Police chief calls for universal DNA database

By Auslan Cramb | Stephen House, Chief Constable of Strathclyde, said that storing the genetic profiles of every man, woman and child would help catch more criminals.

He also called for Scotland to adopt the English DNA system that allows the profiles of suspects to be kept even if they are not charged with any wrongdoing.

Police in Scotland have to destroy the DNA records of innocent people but can keep samples of those accused of sexual or violent crimes for three years.

There are around 4.2 million DNA profiles stored in England, which has the biggest genetic database in the world.

However, a government inquiry recommended last week that one million of these should be destroyed because they came from people who had never been convicted.

Increasing DNA databases north or south of the border would also be strongly opposed by human rights groups and by many politicians. In Scotland, the database currently holds the genetic profiles of around 200,000 Scots.

Mr House said he was pressing minister adopt the English system, and used the case of the murdered teenager Sally Anne Bowman to support his case.

Her killer was caught by the Metropolitan Police largely through a DNA sample collected after an unrelated incident that was already in the system.

He added: “In Scotland the chances are that the DNA would be destroyed but in England it wasn’t, it was put on the database and matched. There are numerous examples of where that has happened.

“An even more complete system is to say we will go the whole hog. Forget criminality, we’ll take DNA from everyone in the country.

“If the public and the government decide they want to do it, you would do it gradually.

“One of the ways to do it is that you would say all newborn children would have DNA recorded and when you apply for a driver’s licence your DNA would be taken and gradually over the years would start to develop a 100 per cent database. Would it deter people? That’s less certain, but we would detect more crime.”

Last year, a senior judge called for the entire UK population, and every visitor to Britain to be put on the DNA database.

Lord Justice Sedley, one of England’s most experienced appeal court judges, described the country’s current system as “indefensible”.

However, any move towards a national database would meet with fierce opposition. Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, has described the British public as the most “spied upon on the planet”.

The organisation Liberty said a database of every man, woman and child in the country was a “chilling proposal, ripe for indignity, error and abuse”.

And the human rights lawyer John Scott said yesterday that the plan would “disturb the balance between the state and the individual”.

He added: “At a time when people are calling for the English system to be closer to our own, we shouldn’t be going in the opposite direction.

“We could get a situation where outside bodies like insurance firms manage to get hold of DNA from innocent people and use it for their own purposes.”

The issue is being reviewed for the Scottish Executive by Prof James Fraser of Strathclyde University’s centre for forensic science.

Simon Davies, of the human rights watchdog organisation Privacy International, said the Strathclyde force had a history of “obsession with DNA collection” and it was time it was “reined in”.

He added: “It was Strathclyde that proposed many years ago mandatory DNA collection for even minor offences. What it is proposing is a step too far.”