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back to article MP says she was misquoted over DNA test call

Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy has rejected reports in the weekend press that she had "led calls" for the DNA testing of the entire 1-million-resident-strong Bristol area. A reporter on the Sunday Express, where the story originated, also wrote that McCarthy had said that men should be singled out for testing. This resulted in …

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FWIW as a Bristolian male...

I wrote to Kerry (not my MP or current colour of politics); this was the reply I received yesterday afternoon:

Dear Chris

The way the press has chosen to report my comments on the Jo Yeates murder investigation has understandably caused a great deal of concern. I would like to make clear that I have not been leading calls for all men in Bristol to be DNA tested, and it would be wholly inappropriate for me to do so, as this is for the police to decide.

I was approached by the Express newspaper, and asked if I supported calls from Louise Smith's parents (a local woman who was murdered in 1995 and whose killer was traced after DNA testing) for such methods to be used in the Joanna Yeates case. My response was that I would support the police in DNA testing if the investigating officers considered that it would be a useful step in helping to identify Jo's killer.

Although much of the press speculation has specified men, perhaps unhelpfully, it would be for the police to decide who should be tested - male or female. I did, though, query whether it would be more productive to test beyond Clifton specifically, as only one of many practical and logistical considerations, if this option was pursued.

I am of course aware that people in Bristol would be concerned about the civil liberties aspects of DNA testing, and whether their records would be retained on the DNA database, so this would need to be looked at if the police do consider testing at some point. I also made clear that it could prove very difficult to test a significant proportion of the Bristol population, and that I am unclear how the police would actually go about it.

I hope you will be reassured that I have not "called" for testing, and nor have I in any way pre-empted what the police might do. I merely agreed that DNA testing has proved useful in solving crimes, but the police are best placed to decide whether it would be helpful in this instance.

Yours sincerely

Kerry McCarthy MP

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Anonymous Coward

moo

"I also made clear that it could prove very difficult to test a significant proportion of the Bristol population, and that I am unclear how the police would actually go about it."

But who said anything about testing a 'significant proportion of the Bristol population'?

Even if we give her the benefit of the doubt and admit that this was just one big mix up, is it not telling that everyone believed it?

20 years ago if you had said that an MP wanted to DNA test everyone, no one would have believed you. Nowadays it's "just another dumb scheme".

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FAIL

Misquoted?

"Soundbite MP brought down by the power of the internet, or slightly naïve politician talking far too freely to the national press?"

Alternatively, "MP misquoted by paper that has opposite political views" wouldnt be much of a story, would it?

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@John Ruddy

Not sure opposite views are needed - not lett8ng the truth get in the way of a good story doesn't necessarily require that anyone is misquoted for political reasons.

From my limited experience of knowing both the facts of a story and reading local reporting, while I've certainly seen bias, I suspect that may play second fiddle to simple exaggeration and factual inaccuracy.

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Naive politician

Expecting the express to report what someone said and not just make up something.

Also - a bit thick politician - the police cannot decide (yet) to simply test everyone in a given area - they still need to (a) get a warrant showing cause for each individual - or (b) seek their agreement. Given the hamfisted mess they made of DNA records retention (b) seems unlikely to be widely taken up.

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Anonymous Coward

The Express have previous in misquoting

See for example http://tabloid-watch.blogspot.com/2009/10/another-day-another-express-cancer.html and the blogs linked from there for numerous examples

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Grenade

Serves her right

May I remind you this is the same woman who oh-so cleverly announced some election postal votes before the end of the election last year through the medium of twitter?

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Bronze badge

You may...

However the significant issue there was not that she announced it, but that she was told. It is much more significant that somebody involved in the count blabbed to a candidate than it is that the candidate then blabbed to the world. What part of "secret ballot" does that local authority not understand?

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secret ballot?

As a candidate she is allowed to oversee the vote counting so she was able to see votes counted and she blabbed this on Twitter. She didn't know who votted for who so it was still secret.

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I see....

"It is much more significant that somebody... blabbed...than it is that the candidate then blabbed to the world."

So Julian Assange can go free, but Bradley Manning should rot in solitary confinement and be force-administered drugs, for the rest of his life? Your argument appears to be "I can do what I want, and if I do wrong, it's your fault, for letting me."

It is little surprise, that the parliamentary Labour party is largely composed of solicitors and lawyers, these days, when their entire approach to democracy appears to be the applied use of Weasel words.

Dis-gusting.

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Silver badge

Yesterday's article

Although I'm amused that it was only yesterday we had this from the Register ( http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/10/bristol_dna_test/ ), quoting her directly from the Express. I'm glad to see the follow up clarification - but I also wonder if the Register will be more careful to rely on tabloids in future (or at least, double check the sources - e.g., on her Twitter, she was already saying that they'd misrepresented her) ;)

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Paris Hilton

Sniff sniff

Smells like a labour stooge.

Would you have been so quick to jump to the defence of a Tory/LibDem or even a BNP elected representative?

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Silver badge

She still supports it though...

