Saturday, 6 December 2008

Don't lie to me

I, and others, am very pleased to hear of the European verdict striking down our appalling practice of retaining the DNA of those not found guilty of any crime.

But this post is not about that. It is about the issue of lying in public life, or deliberately misleading people, which is of course exactly the same thing. We all know it is wrong - or at least we should do, as Hatfield Girl pointed out. But it seems to be done nevertheless. Wistfully, I recall a golden age when it seems that it was only done when the likelihood of being found out was very low indeed. Now, it seems to me that no-one cares whether discovery is likely. Lying is routine; there is no second thought.

The DNA verdict gave me a prime example. It was greeted, as I expected, with an outburst from a New Labour police apparatchik to the effect that the investigation of crime would be made more difficult, as shown by some of the stunning results obtained through DNA storage, such as the Sally Ann Bowman case.

Yes, let's look at Sally Ann Bowman. I happen to remember how this one was solved; I noticed it as the killer was revealed to have been working as a chef at a pub that I frequent - not a nice discovery. Here's a link to a report of the case, in the context of a previous call to bring Scotland's practice on DNA retention into line with the now-struck-down English practice - a call that cited the Bowman case in support. So presumably, Sally Ann Bowman's killer was caught because he had previously been arrested and his DNA matched a sample taken from the scene of crime?

Err, no. It wasn't. It was, literally, the opposite. He was arrested, his DNA was taken, and it was run through the system. At that point, it was found to match an old sample of DNA taken from the murder scene which had been retained since then. He was then investigated for the Bowman murder, and convicted.

So, the hypothesis that we need to keep the DNA of all arrestees in order to match them with future DNA samples is in now way supported by this case. Those that cite it are therefore either stupid or lying. Neither is an especially appealing characterisitic in those holding senior rank in the police or government.

And how long did it take me to spot this lie? About 15 seconds thought. Come on, Labour; surely you can do better than that?


  1. Nerd for Justice7 December 2008 at 09:19

    I'm not sure I follow your reasoning here. It looks like you're building a big case on a small distinction.

    What actually happened:
    He killed the woman and left DNA- got arrested later for something else- DNA taken- database searched- DNA matched- he got caught.

    Alternative scenario:
    Previously arrested for something else- DNA taken- killed the woman and left DNA- database searched- DNA matched- got caught.

    Neither would be possible without him being- as a matter of routine- in the database. Without the DNA match, "the investigation of crime would be made more difficult", as the apparatchik said.

    I'm not expressing any opinion here as to the merits of the case for a DNA database, or indeed who should be in it.

    However, I don't see that the order of events invalidates the case being put forward. It certainly doesn't make the Bowman case so irrelevant as to support your claim that someone (not named or quoted) lied to us by mentioning it.

  2. Well, the post is about truth & lies rather than the DNA database. So I'll deal with that aspect first.

    The point is that the retention of the killer's DNA was not a necessary part of his conviction. The conviction would have taken place whether the DNA of innocent people was retained or not. So the use of this case to criticise the European judgement is misleading and hence a lie. My point is that it was pathetically easy for me to spot this, suggesting that those in public life no longer care. There will always be people who are willing to lie; that they do not feel the need to conceal this is very worrying as it means that their scope for lying, and hence the frwquency of their lies, will be correspondingly greater.

  3. DNA database point responded to here

  4. someone (not named or quoted) lied to us by mentioning it.

    A fair criticism; but not one that I am going to resolve - given that I have accused the person concerned of being a New Labour apparatchik and a liar, and I do not have a big enough litigation defence fund!

  5. Nerd For Justice9 December 2008 at 20:33

    OK... I think I misunderstood your overall point. I focused on your order-of-events issue, and therefore (incorrectly) didn't link it to the ECHR ruling, and hence the separate issue of issue of whether unconvicted people's DNA should be stored. I thought you were arguing against a database per se.

    If there were no database of individuals, and we relied on people leaving DNA at a crime scene, and then later on being arrested and matched against a crime-scene DNA database, then many of these convictions wouldn't happen.

    I still think it's hard to dispute that a universal database would make the investigation of crime easier- in that it would substantially increase the chances of getting a match with crime-scene DNA on file. But, as you point out in your next posting, that ease of investigation comes at a price, and you've persuaded me there that the price is unacceptable.

    I think between us you, the apparatchik and I have confused two issues- database vs no database, and universal database vs convicted-only database. Does that mean the apparatchik lied, or does it mean that he put forward a flawed argument? Personally, I'd incline to the latter view.

  6. Nerd for Justice9 December 2008 at 20:39

    “A fair criticism; but not one that I am going to resolve - given that I have accused the person concerned of being a New Labour apparatchik and a liar, and I do not have a big enough litigation defence fund!”

    I seem to remember someone somewhere saying that sort of thing can easily be resolved by a Form N244, an application for a strikeout hearing, and a Part 36 offer!

  7. :-D Hoist by my own petard!

    Yes, but... There is a world of difference between getting yourself out of a tight spot, and not getting yourself in there in the first place!