Police plan DNA tests to reduce burglary rate: Samples from break-ins to be held on database

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The Independent Online
GENETIC fingerprinting is to be used for the first time to create a database to help catch burglars, it was announced yesterday.

Later this year the Metropolitan Police plans to start taking DNA samples from blood, skin, hair, and body fluids found at break- ins. The force intends to spend about pounds 500,000 during 1994 in analysing the substances and setting up an information bank. DNA profiles of selected criminals will be collected and compared with the findings. The move is expected to be followed by other forces throughout the country and lead to a national database.

The initiative was announced by the Metropolitan Police as part of its continued crackdown on burglaries - known as Operation Bumblebee. Since its launch last year, the operation has resulted in a 16 per cent reduction in burglaries in the capital, it was revealed yesterday. This represents up to 2,000 fewer break-ins a month.

The force intends to start the DNA database as soon as the Criminal Justice Bill becomes law, which is expected by October.

Amendments currently in the Bill will allow police forces to take DNA samples from anyone involved in a recordable offence, such as burglary. Previously it was restricted to more serious arrestable offences, such as murder and rape. New powers will allow this information to be recorded on a computer for cross-referring.

Police will also be allowed to take routine saliva samples from prisoners, who currently must give their permission. Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said of genetic fingerprinting: 'I'm sure it's an important weapon in the armoury of crime detection and although there have been challenges I am confident that the DNA technology will be valid.'

Serious civil liberty questions are expected to arise with the greater use of DNA testing, as victims of crime are expected to have to give samples so that they can be eliminated from inquiries.

Last month, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that while the validity of DNA evidence was not doubted in general, there was concern that juries did not understand there were sometimes marked similarities between samples from different suspects. Great care had to be taken to avoid an injustice being done, he concluded.

Yesterday, thousands of police took part in raids on 503 properties in London, the South-east and West, arresting 312 suspects in the capital. Drugs and guns were among property recovered.