DNA records

Went to New Scotland Yard to meet with Gary Pugh (in charge of forensics) about DNA. DNA is taken from people who are arrested, some of whom are then found innocent. Now here’s the thing – if you look at the DNA taken from innocent people, a far higher proportion of it comes from members of the ethnic minorities than their overall proportion in the population. And remember we’re talking about people found innocent here – so it looks as if there’s something very troubling going on.

Anyway – having asked my Parliamentary Question a while back and got the numbers showing that an innocent member of an ethnic minority is much more likely to be wrongly arrested than an innocent white person, I had written to Sir Ian Blair (Met Police Commissioner) to ask why the figures are as they are? Is it discrimination resulting in ethnic minorities being wrongly arrested far too often or does he have some other explanation?

No answer for a long, long time. But eventually they agreed to have a look at the issue – hence my meeting today. However, it turned out they wanted to deal with the DNA side as opposed to the disproportionaly arresting innocent men side. Having first agreed that we would need another meeting about this somewhat important aspect with the appropriate person – we went on to discuss DNA.

I suppose they are concerned because I keep raising a number of issues around DNA in general and around the retention of DNA records from innocent people. (There’s more about this on the campaign website, http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/dna – including a link on the right hand side to an article I’ve written about why it matters even for innocent people if their DNA records are being wrongly kept).

Gary informed me that there is now to be an ‘ethics’ panel being set up, which is good – if belated – news. It was also clear that whilst DNA and its database was set up in regard to catching criminals (and I reassured him that I think in terms of a detection tool the sun shines out of DNA’s bottom) it is being used for a number of other – probably legitimate – purposes but also possibly open to less worthy ones and commercial ones.

DNA database

I’ve added to my website an article about what’s wrong with the national DNA database Labour are building – tackling in particular the question, “but what does an innocent person have to fear?” The answer – a lot! Read it and see …

Scouts, hospital and interns

Off to the Scout Park again for photo op with local commander Simon O’Brian and Ken Ranson (of Scouting Association), two of the Safer Neighbourhood officers from Bounds Green ward and Cllr John Oakes – local councillor. We are there to meet local photographers from local papers to push hard for funding to build replacement buildings for the ones currently not ‘fit for purpose’. They are not only not fit but actually in such a state of disrepair that they can’t be used.

I am a big fan of this project. I’ve written the strongest supporting letters I know how to do to support the lottery and heritage bids. I want it for the Scouts – but I also want this amazing eight square hectares of open space in the middle of Bounds Green (that almost nobody even knows exists) to be opened up for all the local young people.

The Scouts will obviously use what they need first – but that leaves oodles of opportunities for our local youngsters. The two Safer Neighbourhood officers are running a scheme this summer for youngsters from Bounds Green between the ages of 13 and 18 to come and do outside activities. And I would like to see a mix it up program which takes kids from all the different schools – so they are not necessarily with their peer groups – and throw them together for a week of outdoors activities. The buildings and open spaces can be hired for meetings and events. There is so much that could be made of this space.

Back to the constituency office for a management meeting. I am trying to arrange a meeting with Richard Sumray – Chair of Haringey Primary Care Trust (PCT) – to push forward the Hornsey Hospital redevelopment. With the dosh now available from the government there is a possible opportunity of forcing the pace.

The hospital closed despite a massive local campaign – and the deal with the campaigners was that it would be redeveloped as a local community health facility with respite care beds etc. etc. It must be something like four or so years since we have been meeting about its future with the PCT – but nothing concrete (literally) yet.

I have decided to try and force the pace on this. The Health Trust insists it must sell off a large chunk of the land – but a) this isn’t fair and b) there is not guarantee the funds will go back into this particular site. Anyway – I spoke to Richard Sumray a couple of weeks ago and he promised me a public meeting in September. I believe Richard’s assurances that he is committed to pushing the new facility through – but I want to help him by applying as much pressure as I can. My diary organiser had phoned Richard to make the appointment but he is currently in some far flung part of the world. To be continued.

I want to know what the Council are doing about the Noel Park children’s play equipment. It made it into the press when I went over there to meet parents who are outraged that their children are facing a second summer without the promised replacement equipment. I wrote to Cllr George Meehan (Labour Leader of the Council) about it – no reply yet of course. The newspaper had a quote from the council saying they were sorry there had been a delay. But I am now going to write to Ita O’Donovan – who is the Chief Executive – as I expect she will be far more able to efficiently expedite matters than George.

Then it’s in to Parliament for the last official day of sitting – so I finish up odds and sods. I pop over with Nick Clegg (Shadow Home Secretary) for a photo op on DNA and then have dinner with my researcher and interns to thank them for their really hard work. The intern system is fantastic – hopefully for both sides. Young graduates mainly, although I have taken some school leavers and gap year students, work for expenses but get useful experience and a better of idea of what such a career might really involve – and also then get to put that they have worked for an MP on their CV. They come and go relatively quickly – but I have to say I have had some wonderful young people over the last year.

