I’ve mentioned this a few times to various people, but I think the time has come to write up what’s going on.
The background information
On 21st February 2007 one of my parents’ neighbours was found in a cupboard with a ~2 foot barbecue skewer stabbed through his chest. He’d been there for three days and was close to death. He subsequently died in hospital and a murder investigation was started.
Over the course of a year they advertised for witnesses many times, offered rewards and interviewed all his neighbours many times. I wasn’t interviewed as I’d been living in Bristol at the time. Eventually, they phoned me up and asked I’d mind helping them out. It was clear they were scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Two very amiable officers drove down to Bristol and we had a chat in my flat about Les. Just the normal kind of thing, did he antagonise anyone a lot, what was the atmosphere like in his house, and who did I know that went in there. I was very good friends with his grandson, so had been in there a fair bit, including the garage (which was not often cleaned).
The sample collecting
They asked to take my fingerprints and DNA samples so they could exclude me from anything they’d already collected. They asked me if I’d like my samples destroyed after the investigation or kept on the national database, but the way they did so was so funny it stuck with me:
|Policeman 1||We can destroy your samples after the investigation, or we can keep them on the database so we can use them again in future.|
|Me||What’s in it for me?|
|Policeman 1||That sounds like a “no”, doesn’t it?|
|Me||Pretty much. What if I want to commit a serious crime in the future?|
|Policeman 2||Hang on, you said you’re a computer science student, right?|
|Policeman 2||So why are you worrying? There’s no DNA evidence with computer crime!|
|Me||Hmm, still think I’ll pass.|
So, that nice bit of banter out of the way, they took my samples and left.
I was not a suspect, I was not detained, I was not cautioned. I invited these policemen into my home and voluntarily gave them a DNA and fingerprint sample to help in a murder investigation because they assured me that is all it would ever be used for.
Another year later an inquest ruled that he had accidentally stabbed himself with the skewer, and the investigation was closed. At the end of 2009 I decided to get in contact with the West Midlands police to ask them if they’d been true to their word. Here are some excepts of our 2 month correspondance:
Firstly, on 11th December 2009:
Then, 26th February 2010:
With reference to previous correspondence relating to your request for the removal and destruction of your DNA sample and fingerprints. Unfortunately, the review of the circumstances by the Chief Officer is taking longer than expected. However, I can assure that once complete, you will be notified immediately.
and finally, 1st March 2010:
At this moment in time, all I am able to confirm is that your request is still with the Senior Investigating Officer as the sample you provided is still currently held. Unfortunately, I am unable to comment as to the promise you were given as I was not involved in the investigation.
Lovely, isn’t it?
So, if you’ve ever helped the police and they’ve told you that the information you provided wouldn’t be retained, I’d recommend contacting them.
Personally, I feel like I have been assaulted by two police officers who entered my home on false pretenses. I believe the individual officers were acting in good faith and the force’s administration has let them, and me down.
Update – 24th May 2010
I have received a letter from Suzette Davenport, Assistant Chief Constable for West Midlands police. The following is an extract:
I can confirm that neither your DNA sample nor fingerprints were uploaded to the national databases and will be destroyed in accordance with strict procedures. Your fingerprints will be shredded forthwith, and the 2 mouth swabs will be destroyed by way of incineration as per clinical waste procedures.
It took almost six months after I began chasing this in earnest and it certainly shouldn’t have taken any chasing, but I’m glad it’s finally over. My colleagues seem to think it’s to do with the change of government expediting this kind of back-peddling on civil liberties screw-ups but I’m not so sure the police would be prioritising based on fear of upcoming investigations.