In the Media

Challenge over keeping boy's DNA

PUBLISHED June 6, 2006

THE Government is facing a challenge over the practice of keeping the DNA profile and fingerprints of anyone who has been arrested for a recordable offence ? whether they are charged, prosecuted or convicted ? until that person dies or reaches the age of 100.

The challenge at the European Court of Human Rights is being brought by a teenager, known as S, who was arrested and charged with attempted robbery aged 11 in 2001; and Michael Marper, from Sheffield, who was arrested on harassment charges, aged 38, in the same year. This week Liberty, the human rights pressure group, won leave to ?intervene? in the case and to lodge arguments with the Strasbourg-based court.  
Since 2001 the police have been allowed to retain suspects? samples on the database for the purpose of crime prevention or investigation.

Anna Fairclough, solicitor for Liberty, said: ?This is an extremely important case. Virtually all offences, except the most trivial, are recordable, and current government policy is to retain this information until the individual dies or reaches 100 years old.?

Samples and fingerprints could be destroyed on request but only in the most exceptional circumstances, she added.

?We hope to establish that automatically retaining such samples from people who are not convicted of any offence is a breach of the right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention.

?The Government has repeatedly said it has no plans to create a universal database because it does not think the population is ready for the civil liberties implications of that. The present arbitrary, discriminatory basis on which the database is built is both unsustainable and unjustifiable.?

Every week the national DNA database matches more than 1,000 DNA profiles that have been taken from crime scenes with names kept on the system.

By 2008 the number of recorded DNA profiles will be nearly five million, equivalent to one in 12 citizens in the UK. Recently the Government admitted that DNA belonging to some 24,000 innocent boys and girls was among those recorded.

The two test cases have already been through the courts up to the House of Lords, which in 2004 rejected claims that retention of DNA samples was a breach of human rights.

Before that both the High Court, and, by a majority of two to one, the Court of Appeal, upheld the decision by South Yorkshire Police to refuse to destroy the samples.

In the case of S, he had no previous convictions, cautions or warnings when he was arrested and charged with attempted robbery.

At trial he was acquitted and although solicitors sought the destruction of his fingerprints and samples, the police refused to comply.

Mr Marper, who was arrested in March 2001 having had no previous convictions, was charged with harassment of his partner. But by the pre-trial review in May they were reconciled and she no longer wished to press charges.

Proceedings against him were discontinued, but again the police refused to destroy the samples.

  • In cases where DNA was recovered, the detection rate rose from 26 per cent to 40 per cent in 2004-05
  • In a typical month suspects are linked to 26 murders, 57 rapes and sexual offences and 3,000 motor vehicle, property and drug crimes 
  • The number of crimes detected where DNA links were made rose from 8,612 in 1999-2000 to 35,605 in 2004-05
  • DNA matches rose from 23,021 in 1999-2000 to 40,169 in 2004-05