Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 6:12 pm on 1st March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 6:12 pm, 1st March 2011

My hon. Friend is right. Some cases of very distressing abuse have taken place involving vulnerable adults, and it is important that they, too, should have protection against that. The key is to ensure that if one authority or organisation knows that somebody has a history of abuse, that person should not be allowed to work again in a position where they may put vulnerable adults or children at risk in a way that other authorities, or the families, were not aware of, and which might lead to harm.

I want finally to turn to DNA, which is another area where we believe that the Government are going too far. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle had already legislated for safeguards on DNA use, including a six-year limit on retention for those who were not convicted. He based those safeguards on analysis of reoffending rates and the benefits in terms of preventing and solving crimes. The Government have decided to reject those safeguards and to go much further in restricting the use of DNA, but not on the basis of evidence. Some people object, as a matter of principle, to DNA being held at all if the person has not been convicted. I do not agree with that, but neither does the Home Secretary. She claimed that nobody’s DNA should be kept at all if they were innocent, but that is not what the proposals in her Bill achieve. Rightly, she recognises that there must be a balance that supports the needs to prevent crime and to ensure that crimes are solved. A balance needs to be struck, but she is not striking the right one. The changes go too far in restricting the use of DNA and will make it harder for the police to solve and prevent serious crimes.

This is a particular problem in rape cases. As the Home Secretary knows, rape cases not only have a notoriously low conviction rate, but a notoriously low charge rate. That is because the trauma for the victim is so great and because of problems with evidence. Many perpetrators of serious sexual crimes are not brought to justice for their first offence. In about 70% of cases in which a rape suspect is arrested, there is no charge.

According to Home Office papers, in cases where there is no charge, DNA will be kept only in very limited circumstances, so in most of these cases the DNA will be destroyed, even though it might be critical in catching a repeat offender for a nasty and violent sexual offence.

The Home Secretary will know that a considerable number of cases have been solved because of DNA. Kensley Larrier was arrested in 2002 for the possession of an offensive weapon. The case never reached court, but two years later he raped someone and was found because of a DNA match. Lee and Stephen Ainsby raped and kidnapped a 17-year-old girl in Barnsley. A match with Lee Ainsby’s DNA was found years later in a case review. It had been taken because he had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Under the Home Secretary’s system, his DNA would not have been kept. Without that DNA, those two men would still be free, and justice for that young girl would not have been done. Abdul Azad was arrested for violent disorder in Birmingham in February 2005, but released without charge, according to the Forensic Science Service. In July 2005, he raped somebody in Stafford and was identified only because the police had his DNA. The senior investigating officer for the case said:

“We would never have caught him had his DNA not already been on the database—he didn’t even live locally so we had no intelligence leads either.”

Case after case would have been much harder for the police to solve under the Home Secretary’s new rules. Yes, she has an obligation to ensure that individuals are protected from unjustified interference, but she also has an obligation to protect people from crime and to deliver justice for the victims of horrific crimes.