill (1).

"People should be reassured that this Bill will not put anyone in danger" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "People's trust in police use of DNA will not be helped by scaremongering using figures that mislead the public."

Today's Times report was based on a statement by Chief Constable Sims about the number of matches with crime scene DNA that would be lost if innocent people's DNA records are taken off the database. The figures are exaggerated because they are based on a false assumption that innocent people are as likely to commit future offences as people convicted of serious or multiple offences: in fact about eight out of ten offences are committed by a small number of repeat offenders. They are also estimates of database matches not convictions: only about a quarter of matches lead to convictions. Less that one per cent of crimes involving a DNA match are rapes and most rapes involve disputes about consent that cannot be resolved using DNA.

GeneWatch presented its own estimates to the same parliamentary committee later yesterday. The organisation expects that perhaps as few as a dozen crimes a year are likely to have delayed or lost convictions as a result of the new law. These are not murders and rapes but volume crimes such as thefts and burglaries. The DNA match would be made later if someone who is taken off the database is later rearrested, because their DNA would be taken again and rechecked against all past crime scene DNA.

The Bill will remove an estimated one million innocent people's DNA and fingerprint records from police databases, including about 100,000 innocent children's records. People accused but not convicted of minor offences with have their records removed at the end of an investigation, but the police will be allowed to keep the DNA and fingerprint records of some people accused but not convicted of serious offences for up to five years after their arrest. The proposals are similar to the current law in Scotland which is supported by the Scottish police. Everyone who is added to the database will have their DNA profile compared with all past crime scene DNA profiles and only be removed if they have not committed any of these offences.

"Many members of the public have innocent friends or family with records on the DNA database for life: these are not people who are murderers or rapists in waiting" said Dr Wallace. "Most police officers have realised that the current law has lost the confidence of the ordinary law-abiding members of the public that they seek to serve".

Reported cases of innocent people with records on the DNA database include: a 12-year old-schoolboy arrested for allegedly stealing a pack of Pokemon cards; a grandmother arrested for failing to return a football kicked into her garden; a ten-year-old victim of bullying who had a false accusation made against her; a 14-year-old girl arrested for allegedly pinging another girl's bra; a 13-year-old who hit a police car with a snowball; a computer technician wrongly accused of being a terrorist; Janet Street-Porter; comedian Mark Thomas; and MPs Greg Hands and Damian Green.

The Bill also gives a second chance to children convicted of a single minor offence, who will have their DNA and fingerprint records removed provided they have no further convictions over the next five years.

 For further information contact:

 Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile)

 Notes for Editors

 (1) Rapists 'will go free' under DNA reform. The Times. 23rd March 2011.

↑ Top