Tories promise to reform DNA database

Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary
Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary

By Ian Dunt

The Conservatives have given their strongest commitment yet to wholesale reform of the way Britain manages its DNA database.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling has explicitly stated that innocent people should not have their DNA retained by the police once they are acquitted of a crime, against current government police.

Mr Grayling wrote to the home secretary this morning calling on her to bring the practice to an immediate end.


"People know that I believe we should be tough on crime," he said. "DNA data plays an important part in many modern criminal investigations. So it should be taken and used where needed.

"But I also believe in the fundamental principles of our nation - and one of the most important of those is that people are innocent until proven guilty. So if the system judges someone innocent, or if they are only peripherally involved in a case, there is no excuse for storing their DNA indefinitely.

"This practice has now clearly been ruled illegal by the courts. It is morally wrong as well. Yet Ministers are dithering about what to do. It's very simple. They should stop breaking the law, and remove this data right now."

The Tories want to adopt the system currently in place in Scotland, where the only crimes where innocent people's DNA can be retained are those involving sexual or violent offences, and even then only for five years.

But the home secretary has defended the current system on numerous occasions, whereby anyone charged with a crime has their DNA added to the database, regardless of whether they are later found innocent or not.

The European Court has found the practice to be illegal.

In a separate development, shadow immigration minister Damian Green received a letter from Nottinghamshire police today indicating the government wants to keep people's DNA until they are 100 years old.

"Records will be retained on the police national computer until that person is deemed to have attained 100 years of age," the letter read.

"How many 100-year-olds are committing serious crimes? It would be laughable if it was not such a serious attack on the privacy of innocent people," Mr Green said.

He received the letter after making inquires on behalf of two constituents who were added to the database after being attacked in a park.

There are currently five million people on the database - the highest number of any country in the world.

Chris Grayling's letter to Jacqui Smith in full:

Letter to Jacqui Smith

Dear Jacqui

I am writing to you concerning the continued use of the DNA database to store the data of innocent people. As you will be aware, this practice is now illegal following the recent ruling by the European Court. I urge you to stop this practice immediately.

We are today announcing our alternative proposal for the management of the database. The proposals would have the effect of implementing the Scottish system across the UK, with a few minor modifications. This framework is compliant with current law.

I strongly urge you to implement these proposals immediately. It is not acceptable for the Government to be continuing with the old regime when it has been ruled illegal. It is also contrary to the rules of natural justice in the UK, which have always been founded on the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty. There can be no justification for treating the DNA of the innocent in the same way as the DNA of the guilty.

This is not a process that requires long consultation, and a spell in the long grass. It can and should happen immediately.

I urge you to deal with this issue now, and not to leave the existing system in place for any longer.

Yours sincerely

Chris Grayling

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