Gordon Brown’s flawed argument about the retention of DNA from arrestees

The Labour party’s campaign currently berates the Tories for their policy on removing the DNA of those arrested but not convicted of a crime, suggesting (without explicitly stating) that this stance makes them soft on crime.

Recently the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown attemptrf to paint this stance as being soft on rapists. During a recent speech on crime and anti-social behaviour, Brown argued:

“Some argue that liberty dictates we should immediately wipe from the DNA database everyone who has been arrested but not convicted of an offence. But if we did this, some sickening crimes would have gone unsolved, and many dangerous criminals would have remained at large.

Let me give you just one example. In May 1991, a woman confined to a wheelchair was attacked and raped by a man who tricked his way into her home. A DNA sample was recovered, but no suspect was found. In June 2007, South Yorkshire Police’s ‘cold case team’ reinvestigated the case and the DNA sample was re-analysed using new techniques. A match was made with a profile from a man named Jeremiah Sheridan who had been arrested in 2005 in Cambridgeshire for a public order offence, but not convicted. It proved very difficult to trace Sheridan – but after the case was highlighted on ‘Crimewatch’ in 2008, South Yorkshire Police got several new leads including one that Sheridan was in Australia. He was arrested on his return at Heathrow airport and, last September, having pleaded guilty, he was sentenced to 16 and a half years.

The next time you hear somebody question the value of retaining DNA profiles from those who have been arrested but not convicted, remember Jeremiah Sheridan. And most of all remember the innocent woman he attacked.”

The problem with this argument is that the retention of the DNA of all arrestees is simply unnecessary for solving cases such as the Sheridan case above. If a policy of storing a database of crime scene DNA samples was in operation, with the DNA of those arrested being routinely matched against entries on that database, then Sheridan would have been caught in 2005, over a year before the case was reopened.

The question this case raises is why Sheridan’s DNA wasn’t checked against that found at past crime scenes whilst he was in custody in 2005. The failure to do this, resulting in him being let go, ensured the case would have to drag on for several more years consuming more police time and resources as a result.

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