Police to start routine testing for DNA register

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The Independent Online
DNA samples will be taken from every suspect arrested for a sex offence, a burglary or any form of assault from April, senior police officers have decided.

The Independent has learnt that the police expect to take about 135,000 'genetic fingerprints' in the first year of the scheme, which is expected to lead to the world's first national criminal DNA database.

The decision, made by chief constables yesterday, is a significant escalation in the use of DNA testing. With sufficient funding, they plan to expand the database to all recorded crime in the next few years.

The national register of DNA profiles will be used to help catch criminals who repeatedly commit offences such as rape, as well as clear innocent people.

The decision to expand the use of DNA testing rapidly was made in a private session of the Association of Chief Police Officers at their autumn conference near Coventry. The move has yet to be formally adopted as policy, but it is almost certain to be accepted.

Civil liberty groups are concerned that a national register could be used to keep information about innocent people and unconvicted suspects.

From April, the Criminal Justice Bill gives police the powers to take DNA samples from all suspects arrested for offences punishable by imprisonment.

The legislation also allows the information to be recorded on a computer for cross-reference.

DNA is usually obtained from saliva samples, but blood, semen, body fluid and hair can be used. Genetic profiles - unique to every person - will be compiled by the Forensic Science Service and kept in a national database.

These can be compared with samples taken at the scene of a crime.

John Hoddinott, president of Acpo and Chief Constable of Hampshire, said: 'DNA testing is a tremendously powerful tool - it proves innocence as well as guilt. It provides independently verifiable evidence of the best quality.'

He added: 'We eventually want all recordable offences on the database, although that will be subject to sufficient funding.'

Mr Hoddinott said the name and identifying details of suspects proved innocent would not be kept on the database.

Lawyers are wrong to question the reliability of genetic 'fingerprinting' evidence because there is no longer any controversy about the technique, according to a scientist who was a leading critic of it, writes Steve Connor.

Eric Lander, a geneticist at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, writing with Bruce Budowle, an FBI scientist, in Nature, says scientists can no longer detect any remaining problems with genetic fingerprinting that should prevent its full use as evidence in court. 'The DNA fingerprinting wars are over,' they say.