Daily Archives: March 18, 2008

UK facing worst financial crisis ‘in decades’

Telegraph | Mar 17, 2008

By Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter

The financial crisis engulfing the British economy has lurched to a new low as £51 billion was wiped off the value of the country’s top companies.

On a chaotic day in the City, the pound suffered its worst one-day fall since Black Wednesday in 1992 amidst fears of a growing global recession.

As the stock market was hit by the shockwaves from America’s latest corporate meltdown, experts have warned that Britain is heading for its worst financial crisis in decades.

Their bleak prediction came as:

• Britain’s biggest mortgage lender, Halifax Bank of Scotland, lost 13 per cent of its value amid fears that its profits will be severely affected by the global credit crunch.

• Both Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland had nine per cent wiped off their share price as the FTSE 100 index plunged by almost four per cent to a two year low.

• Fears grew that another major investment bank could be in serious trouble following the near collapse of Bear Stearns

The Bank of England pumped £5 billion into the money markets in an attempt to restore confidence in the banking system.

However, it’s intervention was not enough to prevent alarm spreading through the economy, with predictions that the worst is still to come.

As well as devaluing the share holdings of millions of ordinary investors, the 3.9 per cent plunge in the FTSE-100 index has serious implications for pension funds.

The slump was triggered by the fire sale of the US investment bank Bear Stearns over the weekend, which was snapped up by its rival JP Morgan Chase for just £116 million on Sunday – less than one per cent of what it was worth a year ago.

Bear Stearns, the ninth-biggest investment bank in the world, had been on the brink of collapse because of massive losses as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and there are now fears that other banking giants could also be in serious trouble.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, promised to take “whatever action is necessary” to maintain economic stability.

But many City veterans said the UK is heading for its worst financial crisis in ‘living memory’.

Terry Smith, chief executive of Tullett Prebon, a specialist broker in the City, said: “I have been working in finance in the City and worldwide for 34 years and I have never seen anything like this.

“I don’t think anybody alive has seen events of this seriousness and magnitude affecting the financial markets.”

David Buick of the spread betting firm Cantor Index said: “No one in living memory has ever seen a banking crisis like this. I have worked in the Square Mile for 46 years and the outlook has never looked as bleak.”

The turmoil in the Square Mile had immediate knock-on effects for homeowners, with Halifax, the country’s largest mortgage lender, increasing the rates on some of its tracker-rate mortgages by as much as 0.3 percentage points, with some fixed-rate deals also going up.

Meanwhile, Scottish Widows pulled all of its two and three-year fixed-rate mortgages and all of its buy-to-let range in response to the uncertainty in the markets.

It also emerged that three million homeowners face an increase of up to £300 a month in their mortgage bill as they have to take out new home loans at a much higher interest rate than when they were first arranged.

Families across Britain are already suffering from the effects of the credit crunch, which has seen household bills steadily increase since last summer.

The Bank of England’s £5 billion intervention, the first such cash injection since the credit crunch first began to bite six months ago, was aimed at easing a sudden freeze in overnight lending between banks brought on by the Bear Stearns sell-off.

But the move had limited impact, as banks had asked for five times as much money to be pumped into the system.

Sterling dropped almost two per cent against a group of other leading currencies – its worst fall since being ejected from the Exchange Rate Mechanism on Black Wednesday in 1992, and its lowest level since January 1997.

The credit crunch has now seen the value of Britain’s top 100 companies fall by nearly 20 per cent since June last year.

In addition the stock market slump wiped £8 billion off the value of the country’s 200 biggest defined benefit pension funds, which include final salary schemes.

The collective funds fell from a surplus of £15 billion at the end of Friday to a surplus of £7 billion at the close of trading.

Defined benefit schemes guarantee the size of an employee’s pension when they retire, meaning the holders of such pensions will not be directly affected, but there were warnings that other pension holders could be badly hit.

Anyone with a pension which requires them to use their pension pot to buy an annuity could see the size of their pension fund severely depleted by the stock market losses, experts predicted, and some may end up having to postpone their retirement as a result.

Oil prices also hit a new record $112 per barrel as fears over the state of the US economy grew and the dollar weakened to a record low of $1.59 against the Euro.

The US Federal Reserve had tried to stave off the worst of the crisis by cutting the rate at which it lends to other banks by 0.25 per cent, and set up a new lending facility to give banks short-term cash, which was praised by President Bush as “strong, decisive action”.

