Welsh police take DNA samples from more than 5,500 children

by jeeg 23. September 2013 20:36

A one-year-old baby is among thousands of children who have had their DNA taken by police officers in Wales.

A total of 5,561 kids were swabbed by Wales’ four forces as part of their investigations since 2010.

South Wales Police took the most – 2,866 samples since 2010 – but Dyfed Powys Police swabbed the youngest children. The mid and west Wales force was the only one to take from children under 10.

These included a one-year-old last year, a two-year-old in 2010, a seven-year-old in 2011, an eight-year-old in 2012 and a nine-year-old in 2011.

Nick Pickles is director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch.

He said: “I’m stunned that someone thought it was acceptable to take a DNA sample from a one-year-old baby. On what possible grounds is that reasonable or necessary?

“The UK DNA Database has grown to become the largest in the world and yet there is little evidence to suggest DNA profiling results in a higher sense of public safety.”

Andrew Neilson runs the Howard League for Penal Reform.

He said: “These figures show the worrying extent to which children are drawn into criminal investigations. It is a cause for concern that more than 5,500 DNA samples have been taken from under-16s in only three-and-a-half years.”

He said it was “encouraging” sample numbers were falling.

“When public money is tight and police forces are shrinking, it is vital that valuable crime-fighting resources are not wasted on taking DNA samples from the innocent,” he said.

Helen Wallace heads Genewatch, which wants genetics to be used in the public interest.

She said: “The police do need to be able to take samples from children in cases sometimes to eliminate samples.

“So a one-year-old would have been present in a house where a crime has taken place and they will need that data.

“But our concern is about the large numbers of children who are ending up with records on the DNA database.

“There is a new law coming in next month, the Protection of Freedoms Act that will improve the situation in that children’s DNA could be removed from the database if they are only convicted of a minor offence or if they are innocent.” 

At the moment if your DNA is taken on arrest it can be stored until you are 100.

“We are the only country in the world where children as young as 10 can have their DNA taken on arrest without being charged with anything,” Dr Wallace said.

“The process a child can go through can be quite traumatic if a child is arrested for no reason, if it a false accusation or misunderstanding,” Dr Wallace said.

“It can be traumatic to be photographed and fingerprinted and have your DNA taken.”

Dyfed-Powys Police said: “A total of five DNA samples were taken from children between the ages of zero and nine.

“These were volunteer DNA elimination samples which were required in order to assist in the investigation of crimes.”

The force has taken samples from 1,080 youngsters since 2010.

“In relation to retention of DNA samples, under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, any DNA or non-DNA samples which have been taken with consent, and in connection with the investigation of an offence, do not need to be destroyed if they may be used in court proceedings including any possible appeal.”

These might be taken from relatives of a murder victim whose body has not been found.

“Any such sample can only be used in connection with the investigation of the offence for which it was taken and must be destroyed once no longer required for such proceedings or appeal,” the spokeswoman said.

By July 1 this year South Wales Police had taken DNA from 141 10-year-olds.

A spokesman said: “The number of samples taken reflects the number of people in the age group who were arrested.

 “The national DNA database is an invaluable tool for investigators.”

A total of 1,132 children have been swabbed by North Wales Police since 2010. The youngest was 10. Since 2010 they have taken 16 samples of kids that age.

This year Gwent Police took 120 samples from under 15s. The youngest was ten. Since 2010 they have sampled 483.

A spokesman said: “Whatever the circumstances the intention and purpose is always the same – preventing or detecting crime.”

North Wales Police did not comment.

James McCarthy , Wales Online

 

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