Memorandum by the Association of Chief
Police Officers (Crime Committee)
1. The National DNA Database was created
on 10th April 1995. The Database is located within the Forensic
Science Service Headquarters at Birmingham and is managed on behalf
of the Police Service by the Forensic Science Service (FSS). The
FSS, as custodian of the Database, is responsible for the maintenance,
management and security of it. However, the data held on the Database
remains the property of the individual Police Forces within the
United Kingdom, which submit samples to it.
2. During the early years of the Database,
the FSS not only acted as custodian but they were also the single
and sole supplier of DNA profiling for the Police Forces in England
and Wales. The Scottish Police Forces, utilising their own police
forensic laboratories and, subsequently, private sector providers
of forensic science (principally the Laboratory of the Government
Chemist and Forensic Alliance), have entered the forensic marketplace
and now provide DNA profiling for various Police Forces. However,
although there are various suppliers of DNA profiling for police,
there is only one National DNA Database. After analysis and profiling
of the suspect and crime scene samples by the service provider,
the DNA profiles are forwarded to the FSS for entry on and search
of the National DNA Database.
3. The FSS, as Custodian of the National
DNA Database, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the
Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), covering, inter alia,
the management, administration and security of the Database. The
Memorandum of Understanding also includes the provisions for removal
of profiles from the Database.
4. The National DNA Database comprises two
(i) a Suspect Database;
(ii) a Crime Scene Database.
5. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act
1984 (PACE), as amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order
Act 1994, provides a power to take non-intimate DNA samples from
all persons suspected of, reported for, charged with, convicted
of, or cautioned for, a recordable offence. A "non-intimate
DNA sample" essentially comprises a mouth swab or rooted
hair (other than pubic hair). A "recordable offence"
is any offence for which a person is liable, on conviction, to
a term of imprisonment. The legal statutes mentioned above also
provide that police may take DNA samples from suspects without
their consent, using force where necessary, providing a Superintendent
of Police has given authority, in accordance with the provisions
6. The two segments of the National DNA
Database contain the following information:
(i) the Suspect Database contains:
(a) the DNA profile itself;
(b) a unique reference number;
(c) an arrest/summons number which provides a link to the
Police National Computerised Index of Criminal Records (PHOENIX);
(d) the subject's full name, sex, date of birth, ethnic origin;
(e) the Police Force and station reference code taking the
(f) the name of the specific police officer taking the sample.
(ii) the Crime Scene Database contains DNA
profiles from samples obtained from crime scenes, including samples
taken from the victims of crime (eg rape cases).
7. In practice, whenever a new suspect DNA
profile or a new crime scene DNA profile is loaded onto the Database,
that profile is automatically cross-checked to establish whether
or not a match ("hit") results.
8. Matches or "hits" fall into
(i) a suspect to scene match;
(ii) a scene to scene match;
(iii) a suspect to suspect match where a person has given
different identification details on different occasions.
9. As at 31 August 2000, the National DNA
Database contained the following total number of profiles:
suspect profiles: 930,187;
crime scene profiles 88,451.
10. The total number of matches or "hits"
achieved by the Database since 10 April 1995 is 97,852 comprising:
suspect to scene: 86, 865;
scene to scene: 10,987.
The matches/"hits" that have been
achieved range from hundreds of the most serious offencesmurder,
manslaughter, rape, etc, to many thousands of volume crimes, eg
burglary, car crime, etc.
11. The National DNA Database and the use
of DNA has been the most significant advance in the use of forensic
science by police against crime since the introduction of fingerprints
over 100 years ago. It is important to understand that the National
DNA Database is an intelligence database. Wherever a match or
"hit" is obtained, police must obtain a separate casework
sample from a suspect, which is analysed and profiled separately
for evidential purposes. It is that sample alone which is used
as evidence in any subsequent prosecution.
12. It is also important to note that ACPO
advice to Forces is that DNA evidence should not be used as the
single and sole piece of evidence in any case but rather as an
important part of the evidential jigsaw. Wherever possible, Forces
are advised to seek corroborative evidence, including witness
evidence, circumstantial evidence, other forensic evidence, etc.
13. In respect of both its intelligence
and evidential value, a DNA profile can be powerful evidence in
helping to convict the guilty. Equally, and importantly, it can
also positively acquit the innocent. Indeed, there are notable
examples where, without DNA evidence, an innocent person might
have been convicted for a serious offence.
14. DNA evidence, like all other forensic
evidence, is evidence of opinion. Police acknowledge that it is
crucial that the continuity and integrity of any DNA exhibit from
crime scene profile, through the submission process by police
to the FSS (or other provider), to analysis and subsequent presentation
of evidence at court, needs to be pursued in accordance with the
high standards required by the Criminal Justice System. Similar
safeguards are necessary for the casework suspect profile.
15. Implicit in those safeguards is the
need for quality assurance and rigorous monitoring, together with
high standards of integrity and security throughout the whole
process. Those issues are covered in the Memorandum of Understanding
between the FSS and ACPO and in local protocols between Forces
and the alternative forensic providers.
16. Police fully recognise the sensitivity
of maintaining DNA data on individuals on the National DNA Database
and we accept the need for high standards of probity/integrity
at all stages of the process. That includes the need for DNA profiles
to be removed from the Database whenever a person is acquitted
in a case for which a DNA suspect sample has been taken or that
case is discontinued for whatever reason. Section 64 of PACE makes
that a legal requirement and those matters are also specifically
covered in the Memorandum of Understanding referred to above.
