Sun, 16 Mar 2008

DNA retention of unconvicted people

What do Marper, S., Kevin Reynolds and myself have in common? We're all innocents who have had our DNA taken following an arrest. I have been the lucky one as it only took me two years to get my DNA profile removed and samples destroyed. Marper & S. are fighting it all the way to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and Kevin Reynolds has had to go through a traumatic arrest, which could have been avoided had the Police immediately checked his previously retained DNA profile.

ECHR Grand Chamber After having gone all the way to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, the Marper and S v. UK is viewed as a test case about whether the UK is breaching human rights by retaining DNA samples and profiles of unconvicted innocent people. The hearing of this case by is available to watch online and the ruling will be given later this year:

As mentioned two weeks ago, you can:

Helen Wallace from GeneWatch, name checked during the hearing, makes a very strong argument that there is a diminishing return from adding more individuals' DNA profiles to the National DNA Database (NDNAD). Here's an extract from the GeneWatch page on its contribution to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics consultation:

Collecting more DNA from crime scenes has made a big difference to the number of crimes solved, but keeping DNA from more and more people who have been arrested – many of whom are innocent – has not. Since April 2003, about 1.5 million extra people have been added to the Database, but the chances of detecting a crime using DNA has remained constant, at about 0.36%.

What about the risk for innocents of being on the NDNAD?

The recent conviction of Mark Dixie for the horrific murder of Sally Anne Bowman has been used in the ECHR hearing and by the Police to justify and demand retention of DNA of even more individuals:

The policeman who led the hunt for Sally Anne Bowman's killer today called for a national DNA register. Detective Superintendent Stuart Cundy said having everyone's DNA on file would speed up arrests and cut down on further offending.

What Detective Superintendent Cundy didn't mention is how, in this very same case, the data retained on the National DNA Database was ignored to arrest an innocent for murder, indecent assault and robbery. Let's go into more details of the case of Kevin Reynolds to understand how retaining DNA samples and profiles of innocents does not automatically help to eliminate them as suspect in investigation.

Postman Kevin Reynolds had had his DNA and fingerprints taken on 2002-06-14 when he was charged, but later acquitted, with being drunk and disorderly. The profile was loaded on the NDNAD on 2002-07-04. Even though he was acquitted, his fingerprints and DNA profile remained on file.

DNA profile

Fast forward to 2005-12-12, when following complaints by a jilted girlfriend, Kevin is taken into custody at the Edmonton Police station at 02:10. He is led to the fingerprinting room to have his fingerprints taken and DNA sampled. The Livescan fingerprinting system confirms Kevin's identity and give his CRO number. So even if there are several Kevin Reynolds with the exact same date of birth living at the same place, Livescan has confirmed that this is the Kevin Reynolds for which the Police has retained a DNA profile (and samples). Here are the Livescan sheet for Kevin and an extract from the IDENT1 Livescan manual:

LiveScan resultSearch Result (SRE)
An SRE is returned to the Livescan unit. This will be received after the ACK and once the search has been completed (and verified if requested). This will contain the result of the search. If a search is verified, i.e. has been viewed by a fingerprint expert, there will be one CRO. If the search is non-verified, there may be up to four respondents displayed, with system confidence ratings (High, Medium, or Low). If the result is a no trace, No Respondents will be displayed.

Nothing was explained to Kevin. When they took him to the fingerprinting room, he asked why they were doing this as they already had his fingerprints and DNA. He received no reply. Even though Livescan confirmed the identification, DNA samples were again taken from him. This has recently been confirmed by the Forensic Science Service (FSS):

The sample which you supplied to the Metropolitan Police Service on 12 December 2005, in connection with a murder inquiry, was analysed by the FSS in order to generate your DNA profile. Your DNA profile was compared against the DNA profile obtained from the crime scene. Additionally your DNA profile record relating to this sample was submitted to The National DNA Database and is now retained, in compliance with legislation, on The National DNA Database.

Kevin is placed in cell. At 04:50 the wicket of the cell opens and the officers ask Kevin to come to the cell door. He is told he is ‘arrested on suspicion of the murder of Sally Ann [sic] Bowman [...] and cautioned’. His reply: ‘Who? Who is Sally Ann Bowman?

Custody record 04:50

A news article from the Metropolitan Police Service explains: ‘At an early stage DNA was recovered from the murder scene, which police believed identified the murderer.’ The Police had profiled the DNA from the crime scene, they had a man in their custody for whom they already had a DNA profile loaded in the system, the identification of this man was even confirmed by Livescan, and they still arrested him for the murder of Sally Anne Bowman? Kevin's DNA profile on the NDNAD would have been sufficient to show there was no match and clear him from suspicion.

It doesn't stop there. At 14:15, Kevin is further arrested for indecent assault and for the robbery in Sanderstead Road (this attack is linked to the murder of Sally Anne Bowman). He reiterates: ‘I am completely innocent’. At 21:18, Kevin is taken to a double identity parade using video capture; he learns two hours later from his solicitor that both id parades were negative and in one of them another person was picked out. At 12:09 the next day, Kevin is formally interviewed, and close to half an hour in the interview, the interviewing officer's phone beeps to tell him that Kevin's DNA didn't match the crime scene's DNA, and he's eventually released as no further action (NFA'd).

He then goes home and find his father's house, where he was living, smashed to pieces and to learn his car is in some pound in south London. The specialist search team were still in his house but leaving. His father commented to the Morning Star:

"They pulled my house apart - breaking furniture and damaging the walls - and went through all my files. Yet, I was not asked a single question about my son," he says.

The Eye Kevin told the Eye:

“My heart goes out to the Bowman family, but it makes me very angry that time, money and energy were wasted pursuing me when it was known all along that I could not be the killer. I dread to think what would have happened had one of the witnesses identified me in the line-up. My case shows that the database does not protect innocent people from wrongful arrest and detention.”

Kevin's DNA eventually cleared him after more than 34 hours and a harrowing experience. Having his DNA retained should have cleared Kevin immediately, but it did not. They did not use the retained DNA samples and profile. DNA appears to be used only when convenient for the Police, with little respect for innocent individuals.

The cost of criminalising a whole population in the hope of being better at catching criminals is a price to high to pay when the case for a better detection rate with an increasing larger database has not even been made. Calls, such as the Times reports, are dangerous propaganda as the innocents do have to fear:

The detective who led the Bowman investigation said: “It is my opinion that a national DNA register could have identified Sally Anne’s murderer within 24 hours.” The innocent would have nothing to fear, while the guilty would be caught. It could even deter criminals.

Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), has just been joining Detective Superintendent Cundy in calling for an ever bigger NDNAD. Worryingly he's setting his personal sights on children as young as five when currently under 10-year-old are out of the reach of the NDNAD:

'If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,' said Pugh. 'You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won't. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.'

Thanks to Stephen Cragg for the title of this post and to Kevin Reynolds for his assistance regarding his story.

First published on 2008-03-16; last updated on 2011-01-01.

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