Police and Home Office scientists are aiming to enhance their ability to identify criminals and eliminate innocent suspects in rape and other sexual offences, by creating a new anonymous UK-wide DNA database.

The new Swab Out Crime campaign will produce an anonymous Y-STR reference database using samples from 10,000 men in the UK. Organisers expect it will take up to two years to complete the sample collection.

Y chromosomes are a type of DNA found in people born male. Investigators use Y-STR profiling to identify suspects, primarily in cases of rape or sexual offences where tiny amounts of male DNA are present among a sample which is mostly female. 

Currently UK scientists use global databases from other countries to conduct their Y-STR comparisons, but using a database representative of the UK male population will make the data statistically stronger.

A reference database is not used for matching with criminals. Instead, it allows scientists, courts and juries to better understand the relevance of a certain DNA profile by providing a statistical estimate of how often that profile has been seen.

Participants can take part by giving a simple mouth swab at any Swab Out Crime event. Samples are processed at a secure facility and turned into a large set of numbers, then the individual samples are destroyed.

Swab Out Crime is a joint project between the NPCC’s Forensic Capability Network (FCN), the Home Office’s Forensic Information Databases Service (FINDS) and forensic service provider Eurofins.

Launching Swab Out Crime, FCN’s interim managing director John Armstrong, said:

“Policing needs to stay ahead of the curve on our use of science in investigations and FCN is happy to lead on this work on behalf of our stakeholders. Starting the development of the database today means we’ll have stronger evidence to convict offenders and bring justice to victims later down the line, so I encourage men to step forward and take part.”

Organisers intend to gather samples at conferences, offices and university campuses throughout the next two years, with any organisations wishing to host an event advised to contact the organisers. A schedule of upcoming Swab Out Crime events will be available on FCN’s website.

NPCC Police Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Paul Taylor, added:

“This database is an excellent example of how policing can be an effective science-led service. Building confidence in criminal justice is a huge priority for us all, and any activity which enhances our ability to provide robust and reliable evidence has my full support.”

Established in 2020, FCN works nationally to help improve quality standards, strengthen the forensic marketplace, tackle the digital forensics challenge and more. It currently receives £3.2m annual funding from the Home Office police grant and employs 35 people via host force Dorset Police.

For more information visit www.fcn.police.uk/swaboutcrime.