The National DNA Database - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 117-159)


5 JANUARY 2010

  Q117 Chairman: Minister, thank you very much for coming to give evidence today. It seems that you are before us on a regular basis these days. We have taken evidence from a number of witnesses on our very short inquiry into the DNA Database. In particular, we have just heard from the ACPO lead on this subject, who said to the Committee that he felt that matters concerning the DNA Database ought to be improved. Do you agree that there ought to be an improvement, which kind of accepts that it is not perfect at the moment?

  Mr Campbell: Yes, I do. First of all, it is a pleasure to be here. That is why in seeking to address the S and Marper case, which we are obliged to do, we have sought to go more widely than that and have brought forward proposals which are currently in the Crime and Security Bill shortly to be debated before Parliament.

  Q118 Chairman: Are you concerned at the over-representation of young black people on the National DNA Database? Ms Abbott, in her evidence to this Committee, along with Liberty, put the figure in terms of some of the age ranges of young black people at 77%, although we were cautioned by one of the other witnesses about those figures. Certainly it is accepted that they are over-represented on the Database. Do you accept that? Are you concerned about that?

  Mr Campbell: Yes, I am concerned because, in general, there is over-representation of some groups, and that is what the statistics lead us to conclude.

  Q119  Chairman: What are you doing about it?

  Mr Campbell: First of all, I would not necessarily accept (though I will look carefully at the figures which Ms Abbott has given to the Committee) that number, but I would make two points: first of all, this is, in a sense, a statistical point, that we have to be careful about what we are comparing here. If you take, for example, the Census, which would give us data on the representation in the general population of people from different ethnic groups, that is based on 16 self-defining groups. So, for example, a mixed race male might put themselves, according to the Census, as a "mixed race male". When it comes to the Database there are far fewer groups; there are only six groups, and they are not self-defining, they are defined by the arresting officer, who may well, for example, describe and write down that individual as a "black male". Therefore, I think we should be careful when we are dealing with statistics. However, I do not believe that gives us the evidence for over-representation. In short, I think if there is over-representation, which I accept on the Database, it is because it reflects issues in the wider criminal justice system.

  Q120  Tom Brake: I would just, first of all, like to ask a question about the cost-effectiveness of the DNA Database. Earlier witnesses from the police have made it clear that there has been no assessment of whether maintaining a DNA Database is more cost-effective in tackling crime than any other policing approach. Does the Government carry out cost-effectiveness assessments of different crime-tackling approaches or not?

  Mr Campbell: We have not carried out an assessment in the way that you have described, but we do acknowledge—and I am sure I am sharing the view of the police—that we regard the DNA database as absolutely crucial in the fight against crime. To some extent, we are leading the way, both in the technology but, also, in the use of DNA and of the Database, and we regard it as of enormous importance and, therefore, of value when it comes to tackling crime.

  Q121  Tom Brake: However, you do not actually have any independent analysis of that which suggests that the DNA Database is more cost-effective at tackling crime than, say, investing in training officers to deal with rape cases, for instance?

  Mr Campbell: I will go away and look to see whether any work has been done, but none to my knowledge. What I would say is that DNA is only one part of the fight against crime, but in our view it is a crucial part. There are a number of examples that I could give where DNA has been that vital piece of evidence which has led to detection and, ultimately, the conviction of some of the most serious criminals, not just to, as far as one can, put at rest the concerns of the families but, also, course, to protect the wider public from what those people would have gone on to have done.

  Q122  Tom Brake: Can we return to the issue of over-representation of young black people on the DNA Database? Minister, do you believe that this points to a problem in policing in that more young black people are being arrested, or stopped, than people from other minorities or, indeed, the majority community?

