GeneWatch UK today accused the Home Secretary of misleading the public about the benefits of expanding the National DNA Database, which now includes the records of about a million innocent people. Johnson today claimed that plans to adopt DNA legislation similar to Scotland's - proposed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrats but opposed by Labour - would make it much harder for the police to catch criminals, and cited the case of the murder of Sally Ann Bowman (1, 2).
Sally Ann Bowman's killer was caught using DNA taken from him after a pub brawl. However, this happened after the murder and did not require Mark Dixie's DNA profile to be retained on the DNA database (3). When his DNA was taken the DNA profile obtained from it (a string of numbers based on parts of the DNA sequence) was compared with the stored crime scene DNA profile to obtain a match. Numerous other high profile cases cited by ministers also did not require the retention of innocent people's DNA records.
"Murders solved by keeping innocent people's DNA records are as elusive as the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq", said Dr Wallace. "If the Government has a case to make why can't it produce the evidence?"
Crimes brought to court following DNA matches (called 'DNA detections') have not increased since 2002/03, despite the DNA database more than doubling in size (4).
Ministers have provided details of two relevant rape cases but both of these involved people previously arrested for violent crimes, so they would still have been solved under the alternative proposals (5).
Recent claims made by ministers in parliament and in the press that 23 killers and rapists would have remained free under the alternative proposals are also false. In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Home Secretary admitted that not all these cases had yet come to court. The DNA matches in these cases also include matches with people other than the perpetrator of the crime, and cases where the suspect would already have been identified as a suspect by other means. Ministers have refused to publish their evidence or provide details of the cases (6).
In his recent Sedgefield speech, former Prime Minister Tony Blair also misled the public, by claiming that DNA evidence was infallible (7).
In 2008 Gordon Brown falsely claimed that 114 murders had been solved as a result of keeping innocent people's DNA records on the National DNA Database (8). Only one relevant case of murder has ever been provided by ministers. In this case - the Matthew Fagan case - DNA evidence was important in court but was not needed to identify the murderer, who was an ex-employee of the firm where he committed the burglary and killing (9). His DNA profile did not need to be on the database in order to solve the crime.
The likelihood of a match between a crime scene DNA profile and an individual's DNA record remains higher for Scotland's DNA database than for the UK as a whole (10).
For further information contact:
Dr Helen Wallace, Tel: 01298-24300, Mob: 07903-311584.
Notes for Editors
(1) Labour Party PR: http://www2.labour.org.uk/tories-crime-weak-johnson,2010-04-09
(2) Scotland's law requires the deletion of most innocent people's DNA records immediately if charges are not brought, are dropped, or if the person is not convicted. People arrested for violent or sexual crimes have their records retained for three years after arrest, with further two year extensions possible if allowed by a court.
(3) The officer in the case called for everyone to be on a DNA database on the grounds that Dixie would then have been caught sooner: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7259494.stm . The Association of Chief Police Officers opposes a universal database because of the enormous costs and large number of false matches that would occur between crime scene DNA profiles and individuals. Chief Constable Christopher Sims told the Home Affairs Select Committee on 5th January: "If you got into the realms of a national database, literally, for everyone, the cost-benefit (that I accept we are unable to articulate particularly strongly at the moment) would tip heavily against its maintenance, and I think the public acceptability of it would tip heavily against it" (Q78). On: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmhaff/222/10010503.htm
(4) GeneWatch UK (2010) Evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee. On: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/GWsub_Jan10.doc
(5) Correction (April 2011): Only one of the rape cases cited (Abdul Azad) remains valid: the Larrier case was mis-cited by ministers and is not relevant.. A further rape occurred in the bedsit of the rapist, Abdirahman Ali Gudaal, so he did not to be on the database in order to be identified as a suspect and his DNA could have been taken following arrest. Two other cases (the Paul Dook and Jeremiah Sheridan cases) involved rapes that took place in 1991. They could have been solved sooner, without requiring Dook or Sheridan to have records retained on the database, had the crime scene DNA samples been analysed more quickly (Dook was arrested in 2006, but the crime scene profile from the rape was not loaded to the database until 2008; Sheridan was arrested in 2005, but the crime scene profile from the rape was not loaded until 2007). Crime scene DNA analysis from cold cases should have been prioritised to avoid this problem.
(6) The claims are based on an unpublished study by the Association of Chief Police Officers. Officers were asked whether DNA matches with stored DNA records from unconvicted people were important in solving rapes, murders and manslaughters in 2008/09. In 36 cases they were, and in 23, the match involved a stored DNA profile from a person who had been arrested for a minor offence. However this does not mean that 23 rapists or killers were convicted as a result of the Government's policy. Many DNA matches are with the victim or passers-by (especially in murder cases); most murderers and rapists are known to their victims so retention of their DNA profile is not necessary to identify them (their DNA can be taken after their arrest); and not all the cases in the study have yet come to court. Johnson's response to a PQ asking for details of the cases is here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmhansrd/cm100330/text/100330w0022.htm .
(8) See GeneWatch briefing on: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/brown.pdf
(10) In 2008/09 the Scottish match rate was 65% (http://www.spsa.police.uk/documents/1027) and the UK match rate (loaded crime scene profile to stored individuals' profiles) was 58% (National DNA Database Annual Report 2007-09 p. 33).