Essex police who controversially held onto the DNA records of more than 27,000 innocent people have been forced to destroy the records in order to comply with a court ruling.
However, the data contains DNA from sex-attack suspects, including rape and other violent crimes. As a result some critics have attacked the decision stating the genetic information is too valuable to destroy.
Head of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, assistant chief constable Gary Beautridge admits it is regrettable that the force can no longer trace crime-scene DNA to that of a previous suspect held on its database.
“It’s devilishly difficult to strike the right balance,” the 52-year-old told the Chronicle.
“No one wants to live in a tyranny where someone records your details straight from birth, but then again no one wants to live in anarchy either.
“The UK has one of the largest DNA databases in the world because the threshold to get someone’s DNA is quite low.
“In other European countries you have to commit more serious crimes before it is retained.
“But we’ve had some very significant cases, such as cold-case investigations, where we have arrested someone for a very minor offence before linking them to the most horrendous acts.”
Police swab the inside of people’s mouths whenever they are arrested, regardless of the offence.
In 2009 Lawrence Button’s DNA was found in Wivenhoe woodland where he sexually abused a former University of Essex student.
He had been swabbed over a separate issue six months earlier, and the investigating officer Richard McNamara praised the force’s database as a “massive investigatory tool”.
“Yet the protection of human rights is an absolute core of any civilised nation,” added Mr Beautridge, an officer of 34 years who led the investigation into Vicky Pryce taking penalty points for her husband and former cabinet minister Chris Huhne.
A 2010 Chronicle investigation revealed that three in four innocent people who asked to have DNA deleted was turned down, while Essex police still had the records of 27,285 innocent people.
Yet Mr Beautridge said the force had now deleted all records of innocent people.
Anglia Ruskin University forensics researcher Nathan White believes the new law has been “forced through”.
“There was no appeal system to have your DNA removed, and that could be why the regulation is being introduced,” said the 22-year-old forensics graduate.
“It needs a lot of work before they delete it. They need to find out information about the suspects’ profiles and take it into context.
“And for those charged but then released, how can they rehabilitate if their DNA is still on the database?
“And for those who have even served a prison sentence, how can they rehabilitate if their DNA is still on there?”