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Facts and Figures

The National DNA Database (NDNAD) was set up to contain the DNA records of convicted criminals in 1995 by Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard. Two changes in the law, made by the Blair Government in 2001 and 2003, led to a massive expansion of the database. These changes in the law allowed DNA samples and records to be collected routinely from everyone arrested for any recordable offence, from the age of ten, and retained indefinitely whether or not they were charged or convicted.

People with records on the NDNAD

  • The most recent figures available for England and Wales show that at 31 March 2010 there were an estimated 4,946,613 persons on the National DNA Database, of whom 22 per cent (an estimated 1,083,207 persons) did not have a current conviction, caution, formal warning or reprimand recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC). (Source: Parliamentary question: 28th February 2011).
  • At the end of 2010, the National DNA Database contained computerised DNA profiles and linked DNA samples from approximately 6 million individuals, including Scotland and Northern Ireland (nearly 10% of the UK population). (Source:Home Office). This is a much higher proportion of the population than any other EU or G8 country. See table - Home Office (2006) DNA Expansion Programme 2000-2005: Reporting achievement. Forensic Science and Pathology Unit.
  • As at 30 June 2010, there were 6,261,470 DNA profile records on the National DNA Database (NDNAD) taken by all UK police forces, which relate to an estimated 5,378,663 individuals. At the same date, there were 5,859,508 profile records taken by police forces in England and Wales, which relate to an estimated 5,042,201 individuals.(Source: Parliamentary Question, 9th September 2010.
  • DNA is currently collected routinely on arrest for any recordable offence from the age of ten and all records and samples are stored to age 100, except in 'exceptional cases'. Examples of people affected 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; 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 techie wrongly accused of being a terrorist; Janet Street-Porter;Mark Thomas; and MPs Greg Hands and Damian Green.
  • By 2008, about a million people - an estimated 925,385 - had had their DNA profiles added to the Database when they were under-18 (Hansard 27 Oct 2008: Col 677W). And about half a million people had their DNA profiles added to the NDNAD when they were under-16 years old. (Hansard 20 Nov 2008: Col 723W). Some of these people who were arrested as children will now be over 18. At end July 2010, there were 272,657 children (under-18) with records on the DNA database (Source:NPIA).
  • About 30% of the black population (aged over 10) have their DNA profile on the database. (The latest detailed breakdown by ethnic appearance is on, Hansard 10 Nov 2008 : Col 800W, and can be compared with census population data. More recent totals are on the NPIA website). The proportion is much higher for young black men. In 2007, Baroness Scotland confirmed to the Home Affairs Committee that three-quarters of the young black male population would soon be on the DNA database.
  • About 300 children (aged 10-17) a day are added to the DNA Database. Over five years to 2009, DNA records from about 549,428 children aged 10-17, including 44,557 black children and 438,951 white children have been added (Hansard 1 Jun 2009: Col 155W, assuming 13.5% of records are replicates). This is about 23% of black children and 9% of white children in this age group.
  • It has been estimated that under current laws the database would expand to include 25% of the adult male population, along with 7% of adult women - Williams R, Johnson P (2005) Inclusiveness, effectiveness and intrusiveness: issues in the developing uses of DNA profiling in support of criminal investigations. J Law Med Ethics, 333, 545-558.

Expanding the DNA database to keep innocent people's DNA profiles did not solve more crimes