  Mr Campbell: In saying that I thought that the over-representation on the Database reflects the, if you like, over-representation in the criminal justice system in general, I think that this is an issue for the whole of the criminal justice system, not just for the police. To deal with your point specifically, there are, of course, at least concerns about the issues that you raise which is why we are already seeking to deal with them. We are not waiting for the debate around DNA, we are actually seeking to address those concerns, which are concerns about the criminal justice system, not specifically about DNA. For example, the NPIA Next Steps programme does address issues around community confidence and around perceptions about stop and search, for example. We have also got Public Service Agreement 24, a target, if you like, for every local Criminal Justice Board to make sure that they are using tools to identify ethnicity to see whether or not there is over-representation in their own areas of particular groups of people, and if there is no evidence to back up that over-representation then why it should be so that they take steps to address it. I would like to try to assure the Committee that we were on to this issue long before, if you like, the debate we are having about DNA.

  Q123  David Davies: Just putting a previous question, if there is an issue that young black youths are over-represented, surely that may be because they are committing more crime, and that is what we need to be looking at? Why can we not just accept this, instead of having this thought lingering in the back of our minds but nobody wanting to say it in case they are accused of being racist?

  Mr Campbell: I am not going to say it because I do not accept that rather, if you will excuse me, simplistic account of why there should be over-representation. There are issues across the criminal justice system of young black men coming into contact with the criminal justice system (and, of course, their first point of contact may well be with the police); there are some crime-types, for example, where it may be that young black men are more likely to be involved—sometimes as the victim as well as the perpetrator—but I think that generalisation that you make I would not accept. I do not think we should say it because I do not think it is true.

  Q124  Gwyn Prosser: Minister, given that you accept there is over-representation of some groups, and you went on to say that you share the concern of the Chairman about that, what can you point to us in the current Bill which addresses that or goes some way to addressing that problem?

  Mr Campbell: It goes back to my first point really which is about the over-representation in the criminal justice system and this being reflected on the DNA Database. The DNA Database is, for want of a better term, colour blind; it does not record people according to their ethnic background. What the Crime and Security Bill seeks to do is to put on a statutory footing the new rules, if you like, for DNA. It does not specifically deal with this issue of proportionality or, indeed, disproportionality. The effect of the Bill, and indeed the changes that we would make should the Bill be successful, would be broadly neutral; it would not have an adverse effect or, indeed, a positive effect on this issue of disproportionality, the answer to which lies elsewhere, I think.

  Q125  Gwyn Prosser: The evidence we received this morning from both sets of witnesses all pointed to the fact that there had been no in-depth research done into the effectiveness of DNA—the number of crimes actually solved—except for some raw figures which we have had from ACPO which do not really paint a picture. Would it not be useful in trying to raise people's confidence and communities' confidence about the effectiveness and the propriety of the DNA Database if the Home Office were to carry out such research work?

  Mr Campbell: Again, I agreed to go away and look to see if there is any research that we have done that we can bring forward. To the best of my knowledge other people have done some work on that; it is a case of collecting the best evidence that we have from all sources. I do not think the public are in need of being convinced of the effectiveness of the DNA Database. I am confident that a majority of people in the country actually support the use of DNA and support the use of the Database. Obviously they want a proper debate around who should be on that Database, but I think they recognise it for what it is, which is an absolutely crucial tool in the fight against crime. Just let me say, perhaps, a supplementary to that: we are at the forefront of the development of DNA and of the technology and its application to fighting crime. To some extent we are having to face these issues first; many other countries are playing catch-up with us and, therefore, a lot of the research that you might be looking for just has not been done yet.

  Q126  Bob Russell: Minister, that last response shows you to be the most enthusiastic person to come before the Committee in support of DNA. Given your wonderful grandstanding and cheerleading, and the emphasis that the Government has on the importance of DNA in solving crime, would you like the Database to contain DNA from a greater proportion of the population as a whole?

  Mr Campbell: Let me balance that by saying that if there was less criminality (which as the Minister for crime reduction I am very much in favour of), and from that there were fewer arrests, then it follows that the Database would, perhaps, over time, shrink. If that was the case I would be one of the first to applaud that. Let me get on to the substance of your question, which is about how big the Database needs to be. It is not a question of size, it is about making sure that the right people are on the Database, and that is what the Crime and Security Bill is all about; getting the right people on and getting that balance between public protection. I am an enthusiast for the DNA Database because I think it is a crucial tool for helping to protect the public. However, I also accept that there are concerns (you will have heard some of them this morning) and that is why we need to have a balanced approach which balances public protection and the right of individuals. I do want to emphasise, I think DNA is a crucial tool in the fight against crime.

