It was on the 10th of September 1984, at 9.05 am, that Sir Alec Jeffreys, in his lab at Leicester University, accidentally made a world-changing discovery:
Said Jeffreys: "I was on my own in the darkroom at 9.05 on September 10, 1984, when that pattern came up and I twigged what we had stumbled upon. Just that single bit of X-ray film threw open a door we didn't even know was there. It opened the whole science of forensic DNA."
This 1980s discovery has had a tremendous influence on crime detection, and, less happily, led to the setting-up of the current UK National Database. Which, as we all know, retains the DNA of many, many innocent people.
Now Sir Alec has spoken up in an interview with the Guardian:
"My view is very clear that if you have been convicted of a crime then you owe it to society to be retained on that database for catching in the future should you reoffend. But the retention of entirely innocent people is a whole different issue. There is a sort of presumption here that if they haven't committed any crime now, then they will in the future."
He also called for improved genetic testing procedures, warning that the current system could result in a miscarriage of justice.
Jeffreys' genetic discoveries at Leicester University in the mid-1980s enabled the establishment of the national DNA database 10 years later; it is now the largest in the world, storing details on more than 5 million people.
Thank you, Sir Alec, for speaking out against the guilty-until-proven-innocent ethos of the Database. Click on the red text to read the Guardian article.