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Police 'powerless' on DNA samples

Police forces have been left powerless to hold DNA samples taken from people arrested on suspicion of sex crimes due to forthcoming changes to the law, Labour has warned.

The changes to the national DNA database come in the 2012 Protection of Freedoms Act, under which DNA profiles from people arrested but not charged with a serious offence such as rape should be destroyed.

Detectives will be able to apply to the recently-appointed Biometrics Commissioner to retain DNA in exceptional circumstances, such as when the victim is under the age of 18, but this power does not come into force until October.

In the meantime, forces must destroy the DNA held for anyone arrested on suspicion of sex offences but against whom no further action was taken.

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour's shadow home secretary, said police are "powerless" to retain the evidence of more 4,000 people arrested on suspicion of rape every year, with 18,000 such profiles destroyed already.

She said: "This is shocking incompetence by the Home Office and shows Theresa May has failed to keep a grip on this crucial policy."

Earlier this year, Alastair MacGregor QC was appointed as the Government's first Biometrics Commissioner as part of the reforms. Police will from October 1 be able to apply to Mr MacGregor to hold a sample for three years, with an extension of two years, if they have the grounds to do so.

More than a million DNA profiles belonging to innocent people held by the Government have so far been destroyed to allow new laws to be brought into force. Although the Protection of Freedoms Act received Royal Assent, the new legislation is not yet in force as first DNA and fingerprints taken from innocent individuals in the past held on the National DNA Database must be destroyed.

In addition, millions more DNA samples containing sensitive biological material, which are no longer needed as a completed DNA profile has been obtained, have also been destroyed.

A Home Office spokesman 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."

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