Peter hitchens 2

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Round Two of my online spat with Peter Hitchens. This time about the case for a DNA database.

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  • It is time we had a national debate on this issue and there is a clear public interest case for a national DNA database. However, there would be a great deal of opposition and there would need to be a workable plan for implementation otherwise it could turn into another poll tax débâcle.

    What is utterly indefensible is the way the police have unilaterally built up a de facto national database which adds records of individuals who have never been convicted of any offence and might even have offered their DNA in exclusion screening. Fingerprints have to be destroyed unless individuals are found guilty of an offence. Yet the police retain the DNA record of people not even charged with an offence. If ever there was a case of police abusing their powers this is it and it certainly does not augur well for a legitimate national database were the police allowed to have anything to do with running it.
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Peter hitchens 2

  1. 1. Peter Hitchens: Round Two“If this idea doesn’t make your blood boil, then in my view there is justsomething fundamentally wrong with you, and you have no respect orgratitude for our ancestors who squeezed Magna Carta out of King John,forced the abolition of Star Chamber and High Commission, opposed ShipMoney, achieved the Petition of Right, established Habeas Corpus,safeguarded jury trial and the presumption of innocence, ended theoppressive use of criminal libel and – perhaps above all – defeated JamesII’s attempts to make us into a continental despotism and secured the1689 Bill of Rights. These are the things that make us Englishmen, andwhich distinguish the English system of liberty from the rest of theworld.” Peter Hitchens, Mail On SundayWhat so upset Mr Hitchens? My suggestion that a national DNAdatabase would be a more effective deterrent against serious crimethan the death penalty. So here’s my second – and final installmenton the subject published in his Mail online blog:The case for a National DNA databaseAlmost exactly twenty-nine years ago, Colette Aram, a16-year-oldtrainee hairdresser from Keyworth in Nottinghamshire wasabducted, raped and strangled. The case was so shocking that itfeatured on the first ever edition of Crimewatch. There were a fewclues and at the outset of the investigation the police must havebeen confident they’d get their man. They had a stolen red FordFiesta and a paper towel used by someone who had eaten a hamsandwich in a nearby pub and was noticed to have blood underhis fingernails. But the killer was confident that he would not becaught and – chillingly - left a handwritten message to that effect.He was right to be confident. Despite a massive police operationand the interviewing of twenty thousand individuals,and fortwenty-seven years, he remained free.
  2. 2. Then, in June 2008, the murderer’s 19-year-old son was arrestedfor careless and inconsiderate driving. He was photographed bythe police who also took his fingerprints and a DNA sample byswabbing his cheek.A few months later the driver’s DNA profile was flagged as a closebut not perfect match to the profile of the probable killer ofColette. Plainly, he wasn’t the killer;Colette had been savagelymurdered before he was born. But his father and two uncles werearrested and had their DNA taken. And in December 1978, just sixmonths after his son had been stopped for careless driving, 51 yearold Paul Hutchinson, pleaded guilty to murdering Colette and wassentenced to life imprisonment.Detections of crime due to the presence of DNA are increasing.Between 01 April and 30 June of this year the National DNADatabase produced 29 matches to murder, 91 to rapes and 6,094 toother crime scenes.Since 1998, more than 300,000 crimes have beendetected with the aid of the DatabaseBut the potential of the database is limited by the fact that it isincomplete. Had all adults in the UK been required to provide aDNA sample, a relatively minor inconvenience, then we wouldnot have had to wait for Colette’s murderer’s son to driveinconsiderately before his father was brought to justice.The database is not a panacea. It will not stop a large amount oflow-level crime committed generally by young people who arereckless about the chances of getting caught. But I believe that itwill act as a deterrent to those contemplating serious offences,including sexual offences. Some sex offending is opportunist. Butsome of the gravest crimes are meticulously planned and thevictim sometimes murdered to prevent apprehension. DNA makesthat hateful ploy much less likely to be successful and, with itshelp, convictions can nowadays be obtained whether or not a bodyis found.My proposal that all adults should contribute to a national DNAdatabase appears to enrage Mr Hitchens: “If this idea doesn’tmake your blood boil, then in my view there is just something
  3. 3. fundamentally wrong with you.” But why, when he’s aware thatDNA evidence can secure liberty as well as bring it to an end forthe guilty.DNA evidence led to the conviction of Robert Nipperfor Rachel Nickell’s murder bit simultaneously exonerated ColinStagg.We live in a society where we all bear inconveniences for themaintenance of public order. We accept curbs on our liberty in amyriad of ways. Contributing to a national DNA database would,by a fraction, increase those curbs. But it would also not only aidthe detection of serious crime it would deter serious crime. Itwould save the lives of girls like Collette Aram.

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