Sunday, October 29, 2006

Arrested Development

Just as Bill Clinton was determined to leave a legacy based on the importance of DNA in identifying wrong doing, Tony Blair seems bent on making sure that DNA is also the thing for which he will be most remembered. Nobody wants to be defined by a war in which he turned out to be the bad guy, or plummeting literacy, or disintegrating public health services. Ooops. It hasn’t gone that well, has it?

From the ministry of Pre-crime comes the news that one in twenty of us already has our biological details registered on the Government’s DNA database. This is five times as many as the next nearest personal information obsessed country that isn’t actually run by a military dictatorship that executes librarians. I have already raged about Blair’s keenness for honing in on foetal criminal intent (3/9/06), fingerprinting five year old library users and scanning the retinas of immigrants (13/9/06). What is it with this guy? Is he planning on becoming a crime novelist or summink? It seems as if he intends to get no sleep until every British citizen’s defining characteristics are etched into his insidious DNA virtual Doomsday Book - in their own blood.

In this endeavour he is enthusiastically assisted by the agreeable factotums at the Forensic Science Service. This is essentially an extension of the police force. The police would, of course, love everyone in Britain to be on the database as it would mean they no longer have to do any detecting which is, as I understand it, the least interesting part of police work. Imagine if all police had to do was collect up a single hair or nail cutting and pop it down to the lab, that would leave them free to walk up and down the high street looking for teenagers to suspect of something. No more crawling around in thickets - for some reason bodies always seem to turn up in thickets – in flimsy paper suits that make you look like an extra on Torchwood. No more of white boards covered with pictures of victims and usual suspects and question marks with confusing criss-crossing lines. No more 5am briefings. The Bill would obviously get cancelled but it could be replaced by a new show called The Dill (DNA Intelligence Linked BioLogik). The actors wouldn’t have any detecting to do which would leave them free to form challenging personal relationships with each other and indulge their tendency towards domestic violence and alcohol abuse.

Head boffin Paul Hackett, DNA Manager for the Forensic Science Service, enthuses, ‘we can get a profile from, say, an ear print against a glass window.’ How useful is that? Obviously eavesdropping should be a crime if it isn’t already. There may be new skills for the police to learn - like how to tell the difference between a genuine eavesdropper and a serial rapist. Updated protocols would be needed to cover the possibility that a Turner Prize contender may have elected to leave his/her ear print on especially designated windows across the country as their entry in the prestigious prize. Brian Sewell may need to be called in as an expert witness to determine whether it is art or a heinous crime. Interestingly, no Turner Prize winner has ever been convicted of a serious crime. Grayson Perry was once charged with indecent exposure but the charges were dropped when the Crown Prosecution Service became aware that the obscenity laws did not cover ceramics. This anomaly has since been rectified.

What’s more’, continues boffin Hackett, ‘when there are mixed samples of DNA, we can increasingly separate them with LCN profiling’. LCN means ‘low copy number’ and, what he is essentially saying is that boffins who are trying to find criminals might get so lazy from the habit of having nothing much to do, that they just might grab one little cell at random and charge the first person that pops up on their computer with gunning down an entire sleepy village and then turning the gun on themselves. If this happens to you, be assured that it was probably your cousin Keith whom you have never liked because he was always trying to put your head in your grandfather’s bench vice. You probably had very similar DNA and, since Keith died with all the other villagers, the Crown Prosecution Service needs someone in the dock for a show trial, and that person is you, sadly.

I admit to being almost swayed by the compelling arguments of boffin Hackett and our outgoing PM with whom I have enormous sympathy for his midlife crisis as I’ve been going through something very similar myself – Tony if you need to talk, I’m only a phone call or limousine ride away. I’ve derived great comfort from the words of both L Ron Hubbard and Dr Phil which I’d be very glad to share with you. You may not be able to change your DNA but you can change your attitude.

However, on close examination, the system seems flawed. Boffin Hackett reveals a fatal inconsistency in LCN profiling –‘… a homeowner’s sample on a vacuum cleaner’, he informs us, ‘can be distinguished from that of the burglar’. Ahha! This would never stand up in court. What would be the motivation for a burglar hoovering your home before stealing your Bang and Olufsen? Although, it might work in a Pinter play…

Cartoon from

1 comment:

Lesley Cookman said...

What would be the motivation for a burglar hoovering your home before stealing your Bang and Olufsen? Although, it might work in a Pinter play…

Or a Peter Kay moment...