Labour claims that thousands of DNA profiles from suspected rapists have been deleted due to the Home office’s inability to act.
In October of this year, a ban on police storing the DNA of cleared suspects for future cases will be enacted.
The Home Office has ordered forces to delete such records ahead of the October deadline; essentially cutting off any hope for an appeal by Labour.
However, the government said it is “restoring common sense to the system.” Somehow, this is hard to believe considering the attempted subversion of the appeals process.
A Home Office spokesperson 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.”
The records include DNA of 18,000 people held but not charged with rape. All of these records must be deleted by October; potentially destroying evidence for future cases.
Police will be required to delete most profiles of people who are innocent and released without charge under the new law. But there is are special cases where chiefs will be able to ask the biometrics commissioner for permission to hold a DNA sample for up to three years if the individual is suspected of a serious offence, such as murder or rape.
The changes to the National DNA Database came in 2012’s Protection of Freedoms Bill, but they are just now taking effect.
The judgment initially came down in 2008. Where England and Wales were advised to mirror the system used by the Scottish under which DNA profiles taken from people who are never charged with an offence should be destroyed immediately. Previous to this judgment, Police in England and Wales could hold profiles as long as they saw fit; even if there is no cause to do so.
The new laws place limits on DNA collection and storing practices.
Here is a Basic Overview of the new DNA storage laws
- Adult offender: DNA held Indefinitely if convicted
- Under-18 serious offender: DNA held Indefinitely
- Under-18 minor offence: DNA held for Five years
- Arrested and charged with serious offence: DNA held for Three to five years
- Arrested on serious charge but released: Three years on appeal to commissioner; indefinite if previously convicted of a serious offence
The new law attempts to secure the privacy of low-level offenders while allowing law enforcement to monitor more serious offenders. For many the new law goes too far in allowing suspected criminals to walk free without holding their DNA for future cases.
The only way to stop this law from taking effect is to appeal the decision already made. This is more than likely not going to happen considering the Home office’s attempt to subvert the appeals process by deleting profiles earlier than October.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the Home Office was guilty of “shocking incompetence.”
Cooper went on to say: “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 home secretary.
The prime minister assured Parliament if a suspect is arrested but not charged with rape, the police would be able to ask to retain the DNA of the suspect. Yet because of Theresa May’s incompetence the police are powerless to retain it.”
But most of the damage has already been done. Over one million DNA profile have already been deleted from the database.
The biometrics commissioner, Alastair MacGregor QC, recently said police could hypothetically ask him for permission to retain 60,000 DNA records a year to stop the deletion. This is unlikely without a nasty legal battle.
A Home Office spokesperson added: “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.” Not a very comforting statement to many victim’s families.