Details of innocent people are still being held on DNA database

Government pledge to protect civil liberties is not being honoured, campaigners warn

The Government is failing to delete innocent people from Britain's vast DNA database, according to figures released today which shows that nearly 70,000 under-16s have now had their genetic fingerprints recorded.

A report compiled by civil liberties campaigners concludes that the current system for retaining DNA remains "uncertain and illiberal", despite assurances from the Government that the profiles of people found to be innocent would be deleted.

The research reveals that the number of people held on the UK's DNA database – the world's largest – has now hit more than 5.5 million, with 900,000 extra profiles added between January 2009 and November 2011 alone.

Through a series of Freedom of Information requests, researchers at Big Brother Watch asked Britain's police forces to detail how many DNA profiles they had collected and whether any had been deleted because a person was subsequently not charged.

Their replies showed a huge variance between the forces. Only three – North Wales, Staffordshire and Mercia Police – were able to distinguish between the DNA profiles of those convicted and those either not charged or acquitted at trial. Forces that did not supply such information either didn't have it, or refused to give it for cost reasons, suggesting such information was not readily available.

Figures for how many DNA profiles have been deleted also showed wide differences among the forces. Bedfordshire Constabulary has shown the greatest commitment to ensuring that innocent people are expunged from their database. Of the 11,858 samples they have taken between 2009 and 2011, 2,352 have been deleted. By contrast, Avon and Somerset Police had only deleted 41 of the 38,884 samples taken over the same period.

Until recently, police forces were allowed indefinitely to retain the DNA profiles of anyone they arrested, regardless of whether they were later charged. Under Labour, this system led to the creation of a vast database, prompting promises from both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to reform the system.

When the Coalition came to power, it pledged a switch to the Scottish model, which places much tougher restrictions on how long profiles can be held by police and gives power to the courts to arbitrate on key decisions.

But campaigners say the resulting legislation – which came in earlier this year under the Protection of Freedoms Act – is a "watered down" version of the Scottish model which allows the police to retain too much power.

In a statement last night, the Home Office denied that it was reneging on its promise to protect innocent people and said deletions would begin next month.

"Our focus is on keeping the DNA profiles of the guilty, not the innocent," a spokeswoman said. "DNA profiles of people not charged with an offence will no longer be retained. Those charged with a serious sexual or violent offence will be retained for three years and in special cases can be extended by two years with the approval of a magistrates' court."

Hits and misses: the database in action

April 1995

The world's first national DNA database comes into operation and is hailed by the Home Secretary Michael Howard as the biggest breakthrough in the fight against crime since fingerprints.


July 1999

Labour announces plans for police to keep thousands of DNA samples given by innocent people to compare with potential matches found at scenes of crime.


January 2001

Police allowed to retain DNA from suspected criminals indefinitely whether they are charged or not.


November 2005

Figures show black men are four times more likely to be on the DNA database, causing a row over racial profiling.


Summer 2006

Two prominent cases in the space of a few months highlight how DNA database can crack cases.

Steve Wright, who killed five prostitutes in the Ipswich area, is arrested after a match appeared on the DNA database for a 2003 theft conviction. Mark Dixie is arrested nine months after the murder of Sally Anne Bowman, when his DNA is taken after a pub fight.


December 2008

European Court of Human Rights rules that indefinite detention of innocent people's DNA is a breach of their right to privacy.


May 2010

The Coalition government pledges to adopt the "Scottish model" which only allows the police to retain DNA samples from uncharged people arrested for violent or sex crimes.


March 2012

A teenager spends three months behind bars on an accusation of rape after a DNA database blunder fingers him wrongly for the crime.

5.5 million

Number of people whose data is now held on the database

Suggested Topics
people And here is why...
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
footballLatest scores and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties