Back in January I mentioned a friend of mine who discovered she’d been the victim of a mistake by the CRB. She does voluntary work with a play group organised through her church and they finally got round to insisting all volunteers had a CRB check.
Rather to her surprise, she discovered she’d been convicted back in the 1980s for Taking a Vehicle Without the Owner’s Consent, Excess Alcohol and No Insurance, which she was sure she’d have remembered if it had happened. Then, which really annoyed her, the following day a snotty and sanctimonious letter arrived from the national organisers of this children’s group suggesting they weren’t really sure she was suitable.
Simple enough mistake, it seemed. Same (rather unusual) first name and, similarly rather unusual, surname as her maiden name (she was, at the time of the offence, using her married name), though different middle name and about 10 years’ age difference.
Anyway, I said I’d post again to say how she got on. I saw her the other day and it’s, at last, resolved — 5 months later. This involved her arranging to be fingerprinted at her local police station, which apparently took several weeks to set up. Not quite sure why this was, though it may have been that they had to find an old ink roller and pad fingerprint kit (and someone who knew how to use it, I suppose) of the sort used a the time of the original offence, rather than use the digital equipment now in use, to make the comparison easier.
That, I think, took a couple of months, and now she’s only just been told, not that they’re sorry they made a mistake but that they can’t find the original file so they can’t actually prove it was her. Which seems somewhat grudging to me — no apology, and it took quite a bit of pushing from her to get Thames Valley (her local police area) to tell the CRB people to issue a new, clean, certificate rather than for her (or the charity, rather) to reapply.
She’s not at all happy about this, and who can blame her? What particularly irritates her, as she said, is that throughout she’s been telling them that the Excess Alcohol conviction would have led to an automatic driving ban, so here’s her licence and why didn’t they ask the DVLA if it had ever been suspended? Since the DVLA would — one hopes — confirm it hadn’t, nor ever had any endorsements on it, that would, surely, prove it wasn’t her who had been convicted. Not interested, though.
This reminded me of another case of mistaken identity, when some time ago another friend’s son, whose DNA is on the Police Database because he was convicted for common assault (punch-up between him and another drunk 18-year-old late one Saturday night) found himself hauled in for questioning in connection with a burglary, which he’d certainly had nothing to do with. They’d found DNA evidence at the scene of the break-in, though, and it seemed to match his.
He was sure he hadn’t done it, and had, in fact, been at work at the time of the burglary, so they ran a more detailed analysis and, sure enough, it wasn’t his DNA at all. Apparently the way it works is that they do an initial, quick and cheap, comparison, in the hope that whoever they get the match for will, on being confronted with the forensic evidence, realise the game’s up and confess. They only bother with the more detailed, time-consuming and expensive tests if, despite the apparent evidence, he’s still adamant he’s innocent.
The full implications of this become horribly clear when I read Philip Johnston in today’s Telegraph. After discussing the reasons we’ve apparently got
the world’s largest DNA database, half as large again as the rest of the European Union put together. It represents more than five per cent of the population, compared with just over one per cent in the rest of the EU and 0.5 per cent in America
— not only do we keep DNA from people like my friend’s son,
convicted criminals, [but this ] was extended to people who were tried but acquitted, then to people who were charged but never tried and then, last year, to people who were arrested but never charged
and now they’re talking about retaining samples from suspects, witnesses, people whose DNA has been taken for elimination purposes and, if John Reid gets his way, taking and retaining DNA for people committing ‘non-recordable offences’ like dropping litter and speeding (I can’t see it happening for speeding, since it would upset too many people, but who knows?).
Well, if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear, or so we’re told. Other, I suppose, than someone making a mistake or a sample getting contaminated or even, as happened with my friend’s son, being hauled in and questioned at quite some length by detectives who’re convinced they have what appears, prima facie, to be pretty good evidence against you.
But it’s worse than that. We’ve apparently recently signed up to something called The Prum Treaty. Mr Johnston explains,
This is an agreement to share criminal data across the EU, including DNA.Since Britain has by the far the largest DNA database in Europe, how this treaty operates is of great importance to those whose profiles are retained. Other EU police forces will have access to the UK database on a “hit, no hit” basis. In other words, the British authorities will inform their counterparts in, say, France whether a profile they have forwarded is retained on the British system.
If it is, what would the police in France think?
Let us imagine they are investigating the rape of a girl at a campsite and they take the DNA of all men staying there. Would they not be suspicious of a person whose DNA shows a positive match on the UK’s criminal database, since their own does not have a million innocent people on it?
So you may have nothing to hide but if, like our correspondent now on the criminal database for being beaten up by someone who ran into his car, there may be something to fear. Who knows what would happen to him were he considered a suspect in a serious crime while on holiday abroad on the sole grounds that his DNA was a “hit” on the UK system?