DNA records, arrest and the criteria to remove records from database

Case brought by Matthew Wren to have his DNA records destroyed.

This case may be of interest to students for a number of reasons.  It is memorable in itself, but ironically the High Court’s decision comes the same day as the Government’s proposals to continue to hold the DNA details of innocent persons on the national database for up to 12 years.

Mr Wren was a teacher and was determined to have his DNA details destroyed following the determination that Northumbria Police had unlawfully arrested him. The teacher had been arrested after a pupil had assaulted him but then accused Mr Wren of assault.  Mr Wren was suspended from his job. 

It was clear that the recording of the arrest for allegedly assaulting a child and subsequent retention of DNA records would have dire consequences for Mr Wren when it came to future employment in particular if it involved working with young people.  There was the issue of a Criminal Records Bureau check.  One can understand why Mr Wren felt so strongly about his treatment by the police.

It was argued that Mr Wren had voluntarily gone to the police station with his solicitor for interview.  On arrival he was arrested and treated as a detained person.  This was so, even though the question of whether this was necessary, was raised.

The interview was conducted and Mr Wren answered all questions and was released.  There was no charge.  The police investigated the matter but took no action against the pupil in respect of the alleged assault on Mr Wren.

The action against the police proceeded by way of judicial review in the Queens Bench Divisional Court.  The action challenged the legality of the arrest and required the destruction of the DNA samples.

It should be pointed out that the significance of the arrest was that this meant that the police could take his photograph, fingerprints and DNA sample and as we now understand from recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights - hold this information indefinitely irrespective of the person’s innocence.

As a law student you will probably know that under Section 24 of the Police and Criminal evidence act 1984 a police officer can arrest anyone he reasonably suspects of committing an offence so long as it is necessary to do so.  The requirement of ‘necessity’ was added by an amendment to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

Mr Wren’s counsel argued that “It seems that many police forces have operated a general policy of arrest without realising that they can’t do so unless it is necessary. Hopefully this case will make them think again.”

The Queens Bench Divisional Court (the Police having conceded) issued a consent order that the arrest was unlawful and ordered the deletion of the photographic, fingerprint and DNA records and the amendment of the national database.

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