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AMENDMENT NEEDED IN PROTECTION OF FREEDOMS BILL

 

By Newsdesk

 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012. 

A coalition of charitable organisations is calling on the UK Government to ensure that people who are taken into police custody under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act do not have their DNA taken, in the same way as suspected criminals. 

The open letter written by Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK), Big Brother Watch (BBW) and Gene Watch UK, is addressed to Lord Henley the Minister of State for Crime Prevention and Anti-Social Behaviour Reduction.

The three organisations say they are concerned that people suffering from serious mental health are having there DNA taken and stored in the police database in exactly the same was as those arrested on suspicion of breaking the law.

 

These changes, they say, need to be included in Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords. 

 

They said: “The only reason people in such circumstances may end up on the database is because of the absence of an appropriate health-based place of safety. As part of the protections of our mental health system, there are legal provisions for an at-risk person to be taken to a place of safety if they pose a danger to themselves or others. The Mental Health Act is used about 50,000 times a year in England and Wales, and in practice police custody is used as the main place of safety.”

 

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 therefore condemned what they see as 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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