SCOTLAND’S police are storing DNA from an astonishing one in 13 adults – many of them innocent of any crime.
A Scottish Daily Mail investigation has found that around 311,000 samples are now on the Big Brother-style police DNA database – more than double the number held in 2002.
And an alarming 6,787 of the samples are from people who were proven innocent in court, while 3,012 were not even prosecuted. DNA samples from 2,648 children as young as eight have also been kept.
These include a 12-year-old who was swabbed after being accused of shoplifting, and a 13-year-old who had sent an abusive text message.
When a suspect is arrested, the police have the right to take a DNA sample, usually a mouth swab.
The findings come on the day that Scotland’s controversial new single force, Police Scotland, is formally launched.
Last night, the sheer scale of DNA retention of people who have not committed any crime stoked fears over the extent of police powers.
Nick Pickles, of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘The astonishing increase in the number of people on the DNA database since 2002 should be cause for alarm for anyone who believes in a justice system that does not treat people never convicted of any crime like criminals.
‘For one in 13 Scots to be on the DNA database really does raise the question of whether it’s working properly and if we have lost all sense of proportion.’ Swabs or fingerprints are routinely taken by police when a suspect is arrested.
But the records can be kept on police files even if the case is dropped or the suspect is eventually found not guilty.
When a person is convicted, their DNA is held in the Scottish databaseindefinitely.
If someone is arrested but cleared of the charges, the sample can still be kept in the system for three years if it related to a sexual or violent crime.
There were 123,115 samples held when the figures were first released in 2002. This has since risen to 311,605 samples, or around one in 13 ofScotland’s 4,110,300 adults. The Scottish Tories defended the scale of DNAretention last night, even though only 5 per cent of samples kept on thedatabase matched records taken from a crime scene.
Tory chief whip John Lamont, said: ‘It is no surprise that the number of DNAsamples is rising given that criminals come along quicker than they disappear. Storing DNA can help lead to the solution of a range of crimes, and it’s something we welcome strongly. It’s important that this information is stored securely and responsibly.’ But campaigners voiced concerns that children as young as eight had their DNA retained on the system, despite the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland rising from eight to 12 in 2011.
Samples from youngsters are kept because they can be tried as adults in very serious cases such as rape. Only seven of the samples were retained from young people involved with Children’s Hearings system.
Alison Todd, of the Children 1st charity, said: ‘The whole point of the Children’s Hearings system is to look at children’s “needs not deeds”. Retaining DNA, which is only useful for criminal detection when a crime has already been committed, is at odds with that ethos.
‘Providing treatment and support for young offenders can prevent them reoffending and this is what the focus should be on, rather than labelling children as criminals.’ The DNA figures relate to the eight former regional police forces. Five of these took more than 2,173 DNA swabs from children in the last three years. Campaigners say on many occasions the swabs were from youngsters guilty of relatively minor offences. This is despite Scottish Government regulations stating that samples should only be taken and retained from children accused of a violent or sexual offence.
In Dumfries and Galloway, a 12-year-old child was swabbed after being accused of shoplifting and a 13-year-old had DNA taken after sending an abusive text message.
Other forces were unable to say how many swabs had been taken from children because of the huge number of DNA samples on their systems.
Mr Pickles added that it was ‘fundamentally wrong’ for police to take the DNAof children convicted of minor offences.
He said: ‘There’s a real question to be asked about the legality of these police swabs and the Scottish Government needs to investigate urgently to get to the bottom of this.’ A spokesman for the former Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary said: ‘Any person detained or arrested in relation to a crime or offence is subject of criminal justice sampling.
This is a routine process, which is legislated for through the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, for all custodies, no matter their age or sex. All of these samples are legally obtained.’ An innocent person who has theirDNA taken can complain about sample retention. But once the complaints procedure is complete, it can take up to ten months for the sample to be removed from the database.
Last night, a Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Scotland’s DNAretention system has been widely praised for striking the right balance between protecting the public and protecting the rights of the individual, and it has been highlighted as a good model by the European Court of Human Rights.’