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Police attempt to update DNA database

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It is hoped that in adding what is thought to amount just short of 12,000 former offenders to the national database it will assist in the police's attempt to solve hundreds of outstanding crimes.  The focus of the police campaign is said by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to centre on ex-offenders convicted of serious offences such as murder, manslaughter and rape over the past 40 years.

An associated operation in Greater Manchester began last week with police targeting 2,000 people who were convicted of serious offences prior to 1995. 

The police power to take this action comes under the Crime and Security Act 2010 and relates to offenders convicted prior to the imposition of the database in 1995.  The database contains 6.5 million profiles, 1.1 million of which relate to individuals who were arrested but never convicted. 

The police operation has been codenamed 'Nutmeg' and the aim is to ensure that the profiles of all serious offenders are added to the database to be checked against unsolved crimes.  Each of the police forces in England and Wales has an appointed officer dedicated to DNA sampling and ACPO has indicated that DNA mouth swabs will only be taken from those ex-offenders who have had an individual risk assessment carried out by police. 

Amanda Cooper of ACPO who is director of information and strategy at Thames Valley Police has said "DNA evidence has proven to be a vital tool for the police which has helped convict thousands of violent and dangerous criminals and exonerated many innocent people.  We are seeking to ensure the public that the police have done all in their duty to ensure that no opportunities have been missed to secure justice for victims of crime." 

However in a sample operation in Hampshire 471 individuals were targeted by police.  It was discovered that many had died or were already on the database because they had re-offended since 1995.  167 individuals had their DNA profiles added to the database, but none of these profiles were found to be connected in any way to unsolved crime. 

The civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch has expressed concern.  Nick Pickles, the director of the group has said "Members of the public will expect the police to be pursuing active investigations and in the overwhelming majority of these cases the people having their sample taken will not be suspected of any new crime.  Diverting resources from following up current leads to track down people based on convictions that may be decades old is a questionable strategy at a time when the police are already over stretched.  I hope forces will be giving equal focus to addressing the many innocent people on the DNA database who are now entitled to have their profile deleted as was decided by parliament in May."  As a result of the Protection of Freedoms Act which came on to the statute book in May, there are proposed powers which have not yet come into force which would mean that those convicted would potentially have the power to remove their powers from the database.  However as these powers have not yet been enacted the police can continue to take DNA samples from all individuals they arrest.