Innocent children's DNA retained on national database in the UK

News & Analysis
Innocent children's DNA retained on national database in the UK

A campaign to eliminate the DNA profiles of 24,000 innocent juveniles from the database has been instigated by a Conservative Member of Parliament after a lengthy battle to remove the record of a concerned constituent’s son who was arrested as a result of misidentification. The National DNA Database currently holds the records of 750,000 juveniles – some of whom have been convicted of offences but many of whom were only charged, cautioned, questioned or were mere witnesses to incidents.

The DNA profiles from more than 750,000 juveniles have been added to the UK's National DNA Database since its inception in 1995. Approximately a third of these samples were obtained in the last two years as the table below illustrates[1]:

 Year       Estimated Number of 10 to 17 year olds added to the Database

 1995       3,163

 1996      11,719

 1997      18,387

 1998      32,810

 1999     42,631

 2000     70,627

 2001     95,471

 2002     96,359

 2003     86,291

 2004    101,503

 2005 to date 126,787

The expansion of the database in 2001 to allow for retention of samples even after charges are dropped or an acquittal is obtained, has led to the profiles of 24,000 innocent children and teenagers being kept on the ‘criminal database’. The Sunday Times asserts that some of these children may have simply been victims of or witnesses to an incident.[2]

Such figures came into prominence at the beginning of 2006 following the struggle that Conservative MP Grant Shapps[3] faced in his efforts to remove a concerned constituent’s son’s DNA profile from the national database. The juvenile’s DNA was taken following an accusation and arrest based on misidentification. The Conservative MP wrote to the local police force and requested the record be removed; however he received a response stating that the police had no authorization to remove the entry. Further investigations by Mr. Shapps led to the discovery that Chief Constables may in fact exercise their discretion and remove records where the individual is not charged, but there appears to be a great deal of confusion surrounding the exercise of this power.

Mr. Shapps has continued to voice his concerns that the database is being expanded ‘by stealth with little or no public debate’[4] and consequently has instigated a campaign to remove all innocent juvenile records from the database.

During a discussion on this issue on BBC Radio,[5] Mr. Burnham, a Home Office Minister, defended the Government’s policy of retention of innocent children’s DNA samples and profiles on the premise that 23% of arrests are of under-18s. Mr. Burnham stated that the National DNA Database was not a criminal record, but rather its focus was on prevention and detection of crime. Despite this assertion however he continued to emphasise that like other police records, removal from the database was at the discretion of chief constables and dismissed the suggestion that a record should be automatically removed if a person is innocent of a crime.

During the interview, Mr. Burnham also claimed that records on the database belong to individuals who had “at least” been arrested in connection with a recordable offence, however this is wholly untrue in light of statistics revealed in late December 2005 which provided that 15,116 records belonged to people who volunteered their DNA to aid an investigation, who had therefore not been arrested of any offences, recordable or otherwise.