DNA unit traps its first criminal

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The Independent Online
A burglar is set to become the first person to be trapped using a DNA sample from the national database of "genetic fingerprints", it was announced yesterday.

However, it also emerged that there have been serious delays with the DNA database and only 7,200 samples out of 45,000 submitted have been processed. The backlog has meant it has taken four months to identify one suspect.

The Home Office said yesterday it was confident the "teething" problems could be overcome and expected to record about 135,000 samples by the end of the year. Forces are taking samples from all suspects arrested for a sex offence, a burglary, or a serious assault.

Derbyshire police said yesterday that for the first time they had linked a man with a break-in using a DNA sample taken from blood found at the scene of the crime. The man was arrested on an unrelated charge and a saliva sample matched the DNA found at the burglary.

Don Dovaston, Derbyshire assistant chief constable, predicted that DNA profiles would become as reliable as fingerprinting. He said: "It is only a matter of time before the database produces matches on a daily basis and this clearly demonstrates its value and potential to all forces."

Since 10 April, police have been allowed to take samples from anyone being questioned in connection with a recorded crime. Only samples from a limited number of categories of crime are being taken because of the cost. Forces have to pay about pounds 40 for each sample. Eventually all recordable offences - those punishable by imprisonment - could be included on the database.

However, the machine used to analyse and process the samples before placing them on the database has not kept up with demand, which is running at about 500 new swabs a day. The Forensic Science Service is about to use a second, faster, DNA machine and is increasing staff from 100 to 125 to clear the backlog.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said: "The database is great news for most of us, but seriously bad news for criminals.

"My message to the criminal is simple: DNA can catch you. Criminals must realise that the chances of getting caught are increasing all the time."

However, a spokeswoman for Liberty, the civil rights' group, said: "DNA evidence is very useful, but it must not be taken to be the only evidence.

"Many scientists are expressing concerns about the foolproofness of DNA profiles. Now not only is the accuracy of DNA under the microscope but the accountability of databases is being questioned. We are worried errors - especially human ones - could lead to the wrong people being arrested."