The DNA database and Mark Dixie

Update: The Times also has a useful look at Labour’s claims on this issue.

The Labour Party continue to portray Tory plans to restrict the retention of DNA of those charged, but never convicted, of a crime as somehow being “soft” on criminals, citing the case of Sally Anne Bowman who was killed and raped by Mark Dixie:

Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party, and Alan Johnson MP, Labour’s Home Secretary, will today make a campaign visit to highlight the vital role that DNA plays in tackling violent crime and why Labour has been fighting Tory plans to downgrade the DNA database.

At the visit in Stevenage the Prime Minister and Home Secretary will be joined by Linda Bowman, whose daughter Sally Anne was murdered in 2005.

Sally Anne’s murderer Mark Dixie was convicted through use of the DNA register, having been arrested but not convicted in a pub brawl.

The problem with this line of attack is that the Tories’ plans would not have made any difference in Mark Dixie’s case. When he was arrested his DNA was taken and compared to samples from the Sally Anne Bowman case. There was no need to have his DNA on the database to do that. There was thus no need to retain DNA for those never charged or never convicted to solve similar such cases. All that’s needed is to have a database of DNA collected from crime scenes and to have a policy of checking arrestees’ DNA against that of old crime scenes.

Such an approach is surely a far more proportionate use of DNA, far more respectful of privacy whilst at the same time more focussed on solving crime than retention of the DNA of those never charged with a crime in the first place, or those who have charges dropped or are acquitted.

Meanwhile, Genewatch point out that many of Labour’s other claims about the DNA database have to be taken with a large dose of salt.

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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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NewsBiscuit: Campaigners call for national register of MPs

This spoof made me laugh:

Recent research has estimated the number of MPs in the UK as at least 646, causing many to worry that political activity could be happening on their doorsteps.

Campaign leader Michael Carlisle explained ‘These people are by nature devious and evasive. They will never give a straight answer to a question; they mislead the public, claim inflated expenses, send malicious emails and very rarely show any sense of remorse. We need protecting from these people, if you can call them that. The public has a right to know if one is living in the middle of their community.’

And:

Another possibility being considered is thought to be a watered down version of the scheme whereby individuals can check the register to see if prospective partners are MPs before moving in with them. One man, who wanted to remain anonymous, agreed ‘I’d never have moved in with my partner if I’d known she was a politician, or at least I’d have made sure I didn’t claim for porn on her expense account.’

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British Readers: Write to your MPs

Phil Booth of NO2ID, quoted by Guy Herbert on Samizdata:

At the Convention on Modern Liberty, I launched NO2ID’s request that everyone at the convention – and around the UK – tells their MP right now that they refuse their consent to having their information shared under any “information sharing order”, a power currently being slipped onto the statute books in clause 152 of the coroners and justice bill .

Please tell yours too. It’s important, and urgent – and something that only YOU can do. If you never have before, now’s the time to write to your MP – in a letter, or via www.WriteToThem.com.

Jack Straw has been making noises that could signal a ‘compromise’, but the only acceptable action is to remove clause 152 entirely from the bill. It is not linked to any other clause, despite being sandwiched between other powers and so-called safeguards offered to the information commissioner. It cannot be improved, and Straw can’t be allowed to merely “dilute” it. Clause 152 just has to go.

It’s imperative that in coming days every MP hears from his or her constituents. Please tell them you refuse consent to having your information, taken for one purpose, arbitrarily used for any other purpose. And ask them to vote clause 152 off the bill.

I’ve done it, I urge anyone concerned about this measure to do it.

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NO2ID Video: Take Jane

This video highlights one of the problems that the National Identity Scheme(NIS) is likely to make worse.

Whilst the above scenario could happen (I think it is quite likely to happen), the following have happened and involve similar problems with existing government databases:

Many other examples can be found via this Magna Carta Plus article.

The NIS will make these problems worse by requiring people to register changes of address (on pain of penalties upto £1000), by storing data in one central database accessed by all public bodies and by facilitating the cross-linking and sharing of data by those public bodies.

Convention on Modern Liberty: 28th February 2009

The Convention on Modern Liberty is a convention being organised for the 28th February 2009. To quote from the website:

“A call to all concerned with attacks on our fundamental rights and freedoms under pressure from counter-terrorism, financial breakdown and the database state”

This looks like it will be an interesting set of events, with conventions planned in London, Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Glasgow, Manchester, Southampton and Swansea.

I’ll post more news when I get it.

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Glasgow No2ID Music Gig

Glasgow’s No2ID group, campaigning against the government’s national identity scheme, have organised a fundraising music gig for the 26th July at Barfly, 260 Clyde Street, Glasgow, doors open at 8pm. Tickets are £5 in advance, £6 on the door. You can buy them here.

The gig takes place on both floors with downstairs featuring rock/metal and upstairs for acoustic/experimental music.

Bands appearing include: Mama Mayhem, Serpico, Marshan, Stonesthrow, Warped Memories and Traquair.

See also the No2ID music site on myspace.

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