But the rate cut only appeared to have fuelled fears that other banks are in trouble. Sandy Chen, a banking analyst at Panmure Gordon, said: “We interpret this as a clear indicator that other firms may be vulnerable.”

David Jones, chief markets strategist at IG Index, said: “This just demonstrates the nerves which are still out there and I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it yet. Every time we think we have, we get another bolt from the blue.”

The slump in the value of bank shares was fuelled by fears that Bear Stearns may not be the last bank teetering on the brink of collapse.

Edmund Shing, a strategist for BNP Paribas, said: “Everyone is asking: Who’s next? Is there a Bear Stearns in Europe?”

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Knights of Malta push to dispel Illuminati “conspiracy theories”

bertie kissing pope hand

Pope Benedict greets the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Prince Fra Andrew Bertie, in the Vatican

Telegraph | Mar 8, 2008

‘No mystery here’ say the Knights of Malta

By Malcolm Moore

An ancient Roman Catholic order tried yesterday to dispel the conspiracy theories surrounding it as it buried its Grand Master.

Princess Michael of Kent, a member of The Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta, was present in Rome for the state funeral of Fra Andrew Bertie, 78, the Briton who headed the knights until his death earlier this month. Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian president, also attended the ceremony at the organisation’s headquarters on the Aventine Hill.

The order, which has 12,500 members, was founded in the 11th century to protect the Holy Land, and was a rival to the equally powerful and secretive Knights Templar.

In the Middle Ages it became fabulously wealthy, owning more than 140 estates in the Holy Land and around 19,000 manors in Europe. Its membership was drawn exclusively from Europe’s aristocracy, which led conspiracy theorists to accuse it of being part of the “Illuminati”, a cabal of nobles bent on controlling the world.

But today, the order has 80,000 volunteers working on charitable projects. Winfried Henckel von Donnersmarck, a member of the Sovereign Council, said the order spends £500 million a year helping the world’s poor. “The only mystery here is the one of history. Any organisation with a thousand years behind it is going to have mysteries,” he said.

Albrecht von Boeselager, the Grand Hospitaller, said the conspiracy theories hurt the order’s work. “We have been accused of being part of a ‘New Crusade’, and of sending mercenaries to fight in Iraq. This is not true and it endangers our helpers in Muslim countries,” he said.

China crackdown silences Tibet protests

tibet killing

Pro-Tibet activists take part in a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Paris March 16, 2008.

Telegraph | Mar 17, 2008

By Richard Spencer in Rebkong, Qinghai and James Miles, the only western journalists in Lhasa

China appeared to have crushed demonstrations in Tibet after it poured troops onto the streets of Lhasa, rounded up scores of people and warned of a worse fate for anyone who carried on protesting.

The Tibetan capital Lhasa has fallen silent after days if rioting that has left at least 16 people dead in the worst violence there for two decades.

Images of several dead protesters were published by the Kirti monastery in Dharamsala, the Indian home of the exiled Tibetan government.

The streets of Lhasa – where China has blocked almost all media coverage – were swarming with security forces as a deadline passed after which China had threatened to “deal harshly” with anyone who did not surrender before midnight.

As residents of the battered city emerged quietly from their homes after days of street fighting, they saw ranks of security forces patrolling the streets, carrying batons or rifles.

Officers carrying automatic rifles were seen checking the ID papers of passers-by and two armoured personnel carriers prevented people from praying at the Jokhang temple.

Exiled Tibetans said police had been rounding up known political dissidents, and some were reportedly paraded in handcuffs through the streets.

Some Tibetans claimed they were being watched everywhere they went.

As the city at the heart of the protests fell silent, protests continued to erupt around the region and worldwide.

A small group of students staged a candle-lit vigil at a university for ethnic minorities in Beijing, bringing the demonstrations to the capital for the first time.

Any student protest in Beijing is significant, bringing back memories of the pro-democracy student protests around Tiananmen Square in 1989 which were crushed by the military with great loss of life.

In Gansu’s Maqu county, which borders Sichuan province, thousands of monks and ordinary Tibetans clashed with police in various locations.

In Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, at least 59 Tibetan exiles, including monks and nuns, were detained after police broke up two protests outside a United Nationa complex, using sticks and tear gas.

