DNA and Databases
DeoxyriboNucleic Acid or DNA put simply is a double stranded helix ladder structure in which each step [rung] is connected by either one of four bolts [bases], they being adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C) and their choice along with their rung spacing provides repeatable genetic code patterns such as AAGTTTTACCACT etc. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes [ human genome ] inherited equally from both biological parents and although a “gene” is really a location [ locus/Loci] on a chromosome there may exist different versions referred to as alleles.
Nature determined that some three billion data elements be necessary in providing human uniqueness as to identity and therefore until DNA matching is performed on that scale there must always exist that element called DOUBT!. As DNA databases grow in size using fractional data the probability of “sameness” as to suspects must increase yielding higher numbers of possible matches but what is a Judge to do faced with IDENTICAL TWINS whom both have identical STR [ Short Tandem Repeats ] DNA profiles?. In the USA the accuracy of DNA is being questioned but what of the UK where legal professionals nowadays really need to be of Graduate caliber versed not only in Law but both anatomical Science and Statiticianism in order to defend their clients?.
Interestingly in April 2008 [ see 11 04 2008 below ] Mr Justice Weir in the Omagh bombing trial questioned the scientific validity of DNA after it wrongly linked a sample taken from a car bomb in Northern Ireland to a 14-year-old boy in Nottingham. After that trial the Police in Northern Ireland suspended its use of Low Copy Number (LCN) DNA Testing however the technique is still reportedly being used by prosecutors in England and Wales. On that basis it begs the question as to the scale of probability which allows prisons to be filled by people innocent of their alledged crimes.
05 09 2007 All UK 'must be on DNA database'. Lord Justice Sedley, a senior judge, says that the whole population and every UK visitor should be added to the national DNA database. He said this was indefensible and biased against ethnic minorities, and it would be fairer to include everyone, guilty or innocent. Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said there was "no earthly reason" why someone who has committed no crime should be on the database - "yet the government is shoving thousands of innocent people's DNA details on to the database every month". In one case, Dyfed-Powys Police stored the DNA of Jeffrey Orchard, 72, from Pembrokeshire, after he was wrongly arrested for criminal damage - and refused to remove it.
05 12 2007: UKDNA database errors raise concerns.The largest DNA database in the world covering details on about 4.5 million people including information on every person arrested, convicted or not, and on 900 000 children raises questions as inaccuracies and administrative errors have been found in its records. Incorrect dates, spelling mistakes and duplications have been found by Data Quality and Integrity Team of the DNA database unit. In August 2007 statistics released by the Home Office (HO) were showing around 550 000 files with wrongly recorded or miss spelt names. The director of civil rights group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, considered it was already bad that the database included innocent people which had never been charged, many children and a large percentage of ethnic minorities. "Now it turns out we don't know the accuracy of the data. How many Postman Pats and Donald Ducks have entries on a system worthy of the Keystone Cops?" she commented. John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley and an Internet entrepreneur who is investigating the reasons of the occurrence of so many errors stated: "It is important that people recognise Government databases are not necessarily 100 per cent accurate (...) It is quite clear you can't trust the Government with your personal information.
20 02 2008 Crown Prosecution Service failed to run DNA checks. The CPS has admitted that it failed to run checks on 2,000 foreign crime suspects for more than a year after it was sent their DNA profiles by the Dutch police force. According to reports, the CPS only started running checks this month and found 11 of the suspects had committed crimes in Britain in the past 12 months. The profiles were sent to London in January 2007. The news comes following a series of incidents involving missing data however the CPS said the new case was "not a data security issue" because the information was always in its possession.
11 04 2008 low copy dna suspended in northern ireland. A Government commissioned study last year says that DNA profiles from tiny samples is scientifically sound after doubts were raised over the reliability. Low copy number (LCN) DNA testing hit the headlines last December when the judge Mr Justice Weir in the Omagh bombing trial questioned its scientific validity after it wrongly linked a sample taken from a car bomb in Northern Ireland to a 14-year-old boy in Nottingham. The Police Service of Northern Ireland suspended its useof LCN testingafter the Omagh trial butthe technique continued to be used by prosecutors in England and Wales. The Caddy Review made 21 recommendations including that any DNA profile obtained using LCN should be presented to a jury in a criminal trial with caveats, the report said.
