The Observer, August 9
Almost one in four black children over 10 have had their profiles placed on the police DNA database. The disclosure has sparked claims from the chair of an influential parliamentary committee that the disparity with white children is undermining social integration.
About a million children have been added since the national DNA database started in 1995. However, there has been a dramatic rise from 2004, when police were given the power to add the profiles of people routinely arrested, even if not convicted of a crime. According to new figures obtained by the campaign group Genewatch, almost 45,000 black children aged 10 to 17 in England and Wales – about 23% of all black children in the age group – have been added to the database in the past five years. By contrast, the DNA profiles of just under 10% of white youths aged 10 to 17 – about 440,000 children – have been added. “The racial bias in the database is shocking and black children have been disproportionately affected,” said Helen Wallace, director of Genewatch. In the vast majority of cases, the children’s profiles have been retained once they turned 18 and became adults.
Keith Vaz MP, chair of the home affairs select committee, said: “Such disparity in the treatment of different ethnic groups is bound to lead to a disintegration of community relations and a lack of trust in the police force.”
The figures have raised questions about the government’s desire to retain the DNA profiles of children – arrested but never convicted of crimes – for up to six years and of adults for up to 12 years. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned the government risks breaking European law because ministers have failed to provide “clear, justifiable reasons for holding on to DNA data from people who had not been convicted of a crime.” In a lengthy submission to the government, the commission said the government’s proposals for the retention of DNA profiles failed to recognise there were a disproportionate number of young black men, vulnerable people and children on the database.
John Wadham, the EHRC’s group legal director, said: “It would be sensible for the government to get this right now or it could face many expensive legal challenges.”
Genewatch has drawn a comparison with Scotland, where rules on retention of DNA profiles are far stricter. Only eight 14-year-olds have their DNA retained, compared with 35,867 in England and Wales. “When you see these figures, your jaw hits the floor,” said Terri Dowty, director of Action on Rights for Children. “Our view is children’s DNA should not be added to the database as a matter of course. It should be left to the courts to decide each individual case.”
The government has recently closed a consultation exercise on its proposals for DNA retention. In its submission, the NSPCC noted: “We find it extraordinary that a child who has been arrested, but not necessarily ever charged with or convicted of a crime, can have biometric DNA data about themselves kept for a period of up to six years. Given that the past few years have seen some substantial increases in arrests of children and young people for very trivial reasons, we find this extremely worrying.”
A Home Office spokeswoman defended database retention of children’s DNA profiles: “Before a person’s profile can be added to it, the person must have been arrested for a recordable offence. That is a significant threshold.”