Sunday, December 2, 2007

DNA database growth defended by police

More than a crime a day is being solved in Norfolk due to improvements in DNA sampling, according to police forensic experts.


Almost 50,000 people in the county are held on the national DNA database, representing 6pc of the total population. But Norfolk police last night insisted the samples are the key to solving hundreds of offences.

And while the database continues to grow by 700 people a month, Alan Gilbert, Norfolk’s head of crime command, insisted: “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”.

Almost 50 suspects are found each month in the county using the database, meaning that 500-plus people who may otherwise go unpunished a brought to justice each year.

The majority are linked to volume crimes such as burglaries but there is still hope many high profile offences, such as unsolved murder cases, could be unravelled.

Only yesterday a 70-year-old man was charged with the murder of a teenage girl whose body was found in allotments in Birmingham in 1961.

Mr Gilbert said: “We are constantly refining techniques and making sure we have the best systems in place. As a result we are becoming increasingly successful in the number of cases we are able to solve using DNA evidence.

“Last year we were identifying as many as 39 suspects each month on average and this year that has increased to 49.

“A lot of these are historic cases which might otherwise go unsolved. Obviously DNA is only one part of the evidence we need to gather but it does help investigation teams focus their inquiries.

“When it comes to more serious offences, there is a real possibility that DNA will hold the vital clue. In some cases it is just a matter of time before a suspect is picked up for a minor matter and we can match them to evidence gathered on a cold case.”

In the past the national database has attracted controversy, not least because it includes people arrested for all recordable crimes including some more serious driving matters. Even once a suspect has been cleared they remain on the database.

Association of Chief Police Officer guidelines do allow people to apply for their details to be removed under exceptional circumstances. But Mr Gilbert admitted this was “very rare”.

He said: “Hundreds of crimes have been solved since the introduction of the database including many high profile cases. If somebody is arrested for a one-off offence they shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

“If however somebody has committed a serious crime or is a repeat offender then this increases the chances they will be caught.”

Earlier this year it was revealed that at least 3,500 of the people on the database in Norfolk are aged under-18 and critics added that keeping the DNA of innocent people without their consent is wrong. Nationally there are about 3.5m on the database.

Before 2001, the police could take DNA samples during investigations but had to destroy the samples and the records if the people concerned were acquitted or charges were not proceeded with.

The law was changed in 2001 to remove this requirement, and changed again in 2004 so that DNA samples could be taken from anyone arrested for a recordable offence and detained in a police station.