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Dutch DNA Profiles: Police Investigation

Volume 481: debated on Thursday 23 October 2008

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary undertook that Ministers, would report to Parliament once the police investigation, following liaison with the Dutch authorities over data from a disc containing Dutch DNA crime scene profiles were complete. I am today able to fulfil that commitment.

As previously reported, this followed an initiative to exchange data between the UK and the Netherlands. The Dutch authorities shared a disk containing 2,159 DNA profiles from crime scenes in the Netherlands, which were searched against the UK national DNA database. It is important to note two operational implications of searching these data. First, it cannot be assumed that the DNA from the Dutch crime scenes opens up a significant line of inquiry and identifies offenders, as there may be an innocent reason for some DNA, for example on a discarded cigarette end, being found at the scene. As with CPS policy here, we understand that the Dutch authorities will not take executive action on the basis of a DNA result alone and need to consider carefully the significance of a DNA match in each case. Secondly, many of the crime scene DNA profiles contained incomplete or partial information. These profiles have required additional scientific analysis by the UK and Dutch authorities to confirm whether or not there was indeed a match between a person sampled in the UK and a DNA profile from the Netherlands.

Once the Dutch disc was passed to the National Policing Improvement Agency in January 2008 action was taken quickly to address public concerns. The custodian of the national DNA database immediately began batching and comparing the Dutch crime scene profiles against the UK DNA database, with details of the complete DNA matches passed to the Dutch in March 2008. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) set up a gold group chaired by Gary Pugh, chair of the National DNA Database Strategy Board. This group comprised police and prosecuting interests and the Home Office and was set up to steer and direct operations, deal with any requests for further co-operation from the Dutch and to deal with any public protection issues triggered by intelligence about links with unsolved crimes in the Netherlands. The key objective was to identify individuals on the UK DNA database whose DNA matched samples recovered from crimes scenes in the Netherlands so that any dangerous offenders would be identified and the risks posed by them effectively managed. The individuals have been located and a detailed risk assessment carried out. Mr. Pugh has reported that the work of the group has now been completed and that the gold group is being stood down.

Of the 2,159 DNA profiles received from crimes scenes in the Netherlands, 22 full matches were established against individuals on the UK DNA database. Ten of the individuals identified have committed offences in the UK since January 2007 and represent a total of 13 convictions. The individuals were convicted of a range of offences, the most serious being one case of aggravated burglary. Cases are pending against four individuals in respect of six other alleged offences with the most serious being attempted robbery.

The UK authorities have been in close liaison with the Dutch authorities since February this year, providing information to progress inquiries in the Netherlands. All relevant additional DNA work and inquiries in the UK have been completed. We have not yet received any requests for action under a European arrest warrant but stand ready to assist as quickly as possible.

This exercise has shown the value of this sort of information exchange in taking forward criminal investigations across borders. I am grateful for the joint working undertaken by the police and prosecuting authorities both here and in the Netherlands. For the future, the UK has agreed the European Council decision on the stepping up of cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime (known as the Prüm Council decision) which will provide a mechanism for member states’ law enforcement authorities to search quickly across the EU for matches against DNA and fingerprint data, where a successful “hit” could be followed with a request for detailed information. It will also provide such authorities with direct access to vehicle registration data. All member states must implement this measure within the next three years. It should enable a much quicker and more efficient sharing of data in order to prevent, detect and investigate serious and terrorist-related crime while maintaining appropriate data protection safeguards.