Small protests outside Chinese embassies led to arrests in several European capitals.

While the exiled Tibetan government accused China of killing up to 80 people in crackdowns over the past week, China protested over what it says is a campaign of violence by Tibetan activists.

The unrest comes as preparations for this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing are well advanced.

China has already faced calls for boycotts over its policies in Africa, and Olympic chief Jacques Rogge said he was “very concerned” about the situation in Tibet.

But the European Union’s 27 sports ministers have dismissed the idea of a boycott over Tibet.

Pat Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committee, said: “Boycotts have never worked… the only people who are punished in a boycott are athletes.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged China to show restraint and called for dialogue.

Foreign Office minister Mark Malloch-Brown, the former deputy head of the UN, said China should be careful not to wreck its image ahead of the Olympics, which he dubbed its “coming out party”.

“This is China’s coming out party, and they should take great care to do nothing that will wreck that,” the minister for Africa, Asia and the UN told BBC television.

China says Tibet has always been part of its territory. But Tibet enjoyed long periods of autonomy before the 20th Century and many Tibetans remain loyal to the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959.

The Dalai Lama has called for an international inquiry into China’s crackdown, while Western leaders have called for restraint.

The anti-China rallies began on 10 March – the anniversary of a Tibetan uprising – and gradually intensified.

. . .

Related

Tibet protests spread into China

TONGREN, China – Protests spread from Tibet into three neighboring provinces Sunday as Tibetans defied a Chinese government crackdown, while the Dalai Lama decried what he called the “cultural genocide” taking place in his homeland.

MI5 seeks powers to trawl records in new terror hunt

Counter-terrorism experts call it a ‘force multiplier’: an attack combining slaughter and electronic chaos. Now Britain’s security services want total access to commuters’ travel records to help them meet the threat

The Observer | Mar 16, 2008

Gaby Hinsliff, political editor

Millions of commuters could have their private movements around cities secretly monitored under new counter-terrorism powers being sought by the security services.

Records of journeys made by people using smart cards that allow 17 million Britons to travel by underground, bus and train with a single swipe at the ticket barrier are among a welter of private information held by the state to which MI5 and police counter-terrorism officers want access in order to help identify patterns of suspicious behaviour.

The request by the security services, described by shadow Home Secretary David Davis last night as ‘extraordinary’, forms part of a fierce Whitehall debate over how much access the state should have to people’s private lives in its efforts to combat terrorism.

It comes as the Cabinet Office finalises Gordon Brown’s new national security strategy, expected to identify a string of new threats to Britain – ranging from future ‘water wars’ between countries left drought-ridden by climate change to cyber-attacks using computer hacking technology to disrupt vital elements of national infrastructure.

The fear of cyber-warfare has climbed Whitehall’s agenda since last year’s attack on the Baltic nation of Estonia, in which Russian hackers swamped state servers with millions of electronic messages until they collapsed. The Estonian defence and foreign ministries and major banks were paralysed, while even its emergency services call system was temporarily knocked out: the attack was seen as a warning that battles once fought by invading armies or aerial bombardment could soon be replaced by virtual, but equally deadly, wars in cyberspace.

While such new threats may grab headlines, the critical question for the new security agenda is how far Britain is prepared to go in tackling them. What are the limits of what we want our security services to know? And could they do more to identify suspects before they strike?

One solution being debated in Whitehall is an unprecedented unlocking of data held by public bodies, such as the Oyster card records maintained by Transport for London and smart cards soon to be introduced in other cities in the UK, for use in the war against terror. The Office of the Information Commissioner, the watchdog governing data privacy, confirmed last night that it had discussed the issue with government but declined to give details, citing issues of national security.

Currently the security services can demand the Oyster records of specific individuals under investigation to establish where they have been, but cannot trawl the whole database. But supporters of calls for more sharing of data argue that apparently trivial snippets – like the journeys an individual makes around the capital – could become important pieces of the jigsaw when fitted into a pattern of other publicly held information on an individual’s movements, habits, education and other personal details. That could lead, they argue, to the unmasking of otherwise undetected suspects.

Critics, however, fear a shift towards US-style ‘data mining’, a controversial technique using powerful computers to sift and scan millions of pieces of data, seeking patterns of behaviour which match the known profiles of terrorist suspects. They argue that it is unfair for millions of innocent people to have their privacy invaded on the off-chance of finding a handful of bad apples.

