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Armed Forces: Genetics

Volume 473: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether DNA samples of soldiers taken under the voluntary DNA sampling scheme will be stored on the National DNA database; and if he will make a statement. (190212)

DNA matching is a near-failsafe method of identifying a deceased individual but only if there is a reference sample with which to compare the bodily remains. At such times, collecting samples from personal effects or family members can prolong the identification process and be traumatic for the grieving family. The aim of our voluntary DNA sampling scheme is to minimise the pain and distress to families by taking a reference sample, which could be analysed in the event of the suspected death of the individual and DNA obtained from the sample at that stage, to enable deceased personnel to be identified quickly and with less intrusion on the family.

Since 1999, the MOD has offered aircrew the opportunity of storing reference samples from which DNA could later be identified in order to hasten the identification process. The MOD has now decided that, from later this year, all military, MOD civilian and other entitled civilian personnel deploying to operational theatres will be offered the same opportunity to store reference samples for use in the event that their death is suspected and a body or body parts required identification. In due course, the offer of voluntary reference sampling will be extended to new recruits from all three services. Eventually, therefore, the programme will include all service personnel.

The samples are currently taken in the form of bloodspot samples. However, in future, it is intended to take buccal (cheek) swab samples which can be collected either before operational deployment or at regular dental checks. The samples are then stored in secure cabinets in rooms with restricted access. The samples are stored in an un-processed state and therefore the DNA profiles have not been created and are not stored on any database. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 states that voluntary DNA samples can only be analysed and entered onto the National DNA Database with the specific written consent of the individual. The MOD has no plans to amend its policy to include this process.

Samples held by the MOD will be withdrawn from storage if requested by a Coroner, for the purpose of post-mortem identification, or at the request of the individual. It is possible that a sample could be released by court order, although, very strong arguments would have to be presented to the court to obtain an order for release.

Since the inception of the scheme, samples have been released on two occasions only, at the request of a coroner, for the purpose of post-mortem identification of six personnel in total. There have been no other requests for the release of samples for any other reason, and as such have never been used in a criminal investigation.

The sample will be destroyed by incineration when the individual leaves the armed forces, after 45 years, or at the request of the individual, whichever is sooner.

The circumstances in which the samples are taken, stored and might be used are fully explained in internal defence communications.