Black churches condemn Home Office decision on holding DNA of innocent

By staff writers
May 8, 2009

Black church leaders and community groups have joined protests from civil rights campaigners over the UK government’s decision to retain DNA profiles on close to a million innocent people for up to 12 years.

The DNA and fingerprints of people who have been cleared of crimes or have never been charged, will be kept for six years and those accused of a serious violent or sexual offence but not convicted, will be kept for 12 years.

The Home Secretary, Jackie Smith, announced the decision in tandem with the launch of a new consultation on proposals to delete the computerised DNA records and fingerprints of innocent people, in response to the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the current practice of storing the DNA of the innocent is illegal.

"A public consultation is welcome, but it is clear from the European Court Ruling on the retention of the DNA and fingerprints that profiles of people who have never even been charged with an offence or have been cleared of a crime should be removed from the database and destroyed," said Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK.

She continued: "Whole communities have found themselves criminalised by this system. For an innocent citizen to be expected to put up with a six to 12 year wait to have their DNA removed from a criminal database can hardly be deemed to be justice."

Campaigners claim that over-policing of black communities is reflected in the strong racial bias of the database, which is estimated to contain the DNA profiles of over a third of the black male population living in the UK, despite this group having lower lifetime offending rates than their white counterparts.

Official statistics show that 57 per cent of DNA taken from people proven innocent in London alone comes from African Caribbean communities.

An estimated 77 per cent of young black men aged between 15 and 34 are also on the database, leading to assertions from many quarters that rather than helping to fight crime, the database has effectively criminalised a whole section of society.

"This potentially effects every black family in the UK it is a very serious issue," the Rev Pedro Okoro, lawyer and former chair of the executive board of African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance, commented.

"The Home Office’s response pays lip services to the European Ruling on the retention of innocent DNA," he added. "The government should put this judgement into full effect and destroy DNA profiles and fingerprints of every innocent person currently on the database. There are people who face false accusations all the time, but when they are found innocent they should be afforded the same rights as every other law-abiding citizen."

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