‘It’s looking for a needle in a haystack, and we all make up the haystack,’ said former Labour minister Michael Meacher, who has a close interest in data sharing. ‘Whether all our details have to be reviewed because there is one needle among us – I don’t think the case is made.’

Jago Russell, policy officer at the campaign group Liberty, said technological advances had made ‘mass computerised fishing expeditions’ easier to undertake, but they offered no easy answers. ‘The problem is what do you do once you identify somebody who has a profile that suggests suspicions,’ he said. ‘Once the security services have identified somebody who fits a pattern, it creates an inevitable pressure to impose restrictions.’

Individuals wrongly identified as suspicious might lose high-security jobs, or have their immigration status brought into doubt, he said. Ministers are also understood to share concerns over civil liberties, following public opposition to ID cards, and the debate is so sensitive that it may not even form part of Brown’s published strategy.

But if there is no consensus yet on the defence, there is an emerging agreement on the mode of attack. The security strategy will argue that in the coming decades Britain faces threats of a new and different order. And its critics argue the government is far from ready.

The cyber-assault on Estonia confirmed that the West now faces a relatively cheap, low-risk means of warfare that can be conducted from anywhere in the world, with the power to plunge developed nations temporarily into the stone age, disabling everything from payroll systems that ensure millions of employees get paid to the sewage treatment processes that make our water safe to drink or the air traffic control systems keeping planes stacked safely above Heathrow.

And it is one of the few weapons which is most effective against more sophisticated western societies, precisely because of their reliance on computers. ‘As we become more advanced, we become more vulnerable,’ says Alex Neill, head of the Asia Security programme at the defence think-tank RUSI, who is an expert on cyber-attack.

The nightmare scenario now emerging is its use by terrorists as a so-called ‘force multiplier’ – combining a cyber-attack to paralyse the emergency services with a simultaneous atrocity such as the London Tube bombings.

Victims would literally have nowhere to turn for help, raising the death toll and sowing immeasurable panic. ‘Instead of using three or four aircraft as in 9/11, you could do one major event and then screw up the communications network behind the emergency services, or attack the Underground control network so you have one bomb but you lock up the whole network,’ says Davis. ‘You take the ramifications of the attack further. The other thing to bear in mind is that we are ultimately vulnerable because London is a financial centre.’

In other words, cyber-warfare does not have to kill to bring a state to its knees: hackers could, for example, wipe electronic records detailing our bank accounts, turning millionaires into apparent paupers overnight.

So how easy would it be? Estonia suffered a relatively crude form of attack known as ‘denial of service’, while paralysing a secure British server would be likely to require more sophisticated ‘spy’ software which embeds itself quietly in a computer network and scans for secret passwords or useful information – activating itself later to wreak havoc.

Neill said that would require specialist knowledge to target the weakest link in any system: its human user. ‘You will get an email, say, that looks like it’s from a trusted colleague, but in fact that email has been cloned. There will be an attachment that looks relevant to your work: it’s an interesting document, but embedded in it invisibly is “malware” rogue software which implants itself in the operating systems. From that point, the computer is compromised and can be used as a platform to exploit other networks.’

Only governments and highly sophisticated criminal organisations have such a capability now, he argues, but there are strong signs that al-Qaeda is acquiring it: ‘It is a hallmark of al-Qaeda anyway that they do simultaneous bombings to try to herd victims into another area of attack.’

The West, of course, may not simply be the victim of cyber-wars: the United States is widely believed to be developing an attack capability, with suspicions that Baghdad’s infrastructure was electronically disrupted during the 2003 invasion.

So given its ability to cause as much damage as a traditional bomb, should cyber-attack be treated as an act of war? And what rights under international law does a country have to respond, with military force if necessary? Next month Nato will tackle such questions in a strategy detailing how it would handle a cyber-attack on an alliance member. Suleyman Anil, Nato’s leading expert on cyber-attack, hinted at its contents when he told an e-security conference in London last week that cyber-attacks should be taken as seriously as a missile strike – and warned that a determined attack on western infrastructure would be ‘practically impossible to stop’.

Tensions are likely to increase in a globalised economy, where no country can afford to shut its borders to foreign labour – an issue graphically highlighted for Gordon Brown weeks into his premiership by the alleged terrorist attack on Glasgow airport, when it emerged that the suspects included overseas doctors who entered Britain to work in the NHS.

