Devon and Cornwall Police 'should not keep child DNA'

DNA sample bag
Image caption DNA can be taken by police in the form of mouth swabs, hair or blood samples

Police should not keep the DNA details of thousands of children if they have not been charged with any offence, prison reform and children's rights campaigners say.

Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that 14,383 children aged from 10 to 17 were arrested between 2007 and 2010, and that DNA was taken from most.

Records can be stored until any suspect reaches the age of 100.

The force said a new bill might mean future changes.

'Scary prospect'

After an arrest, police are allowed, but not legally required, to take DNA from mouth swabs, hair or blood samples regardless of whether that person is charged.

They are then are allowed to keep DNA and fingerprints, even if a case is dropped.

A 14-year-old boy from Paignton was arrested - but not charged - for hacking into his school computer system.

He said: "When the officer said it would be stored in the system for 100 years, and it would be stored on an international database, it was a scary prospect."

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "Just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should.

"It really is expensive to keep all this information unnecessarily and, if you clog [a database] up with too much information, you're missing people that could actually be really serious."

'Shouldn't be stigmatised'

Paola Uccellari, from the Children's Rights Alliance for England, added that youngsters should not be penalised as a result of actions from their youth.

She said: "We think that, when children come into contact with the police, they're not fully developed.

"That should not affect them for the rest of their life. They shouldn't be stigmatised by that."

Devon and Cornwall Police said the processing of suspects was the same for juveniles as it was for adults.

It said: "Police currently lawfully collect DNA from any person over the age of criminal responsibility - which is 10 years or older - who's arrested for a recordable offence."

It added that the Freedoms Bill would have new guidelines of what information could be retained and that any records that fall outside the new guidelines could be removed from the database.

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