27 05 2008 Death penalty ruling sparks concern. Defence attorneys in Oklahoma City in America are worried that an innocent man could be executed pointing to past death sentences of men who were later exonerated, blaming ineffective lawyers, overzealous prosecutors and shoddy evidence. Since 1973, 129 people have walked off death row in 26 states after evidence proved they were wrongfully convicted, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre. One of the Oklahoma men, Ron Williamson, spent nine years on death row and came within five days of execution before he was set free by DNA evidence. The Supreme Court began considering the constitutionality of lethal injection in September after a Kentucky man sued, arguing the procedure was cruel and unusual punishment. Nobody has ever been able to produce irrefutable proof that any innocent man was executed in recent US history, but Oklahoma's execution of Malcolm Rent Johnson has troubled many death penalty opponents. He went to his execution proclaiming his innocence.
16 07 2008 Big Brother Britain 'going to far'. Big Brother Britain is going a step too far, Richard Thomas, the UK's Information Commissioner has warned. He has spoken out against apparent plans for a massive new Government database which could contain every phone call, text message, email and internet search made by each and every one of us. "Do we really want the police, security services and other organs of the state to have access to more and more aspects of our private lives?. Mr Thomas said there had not been sufficient debate on proposals to collect more and more personal information on databases for DNA samples and Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras. The Information Commissioner's Office is serving enforcement notices against HM Revenue and Customs and the Ministry of Defence following the recent high-profile data protection breaches involving the loss of computer discs and laptops containing personal details.
30 07 2008 Independent DNA Database called for. An inquiry funded by the Government says that Innocent people should have their profiles deleted from the National DNA Database. Even guilty people who have served their time should eventually have their DNA records erased because retaining the profile "continues to criminalise them", the study concluded. The "citizen's inquiry" overseen by the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) urged ministers to take control of the database away from the police and the Home Office, by setting up an independent body to own and control the information. It said some of the panel members believed that "past actions and hidden agendas have shown that the Government cannot be trusted". The inquiry's proposals to require the deletion of DNA records would make it impossible for police to use the database to solve "cold cases" - which ministers usually put forward as one of the main benefits of the scheme. But the panel made up of 30 members of the public also criticised a number of ways the database currently operates. New laws should be passed to limit who can access the database, including restricting police use to "seeking matches... from a crime scene", it said. Juries should be given better information about DNA in trials, it added.
07 10 2008 Miscarriage of justice. Frenchman Mr Machin was arrested in December 2001 for the murder of Marie-Agnès Bedot to which he spent some six and a half years behind bars. Initially he admitted guilt but later retracted his confession and claimed his innocence. An accuser came forward earlier this year to retract an original claim that he had raped her and in the March of this year a David Sagno turned himself in to the police saying he needed "to ease his conscience" over the murder of Marie-Agnès Bedot. To further investigation it was then discovered that the DNA of Sagno was on the clothes of Bedot yet interestingly also on a another woman, Maria-Judith Araujo, whom was murdered six months later in May 2002 and in exactly the same spot!.
08 10 2008 DNA fingerprinting could reveal your surname. Police could one day predict the surname of male suspects or victims of crime from DNA alone, researchers said on Wednesday Scientists at Leicester University, where DNA fingerprinting was invented in 1984, said they had demonstrated that men with the same surname were highly likely to be genetically linked. A study of 2,500 men found that on average there was a 24 percent chance of two men with the same surname sharing a common ancestor but this increased to nearly 50 percent when the surname was rare.
15 10 2008 Giant database plan 'Orwellian'. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the police and security services needed new powers to keep up with technology. Details of the times, dates, duration and locations of mobile phone calls, numbers called, website visited and addresses e-mailed are already stored by telecoms companies for 12 months under a voluntary agreement. But the Lib Dems slammed the idea as "incompatible with a free country", while the Tories called on the government to justify its plans. The data can be accessed by the police and security services on request - but the government plans to take control of the process in order to comply with an EU directive and make it easier for investigators to do their job. Information will be kept for two years by law and may be held centrally on a searchable database. Without increasing their capacity to store data, the police and security services would have to consider a "massive expansion of surveillance," Ms Smith said in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research earlier. The government's own reviewer of anti-terror laws, Lord Carlile, said: "The raw idea of simply handing over all this information to any government, however benign, and sticking it in an electronic warehouse is an awful idea if there are not very strict controls about it."
01 12 2008 Police launch drink drivecampaign. Anyone caught driving under the influence of drink or drugs will be arrested and can expect to lose their licence, be fined or sent to prison. Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: "Drink drivers are treated like any other criminal - they face giving blood and DNA samples and being locked in a police cell.