  Q127  Bob Russell: Why then do we not invite members of the public to volunteer to opt in to have their DNA so that you can widen the Database?

  Mr Campbell: I do not think we need to do that. What we are putting forward in the Crime and Security Bill actually is a proportionate measure to defend the public, which is to make sure that we have the right people on and that the right people stay on. I do not think we need to go down the route that you suggest.

  Q128  Bob Russell: Just to finalise this: as you know, part of today's session is to inquire why the police think it necessary to retain samples from those never charged with an offence or subsequently found not guilty of an offence. The Chief Constable of West Midlands volunteered the fact that his police force, and indeed the Metropolitan Police Force, have removed 23% and 24% respectively, I believe were the figures, of people who have requested that they come off. Why can the Government not give interim advice to all chief constables to try and match those figures?

  Mr Campbell: First of all, with regard to samples, of course, in the Bill we are proposing the deletion of samples after a maximum of six months and keeping only profiles, which I think will reassure the public about what some people might say samples could be used for as opposed to profiles. In terms of deletion, I do not think we should prejudge Parliament in this regard. There has been a strong and robust debate since the S and Marper judgment, and I am sure there will be one during the passage of the Crime and Security Bill. It might be we put forward, for example, a six-year limit for people who are arrested but not convicted to stay on the Database; it might be that Parliament arrives at a different point on that. I would hate to think that we had instructed chief constables to arrive at some arbitrary figure using whatever criteria I cannot quite work out and then find that, actually, some of the people that have been deleted should have stayed on.

  Q129  Chairman: We were given a figure by Mr Sims that only 0.67% of the crimes solved were solved solely or largely due to the database. That is a very, very minute figure, is it not, 0.67%?

  Mr Campbell: But a crucial figure, because there are a number of cases, for example, Mark Dixie and Sally Anne Bowman, where DNA was an absolutely crucial element in that. I have accepted that DNA only plays a part in the detection of crime; it is not a substitute for all the other good policing that needs to take place, but it is a crucial element, often, in some of the most serious and horrendous crimes.

  Q130  Chairman: If prevention is better than cure, surely you should accept the suggestion put forward by Mr Russell that the whole population should go on there, in the pre-emptive hope that at some stage in the future we will be able to catch someone?

  Mr Campbell: There are those who might argue that case, but I do not think that that is, generally, the view—we will test the will of Parliament on this, of course—of the public; what they are looking for, and what the European Court demanded in the case of S and Marper was a proportionate response, and that proportionate response has to balance public safety, which is predominant in the argument that you have just outlined there, with personal and individual freedoms, which of course lead some people to argue we should not have a Database in the first place.

  Bob Russell: Lest it be used against me, that was a probing question.

  Chairman: Of course, as all your questions are, Mr Russell, I am sure. Now David Davies will probe you further.

  David Davies: This will not be much of a probing question because my views are fairly close to the Minister's on this.

  Mr Winnick: That is surprising!

  Chairman: Let us move on and ask the question.

  Q131  David Davies: One point that I do want to raise is that, at the moment, it is up to the chief constable to use his or her discretion to get rid of the DNA of innocent people. There is a suggestion that perhaps this should be handed out to somebody like the NPIA or ACPO, or someone else. I can actually see some merit in that, because it removes any blame from a local chief constable. Is that something that the Government might consider?

  Mr Campbell: It is something that we are considering and something that we are looking at because we do think that there may be a case for a central authority, and the NPIA might be part of that, to give a greater role in considering applications. Let me just say, however, that the DNA Database, and who is on it, is an operational tool—it is an operational matter—and, therefore, chief constables will, in my view, inevitably have a role to play in that. Again (and I keep using the phrase but it is the best one, I think), we need to come back to a balanced approach on this; we need to make sure that the safeguards are in there and that people who should be coming off the Database are, but, also, that those who should be staying on do too. Of course, in the Crime and Security Bill, Mr Davies, we are also bringing forward proposals for much clearer guidelines for the first time based in statute, so that chief constables are much better aware of whether or not a person should be deleted from the Database. At the minute, it is very much up to their discretion, and we have to leave them some discretion because, of course, on operational matters they should be predominant.

