Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the National Policing Improvement Agency

  I undertook at the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday 18 March 2008 to write to you about the number of people on the National DNA Database (NDNAD), the reasons for retaining DNA samples and profiles from persons who have been arrested and sampled, but not charged or convicted, and about the number of matches between crime scene profiles and profiles retained from people who have been arrested, but not convicted.

  2.  On 31 December 2007, there were 4,920,703 subject profiles on the NDNAD from all forces (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). The number of profiles held on the database is not the same as the number of individuals. As it is possible for a profile to be loaded onto the NDNAD on more than one occasion, some profiles held on the NDNAD are replicates. This can occur, for example, if the person provided different names, or different versions of their name, on separate arrests, or because profiles are upgraded. Therefore this number of profiles represents an estimated 4,264,251 individuals from all forces.

  3.  Information on whether persons with a DNA profile on NDNAD have been convicted/not convicted of an offence is not held on the DNA database, but is available from the Police National Computer (PNC). It is not possible to give a precise figure for the number of persons with a DNA profile on the NDNAD who have committed no offence as some relevant conviction and caution records have been weeded from the PNC. However, on 31 October 2007, there were an estimated 3,938,000 persons on the NDNAD who had been sampled by police forces in England and Wales, of whom 3,637,163 persons had a record retained on PNC. Of these, 3,117,942 persons had a conviction, caution, formal warning or reprimand recorded on the PNC (79% of persons on the NDNAD sampled by forces in England and Wales); and 519,221 persons (13% of persons on the NDNAD sampled by forces in England and Wales) had no current conviction, caution, formal warning or reprimand recorded on PNC.

  4.  The 519,221 figure includes some persons who may have had a caution or conviction record removed from PNC after five to 10 years in accordance with the Rules for Criminal Record Weeding (which applied prior to April 2006); persons who have been charged and acquitted or proceedings discontinued; persons who have been charged with a recordable offence and proceedings are on-going; and persons who have been arrested but no further action was taken against them. The PNC records for the other 300,993 persons (8% of persons on the NDNAD) had been removed from the PNC for various reasons, for example, their conviction and caution records had been weeded after five to 10 years, the person had been acquitted or proceedings were discontinued.

  5.  Prior to 2001, the police could take a DNA sample from anyone charged with a recordable offence, but it had to be destroyed if charges were dropped or the person was found not guilty. The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 changed this so that DNA could be kept from those who had been charged even if they were acquitted. These provisions have been challenged in, and fully considered by, the UK courts. In 2002, two persons (S, a juvenile, and Marper) challenged whether the retention of fingerprints, DNA samples and profiles under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 of persons charged with, but not convicted of, a criminal offence, constituted an interference with their rights under Articles 8 (right to privacy in private life) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination on any grounds eg sex, race) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In July 2004 the House of Lords found that the retention provisions were proportionate and justifiable and not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

  6.  The UK courts recognised that the retention of samples and DNA profiles involves a triangulation of interests. Lord Steyn commented that the privacy of those subject to the DNA data is not the only issue at stake. The purpose of the criminal law is to permit everyone to go about their daily lives without fear of harm to person or property. And it is in the interests of everyone that serious crime should be effectively investigated and prosecuted. There must be fairness to all sides, which involves taking into account the position of the accused, the victim and his or her family, and the public.

  7.  The applicants subsequently appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. The case was heard in the ECHR Grand Chamber at a public hearing on 27 February 2008. The Judgment will be available later this year, possibly in the summer.

  8.  The retention of samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints has demonstrable benefits for policing but does not have any practical consequences for individuals, unless their DNA profile matches with a DNA crime scene profile. The retention of DNA records is no different to holding other forms of identification information. There is no personal cost or material disadvantage to the individual simply by being on the DNA database. It is an information database and not a criminal database. Inclusion on the DNA Database does not signify a criminal record and does not imply that a person is an offender. It does not hold any information about criminal records and does not affect applications for jobs or visas for foreign travel.

  9.  The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides safeguards governing the use of retained samples and profiles. This specifies that DNA samples and profiles may only be used for the purposes of the prevention and detection of crime; the investigation of an offence; the conduct of a prosecution; or the identification of a dead person. As a result of these provisions, the use of retained material is strictly controlled, and there have been no cases of misuse of data retained on the DNA database to date.

  10.  A DNA profile is simply a sequence of numbers and is obtained by analysing some of the non-coding or "junk parts" of the DNA sample. These parts do not contain genetic information. DNA profiles therefore contain very little, if any, material information about an individual's medical history or disease liabilities. It is the sequence of numbers which is held on the National DNA Database. The use of the retained profile only occurs when an automated search of the database occurs. If a match occurs, the matched record is identified and the details for that record revealed: the name of the individual and a limited amount of personal information attached to that record (gender, date of birth, sampling force etc). The identifying details may then be used in the criminal investigation of the crime, either to rule out innocent parties, or potentially identify the real perpetrator of a crime. In the absence of a match, the storage of their records has no practical consequence for the individual.

  11.  The power to retain DNA from persons arrested and not convicted therefore maintains an appropriate balance between the rights of the citizen and their freedom from arbitrary interference and ensuring that the police have sufficient powers to tackle crime and deal with offenders on behalf of the wider community.

  12.  Research shows that in the period May 2001 to December 2005, an estimated 200,000 DNA samples taken from people charged with offences were retained on the National DNA Database, which would previously have had to be removed because of the absence of a conviction. From these, approximately 8,500 profiles of individuals were matched with crime scene profiles during that period, involving nearly 14,000 offences. These offences included 114 murders, 55 attempted murders, 116 rapes, 68 sexual offences, 119 aggravated burglaries and 127 of the supply of controlled drugs.

  13.  The Criminal Justice Act 2003 (which came into force in 2004) extended police powers further so that DNA could be taken and retained from anyone arrested for a recordable offence and held in a police station. Research carried out in the period April 2004 to December 2005, shows that the retention of DNA profiles of arrested persons who had not been charged or proceeded against had resulted in matches with crime scene profiles from over 3,000 offences including 37 murders, 16 attempted murders and 90 rapes.

  14.  These are real cases where the police have been provided with a lead in serious crimes, and future crimes no doubt prevented, because of the retention of DNA evidence on the database which would previously have been destroyed. To give a real case example:—"AA" was arrested in February 2005 for alleged violent disorder at his home. He had a DNA sample taken and added to the DNA database and was later released without charge. In July 2005, a stranger rape occurred 25 miles away from "AA"s home. The only clue was a DNA crime scene profile obtained from skin beneath the victim's fingernails. The profile was searched against the NDNAD and generated a match with "AA"s DNA profile. There were no other leads to solve the crime; the DNA evidence proved vital in detecting "AA" as the offender. He was jailed for six years for sexual assault.

  15.  "Matching" means DNA taken from a crime scene matches that from a person whose profile is on the NDNAD—in other words, a match is information pointing to a person's presence at a crime scene, and does not necessarily indicate guilt as a person may have had legitimate access to the scene. "Detections" are crimes with a DNA match which were cleared up by the police. In 2006-07, there were 41,717 crimes with DNA matches. Of these, 19,949 were classified by police forces as detections. However, there were a further 21,199 indirect detections in that year—that is, crimes detected as a result of further investigation linked to the original offence, for example because an offender on being presented with DNA evidence of his involvement in an offence also confesses to other offences.

1 April 2008

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