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New Clause 1 — Retention, destruction and use of fingerprints and samples

Part of Crime and Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 8th March 2010.

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Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Shadow Home Secretary 4:45 pm, 8th March 2010

Of course it is a deterrent, and of course any crime scene will be searched for DNA, which will automatically go on to the database and be used as part of the investigation. We entirely support that. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point is similar to a point made by the Minister earlier. The Minister said that as long as one single case was brought to justice, such action would surely be regarded as sensible. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, that is not a requirement in law. The law requires, and the European Court has spelt out, that measures taken by the state should be proportionate to the objectives of the state and the protection of the public.

Many years ago, before 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall, I visited the Soviet union. An elderly lady would note all the times at which I went into or left my hotel room. If any member of the Soviet Government at the time had been asked whether that was a proportionate use of scrutiny, the response would have been that those with nothing to hide had nothing to fear, but I do not think-and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees-that we want such an intrusive state. It is simply not appropriate for the state randomly to acquire samples, and then profiles, of something as sensitive and as potentially intrusive into privacy as DNA on the basis of an arrest which may not lead to a conviction, as the person concerned may be entirely innocent.

The evidence provided by the Government to support the retention of the DNA of all innocent people for six years is an embarrassment to statistical science. The so-called evidence in the consultation paper was based on an extremely small sample of research carried out by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, which its own director later noted was incomplete and based on data to which the institute was not given direct access. Further criticism came from none other than Professor Sheila Bird, a vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society, who said that the consultation had damaged public trust in statistics and misled the House. The Home Office really has a lot to answer for.

More recently, confusion seems to have reigned across all fronts. Numbers have been flying around in connection with examples which the Government say prove beyond doubt that the DNA of innocent people should be kept for six years. The Home Secretary tells us that in 36 cases the DNA of innocent people not convicted of any crime was pivotal to the solving of cases involving serious violence and sexual offences. On 19 February I tabled a parliamentary question asking for the details of these cases, but, nearly a month later, I have still not received a response. If the evidence was so fantastically compelling, why on earth is the Home Office unable to provide a written parliamentary answer giving the details?

Some consultation seems to be taking place among the officials. I certainly hope that it is, because in my view it is rather important for parliamentary questions to be answered in advance of debates on legislation. It is a dereliction of duty for the Home Office not to come up with an answer. One would have thought that the Home Secretary would be more than willing to share the information, given that he quotes that figure at every available opportunity. What is the reason for his sudden reluctance?

We have received letters from the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism claiming to list five cases, but the number turned out to be only four owing to double counting. Another case, that of rapist Jeremiah Sheridan, has been cited by none other than the Prime Minister. In that case, DNA taken following Mr. Sheridan's arrest for a minor offence in 2005 was later matched to crime-scene DNA from an offence committed in 1991. Nothing in my party's proposals would prevent that from happening. Under our scheme, Mr. Sheridan's DNA would have been taken at arrest in 2005 and held on the database until the decision was made not to proceed any further. During that time, officers would have been free to check his DNA for matches against cold-case samples held on the database. A match would have been made, and the original 1991 case would have been solved.

The really shocking aspect of the case of Mr. Sheridan is that the original cold-case DNA sample from 1991 was not uploaded to the database until a staggering 16 years later, in 2007, at which point it was matched to Mr. Sheridan's. The failing here would not have been to have removed Mr. Sheridan's DNA from the database when he was not convicted of a crime; rather, it was to wait 16 years to run the cold case data against the information on the database. I do not want to go over any more individual cases-as I have said, the enumeration of them has been singularly lacking from Justice Ministers and from the Home Department-save to say that of the millions of crimes committed each year, the Government struggled to come up with even five concrete examples to support their case.

Of more concern in terms of the evidence the Home Secretary recently told us was being peer reviewed is the Government's constant conflation of re-arrest rates and conviction rates. I am not going to labour this point, because the hon. Member for Hornchurch made it very tellingly; I simply say that I entirely agree with his comments. The Government have come up with no evidence to convince me, and no evidence that should convince this House, that six years is a proportionate or necessary length of time to retain the DNA data of an innocent person, nor do I believe for an instant that the European Court of Human Rights will be persuaded. Were this sorry piece of legislation finally to reach the statute book, I believe it would be overturned again. Despite the positive aspects of the Bill-the latterly introduced measure to provide compensation to the victims of overseas terrorist offences, for example-Liberal Democrat Members cannot support these proposals, which loom so large over the remainder of the Bill.