Compulsory DNA tests in campaign to trap racists

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE ACCUSED of racist crimes face compulsory DNA testing as the police seek to show their determination to crack down on the escalating number of such offences.

Currently only those accused of murder or sex crimes are forced to give DNA samples.

For the first time, officers will take saliva swabs from the mouths of all offenders charged, reported or even cautioned with a racist offence, from shouting racist abuse in the street to physical attacks. The swabs will be sent to a forensic laboratory where the DNA is extracted. The genetic DNA "code", which is unique to each individual, is then registered on a national database of offenders.

This will enable police to build up profiles of racist offenders, by checking to see whether they have been involved in racist crimes in the past.

The scheme is being tested by Merseyside police and is expected to be adopted by other police forces across Britain.

Detectives from the Merseyside force are reinvestigating more than 300 unsolved racist crimes, ranging from assaults to minor damage, which have occurred during the past 12 months.

DNA profiling has already been used in individual cases by police officers to identify senders of racist hate mail by analysing traces of saliva on stamps.

The aim of the new scheme is to identify at an early stage people who carry out racial crime.

Police also hope that the change in policy will demonstrate to ethnic minority communities that race crimes are being treated seriously in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the Brick Lane and Brixton bombings.

The latest statistics show that between 1997 and 1998 the Crown Prosecution Service dealt with 1,506 cases involving racist incidents - 161 more cases than there were in the previous year.

On Merseyside there were 300 reports of racist incidents in the first six months of this year, compared with only 116 in the same period last year. Detective Inspector Mike Baines, who is part of the race crimes task force there, said that DNA profiling of racists was an important weapon in preventing minor racist offences from leading to far more serious crimes.

"We need to increase the confidence of racial minorities, and this sends a message to racists that we will not tolerate their behaviour," he said. "The Macpherson report [on the Stephen Lawrence case] was critical of how race crimes have been treated in the past. Our goal is to encourage people to report crimes in the first place.

"The introduction of DNA profiling is very significant in that it illustrates how seriously race crimes are being treated."

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