  Q132  Chairman: However, it is not acceptable at the moment, is it, that if you live in Nottingham, Dyfed or Cambridgeshire you have no chance of getting your DNA removed, but if you live in the West Midlands, Leicestershire or in the Met area then it will be removed? There are about half-a-dozen forces where you have got no prospect at all of having your profiles taken off.

  Mr Campbell: I understand that, which is why I have acknowledged that there is a role, we believe, for a central authority approach to this but, also, crucially, to give much clearer guidelines based in statute really for the first time so that chief constables know what the rules are and what the parameters are, and if you like—following on from that—less discretion than they have at present.

  Q133  Chairman: I spoke to Damien Green this morning, your opposite number, about his DNA and asked whether he had received notification that it had been destroyed, and he informed me that it had been, and the explanation was that it had been taken "in exceptional circumstances". That guidance that you have referred to does not have to wait for legislation, does it? We have a Home Secretary.

  Mr Campbell: No, there is guidance now, of course, but what we are seeking—

  Q134  Chairman: Why do you not just revise it?

  Mr Campbell: What we are seeking to do is to tighten the guidance, but for the first time to put it on a statutory footing, which is why it is in the Bill. I cannot go into detail of what would be in there because we are clearly still working on it, but I believe it will address many of the concerns that people have.

  Q135  Mr Winnick: I wonder if I can, Minister, personalise this a little, because there are strong feelings on both sides. If someone (I am sure this would never happen but just for the sake of argument) very close to you, family-wise, was arrested but not charged, would you not feel very strongly that the DNA sample which had been taken should be destroyed?

  Mr Campbell: If I may personalise it, my answer to that is no, but I also accept that there are some people who are affronted by that, which is why—

  Q136  Mr Winnick: Which you would not be yourself. I am sorry, if a family member—

  Mr Campbell: Or a member of my family, no, I would not be. I think that would be an effect of having found themselves in those circumstances, unfortunate though they are. My personal response (because you did seek to personalise it) would be I would not, and I would say to them that is something they would have to accept for whatever the time was going to be, if the proposals in the Bill go through, before it will be deleted. However, I do understand the concerns of some people who say that is not acceptable, which is why we need to search for that proportionate and balanced response.

  Q137  Mr Winnick: To a previous witness, the Chief Constable of the West Midlands, I referred to a constituent who had been arrested, not for a serious offence, and not charged, and who wrote to me, understandably, in view of the concern of that person that the DNA sample should be deleted. So I wrote to you, and you replied accordingly, but you do accept, therefore, Minister, there are very strong feelings on this issue amongst people who feel that it is simply unjust that they should be stigmatised in this manner.

  Mr Campbell: I accept that there is an argument about that. I do not agree with that. I cannot recall the exact details of the case that you refer to but there are circumstances in which people, perhaps, should not have had their DNA taken in the first place. That needs to be addressed particularly through the guidelines that we are looking to strengthen. There is also an argument, of course, about young people, because I believe there is a feeling that if young people, as some do, get involved in some criminal activity and it is a one-off, then that should not be held against them for ever more and, also, should not be held against them in the same way as if an adult was found in those circumstances. So I do think that people accept that there should be a different approach for different groups of people, but the reality is—and this would be my response to my relative that you are talking about that would come to me and complain—unfortunately, he or she is part of a group of people which the research that we have available says there is a greater risk of them offending over the next X-number of years (the figure that we have reached is six for adult), based on the research that we have, and, therefore, to some extent it is a price that they are paying for finding themselves in those circumstances. However, like it or not, they are part of that group.

  Q138  Mr Winnick: As part of your argument (which I have already quoted to another witness) in the Westminster Hall debate initiated by Diane Abbott, who gave evidence today, your response to many of her points was to refer to that monster Wright, where, as a result of his DNA being taken for theft, his DNA was later used to help to convict him of the murder of five totally innocent women in Ipswich.

  Mr Campbell: Yes.

