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Call to end DNA sampling of people taken in custody under Mental Health Act

Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK), Big Brother Watch (BBW) and Gene Watch UK have again called for an end to the practice of taking DNA of people who are taken into police custody under the provisions of the Mental Health Act.

They have written to Lord Henley to ensure that people who are taken into police custody under S 136 of the Mental Health Act do not have their DNA taken, in the same way as suspected criminals.       

In an open letter to the Minister of State for Crime Prevention and Anti-Social Behaviour Reduction, they say these changes need to be included in Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords.

They want amendments to be made to this legislation which ensure that those temporarily taken to a police station as a ‘place of safety’ under the Mental Health Act, do not have their DNA taken while they are in detention.

Police remain the first point of contact for a person in a mental health crisis in many parts of the country. Current practice means that both DNA and fingerprints can be taken from a mental health service user while they are in custody in the process of accessing mental health care.

BMH UK, BBW and Gene Watch UK have condemned what they say is the covert criminalisation of this vulnerable group.

Their letter to Lord Henley also calls for all innocent mental health service users currently profiled on this system have both their DNA and other police records permanently deleted.

They point out that these records can be used to refused someone a visa or a job and want to see an end to the current system which treats people in need of urgent healthcare in the same way as suspected criminals.

Matilda MacAttam, director of human rights campaigns group Black Mental Health UK said: ‘With government figures showing that people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities, are 50% more likely to be referred to mental health services via the police than their white counterparts, it is clear that the current system is criminalising one of the most marginalised groups in society.’

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘For people to end up on the DNA Database because of their mental illness is an affront to civil liberties and justice.

The Government should take the opportunity rectify the situation in the Protection of Freedoms Bill and prevent these innocent people suffering from an illness being processed as suspected criminals.’

Helen Wallace director of Gene Watch UK said: ‘People who are suffering from mental illness can find it very disturbing when their DNA is being taken by the police, this shouldn’t happen when they are looking for a place of safety.

We’d like to see changes in legislation so that the police are clear that this should not be happening’.

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