Where a person has been convicted of an offence, his/her DNA profile
remains on the National DNA Database until that person dies; the
same provision applies as for fingerprints. The principal reasons
for that are twofold:
(i) the deterrent effect that retaining a
person's DNA profile on a Database following conviction may have
on the individual;
(ii) people commit crimes across a range
of different offences in different parts of the country and sometimes
many years apart; the retention of a DNA profile is a vital tool
to identification if a person re-offends.
17. There are many examples of DNA evidence
being instrumental in the identification and conviction of persons
who have committed serious offences (eg murder and rape) many
years ago. Also, our experience has been that people who commit
serious crime often start off their criminal careers committing
relatively minor offences, including traffic offences. Police
research (the CATCHEM Database) illustrates quite clearly, for
instance, that those who go on to commit serious sexual offences
against children or adults often have previous convictions for
very minor offences with a sexual connotation, eg stealing women's
panties from washing lines or indecent exposure. The ability to
obtain a DNA sample for relatively minor offences, providing they
are recordable offences, is a crucial element in helping to prevent
and detect more serious crime at a later stage.
18. Police also acknowledge the concern
that people have about genetic information held on the National
DNA Database being misused for purposes other than those for which
it is originally gathered and stored. The provisions of the Data
Protection Act fully apply to the National DNA Database and it
fully conforms to the national strategy for Police Information
19. Police believe that there is wide support
for the use of forensic science in the fight against crime. Although
not directly connected to the National Database, an important
use of DNA in serious crime cases is in intelligence-led/mass
screens where, following a serious crime (murder, manslaughter,
rape etc) a profile of a potential offender is prepared by police
and those who fit the profile, either by reason of age, geographic
location, description or criminal propensity, are invited to volunteer
DNA samples to assist the police investigation. After profiling,
the volunteer's DNA is compared with the specific DNA profile
obtained from the crime scene. Such volunteer samples cannot be
speculatively searched against the National DNA Database; they
can only be used for comparison against the specific crime scene
profile and if no match is obtained, they are destroyed.
20. In recent years, over 40 serious crimes
have been solved as a result of intelligence-led screens using
DNA profiling from volunteers. Interestingly, suspects who have
been approached on more than one occasion to volunteer samples
(eg suspected or convicted paedophiles) following a child murder
or other serious sexual offence, have variously queried why their
voluntary DNA sample cannot be retained on a Database for future
reference even though they have been eliminated from the specific
enquiry for which the DNA sample was taken. The law currently
does not allow that but it is an illustration that suspects themselves
acknowledge the value of DNA profiling in combating crime and
rather than be troubled on several occasions to provide volunteer
samples, they would prefer police retain their original voluntary
21. The Forensic Science Service/ACPO partnership
has enabled the UK to lead the world with the National DNA Database.
No other country or jurisdiction has had anywhere near the success
of this country with such a Database. The principal reasons for
(i) the scientific and technical advances,
including technology, developed by the FSS and its continuing
research and development in this field;
(ii) the legal powers available to police
which allow non-intimate samples to be taken quickly, easily and
at relatively low cost;
(iii) the wide range of offences for which
the law here allows police to take DNA samples;
(iv) the ability to store DNA data and rapidly
cross-check it on a national database;
(v) the monitoring and quality assurance
measures in place to ensure that the integrity of the Database
22. The rapid advances in the science of
DNA and the technology associated with it indicate that the use
of DNA profiling by police in pursuit of criminal justice will
increase. Already it is possible to ascertain from a DNA profile
the gender and, in many cases, ethnicity of a suspect. Scientific
advances will eventually enable DNA analysis to indicate hair
colour, eye colour, facial characteristics etc.
23. These advances will provide significant
additional help to policing, provided the safeguards and quality
assurance issues are maintained in the creation, storage, security
and presentation of DNA intelligence/evidence.
24. Because of the enormous advances in
the science of DNA within recent years, the risk of cross contamination
at a crime scene has increased significantly. A stray hair, sneeze,
other body fluid or fingerprint, all potentially prejudice a crime
scene by the cross-contamination of a DNA exhibit. Single cell
analysis and vastly improved methods of collecting DNA from a
crime scene exacerbate the risk.
25. For that reason, earlier this year a
third but entirely separate and discrete segment of the National
DNA Database was introducedthe Police Elimination Database.
That Database currently contains nearly 40,000 DNA profiles from
front line police staff who are likely to attend crime scenes
and enables rapid elimination of such persons, should innocent
26. The value of DNA evidence to police
has been recognised by government, which has invested a further
£208 million over the next four years, to help police in
doubling their current level of DNA sampling, both for suspects
and from crime scenes.
27. In summary, the use of DNA by police
has increased enormously in recent years and will continue to
grow. DNA evidence adds a vital additional weapon to the police
armoury in the fight against crime. Police fully recognise the
need to maintain the integrity of such evidence and the need for
high levels of security and probity in dealing with such data.
28. Police recognise the Civil Liberty issues
involved in the storage of DNA profiles on a database but the
crucial fact remains that DNA can positively acquit the innocent,
whilst helping to convict the guilty and that fact provides
an important balance on such issues.
29. Crucially, police use of DNA and the
National DNA Database is only for the prevention and detection
of crime. It cannot be used by police for any other purpose. In
that sense, the social, ethical, legal and economic implications
of the National DNA Database should be viewed in the light of
its enormous success in helping to prevent and detect crime.