DNA records held on thousands of innocent children

Pressure is growing on the police to remove from a national database the DNA details of thousands of innocent young people.

It has emerged that the DNA details of around 24,000 young people aged between 10 and 18 who have either witnessed or been a victim of a crime, or been arrested but not charged, are being kept on permanent record.

The figure was obtained after a mother complained to her local MP that her 14-year-old’s son’s DNA details were being held on the database after he was wrongfully arrested.

Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps lobbied Hertfordshire police to get his details removed from the database, but was only successful after questions were asked in Parliament. His first request to the chief constable was turned down, when he was told that keeping details was a government requirement.

The national database was set up in 1995 and is now the largest of its kind in the world. Since April 2004 the police have been allowed to take samples, including mouth scrapes or rooted hair, without consent from anyone arrested on suspicion of a recordable offence. Samples are also often taken voluntarily from witnesses or victims of crime.

The Home Office defended the way the database was being used, with a spokesperson adding: “There are no age rules for obtaining samples. If you are above the legal age of responsibility [10], it is legal for your DNA to be recorded. Under-18s make up 23% of arrests in Britain.”

Shapps said he planned to ask a further question in Parliament to try and find out how many police forces were keeping DNA records of young people and children. “I don’t know the extent of it yet, but Hertfordshire are keeping records, as are the Metropolitan police. I’m getting more and more messages from other areas with the same practice,” he said.

Human rights charity Liberty condemned the fact that so many innocent young people had a permanent record. Director Shami Chakrabarti said: “This figure is horrifying but not surprising. This is the prime minister’s vision of criminal justice, where guilt is determined by police officers rather than the courts.”

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