EXCLUSIVE: HI-TECH FILE FIGHTS CRIME
WE'VE GOT THE DNA OF EVERY CRIMINAL IN BRITAN
By Rosa Prince Political Correspondent
The Mirror - UK
10 March 2006
THE DNA of every criminal in Britain will be on a national database within weeks, the Daily Mirror can reveal.
Huge advances in forensic science mean the hi-tech file - the world's largest - now contains 3.2million names and is growing by 10,000 each week.
It has helped solve thousands of cases, some up to 30 years old.
And with only a tiny minority of people carrying out virtually all offences, experts think they are close to getting DNA details of the entire criminal population.
They believe it could one day mean no villain - past or present - ever escaping from justice.
The breakthrough has come because scientists can now obtain genetic clues from evidence the size of a pinprick.
It has proved invaluable to cold case police teams - set up to probe sex attacks as far back as the 70s - and produced a near 100 per cent conviction rate.
Cold case scientist Julie Allard said: "It's the most satisfying feeling in the world to go back to a freezer and take out a sample I put in back in the 80s, that still has my writing on it, and know I can now use it to catch the attacker.
"Our hearts used to sink when we were forced to file samples away under the label 'Insufficient For DNA Match'. We don't write that any more."
The number of crimes solved through DNA technology has rocketed four-fold in the past five years.
The National DNA Database in Birmingham holds samples from tens of thousands of people convicted.
But its stock of information has been boosted because police now have the power to pass on DNA evidence from anyone arrested of a "recordable offence" - a crime that would lead to a jail term if they were convicted.
Birmingham officials work closely with the Forensic Science Service in Lambeth, South London.
FSS labs handle samples from all sorts of incidents, such as the July 7 Tube bombings, which yielded more than 2,000 DNA swabs, and the £53million Securitas raid in Tonbridge, Kent.
OTHER tasks have included helping investigate the knife murder of teenager Sally Anne Bowman last September as well as identifying Asian tsunami victims.
Scientists can examine a single hair, fragment of skin or minute drop of saliva, blood or semen stain for clues. In the remarkable one in two cases when they succeed in extracting DNA information, it is passed to the database centre in Birmingham.
Criminals can then be nailed when samples are cross-checked.
FSS chief David Werrett said: "One of our most satisfying convictions was a guy who was arrested after getting into an argument at a petrol station.
"Police were called and he spat at an officer. It turned out to be the most costly spit he ever did.
"Even though it was the early 90s and DNA wasn't very advanced, the police officer had the foresight to log him on the DNA database.
"The cold case team eventually discovered he'd been responsible for an extremely nasty crime - raping a girl of 11. But the technology is now so advanced crooks can be caught if a relative is on the database as the DNA may be a close enough match.
Lee Ainsby and brother Stephen were nailed for rape after Lee's DNA was recorded as he was arrested years later for an unrelated offence.
Thanks to the FSS, detectives realised his fellow attacker had to be from his family and soon picked up Stephen. The pair eventually confessed.
Leaps forward in forensic technology have revolutionised crime-fighting in the UK in the past five years.
There has been a 75 per cent rise in the number of crimes from which genetic clues are collected and in the number of suspects DNA-linked to offences.
And the number of samples held at the Birmingham database has trebled, a rise far beyond Home Office targets.
FSS experts helping the hunt for the killer of model Sally Anne, 18, last year are examining samples from men who volunteered to be screened. Around 4,000 locals are due to be tested.
But some of the FSS's most spectacular results have come with the cold case inquiries, codenamed Operation Advance, set up two years ago to re-examine old sex crimes.
MORE than 50 attackers have been caught as the operation, launched in London, South Wales and Northumbria, has been widened to 14 police areas.
They include Paul Collings, nabbed 17 years after he raped three students. The labourer, of Hastings, East Sussex, went on to marry and have children but was finally given life in jail this month.
The Operation Advance team is now striking fear among sex fiends who thought they would never be caught.
Scientist Cathy Turner, working with the unit in Northumbria and West Yorks, said: "One rapist had attacked an 11-yearold many years previously.
"When we knocked at his door, he said, 'You're from Operation Advance, aren't you? I've been waiting for you'."
The FSS labs - of which the Daily Mirror and Home Office minister Andy Burnham were given a tour - are also re-examining evidence in 236 sex crimes from 1994 and 1995.
Lab experts will then look at more recent evidence until they are up to date.
An impressive 50 per cent of samples yield useful genetic information.
But as technology advances further, they will repeatedly return to the other 50 per cent in the hope of getting more clues.
Cathy says the determination to nail sex offenders is in part spurred on by the effect their work has on victims' lives.
She said: "It's a fantastic feeling when we get them - for police but most importantly for the victim.
"I had a case where a woman was dragged down an alley as she walked home from the supermarket and raped.
"She never went down that road again until the day of the court case. Then she walked down it on her own. She finally felt safe because she knew her attacker was behind bars."
Mr Burnham added: "We're determined to ensure victims receive the justice they deserve. The effect of this even after many years cannot be underestimated."
But civil rights group Liberty has voiced reservations over the database.
It said: "We know a database of those convicted of serious crimes helps those investigating such crimes.
"Our concern is with innocent people having their DNA taken."