04 12 2008 DNA database 'breach of rights'. Two British men should not have had their DNA and fingerprints retained by police, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled. The men's information was held by South Yorkshire Police, although neither was convicted of any offence. The judges said keeping the information "could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society". Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she was "disappointed" by the European Court of Human Rights' decision. The database may now have to be scaled back following the unanimous judgement by 17 senior judges from across Europe.
19 02 2009 Man to be sentenced for 1996 murder. Karen Skipper was murdered in March 1996 and her ex-husband Phillip stood trial for her murder in 1997 to which he was acquitted and died of cancer in 2004. John Pope was interviewed by police shortly after Mrs Skipper's death but released without charge however Pope was arrested over an unconnected matter in 2006 at which time a DNA sample was taken which matched specks of blood on Mrs Skipper's jeans. Pope, of Cherwell Close, Fairwater, Cardiff, denied murder but was found guilty by a jury at Cardiff Crown Court on Wednesday, after a month-long trial.
11 03 2009 DNA may free longest-serving miscarriage of justice. A man jailed 27 years ago for murdering a 22 year old Barmaid in 1979 could be released from prison after DNA evidence reveals that it was his DNA at the crime scene. The BBC understands the Crown Prosecution Service will not contest the appeal on 18 March. Robert Graham Hodgson would be one of the longest-serving victims of a miscarriage of justice if released. Analysis of blood at the time showed that it belonged to a man with blood type of either A or AB which placed him in that category along with roughly a third of the male population.
26 03 2009 'DNA bungle' haunts German police. Police in Germany have admitted that a woman they have been hunting for more than 15 years may never have existed yet described by police as the country's most dangerous woman. Investigators had connected her to six murders and an unsolved death based on DNA traces found at the scene. Police are now acknowledging that swabs used to collect DNA samples may have been contaminated by an innocent woman - possibly during manufacture. According to prosecutors in the south-western town of Saarbruecken, doubts about the existence of the "phantom killer" were raised when her DNA appeared on documents belonging to a person who had died in a fire. Thousands of cotton buds are being tested for contamination and workers at the cotton buds factory are being asked to give DNA samples.
08 04 2009 Man held over girl's 1983 murder. A 50-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the murder of a teenager Colette Aram 25 years ago. In November last year, detectives investigating her murder revealed that they had taken more than 100 calls from members of the public after disclosing a significant breakthrough in the inquiry. Officers now had a DNA profile.
15 04 2009 DNA - miscarriage of justice warning. Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, whose pioneering discoveries revolutionised police investigation techniques, told the Guardian newspaper innocent people were being "branded as criminals" because the database retained details of everyone arrested, regardless of whether they were later convicted. The Government now holds more than five million profiles, up 1.4 million in two years. He has called for improved genetic testing procedures warning that the current system could result in a miscarriage of justice. Sir Alec's genetic discoveries at Leicester University in the late 1970s and 1980s enabled the establishment of the national DNA database. Last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled holding all samples taken by police in the course of an investigation was illegal.
04 08 2009 DNA next to leftover meal in police fridge- '. A damning report into Cambridge Constabulary's custody arrangements showed widespread failures to properly manage DNA material, including case evidence. DNA samples were left in a police fridge alongside a half-eaten takeaway meal, it has been revealed. Inspectors discovered old blood, urine and other forensic materials that were not properly stored in fridges and freezers. The joint inspection by the police and prison inspectorates also criticised wider failures to ensure the safety of suspects in cells. The inspection team also saw a group of officers laughing while watching a drunken inmate smashing his head on a cell wall on CCTV. One police staff member told inspectors they were "overdue a death in custody". The unnamed individual said: "We are overdue a death in custody. We will learn lessons from it and move on.". But the most severe criticism was reserved for failures in handling forensic material, which inspectors warned could lead to miscarriages of justice.
24 11 2009 DNA Database - New safeguards urged.
There are almost 5,000,000 DNA profiles on the National Database which has increased by some 40% over a two year period. Currently anyone arrested has their DNA taken and it is the largest Database of its kind anywhere in the world. In a report by the Chairman of the Human Genetics Commission (HGC), Professor Jonathan Montgomery, said it had been transformed over the years from a database of offenders, to a database of suspects. The HGC wants the police to be given new guidance to regulate when it is appropriate to take a sample of DNA and not to routinely take DNA from everyone they arrest. A retired police superintendent told the HGC it had become the "norm" to arrest suspects simply to obtain their DNA however the Association of Chief Police Officers dismissed the claim as "plainly wrong". Former Acpo president Chris Fox said he had "never believed that innocent people should be recorded unnecessarily"."However, police have always kept data about innocent people. He said he could see the temptation to arrest people in order to store their DNA details but did not think that had happened while he was the head of Acpo. As of March 2009 the Database contains the approx % and age ranges of 12% [0-15]; 35% [16-24]; 23% [25-34]; 16% [35-44]; 8% [45-54]; 3% [55-64] – the HGC add that young black men featuring disproportionately - "very highly over-represented".