  Q139  Mr Winnick: You would use that, basically?

  Mr Campbell: Yes, there are a number of cases and different circumstances. Sometimes DNA has been taken earlier and, therefore, when a more serious crime is committed the crime is detected.

  Q140  Mr Winnick: You put great emphasis on the Wright case.

  Mr Campbell: Sometimes it is a case, of course, that undetected crimes, very serious crimes, are then detected later because that person comes into contact with the police and has their DNA taken for a less serious offence, or does not find themselves in court and therefore are not convicted. There are a number of different permutations on that, but overall, of course, there is a group of people who are arrested but not convicted, and our research says that for the next six years they are more likely to offend than the rest of the general population. That is not a universal rule for every one of them in that group, but it is a rule for that group of people.

  Q141  Chairman: The figures that I have just been shown show that 77% of males re-offend within 24 months. If that is the case, why do we need to retain for six years?

  Mr Campbell: Because there is a tail to that, which goes on beyond the 22 months that you have just said. Of course, it is a matter of judgment. There is not a perfect timescale for this, we have to make a judgment, and, to be clear with the Committee, we have erred on the side of caution, which I think we should do on this matter, and that is why we are proposing a six-year retention period. It is a cautious approach but I think the public would expect that from us.

  Q142  David Davies: Minister, as a fellow supporter of this, why do you not allow people to opt in, if you like, to go on this Database? We could start with all Members of Parliament, like you and I, who have no problem with this and would fervently support it; let us all put our money where our mouth is, and invite chief constables too, as well, and then all of us can say to our constituents, Liberty and any other so-called civil rights groups: "Look, we have done it, so what's the problem with other people being on it as well?"

  Mr Campbell: Can I suggest, from previous experience, your contributions to the committee stages of Bills are invaluable. Either at committee stage or at report stage there is always the opportunity, if the Government was not to bring forward such an amendment, that you could.

  Chairman: This is beginning to sound like a love-in. I shall bring in Mrs Cryer.

  Q143  Mrs Cryer: Minister, can I just clarify the position? If the Crime and Security Bill goes through Parliament unamended so far as this aspect is concerned about DNA being retained, am I right in saying that the DNA of anyone who is found guilty of a crime will be kept for six years, but anyone who has DNA taken on arrest and is never charged, or anyone who has had their DNA taken and it does not go through to a trial—and therefore we must assume that those categories are innocent—their DNA samples will be destroyed? Am I right in saying that? Will that be the rule from then on?

  Mr Campbell: Let me get it clear that if someone is an adult and they are arrested and convicted their DNA will be kept indefinitely.

  Q144  Mrs Cryer: Indefinitely?

  Mr Campbell: If they are an adult and they are arrested but not convicted then their DNA—these are the "innocents" that people speak of—will be held, in the case of adults, for six years irrespective of the seriousness of the crime that they were arrested for. For children we are proposing that juveniles who are convicted will be treated as adults; juveniles who are arrested but not convicted will be kept for a three-year retention period. That is because of the point I made before: some children come into contact with the criminal justice system as a one-off and we do not believe that they should be held for as long and certainly not indefinitely.

  Q145  Mrs Cryer: However, for an adult, once the DNA is taken on arrest, even if they are not charged, that is still going to be kept for six years, or if it does not go to trial because of a lack of evidence, lack of witnesses or whatever. We still must presume them to be innocent, but their samples will still be kept for six years.

  Mr Campbell: Yes. I think I am falling into this trap too. We need to be talking about profiles being kept, not samples. Once we have established that, if they are convicted of an offence and they are adults, that will be kept indefinitely. If they are arrested but not convicted then their profile will be kept for six years. That is because they belong to that group where our research says that even though they have not been convicted of that crime, they are more likely to offend during the next six years than the rest of the general population.

  Q146  Mrs Cryer: That is for people who are not convicted but it has gone to trial.

  Mr Campbell: No, sorry, it is someone who is arrested. I want to say that the threshold that we have, which is being arrested for a recordable offence, we believe is quite a strong threshold. You are talking about serious crimes here; you are talking about crimes that the public take very seriously. I think the initial threshold is, if you like, the first hurdle to get across. Once that has been crossed and the person has been arrested then their DNA profile will be kept. If they are not convicted, however, it will be deleted, if they are adults, after a period of six years.