DNA records

Calming down with the Sunday papers I see The Observer has carried the story about DNA that they spoke to me about earlier this week.

A private firm has been secretly keeping the DNA details of thousands of people. I predict that DNA issues will run and run and that all the assurances about the integrity of the database are not worth the paper they aren’t written on! The Government says the DNA database and DNA details are tightly controlled – the truth is rather different.

I had headed off this morning for a day of rugby. Not particularly my scene – but we have a great Haringey team – the Haringey Skolars – playing at home today. The Skolars’ Chair, Hector, has invited me to lunch followed by the afternoon watching the match. So off I go. The Skolars are Rugby League (not Union – I’m learning) and over the last eleven years they have built up not just a team, but a raft of supporters, Super Skolars (young supporters) and also work in Haringey schools to bring rugby to all. They are clearly completely and utterly committed to improving sport and life chances in the borough. Indeed that is why I am spending the day with them – to show support.

Given that the Skolars won 31 to 6 today (and they have not had the most successful season) it was definitely a very good day on which to see them play for the first time! Their home base is the New River Stadium in White Hart Lane and if anyone is interested they can contact them on 020 8888 8488 and the website is www.skolars.com.

Concrete factory

Bad news this week about the decision on the Cranford Way concrete factory – the Inspector has given it the go ahead. Everyone is devastated. Following a tremendous campaign by local people and politicians across the parties – the Inspector deemed to find that all our cares and worries were as nothing. According to his findings we must all be mad. Sadly – it will be ordinary local people who pay the price in their quality of life reduction if we are right and he is wrong.

Goliath has won. Well Goliath in this case has loads more dosh for fancy lawyers.

Oh yes – the Inspector has applied various conditions to London Concrete’s permission to go ahead. But I wonder how long their promise to only supply Haringey building sites with concrete will last – and how long before they apply for an extension to the number of lorries going in and out. Enforcement is not the weapon of choice – but now we will just have to see. The planning process is always weighted in favour of the presumption to permit – sadly. And unlike London Concrete who were able to appeal the initial refusal of their plans – residents cannot appeal this decision as there is no appeal against the Planning Inspector. Judicial Review is the only next step – and that would be impossible to stage and even if we could – I don’t think they would not find against the process.

So depression all round.

Leave London for Torquay at 3.45 on Thursday for Question Time. Researching – I feel sure that Ming’s speech on tax (attacking twin evils of climate change and the widening equality gap by upping eco-taxes and reducing capital gains tapers etc on shares) will be on the agenda. I am wrong in the event – not even a mention.

To my horror, earlier in the day I find out that George Galloway is on the panel. I had been told about David Lammy and Liam Fox – but not gorgeous George. I wouldn’t have gone on with him if I had known. He is a brilliant orator – but a dominating bully in terms of a panel. However, no choice by the time I find out. Worse – they sit me next to him. And thus it was – from the terror raid to the murder of the Butcher of Baghdad it was George on his soapbox.

Given Respect only has one seat in Parliament – don’t even think he should get the time of day. Particularly after his colleague decided to whip up the divides in Forrest Gate by advising Muslims to withdraw cooperation with the police.

Whatever else I might think about this seemingly bundled operation – the police had to go in. The intelligence seems wanting – and this isn’t the first time. But when both Muslims and everyone else need most to rely on each other and hold hands against the terrorists – George’s lot are stirring it – and successfully. The march on Friday will not be helpful. Even if peaceful – it is not necessary. The police will get it in the neck anyway if they have got it wrong on such a massive scale again. And the intelligence services need to go back to school – or over to Canada where they seem to get it right – and they could learn a few lessons.

It’s an evil agenda – and the shame is – that there is a great need to support the Muslim community in this terrible time for them – as the terrorists hide behind their skirts. But George’s way creates division and discord.

Anyway – the boys (and there were four of them and one of me) were all being very alpha male and so hopefully I provided some common sense.

Got back to London around 3am.

Notice in my inbox when I get in (yes – I did – even at that time of night) that some of the DNA stuff has appeared in the media – which is good as I am determined to follow this through until we get results. This was when I discovered from the answer to a Parliamentary Question (PQ) I had tabled that individuals’ samples on the DNA database have been shared with other foreign countries with no real safeguards in place.

Under new EU proposals, all member states will be able to access the British DNA database and the information on it. This is bad in itself and a bad omen for the upcoming ID register, now the Government has made it clear that our personal data can be shared with foreign countries.

There are no real safeguards in place to control this huge database – which leaves it open for misuse, especially as now we find out it’s not only being misused in our country but also internationally. What confidence can we have in the Government’s reassurance of the DNA database having proper safeguards when, until last year, they didn’t even collate requests properly?

