HUNDREDS of children and dozens of pensioners have had their DNA recorded in South Lakeland and stored in a national database, The Westmorland Gazette can reveal.

Cumbria Police, operating in South Lakeland, have taken DNA samples from 872 children aged 15-years-old and younger, including 18 aged ten years or younger – a revelation described by one Kendal councillor as “truly horrific”.

Figures obtained by the Gazette using the Freedom of Information Act also show a further 4,894 people have had their DNA recorded by police in the district – even though many have not been convicted of any offence.

According to national averages, one-in-four people with their genetic information stored on the National DNA Database have not been convicted of any crime, including people who have been arrested but not convicted, and people who are victims of crime and have had samples taken to aid investigations.

If that proportion is applied to South Lakeland, the police could be holding the DNA of more than 1,200 innocent people in the area.

Last week, an inquiry conducted by the Human Genetics Commission, and funded by £50,000 of public money, criticised the holding of genetic information of innocent people on the database.

It also concluded that guilty people who have completed their sentences should have their records removed after a set period of time.

Coun Graham Vincent, cabinet member on South Lakeland District Council, said the number of innocent people and children tested in the area – whose genetic information was now being held – had appalled him.

“I think we are all pleased to see the DNA database in terms of being able to convict guilty people but I’m horrified of that level of innocent people – that information should be struck off the database,” he said.

“Regarding children on the database, that is truly horrific. I think crime at that age is serious but for it to be held for the rest of your life is really unbelievable and, in my view, wholly unacceptable. They should not be on the database.”

The age groups containing the most people tested in South Lakeland were the 19 to 29-year-olds with 1,929 people. There were also 1,096 thirty-somethings and 852 16 to 18-year-old youths.

Police are also holding the records of dozens of pensioners tested in the district, including 103 aged between 60 and 69-years-old, and 43 people aged 70 and above.

DNA samples can be taken by police officers at the scene of a crime and from individuals held in police custody. Even if those people are not subsequently charged or convicted of any crime their DNA is still held.

Youths arrested of minor offences, such as vandalism, fighting or petty theft, will remain on the database for the rest of their lives.

Leader of South Lakeland District Council Brendan Jameson said he had mixed feelings about the database.

“It is good and bad,” he said. “The good thing is if you have got a database, and I was on it I wouldn’t have a problem because it could prove my innocence, but like anything else it runs the risk of being abused.

“People could be stigmatised, it is how you protect that security. What are the safeguards? How are they going to protect people’s concerns?

“The first thing I would like to know is why does there appear to be a lot of children on there?”

DNA samples are collected by police officers at the station, at the same time as fingerprints and photographs are taken. Samples are collected by rubbing a swab on the inside of the subject’s mouth to collect cells, from which the DNA can be extracted.

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, said: “The UK has the largest DNA database in the world, with over 4.5 million people registered.

“Proportionately, five times more people are on our database than is the case with the next closest country. This includes over a million people who have never even been charged with an offence let alone convicted. Worryingly this includes 25,000 children who have never been convicted, cautioned or charged with any offence.

“The Home Secretary should amend the law so that the DNA records of people who are innocent are no longer kept indefinitely. DNA is undoubtedly a vital tool in crime fighting, but the current practice of holding innocent people’s data undermines our entire justice system.”

The Home Office says the database is a tool used by police investigating crime and it provides around 3,000 forensic matches each month.

The HO said there were just over 700 children aged ten-and-under on the database, and children aged ten were guilty of more than 4,600 offences a year. The Government agency also said that parental consent was required for a DNA sample to be taken from a child younger than ten.

Chief Superintendent Iain Goulding, head of Cumbria Constabulary’s CID, defended keeping samples on the database. He cited the case of a man convicted of rape in Barrow who was tracked down within days because of a DNA sample taken from an unrelated minor offence.

“Delivering speedy justice for victims, reducing the fear of serious crime within neighbourhoods and preventing further linked attacks are the real successes of the DNA database,” he said.