  Q147  Tom Brake: Minister, I am right in saying that you have just said that children who are convicted will be treated as adults and, therefore, their profiles will be retained indefinitely. Is that what you just said?

  Mr Campbell: How do we define "children"? 16 to 17-year-olds arrested but not convicted will be treated as adults. For all other juveniles arrested but not convicted there will be a three-year retention.

  Q148  Tom Brake: Children who are convicted, what is the position?

  Mr Campbell: Children who are convicted will have their profile—

  Q149  Chairman: Do you want to take advice?

  Mr Campbell: Yes, can I just check this? It is the same advice as I have in front of me, which has not really helped me greatly! Your point is, Mr Brake? Remind me.

  Q150  Tom Brake: Children who are convicted, how are their DNA profiles going to be treated?

  Mr Campbell: They are going to be treated as adults.

  Q151  Tom Brake: So retained indefinitely.

  Mr Campbell: Yes.

  Q152  Tom Brake: Minister, are you happy that we are treating children in the same way as adults in relation to crime? Are you comfortable with that?

  Mr Campbell: Well, we are not, of course, because we are dealing with them differently if they have been arrested but not convicted, because it is a shorter period that we are retaining their sample, but you are also assuming, perhaps, that there are some children who do not commit some horrendous crimes and, therefore, should be treated differently, according to the seriousness of the offence, from adults. I do not believe that is true.

  Q153  Tom Brake: Unless I have misunderstood what you are saying, you are saying that all children, provided they have been convicted, irrespective of whether it is a horrible offence, will be treated in exactly the same way as adults and their DNA profile will be retained.

  Mr Campbell: You will appreciate that this is quite a complex set of proposals that we are bringing forward. Let me be absolutely clear in case I have not expressed myself clearly enough on this. If children are convicted of serious offences then they will be treated as adults and kept indefinitely. For those convicted of minor offences the data will be retained for five years from the first offence. If they commit a second offence then it will be retained indefinitely. I apologise for the confusion.

  Chairman: Thank you for clearing it up.

  Q154  Bob Russell: Minister, the legislation that the Government is planning to put through is a direct response to the December 2008 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, yet on the information we have been given (the source being the European Court of Justice) there does not appear to be a single European country—admittedly there are differences amongst the list we have here—which undertakes what is proposed in the legislation you are putting through. Has there been any consideration as to whether the United Kingdom is going to be the odd one out—in step or out of step?

  Mr Campbell: Of course, there is not a United Kingdom approach because there is a different approach taken in Scotland.

  Q155  Bob Russell: Can I take an England approach, then?

  Mr Campbell: An England and Wales approach, yes. Yes, we have considered what is happening in other countries and there are—I cannot name them off the top of my head and go into the detail that you might demand about the system that they have—others that take as robust an approach as we do and there are others that take a different view.

  Q156  Chairman: You are telling this Committee, in conclusion, that the situation at the moment is not satisfactory but the Government hopes to make it satisfactory through the Crime and Security Bill. There is, however, no second reading date that has been confirmed for this Bill, and the worry on the part of Members is that with an election due, of course, this year the statute will not be enacted in time. Do you not feel that some of these issues which the Government wishes to proceed with ought to be proceeded with immediately, for example the issue of guidance, et cetera, so that some of these injustices that clearly exist can be resolved?

  Mr Campbell: We are hoping to proceed quickly. There may not be a definite date for second reading but I am anticipating that it will be soon and I am anticipating that the Bill will go into committee and that it will get through.

  Q157  Chairman: Do we have a timetable?

  Mr Campbell: It is up to the Parliamentary Business Manager to decide.

  Q158  Chairman: Is the Bill ready to go to the House?

  Mr Campbell: Yes, and my understanding is it will go before the House very soon.

  Q159  Chairman: "Very soon" meaning in January?

  Mr Campbell: That is very much my hope.

  Chairman: Thank you. Minister, thank you so much for coming.

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