A review led by Homeland Security Minister Admiral Sir Alan West into issues raised by the Glasgow attack has been grappling with one key question: could more be done to identify rogue elements who are apparently well integrated with their local communities?

Which is where, some within the intelligence community insist, access to personal data already held by public bodies – from the Oyster register to public sector employment records – could come in. The debate is not over yet.

Parents may be jailed over vaccinations

AP | Mar 12, 2008

By MARIA CHENG

LONDON – As doctors struggle to eradicate polio worldwide, one of their biggest problems is persuading parents to vaccinate their children. In Belgium, authorities are resorting to an extreme measure: prison sentences.

Two sets of parents in Belgium were recently handed five month prison terms for failing to vaccinate their children against polio. Each parent was also fined 4,100 euros ($8,000).

“It’s a pretty extraordinary case,” said Dr. Ross Upshur, director of the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto.

“The Belgians have a right to take some action against the parents, given the seriousness of polio, but the question is, is a prison sentence disproportionate?”

The parents can still avoid prison — their sentences were delayed to give them a chance to vaccinate their children. But if that deadline also passes without their children receiving the injections, the parents could be put behind bars.

Because of privacy laws, Belgian officials would not talk specifically about the case, such as why the parents refused the vaccine or how much longer they have to vaccinate their children.

The polio vaccine is the only one required by Belgian law. Exceptions are granted only if parents can prove their children might have a bad physical reaction to the vaccine.

“Polio is a very serious disease and has caused great suffering in the past,” said Dr. Victor Lusayu, head of Belgium’s international vaccine centre. “The discovery of the vaccine has eliminated polio from Europe and it is simply the law in Belgium that you have to be vaccinated. … At the end of the day, the law must be respected.”

Some ethicists back the hardline Belgian stance.

“Nobody has the right to unfettered liberty, and people do not have a right to endanger their kids,” said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester.

“The parents in this case do not have any rights they can appeal to. They have obligations they are not fulfilling.”

Aside from Belgium, only France makes polio vaccinations mandatory by law. In the United States, children must be vaccinated against many diseases including polio, but most states allow children to opt out if their parents have religious or “philosophical” objections.

In the U.S. state of Maryland, prosecutors and school officials in one county threatened truancy charges against parents who failed to vaccinate their children. The measure sharply reduced the number of unvaccinated children although nobody has been charged.

The only other case of mandatory polio vaccines is during the Muslim yearly Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Pilgrims from polio-endemic countries — Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan — must prove they have been vaccinated. Saudi officials even give them an extra dose upon arrival at the airport.

Since the polio virus can live in the human body for weeks, it jumps borders easily. That makes health officials even in developed countries nervous, since the threat of an outbreak remains as long as the virus is circulating anywhere.

Polio is a highly infectious disease spread through water that mainly strikes children under five. Initial symptoms include fever, headaches, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and fatigue. The polio virus invades the body’s nervous system and can lead to irreversible paralysis within hours. In extreme cases, children can die when their breathing muscles are immobilized.

Incidence has dropped by 99 percent since the World Health Organization and partners began their eradication effort in 1988. But the virus is still entrenched in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, and occasionally pops up elsewhere.

For developed countries, imported polio cases could cause chaos in the health system, warned Dr. Steve Cochi, an immunization expert at the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said that unlike other medical problems, in which rejecting treatment only affects the individual, refusing a vaccine for a transmissible disease like polio puts others at risk as well.

“Most of the time, polio outbreaks do spill into the general population,” Cochi said.

Ethicists argue that people who refuse vaccinations are taking advantage of everyone else who has been vaccinated. Once the majority of a population is vaccinated, there are few susceptible people the disease can infect, thus lowering the odds of an outbreak.

People who refuse to be vaccinated are “free riders,” Harris said. “They can only afford to refuse the vaccine because they are surrounded by people who have fulfilled their obligations to the community.”

Health officials doubt that Belgium’s strategy will be useful to countries still battling polio.

“It is up to individual countries to decide their own policies, but we do not feel that imprisonment would help,” said Dr. David Heymann, WHO’s top polio official.

EU to boost military in face of climate change

A “nexus of powers” may at some point be assumed by the EU

EU OBSERVER | Mar 10, 2008

EU OBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The European Union should boost its civil and military capacities to respond to “serious security risks” resulting from catastrophic climate change expected this century, according to a joint report from the EU’s two top foreign policy officials.

