DNA database ‘is causing suicides’, MPs are warned
By Colin Fernandez
Keeping profiles of the innocent on the DNA database causes immense distress and has even led to suicide, the pioneer of fingerprinting technology warned MPs yesterday.
Sir Alec Jeffreys, who invented the use of DNA to fight crime, said storing these records could lead to ‘an unfair presumption of guilt’.
The DNA database for England and Wales holds over five million profiles with around one million having no criminal conviction.
Sir Alec said he had been frequently contacted by innocent people on the database to say how distressed they were and he called for their records to be removed immediately.
He told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committe he had been frequently contacted by innocent people on the database to say how distressed they were.
In July 2008 Robert Chong, 41, committed suicide because of the ‘shame’ of being put on the database after he was falsely accused of exposing himself to a woman, he said.
A cursory check of CCTV tapes would have demonstrated his innocence. His only interaction with the woman had been when she swore at him on the station concourse.
Mr Chong, 41, later became withdrawn and told his mother: ‘I’m on the criminal database now, I have got a record,’ before killing himself in July 2008.
Sir Alec said: ‘I want the balance to be struck. I have not heard anything about the rights of the innocent victim, and the distress at being branded a criminal.
‘Innocent people on the database are being used inefficiently to solve future crimes – and that goes against their civil rights.
‘If you took one million profiles off the database and replaced them with one million randomly selected profiles, would detections rise?’
Sir Alec also criticised placing DNA taken from children on the database as ‘heavy-handed and disproportionate’.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that holding the profiles of innocent people indefinitely was disproportionate and a breach of privacy rights.
The Government proposes to hold innocent profiles for six years, but Sir Alec believes this is excessive.
He said: ‘I want to get rid of the DNA of innocent people [from the database] it is as simple as that.’
The DNA database had developed ‘sinister mission creep’ which “had taken it away from being a crime fighting tool to one that threatens to undermine public confidence’ he said since it was set up.
The police can take a DNA sample from anyone arrested for a recordable offence.
Last month Home Office minister Alan Campbell revealed that just 377 profiles were deleted in 2009 from the national DNA database after appeals to police chiefs.