Criminal DNA left unchecked for 13 months

1-800.jpgPSCA | A report has found “significant shortcomings” in the Crown Prosecution’s Service’s (CPS) data handling. In January 2007 Dutch police sent a disc containing 2,159 DNA profiles from crime scenes so the UK police could analyse them. However, the report, which was undertook by the CPS chief executive Peter Lewis, found checks on the DNA profiles did not start until February 2008.

The report revealed that in the year before the blunder was uncovered, at least 11 of the individuals wanted for serious crimes in the Netherlands, including rape and murder, went on to commit offences in the UK, including assault and non-payment of fines.

Lewis’s report said the data was unexpectedly sent to the CPS, not the police, by ordinary business post and was not addressed to a particular department or individual. The correct lawyer received it in April 2007 but then began a long and unexpected period of absence, the report said. Although the lawyer returned to work in October, the disc was not collected until 11 January 2008.

There were no data security issues as far as they were aware and did not believe the disc was ever copied or left the building, the report said. Instead, the report has blamed individual failings and said they were now facing disciplinary action.

The most serious weakness in the initiative was “the extremely regrettable failure of CPS personnel to deal appropriately and expeditiously with the disk of DNA profiles unexpectedly entrusted to the CPS”, Lewis said.

“For this failure, and the delay to the process caused by it, the CPS apologises unreservedly.”

Lewis said changes were already being made to internal processes to prevent the same thing happening again.

In a written statement, Baroness Scotland the Attorney General, said there was a “highly regrettable” delay in processing the information. However, she said it proved the value of exchanges of data which could lead to the prosecution of criminals, who would not be bought to justice otherwise. Baroness Scotland also said it demonstrated how useful a national DNA database would be.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, David Howarth, said the report exposed a “catalogue of incompetence”.

“The lack of proper protocols governing this sensitive information is alarming. The government simply hasn’t thought through the risks associated with large scale exchanges of data and has been making up policies as it goes along,” he said.

“This exposes how ridiculous ministers’ plans to further extend the DNA database are, given their total inability to handle the data they already have.”

Howarth concluded: “Operating competently will catch far more criminals than collecting the DNA of innocent people.”