The report calls for Ministers to set-out in law what DNA profiles can be used for; Make abuse of records a criminal offence with strict penalties; Create an independent advisory body with oversight powers to help make the database and its work more transparent and Make police officers and everyone who comes into contact with crime scenes through their work have their profiles recorded as a condition of employment.
James Brokenshire, the Shadow home office minister, said that “Under Labour's surveillance state everyone is treated as a potential suspect” while Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne accused ministers of having a "cavalier attitude" towards DNA retention. "Ministers make no distinction between innocence and guilt and as a result everyone is treated like a suspect," he said. Last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s DNA Database was illegal because it allowed police to indefinitely retain the profiles of people who had been arrested yet never actually charged or found guilty of any crime. The Home Office announced this month that the DNA of most innocent people arrested in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would not be kept for more than six years. But it said police may be allowed to keep DNA from terrorism suspects, even if they are later freed or found not guilty. A Home Office spokesman said they had set "the right threshold". "DNA samples are taken on arrest for recordable offences carrying a prison sentence," he added. "We know that the DNA database is a vital crime-fighting tool."
Opinion: As it was the Government whom initiated the DNA Database as a legal instrument within the UK one must assume that its “purpose” and “limitations” be already documented on a statutory footing within Parliament. It also begs the question, given the Government’s desire that others take the blame on failure on its part, why the Database not be Independently Governed – that is unless self regulation be about making new rules on-the-fly as and when they be necessary to suit itself.
22 11 2009 British authorities on 9/11 - UK miscarriage of justice
British prosecutors failed to disclose crucial evidence which lead to innocent pilot Lotfi Raissi being jailed for five months - previously unseen documents reveal, as obtained by the Guardian Newspaper. His lawyer, Jules Carey, said Raissi's ordeal was one of the most significant miscarriages of justice during so-called war on terror. The documents demonstrate, unequivocally, that the blame lay with the British authorities and that Raissi has waited seven years for an apology after watching four Home Secretaries come and go.
Algerian Lotfi Raissi 27 living in the UK was the first person in the world to be arrested after the 2001 9/11 attacks in the US. The FBI became interested in Raissi days after the attacks because he trained at the same Arizona flight school as Hani Hanjour, the hijacker who piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. He was accused of being the lead instructor in the attacks awaiting extradition to the US. A report by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reveals how unfounded allegations were made on the basis of an oral briefing from two FBI agents outside court while a letter from Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch to the CPS attempts to link him to a al-Qaida suspect two months before his release. The FBI apparently advised UK anti-terrorist Officials not to arrest Raissi expressing unreliability of evidence but it was months before the Courts became aware of this information following Metropolitan police storming his house in Berkshire on September 21 on suspicion of the terrorist attacks 10 days earlier. In not having sufficient evidence to detain him further Law enforcement Officers in the UK colluded with the FBI to obtain a warrant for his extradition but in not having any evidence to justify that warrant on the basis of terrorism the request was changed relating to a Pilot application in which he failed to disclose knee surgery. To this change of circumstances the CPS then reportedly admitted in Court that the pilot application allegations were mere "holding charges", and said he was in fact wanted for his alleged role in a conspiracy to commit mass murder during the 9/11 attacks. As the case for detaining Raissi in Belmarsh began to unravel, prosecutors introduced a new piece of evidence – an address book which they then claimed belonged to Abu Doha, an Algerian terror suspect said to have had personal contact with Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Some two months later anti-terrorist officers informed the CPS that they no longer believed the address book belonged to Doha but belonged to another man. That man was of so little concern to the police as he’d never been arrested or interviewed but although Scotland Yard had been advised by the FBI that the address book didn’t belong to Raissi the Judges in the case were not informed of this information until Feb 2002 after which Raissi was finally released. Last year a Court of Appeal found evidence that Scotland Yard and the CPS had circumvented "the rule of English law" in what judges believed would amount to a serious abuse of process, thus forcing Ministers to consider Raissi's claim for damages. Now 35, Raissi still lives in the UK but says he has been unable to rebuild his life. He has been forced to abandon his promising career as a commercial pilot.