Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mark Thomas DNA removed from police database

Also writing in the Guardian, comedian Mark Thomas tells us he has managed to arrange to have his DNA and fingerprints removed from police records. The police agreed to remove his details after he had threatened to issue judicial review proceedings, in the wake of the Home Secretary's lack of substantive response to the European Court of Human Rights ruling against the UK government in December (S. and Marper v The UK).
"Until Tuesday I was one of 800,000 innocent people in the UK who had their DNA on the police database. Most of us had a swab sample taken on arrest and our identifiable cell clusters have languished on police files even if charges were dropped or we were found not guilty in court.

In 2003 I was arrested at a protest against the arms dealer BAE Systems and charged with causing £80 worth of damage to a bus. Leaving aside the irony that if any BAE Systems products only caused £80 of damage the purchasers would sue for a refund, seven months later I found myself on trial. After two days I was acquitted on the legal technicality of being innocent. More important, the court found there was no evidence for a crime having been committed in the first place. The experience left me frustrated, with only a 20-minute comedy routine to take away the pain of injustice...

On Tuesday the police replied with one line: "I can confirm that a decision has been made to delete your client's fingerprints and DNA sample and DNA profile." No explanation why.

Victory celebrations, though, might be premature. As the law remains unchanged it leaves the onus on individuals to write to the police seeking removal. Helen Wallace, from the NGO GeneWatch, says she has received "copies of letters from lots of individuals who have not been convicted of any offence who are being refused removal from the database". As Jacqui Smith has dodged the issue it is up to us. There are 799,999 of you out there, mostly pissed off, some eligible for legal aid, and everyone with the motivation to do their bit in rolling back the data state. Go on, write in."

I assume the suspected sewer grating photographer, Stephen Clarke, will have taken note. Mark Thomas may not have had to go as far as a judicial review - presumably whoever got the job of reviewing his request for removal noted he was an outspoken comedian who would definitely pursue the issue and took the necessary pragmatic decision in order to avoid expensive and publicly embarrassing litigiation - but I expect one of the 800,000 or so will eventually take it before a judge.

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