  • DNA matches between crime scenes and individuals on the Database include many matches with victims and innocent passers-by and false matches, so equating matches with criminals is misleading. See briefing.
  • Only some matches (called DNA detections) involve sufficient evidence to charge someone for a crime, and not all DNA detections lead to prosecutions or convictions. DNA detections increased significantly between 1998/99 and 2002/03, but the number of crime scene DNA profiles loaded onto the Database each year also more than tripled during this time (from 19,233 in 1998/99 to 65,649 in 2002/03), as DNA began to be collected routinely from thefts and burglaries. The Home Office recognises that the increased number of crime scene profiles added to the Database drove the increase in DNA detections (not the number of DNA profiles taken and stored from individuals).
  • Most crimes solved using DNA do not require individuals' DNA profiles to be stored on a DNA database. GeneWatch UK has estimated that only about 0.03% of crime detections result from matches with DNA profiles stored from individuals. The majority of these are volume crimes, such as thefts and burglaries and most will involve repeat offenders. Other crimes solved using DNA either do not need the database (because a suspect or suspects have already been identified and their DNA can be matched to the crime scene DNA without being on a database: this is often the case for murders or rapes where the perpetrator is usually known to the victim) or only need the crime scene DNA profile to be stored (which is then matched with the DNA profile of someone who is arrested later). Individuals' DNA profiles only need to be retained if they are likely to commit future crimes which involve DNA evidence. This usually only applies to repeat offenders.
  • Many cases solved using DNA have been wrongly cited to support the idea of keeping innocent people's DNA records. For example, in January 2011, the Sun cited twelve cases. In every case except one the crime happened before the perpetrator (or a relative of theirs) was arrested (in some cases for an unrelated more minor crime). Provided crime scene DNA is analysed promptly, keeping people's DNA profiles on a database is only important if they commit a crime afterwards, so that their stored DNA profile matches one collected from a future crime scene. The only exception on this list of twelve cases is the case of Kevan McDonald (arrested as a result of a match with his twin): but this crime occurred in Scotland and was solved under the law which the Coalition Government plans to introduce!
  • Storing the crime scene DNA profile on a database was very important in all the other crimes cited in the Sun. Robert Carpenter, Jeremiah Sheridan, Dennis Fitzgerald, Robert Morley, Ronald Castree, Mark Dixie and Anthony Boise were all caught because their or a relative's DNA matched a stored crime scene DNA profile: none of these cases relied on an innocent person's DNA profile being stored on the DNA database. The James Lloyd and Paul Hutchinson cases are also not relevant because they reportedly involved matches with relatives whose DNA profiles had been retained because they had been convicted of an offence. In two 'cold cases' (old crimes which happened before the DNA database was set up in 1995) the match was not made straight away (the Lee Martin and John Humble cases): but this problem could be solved by making sure old DNA samples from serious crimes are analysed promptly and put on the database as soon as possible so they are already available to make a match when a suspect is picked up.
  • Since 2002/03, the number of individuals with DNA profiles on the Database has more than doubled from 2 million to 5 million, but there has been no corresponding increase in the number of crimes detected. The percentage of recorded crimes which involve a DNA detection has remained roughly constant at 0.37%: (see Table 1 of GeneWatch's 2010 evidence to the Home Affairs Committee).

Innocent people

  • About a million unconvicted people have their DNA profiles retained on the National DNA Database. At 24th April 2009, the total number of people with DNA profiles on the NDNAD but no police record of conviction, caution, formal warning or reprimand was estimated as 986,185. (Hansard 02 Jun 2009 : Column 360W). This is lower than the 1 million figure given in 2006 (Hansard 9 Oct 2006 : Column 493W), because children given formal warnings or reprimands were not previously regarded as convicted. The system of final warnings was specifically devised to avoid children entering the criminal justice system unnecessarily.
  • Based on Home Office arrest figures, GeneWatch has estimated that about 100,000 unconvicted under-18 year olds have their DNA profiles retained on the National DNA Database. In September 2008, the Home Office estimated that only 39,095 under-18s had not been convicted, cautioned, received a final warning/reprimand and had no charge pending against them. However, this treats all children with charges pending or with final warnings or reprimands as if they were convicted. It is also calculated by assuming that 13.3% of the NDNAD records are replicates, but that none of the Police National Computer (PNC) records are. This is unlikely to be true for under-18s because only older records (mostly adults) were kept on the NDNAD while PNC records were removed.
  • From 2004 to 2008 there were 1,643 requests from foreign countries from information from the NDNAD. Before 2004, such requests were rare (Hansard 29 Sept 2008: Col 2345W ).

Percentage of total population on a police DNA database in 2005

Country Percentage
Austria 1.04
Belgium 0.04
Croatia 0.23
Czech Republic 0.09
Denmark 0.07
Estonia 0.49
Finland 0.63
France 0.20
Germany 0.44
Hungary 0.28
Netherlands 0.09
Norway 0.15
Slovenia 0.29
Spain 0.01
Sweden 0.07
Switzerland 0.94
United Kingdom 5.23
USA 0.99
Canada 0.23

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