The EU and member states should further build up their capabilities with regards to civil protection, and civil and military crisis management and disaster response instruments to react to the security risks posed by climate change, reads a paper by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

The seven-page paper, to be submitted to EU leaders at a summit in Brussels later this week, warns of a range of stark scenarios, in particular the threat of an intensified “scramble for resources” – both energy and mineral – in the Arctic “as previously inaccessible regions open up.”

The rapid melting of the polar ice caps is seen as a great opportunity for far-northern economies, as the “increased accessibility of the enormous hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic region” mean new waterways and international trade routes open for business where once there was only ice.

But this does not come without certain hazards. The report highlights the threat to Europe from Russia. “The resulting new strategic interests are illustrated by the recent planting of the Russian flag under the North Pole.”

Eco-migration

Additionally, the report suggests that Europe will come under increasing pressure from so-called eco-migration.

“Europe must expect substantially increased migratory pressure,” says the report. “Populations that already suffer from poor health conditions, unemployment or social exclusion are rendered more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which could amplify or trigger migration within and between countries.”

The document notes that the UN has predicted that there will be millions of environmental migrants by 2020, and warns that the pressure will not only come from beyond Europe’s borders, but that climate change “is also likely to exacerbate internal migration with significant security consequences.”

Other worries include water shortages and the consequent food price increases that result from lower crop yields, all of which could lead to civil unrest, particularly in the Middle East. This in turn puts pressure on energy security.

“Significant decreases [in crop yields] are expected to hit Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia and thus affect stability in a vitally strategic region for Europe,” predicts the report, while “water supply in Israel might fall by 60 percent over this century.”

The document also warns of major changes to landmass leading to territorial disputes, political radicalisation in poorer regions of the world, and the effects that sea-level rises and increases in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters would have on port cities and oil refineries.

For the most part, however, much of the climate-change-based security risks mentioned in the report have been listed elsewhere. What is new is the proposal of the incorporation of risks resulting from climate change into European defence policy thinking.

The report also proposes an intensification of the EU’s research, monitoring and early warning capacity regarding climate-change-based security risks and an improvement of the bloc’s early response capacity to disasters and conflicts.

The two foreign policy chiefs would furthermore like to see a focus on climate security risks at the international level – in particular within the UN Security Council and the G8 – and within EU regional strategies such as the European Neighbourhood Policy, the EU-Africa Strategy and Middle East and Black Sea policies.

Specifically, the pair say that there should be a development of regional security scenarios for the various possible levels of climate change envisaged.

But some are worried about the direction proposed in the document.

“Some of these recommendations may well be sensible, but there’s no way of knowing until they’re fleshed out. The devil is in the detail. It’s important to know what powers the EU will assume in the event,” said Tony Bunyan, head of civil liberties group Statewatch.

He referred to a “nexus of powers” that may at some point be assumed by either the EU or member states.

DNA database plans for children who ‘could become criminals’

Telegraph | Mar 18, 2008

By Simon Johnson

Primary school children should be put on the national DNA database if their behaviour suggests they will become criminals, a senior Scotland Yard expert said yesterday.

Gary Pugh, the director of forensic science and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, called for a debate on the measures required to identify future offenders.

He said: “If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large.

“We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.”

But critics said this was a step towards a police state that would risk stigmatising youngsters who had yet to commit a criminal act.

The details of more than 4.5 million people, including about 150,000 children under the age of 16, are held on the Government’s database, making it the largest system of its kind in the world.

Last week it emerged that the number of 10 to 18-year-olds placed on the database after being arrested will have reached about 1.5 million this time next year.

Police in England and Wales need parental consent to take a DNA sample from children under 10, the age of criminal responsibility.

Children in Scotland can be charged with an offence at eight, but police cannot take DNA if they are younger.

Julia Margo, from the Institute for Public Policy Research who wrote a recent report on the issue, agreed that it was possible to identify risk factors in children aged five to seven. But she said that placing young children on a database risked stigmatising them.

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers’ Association, said Mr Pugh’s suggestion could be viewed “as a step towards a police state.”

He added: “It is condemning them at a very young age to something they have not yet done. To label children at that stage and put them on a register is going too far.”