Don’t extend DNA database, says minister

The DNA database should probably not be extended and should certainly never become universal, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty has said, writes Matthew George.

He also told the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which is inquiring into whether Britain has a surveillance society, that such fears were the “meat of myths”.

He insisted the regulatory oversight of surveillance – ranging through the DNA database and CCTV cameras to automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and interception of communications – was robust.

“The idea of big brother or big sister sitting on everybody’s shoulder makes great copy for the newspapers – but it is simply not the case.”

A review of the DNA database, being conducted as part of a wider look at the operation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) which underpins it, will conclude later this year.

McNulty said it was looking at DNA retention issues, especially concerning under-18s and whether those not convicted of crimes should go on it, as well as if PACE should continue as the statutory basis, or whether the database should have its own primary legislation.

The recent convictions of murderers Steve Wright and Mark Dixie as a result of the database sparked a debate over whether it should be universal.

Lincolnshire chief constable Tony Lake, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on the database, says if it were universal there is absolutely no doubt more crimes would be solved.

Even more controversially, Gary Pugh, Scotland Yard’s director of forensic services, said primary school should be eligible for the database if they behaved in a way that indicated criminality in later life.

McNulty told the committee he was not convinced by a national DNA database: “There is a logic to it, but I cannot accept it. Broadly, where we are now is where we should be.”

However he stressed he did not agree with the premise the database was counter to civil liberties, not least because of the high-profile murder cases solved by because suspects being on it for minor crimes, such as assault.

Asked about Pugh’s comments, he replied: “I do not accept what he said at all and nor do Acpo as I understand it. We are getting into the realms of potential guilt or future guilt, and I don’t accept that at all.”

He would “probably lean against” putting non-recordable crimes on the database, and there would not be such a move if he has his way.