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Outrage at 500,000 DNA database mistakes

London Telegraph | August 27, 2007
Toby Helm

Civil liberties campaigners and MPs have raised doubts about the national DNA database after the Home Office confirmed it contained more than 500,000 false or wrongly recorded names.

Suspects arrested over any imprisonable offence, including rape and murder, can have their DNA held even if they are not charged or are acquitted.

The database, the biggest in the world, contains about four million names.

But it has been dogged by problems. Statistics released by the Home Office show it contains around 550,000 files with wrong or misspelt names.

Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat frontbencher, told The Daily Telegraph that she wanted a full parliamentary inquiry into the "shocking" number of errors.

"What lies behind these statistics? Is it the police just accept the 'say-so' of those whose DNA they are taking and don't check their names and addresses?" she said.

"While the use of DNA can obviously be vital in solving crimes, anything that raises questions about the credibility of the base is not acceptable."

It is understood that some of the errors have been caused by people deliberately giving someone else's name - or names of people who do not exist. The database, which police are determined to expand, also contains spelling errors and other inaccuracies.

Another source of concern to opponents, shown in the figures, is that the system has the DNA profiles of about 150,000 children, many of whom were arrested by police but found to be innocent.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of civil rights group Liberty, said the disclosure raised questions about police plans to expand the database to include information about those suspected of far less serious offences, such as dropping litter or dodging rail fares.

"It is bad enough that we have a DNA database stuffed with innocents not charged with any offence, containing too many children and too great a percentage of ethnic minorities," she said.

"Now it turns out we don't know the accuracy of the data. How many Postman Pats and Donald Ducks have entries on a system worthy of the Keystone Cops?"

Ministers accept the system is suffering teething problems but insist it is vital in solving crimes, some of which have remained open for decades.

In a case in November 2005, a 50-year-old builder was found guilty of a murder and rape that he committed in Essex 28 years ago.

He was stopped for drink- driving in 2004 and his DNA matched a sample taken from the original crime scene.

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