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Matthew Wilkes is a freelance Python developer, mostly using Zope and Plone. He is based in Bristol, in south-west England, and has a list of alcoholic beverages that he enjoys which this margin is too narrow to contain.



DNA and the Police

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?
Me Yes…
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.

The fallout

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.


13 Responses to “DNA and the Police”

  1. Hayley says:

    That’s worrying :/
    Last year my dad was asked to give a similar DNA sample after a woman was attacked near his old flat in another town. They’re bound to still have his DNA on record. I might point him towards your blog…

  2. [...] writes “In 2008 I invited two policemen into my home and voluntarily gave them a DNA and fingerprint sample to help with a murder investigation, as [...]

  3. DaveK says:

    This is just one of many reasons not to ever co-operate with the police, even if you are innocent and want them to catch whoever did whatever it is that they’re asking you to “help them with their inquiries” about. They are habitual liars and they will lie to and shaft you.

    Did you also know that if you willingly invite the police into your home, it is taken as granting them implicit permission to search the place (and yourself) without any need for a warrant?

    And see here for a law school professor’s (US-centric, but the same general principles apply here) explanation of why you should never talk to the police about anything at all for any reason ever:

  4. [...] such a promise from the police I recommend contacting their data protection registrar immediately. Sounds like the officers promised something they were in no position to do so, but with DNA not [...]

  5. kate says:

    you just been slashdotted

    your hit count is likely to go way up

  6. Anon says:

    Are you sure you’re not getting confused with the DNA elimination database that is a separate entity that, eg police officers provide samples for?

  7. Gary says:

    Did you provide written permission to have your DNA taken? As this was a volunteer sample and not one take. As the result of an arrest then you must give written permission before the sample can be taken.

    You may be interested to know that if the currnt DNA proposals set out in the crime and security bill go through then all volunteer samples will be destroyed and all profiles on the database deleted. Volunter samples will only be kept for the investigation and not held on the database itself.

  8. Anon says:

    Provided the person has given their written consent, DNA samples may be taken from a volunteer during the course of an investigation and loaded onto the National DNA Database.  The procedure for obtaining consent from a volunteer, which must be in writing, is set out in PACE Code D, Annex F, Note for Guidance F1.   There are two types of consent:
    ·        the volunteer consents to provide a DNA sample for the purposes of the investigation of the specific offence; or
    ·        the volunteer consents to provide a sample for the purposes of the specific investigation and for the DNA sample to be retained and the profile added to the National DNA Database.
    Annex F of PACE Code D explains that, unless the person has given written consent for the police to retain their sample on the National DNA Database for use in future investigations, samples taken voluntarily from a person in connection with the investigation of an offence which they are not suspected of having committed must be destroyed as soon as they have fulfilled the purpose for which they were taken..  Once given, the volunteer cannot withdraw this consent.

    These samples are not required to be destroyed, as above, if they were taken for the purpose of the investigation of an offence which a person has been convicted of and a sample was also taken from the convicted person as part of that investigation.  As Note for Guidance F2 of Annex F explains the reason these samples are not required to be destroyed is to allow them to be available for any subsequent miscarriage of justice investigation. 
    Under the proposals set out by the Home Secretary on 11 November 2009, we propose that a volunteer who provides samples for elimination purposes will not be placed on the DNA database.  Consent will still be required to take the sample, however it will no longer be asked for the sample or fingerprints to remain on a national database.
    Existing volunteer samples will be destroyed and profiles will be removed from the national database.  This will mean that future volunteer profiles will only be searched against crime scene specific samples relating to the specific offence under investigation.

    So the big question is. Did you give written permission? If not you should reply to the police force with this info.

  9. Thistle172 says:

    Why is ANYONE surprised at this turn of events?

    You got what was coming to you for being FOOLISH enough to not only believe the words of pigs conducting an investigation, but to cooperate with them. That was simply stupid. Under such circumstances THEY WILL ALWAYS LIE, and you can depend on that!

  10. JohnS says:

    In the UK, all DNA samples taken for any reason are kept on record permanently. Also, all the police need to force a sample being taken and recorded is a suspicion of involvement with a crime, so if they see you glancing into an expensive car they can legitimately say that they suspect you of trying to steal it, take your DNA and thats perfectly legal.


  11. AJ Bananananananas says:

    Ok so about a year a go I was 13 and our neighbor was SHOT and so they asked everyone questions and i knew the ammendments and police law and stuff so i got away from finger prints and stuff i thought. so the next day they brought me in for questioning and they brought me a soda and i knew they would take my finger prints of there and my dna so i asked for a napkin with it and after i finished i said 1 moment please and wiped the finger prints and dna right off and one of the police officers laughed and then i left.
    stupid cops trying to trick a 13 year old

  12. Ron Broxted says:

    You were idiotic to o-operate with the police.

  13. Rachel says:

    But… who really cares? So what if they keep it on record? It’s for the good of society. At the end of the day, if you stay innocent it will only protect you from future false accusations and hopefully help find the reall culprit. This seems completely blown out of proportion if you ask me (which I realise you didn’t…)

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