DNA Database Is "Election Issue"

27% of black population on database, charity says

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A human rights group says the over representation of black people on the DNA database has become an election issue for Britain's black community.

According to Black Mental Health UK, 27% of the black population are on the database, compared to 9% of the Asian population and 6% of the white population

More than three quarters (77%) of young black men were profiled on the database, the human rights group added.

Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK, said: "The disproportionate numbers of innocent people from African Caribbean communities on the DNA database has turned this into an election issue for black Britons. People want to know where the parties stand on this.”

We asked our local prospective parliamentary candidates to tell us where they stood:

Shaun Bailey, Conservative Party

Shaun Bailey


Andy Slaughter MP, Labour Party

Andy Slaughter

Portrait of Merlene Emerson.

Merlene Emerson, Liberal Democrats

Merlene Emerson

I agree with Matilda MacAttram. I’ve been a community worker in the black community for over 20 years. I’ve seen the devastating consequences injustice can bring.
Unfortunately there are other examples of mistreatment as well.

Studies have shown that when they present any kind of mental health issue, black people are more likely to be given medication instead of talking therapies that often prove very successful. The result is obvious – the root causes of many mental health issues are not addressed. They are only given a temporary medicated solution.

Labour are trying to campaign on a fairer future for all, but these examples clearly show that their 13 years in power have not resulted in greater fairness. If they haven’t been able to get it right in the past 13 years, why should we trust them to sort it out in the next five?

This isn’t just a election issue for black Britons - it’s one for all Britons.

DNA evidence is the greatest breakthrough in forensic science since fingerprinting and has solved many serious crimes previously deemed unsolvable. As importantly, it has led to the acquittal of others wrongly accused or convicted. The controversy around it relates to the retention of samples from people not convicted of any crime. The new Crime and Security Bill currently going through Parliament deals
with this issue and allows for the destruction of samples. However, there is
continuing debate about how quickly and in what circumstances this should happen.

I do not believe, as some do, that everyone should be prepared to give a sample as this would not discriminate against certain groups, but I am concerned that ethnic
minorities are over-represented on the database. But this is not a DNA issue, it is about more subjective discrimination - the same reason certain groups may be targeted for stop and search or decisions taken to charge rather than release.

"I believe that the use of DNA is a vital tool in crime-fighting, but the
indiscriminate nature of government policy means that there are now hundreds of thousands of people on the police database who have never been charged with an offence, let alone convicted.

The attitude of the Government to the database gives cause for concern -DNA profiles are used to pre-judge the motives of an individual without proof of guilt; the fact that 57 percent of those on the database in London comes from black and ethnic minorities, far above their representation in the population as a whole, is not a coincidence.

Unlike other countries such as Scotland and Germany, anyone arrested for any
recordable offence in England now has their DNA sampled and kept permanently on record. It would be much fairer to have a database that restricts itself to those who are convicted rather than this arbitrary system which has helped to foster discrimination."

Black Mental Health UK in association with GeneWatch UK say they are holding a parliamentary reception at the House of Commons on March 2 to explore the impact of the database on black communities.

Dr Helen Wallace, director of Gene Watch UK, said: "The massive expansion of Britain's DNA database has failed to deliver genuine benefits in terms of solving crime, instead it has eroded public trust in policing.

"Young black men are the people most likely to be victims of the Government's attack on everybody's rights."

For further information visit Black Mental Health UK   and GeneWatch UK .

26 February 2010