Belfast Telegraph

Police face DNA data wipeout

European ruling may force PSNI to delete a third of profiles it holds

By Adrian Rutherford

The PSNI may be forced to wipe up to a third of profiles from its DNA database after Justice Minister David Ford unveiled plans to overhaul the law on DNA retention here.

Samples from 34,000 people across Northern Ireland who have never been charged with a criminal offence are held on police files — even though the European Court has ruled that the practice breaches human rights.

They include dozens of profiles from children, some as young as 10 years old.

However, under proposals which will now go out for public consultation, DNA profiles and fingerprints of people arrested but not convicted of minor offences will be destroyed.

Mr Ford said the proposals outlined “very serious and important changes” to the system.

According to the most recent figures, profiles from 91,327 people were on the DNA database in late 2010. Some 34,130 of these — more than a third — belonged to someone who was not charged or reported, and had been released unconditionally.

They included samples from 228 people aged between 16 and 18, and 92 samples from children aged between 10 and 15.

The European Court ruled in 2008 that it was unlawful to indefinitely store profiles from people who were later cleared — but so far only a handful have been removed by the PSNI.

Last month the Government unveiled the Protection of Freedom Bill, which will tighten the laws on storing DNA in England and Wales. Mr Ford’s proposals would see the changes extended to Northern Ireland.

The Justice Minister said the legislation is intended to ensure that the legal framework complies with the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, “yet continues to allow police to effectively detect and investigate crime.”

SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginness, a former barrister, said DNA from people not convicted of crime should be removed.

“There is a degree of resentment amongst people who are innocent of any wrongdoing that their DNA is kept,” he said.

But campaigners claim the database is a key policing tool.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Government of going too far on DNA data deletion. “The evidence shows it has a significant impact in bringing serious criminals to justice and exonerating innocent people,” she said.

A PSNI spokesperson said: “DNA profiles held on the database is a reflection of the legislation which presently allows DNA to be taken from everyone arrested for a recordable offence who is detained at a police station.”

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