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

Posted by on Apr 9, 2010 in DNA database | 11 Comments


  1. Jess The Dog
    9th April 2010

    Yes, wouldn’t it be far better if the government would lock up persistent serious criminals so they are not free to murder, maim and rape on whim.
    Not much comfort to victims or their families if a habitual criminal is detected through DNA after the event if they could have been in prison in the first place.
    Any case for DNA retention should rest on deterrence of repeat offences rather than detection of first offences, which would require a universal DNA database, recognised as unacceptable. After the crime is too late and there are other important measures such as adequate policing and deterrent sentencing (not under this government).

  2. mrmovie
    9th April 2010

    if my dna is on a database it just means that i am more likely to be put in the frame for crimes i didnt commit, ‘chance’ will see to that.
    was watching ‘cops in cars’ or whatever trash it was called last night (i dont like the police, well at least the 4 or 5 officers i have been stopped for minding my own biz by in the last couple of years). anyway, a tip off came in that a guy might be drink driving. polic arrive at the scene and the ‘suspect’ is currently standing outside of his car chatting to a friend. the police pull up a safe distance away, hoping not to be seen so said ‘suspect’ can get in his car, drive off, they can follow and potentially nick him.
    wouldnt this have been a better approach?
    + immediately approach said ‘suspect’ and advise / ascertain if he is really drunk before he has the chance to get in his car, cause an accident, get nicked, cause a load of paper work and waste police and court time?

  3. Jeremy Henning
    9th April 2010

    It never ceases to amaze me how disingenuous they are on any matter that infringes people’s rights. I can guarantee that I’ll be speaking to someone in another forum at some point in the future and they will be castigating those who don’t support universal DNA retention to ‘help stop another Sally Anne’.
    All this comes down to is crass manipulation of public emotion and ultimately propaganda in seeking to turn the minds of a majority of people in their favour.

  4. Purlieu
    9th April 2010

    Dixie – if he was half awake he should have legged it as soon as his DNA was take, since the consequence was then inevitable.
    Drivers – that in the above post is an example of hwat they rea not meant to do. It all goes back to Jim Davidson (the comedian) who, and I might get this slightly wrong, was followed by an unmarked cop car when doing 10 mph over the speed limit. They let him creep up to 20 over, 30 over, 40 over, etc then finally nicked him when it was a “good” figure. That is actually compounding the felony, they should have nicked him immediately. I would have thrown that one out.

  5. Victor Cardiss
    10th April 2010

    I thimk there should be a ban on curtains so that passing police patrols can look in to your windows and see what mischief you’re up to. After all… IF YOU’VE NOTHING TO HIDE YOU’VE NOTHING TO FEAR.
    Can someone please explain to my nosey government the difference between ‘Privacy’ and ‘Secrecy’!
    We all have things to hide… things that are our business… private stuff that we want to keep to ourselves. Being a private person means just that so please don’t report me to the ‘Terrorist Hotline’ because I’m quiet or shy or just want my life to remain my private business.
    I do have things to hide… private things that are my business and I should be able to keep my business to myself without ‘fear’ of suspicion.

  6. Redacted
    10th April 2010

    Victor Cardiss. – Since you have mentioned the “nothing to hide” mantra…
    These systems are at least as much an attack on innocence as they are on crime. Whether you have something to fear from them or not is not just dependent on whether or not you have done anything wrong, it is also dependent on whether the power in the land is honest and humane or not.
    If the power is held by dishonest and bullying people, then it is precisely if you have done nothing wrong that you should be most afraid. Corrupt power is threatened by honest people who have no known vices, as they are harder to smear, blackmail or silence.
    This is why corrupt governments turn more and more things into crimes, in order to reduce the number of people who could dare to oppose them without fear of retribution.
    Corrupt governments love criminals, the more the merrier.

  7. Wirkal
    11th April 2010

    We are under enormous number of elements to population control, for what purpose? simple, more control = more power for world government.
    What is the best tool for TOTAL control? The RFID, first in U.S. and then in the rest of the World.
    The Health Insurance Act and the implementation in U.S., and the relation with the Bank account:
    Links and Videos:

  8. James Hammerton
    11th April 2010

    A database of crime-scene DNA samples that’s kept up-to-date, with arrestees’ samples checked against it, would be both more respectful and better focused on catching criminals than prolonged or indefinite retention of the DNA of those arrested but never convicted of a crime.

  9. James Hammerton
    11th April 2010

    Above I meant to write “…respectful of privacy and better focused…”.

  10. Jeremy Henning
    13th April 2010

    That is a sensible suggestion Mr Hammerton. Certainly better than the illegal system the current government are trying to cement.

  11. Luawaving
    19th April 2010

    Why is there no comment of the Conservatives backing down on the issue of retaining innocent people’s DNA profiles? Principles are traded for political expediency by them is it also by BBW who are backed by Tory money?