Scotland Yard "seduced for years by science and DNA"

Posted by Pete Shanks March 29, 2011
Biopolitical Times
English Bobbies police

A serial sex attacker known as the "Night Stalker" who preyed on elderly people in London for 17 years should have been arrested in 1999. Instead, he was eliminated from the investigation, largely because of a DNA filing error. As a consequence, at least 146 more victims (there is speculation that there may be many more) were burglarized, assaulted and in some cases raped.

Scotland Yard (the London police) had his name, Delroy Grant. His wife's car was spotted near a break-in in 1999. But a "slapdash check" on the computer confused him with a much younger guy of the same name. The innocent one was quickly eliminated, but his DNA (which was on file, though the guilty one's was not) was then "somehow" mistakenly assigned to the guilty Grant. As a result, the guilty one was removed from the suspect list.

Two years later, an informant told the police that Grant resembled an identikit sketch shown on TV, and the police did not even follow up, since their records showed a "code one" DNA elimination notice.

That was by no means the only error. For instance, Grant happened to be out when the police first went to his house, and they never returned. But there seems to have a been a quite undue reliance upon DNA:

  • Ancestry tests were run, and suggested that the perpetrator was probably from the Windward Islands; he was not. Eight police officers got to travel to Trinidad, Tobago, St Lucia and St Vincent, earning the nickname "the Frying Squad" when pictured sunbathing, but Grant was born in Jamaica.
  • There was a push to collect samples from thousands of black men in south London. A total of 3,000 were taken, but "the investigation ran into controversy when black men who refused the request to supply DNA were sent what they felt were threatening letters."

Finally, a new officer took over the investigation, mounted blanket surveillance, including helicopters, over southeast London, and cracked the case in 17 days. He told the London Times (which is behind a paywall but the article was reprinted in The Australian):

"The inquiry had been seduced for years by science and DNA. They believed it was the only way it was ever going to be solved. There are other ways and we could have done what we eventually did 10 years earlier."

Thanks to Helen Wallace of GeneWatch UK, who has been following the case closely. This bungle is bolstering the English campaign to limit and regulate the use of forensic DNA databases, as is the revelation that the database, which failed to find Grant, does include:

  • a 12-year-old schoolboy arrested for allegedly stealing a pack of Pokemon cards
  • a grandmother arrested for failing to return a football kicked into her garden
  • a 10-year-old victim of bullying who had a false accusation made against her
  • a 14-year-old girl arrested for allegedly pinging another girl's bra
  • a 13-year-old who hit a police car with a snowball

Previously on Biopolitical Times: