Stella Creasy MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Office Minister, has today written to Theresa May demanding answers following the disclosures yesterday from Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper regarding the Government’s DNA loophole.
This includes new evidence that some police forces are ignoring the Home Secretary’s demands to delete this data until the Government’s Biometrics Commissioner is up and running.
The full text of the letter is below:
Rt Hon Theresa May MP
2 Marsham Street
I am writing to you following the reports yesterday alleging that the Home Office is responsible for the deletion of DNA profiles of people arrested for, but not charged with, qualifying offences such as rape.
Yesterday’s revelations sit in stark contrast to assurances given by the Prime Minister to the House of Commons on this matter. In response to questions from the Leader of the Opposition he said: “If the right hon. Gentleman actually understood the policy, he would know that the police are allowed to apply to keep DNA on the computer, which is not something he mentioned.”
However it appears that these profiles are being removed without having an appeal mechanism in place for police forces to enable them to apply to retain this data where this may assist with the detection of offences. A Home Office email, published by the Times, confirmed that this was the case, reading: “This record [someone arrested but not charged with rape] will have been deleted as part of the legacy deletions for stage 1a. As the individual was NFA’d and for legacy data forces cannot apply to the biometrics commissioner for an extension. This will only happen from 1 October 2013.”
This process for ensuring the police could do this was promised by the Prime Minister to the Leader of the Opposition two years ago. The failure to put in place this scheme means that for example, someone arrested for rape last November, but then not charged, has had their DNA profile automatically deleted with no right to appeal for the police. This will continue for months unless you take action now.
This is a very serious issue; we know that rape has a low charge rate compared with other violent offences. Data from the Crown Prosecution Service shows that, on average, 4,000 rape suspects are not proceeded against every year. This is a figure we had thought there was cross-party support for improving. However, this approach to retaining DNA data may limit future detections and may also affect victims’ confidence in the criminal justice system.
Given the assurances which the Prime Minister has made and the concerns that it has taken too long for the Biometrics Commissioner to be established and functional, I believe the following questions and concerns need to be addressed.
Can you confirm who made the decision to proceed with the deletion of DNA records for those arrested but not charged with a qualifying offence, especially in rape cases? At what level within your department was this decision discussed?
Will the Home Office now take steps to close this loophole before October, allowing police forces to keep the DNA of people arrested on suspicion of, but not charged with, rape? This will allow appeals to be created ahead of the Commissioner being up and running.
There are also concerns about the legal position for police forces who are ignoring your demands to delete the DNA in the interim. An FOI response from one police force, seen by us, shows that they are continuing to keep the DNA of people arrested for qualifying offences, but not subsequently charged, until the promised system is up and running.
I would be grateful if you could confirm that when the Protection of Freedoms Act comes into force in October, the Home Office’s failure to recognise and close this loophole will not impact on these forces and that the DNA held would still be retained.
It is important for public confidence that there is transparency as to how many records have been deleted and the impact this has had on policing capability. We are therefore calling for an inquiry by an ACPO Officer to clarify what police forces have been doing since this chaos emerged and how many DNA profiles have been deleted and how many the police have asked to keep. In order to address these concerns and ensure that police are not burdened with a unwieldy appeals process, will you now work to establish such an inquiry so we can find out exactly what has happened in recent months and how this can be corrected as a matter of urgency?
I look forward to your prompt and full answers to these concerns and questions that I have raised.
Stella Creasy MP
Shadow Home Office Minister