The Sally Anne Bowman case does not justify the retention of innocent DNA profiles

GE 2010 In a speech in Stevenage, Gordon Brown has just name-checked the mother of Sally Anne Bowman – the young girl murdered in Croydon in 2006.

This is not the first time that the Government has invoked this dreadful event to try and justify the retention of innocent DNA profiles. As Alan Johnson wrote in November last year:

“It is unlikely that Mark Dixie, the murderer of Sally Anne Bowman, would ever have been found had his DNA profile not been recorded following his involvement in a pub brawl, after which he had been released without charge.”

The version of events that the Home Secretary likes to use, claim that Dixie was brought to justice for Sally Anne's murder by chance when he was arrested, had his DNA taken, but was not charged after getting into a minor scuffle over a World Cup football match.

However, Dixie had 16 convictions in the UK and at least one in Australia, including five sexual offences. This shocking article in The Sun shows that he was suspected of crimes in various countries across the globe and may even have killed while living in Australia in the 1990s. Dixie's criminal record in Britain began in 1986. Between then and 1990, he committed robbery, burglary, assaulting a police officer, indecent assault, indecent exposure and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Mark Dixie was a known sex offender, criminal and general low-life. Instead of deliberately arresting innocent people just to get their DNA (as was reported last year by the Human Genetics Commission), the Police and Government should have focused on compiling a DNA database of those with a string of previous convictions for the highest level offences e.g. assault, sex offences, robbery etc. Then the ‘chance’ of catching Dixie, that the Labour Party take such delight in exploiting at every available opportunity, wouldn’t need to have occurred.

As was revealed earlier this year, there are thousands of prisoners in England and Wales that are not on the national DNA database. The Home Office said the vast majority of inmates were on the database but it did not know the exact number. Among the most serious offenders are those serving long sentences that began before 2002 and they are the most likely not to be on the DNA database.

There is also another counter-argument. As Adam Rutherford wrote yesterday, the idea that the more profiles on the database, the greater likelihood of a ‘cold hit’, doesn’t stand-up to scrutiny:

Analysis in 2006 by GeneWatch UK, which monitors the application of genetic technology for public interest and human rights, showed that the rate of convictions using the DNA database actually fell after the introduction of retention of records at arrest (rather than charge) in 2004. Labour has stated that 23 previously arrested, but not convicted, people were convicted for rape, murder or manslaughter last year based on database entries. The election fact-checker service by the Times gives this a pork-pie rating of four out of five. The data is complex and insufficient.

The Sally Anne Bowman case does not justify the retention of innocent DNA profiles. Instead it reaffirms that DNA is a useful tool for tracking known criminals and sex offenders. The Government’s use of her case to justify their illiberal and illegal policy is misleading, exploitative and wrong. 

By Dylan Sharpe