Liberty AGM

Guest on panel of speakers at Liberty’s Annual General Meeting. Walking in slightly early I catch the tail end of motions being put. And extremely heated and controversial they were. The first I caught was on whether teachers who had had allegations made against them of child abuse issues – false allegations mind you – should be able to get them removed from the record. Currently the Criminal Record Bureau searches result in these allegations being recorded and remaining part of the record. Not surprisingly (and quite outside the current news about the CRB making mistakes on their checks) this has meant that perfectly innocent teachers have found that because of this they have been unable to continue in their profession. Very emotive – and so emotive in fact – that it got sent back (remitted) for further work I guess. But the interesting thing about this moral dilemma is that it follows a current trend where we are seeing the authoritarian view voiced saying that the tarnishing of innocent people is a price we have to pay for the protection of our children. I don’t think that is right. I think we are sophisticated enough to get it far more right than we are getting – and it is not good enough to presume guilt ‘in case’. Protection for children must be rigorous and paramount – but where it is found to be wrong (the allegations were found to be false), there can be no reason for leaving erroneous records in place to hound those falsely accused in perpetuity. You cannot argue that simply because an allegation – possibly malicious – has been made then there is no smoke without a fire. That is the danger of police records and the holding of innocent DNA and so on. These mistakes are perpetuated once systemised in the cyberworld and the potential extension across other databases means that errors or wrongs will be exacerbated and perpetuated.

The second of the motions I caught was whether a member of the BNP should be allowed to be employed in the public services – like the prison service. The argument raged – and it is a difficult one. Do you take the purist view and say regardless of politics or religion everyone should be employed on an equal basis until such time as they act or do something wrong. Or do you avoid the problem by not employing and thus excluding the possibility? These are the questions of moral dilemma for a free society – and seemingly even Liberty has difficulties finding the answers.

DNA and discrimination

Off to do the Sunday Politics Show for the third week in a row. Added to our number this week is Tony Travers. We hash over vagaries of London’s voting patterns. After the show, Tim Donovan, Tony and I chat about the disintegration of the Labour party as it appears to descend into civil war with Brown’s henchmen turning up the heat – hoping to force Blair into going, or at least stating when he will be going.

I try and persuade Tim to do a show on DNA. I have been championing a number of issues around DNA for some years – and the Independent on Sunday runs a story using a quote from me and the answer I got to a Parliamentary Question on what percentage of innocent DNA comes from black and ethnic minorities. It’s about 24% nationwide – but the figure that no one is picking up on yet – is that in London this kicks up to 57% of innocent DNA is coming from non-whites. It’s huge – way, way above their actual representation in the population as a whole.

DNA records

Campaigning all day – and then suddenly – whilst stuffing envelopes with Neil and Monica I remember that I have to do a live radio show. Luckily, I remembered with a half hour to spare. This was for a station in the Midlands and on the revelation through my Parliamentary Question that 24% of citizens who have a DNA profile on the national DNA database (NDNAD) are from ethnic minority communities. This compares with 8% black and ethnic minority members in the general population.

I have come to two conclusions. Firstly – the police are clearly arresting a disproportionate amount of innocent black men. I believe that this is because wherever discretionary powers are used – those powers are used disproportionately. This means that all the work we have all been doing, including the police themselves, to eradicate disproportionality is clearly not working.

I often think whilst a proportion of this – hopefully quite small – is actual racism that the vast majority of it is conditioning. But policing should be about intelligence and evidence – and the challenge has to be to become so professional in carrying out duties that there is no way of telling what an officer is thinking on a personal basis. So – back to the drawing board on how to reduce the conditioning or counter it – so that disproportionality is diminished.

The second conclusion I have come to is that until disproportionalilty in policing is conquered – that this database has unintended consequences. I don’t think, that whilst the new powers to take DNA from those arrested was taken through Parliament that the outcomes had been thought through. It is unquestionable that DNA has moved forward the technological ability to detect crime. So – I have come to accept that a database of those charged and convicted or those cautioned is legitimate. I have also come to believe that checking DNA taken from those arrested and checked against cold cases is legitimate and valuable. Many murders and rapes have been solved that way. However, if DNA that is taken is kept on those who are not charged, cautioned or matched against cold cases – therefore innocent – there can be no reason to keep those DNA records and they should be destroyed.

I think this needs to come back to Parliament for debate. On Thursday in a debate about Forensic Science Services (too long to go into here) I made the same point. Andy Burnham wouldn’t let me come back on the issue of bringing it to the floor of the Commons as he seemed to think that the original debate was enough. I disagree profoundly with him. And for both reasons – the principle of innocent until found guilty which is subverted by the retention of the DNA of the innocent and for the reasons that the database itself is biased towards collection of black and ethnic minority DNA – this issue must come back to the chamber.