Police are being forced to destroy DNA records of thousands of suspected sex offenders even where they have grounds to appeal to hold on to them for longer, because of an “appalling” legal loophole.
Under new laws to protect individual freedoms, from October the genetic information of people suspected of serious sexual or violent crimes cannot be held if they have been released without charge.
A safeguard was included in the legal process which allows police to appeal in individual cases if they think they have a valid reason to so.
This appeal process is not yet in place, yet Labour claims the Home Office has already begun ordering forces to delete DNA records, which include the details of 18,000 people arrested but not charged with rape.
The decision to begin destroying the information early amounts to “shocking incompetence” on the part of the Government, according to shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.
She told The Times: “It is appalling that DNA evidence from thousands of rape suspects is now being destroyed, contrary to the promises made by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.
"They were warned repeatedly in Parliament and by the police about the risks involved in destroying DNA evidence in this way.
“Theresa May's failure to prevent and deal with this incompetence shows she has not taken seriously enough the risks to rape convictions and crime from her policy.”
Ms Cooper demanded an urgent inquiry into why the police appeared to have been either ignored or overruled by the Government, and said questions needed to be asked about “how this implementation went so badly wrong”.
Under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, police will be able to apply to the biometrics commissioner to hold a sample for three years, with an extension of two years, if they have the grounds to do so.
But the BBC’s home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said: “The deletion of suspects not charged began in April but the biometrics commissioner won't hear appeals to keep DNA data until October.
“The system looks very unwieldy; I foresee problems ahead - indeed, they may already be happening.”
A Home Office spokeswoman did not comment on the apparent legal loophole, but defended the overall policy of deleting records for those not charged.
She said: “In the past, DNA was kept from innocent people, but not taken from prisoners. We are taking samples from the guilty and getting rid of them when people have done nothing wrong.
"Through the Protection of Freedoms Act we are restoring common sense to the system by ensuring only those convicted of a criminal offence will have their DNA retained indefinitely.
“Forces will be able to retain DNA from someone arrested and not charged for up to three years, but only with permission from the biometrics commissioner. And all DNA samples taken by police are checked against the national database before deletion.”