Revelations today in the Argus revealed three gay men had DNA samples taken from them by Sussex Police officers because historic gross indecency offences remained on their police records. Gross indecency stopped being a criminal offence in 2003 and since October 2012 people with previously held gross indecency convictions could apply to have them removed from nationally-held criminal records
Sussex Police moved quickly today to review their policy and issued the following statement on DNA sampling as part of the national Operation Nutmeg.
“Sussex Police has changed its approach to taking DNA samples from people convicted of only the historic offence of gross indecency, following a review of national guidance issued to all forces.
“The Sussex element of the national Operation Nutmeg – which is working to ensure individuals convicted of specific sexual and violence offences have their DNA samples cross-checked on the national DNA database – is continuing. So far over 130 samples have been taken in Sussex. This is an ongoing process, so we are not in a position to confirm the total number of samples that will be taken, or outcomes from the process, until it is complete.
“Of those individuals who have currently provided a sample, three were convicted only of the historic gross indecency offence, which has since been repealed. Although police have the legal power to request these samples and all three men voluntarily provided them when asked, Sussex Police recognises that this was not in the full spirit of the legislation and we apologise for any distress caused.
“ACPO guidance was that forces should take a risk-based approach to sampling people. Sussex Police decided to request samples from all people who we were legally able to, given the potential, however small, to help solve crimes. We now recognise that a more considered approach should have been taken and apologise for the concerns understandably raised.
A Sussex Police spokesman said:
“DNA evidence has proved to be a vital tool to help convict violent and dangerous criminals. It has also exonerated many innocent people. Sussex Police was keen to pursue all lawful opportunities to help secure justice for victims of crime through the effective use of DNA.
“The Operation Nutmeg process has not targeted any specific communities – we have approached all men and women who had previous convictions covered by the legislation. However, we recognise that this has resulted in us unfortunately requesting samples from men who had only been convicted of historic and repealed offences under Sections 12 and 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.
“We have reviewed our approach after seeking clarification of the national guidance, considering the experience of other forces across the country and reflecting the concerns understandably raised by the community. We will ensure we no longer seek DNA samples from people who have only been convicted of the repealed offences, following the national guidance.
“These historic offences were repealed in 2003 and, since October 2012, anyone previously convicted has had the opportunity to request their conviction be removed from nationally-held criminal records. We encourage anyone with concerns that they may still have a criminal record due to these repealed offences to request its removal. We can provide guidance to help with this.
“We will also be contacting the three people who have already provided samples, apologising for any distress caused and offering to assist them to apply for their conviction to be removed from the national database, which will result in the DNA samples we have already taken being destroyed.”