The Express were indeed wrong to claim she led calls. However, much of the criticism against her has been based on the fact that she still nonetheless supports it, and not because of what the Express said. There was better reporting elsewhere, e.g., http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-12145602 .

Admittedly I can see it's a leading question - it's easy to say you'd support the police doing such and such in a case, if asked, which is different from actively joining the campaign to back it yourself.

Though I'm still glad to see that people are criticising these calls for mass testing, whether it's from an MP, the media, the police, the parents, or whoever else.

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FAIL

Glad shes not my MP

She sounds like a total pain in the arse.... first the postal vote incident which she escaped somehow and now this which shes backing away from.

Stand by your statements, even if they make you sound as stupid as you seem!

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Oh really ?

"The one confident prediction we can make following this story is that she is unlikely to be chatting quite so unguardedly to the Express in the near future."

I wouldnt be so bold. One more lap of the bowl and this pond life will have forgotten that doesnt trust the express. She is irrepressibly stupid, you see.

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WTF?

Express delivery

There's nothing quite like the newspapers to turn a 'possibly, but it's not my call' in to a 'MP Demands All Males To Be DNA Tested' headline.

Surprised the Express didn't also say that by DNA testing everyone there was a chance of catching Diana's killer. (ffs)

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Unhappy

Bound to catch them

With a 1 in 5 million false match rate, which could change due to DNA processing errors (assume no contamination) then with 30 million males you have your 6 killers, or 6 false matches and the killer missed the testing.

This is the nothing to hide nothing to fear syndrome and if you won't prove yourself inocent then you have something to hide, so be a good boy and give them your DNA. There must be other evidence, so narrow it down, then maybe DNA testing would help get a result.

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Anonymous Coward

It's all for the common purpose.

"I would like to make clear that I have not been leading calls for all men in Bristol to be DNA tested, and it would be wholly inappropriate for me to do so, as this is for the police to decide."

No It would be wholly innapropriate FULL STOP.

Do you think she could be a Common Purpose Graduate?

I do.

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This being the case

Then I assume she is right now putting in a complaint against the Express to the Press Complaints Commission? If, indeed, what they published is not the truth and has done significant harm to her reputation, then they should be held liable.

I have no love for this woman, but fair is fair and she deserves to not be misrepresented.

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Stop

The Press

"Soundbite MP brought down by the power of the internet, or slightly naïve politician talking far too freely to the national press?"

Neither really. Just another in a long line of examples of the behaviour of the lazy, incompetent and cynical UK press. It sounds like McCarthy's response to the question was considered and thoughtful (if a little "bleeding obvious") but it then got turned into a soundbite which distored what she had actually said and the context in which she said it. You can't win. Answer a question and your answer will be distorted to fit the journalist's agenda, say nothing and you will be vilified as uncaring and out of touch.

IANAP, just a weary grumpy old man.

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FAIL

What's that sound?

Is it the sound of back-pedalling?

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Anonymous Coward

This is how these interviews go

Reporter. Excuse me, I'm from the (insert paper name) could you answer a few questions for me.

A Dr. I suppose so.

Conversation about recent news story relevant to interviewees field of study ensues.

R: Do you think hormone treatment would have an effect?

Dr: Well something would certainly happen, it would take a lot of research and the're be all ethical aspects to be considered.

R: So, it wouldn't be like the Not the NIne O'Clock news sketch about two experts actually agreeing on youth violence... "Chop off" something wasn't it?

Dr: Yes, Goolies, "Chop off the goolies". Yes, that was funny wasn't it.

R: Just one more thing, a bit of background. Anything you do for a hobby.

Dr: I entertain at children's parties. Bit of an act.

R: thank you Dr.

Next day story - "CHOP OFF GOOLIES!" says Clown Doctor. This man, who could even now be with your children pretending to.....

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Big Brother

As you are a politician...

...and your mouth is open, we can only assume that you are lying about being misquoted.

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"this is for the police to decide"

Blame me for pulling this slightly out of context. But, taking it a bit further McCarthy believes it's the police which should decide whether all Bristolians or, if this case still remained unsolved, the whole lot of UK should be DNA tested?!

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Thumb Up

That's what I wondered

Do the police really have the powers needed to decide to forceably administer DNA tests on all the men in Bristol?

Were I one of the said Bristolians, I think I would tell them where to stick their DNA testing kit.

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Silver badge

Re where to stick their DNA testing kit

Be careful what you say or they may arrest you for insulting an officer (or whatever). And you know where your DNA ends up upon being arrested, legitimately or not.

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Big Brother

As posted previously by someone else

DNA similarities within blood relatives are enough to identify the "family" of the killer, so if your direct relatives or perhaps even distant reletives provided samples, they they would be able to narrow down their search to small groups of suspects, especially if they can find out who the relatives of a person are.

One more reason to not freely disclose any information about anything personal to any government body.

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Silver badge

Spin from an MP

One excuse from an MP and everybody seems to think it's the Express that misrepresented her.

However, this does put us in a rather precarious position, who to believe? An MP or a tabloid newspaper.

Oddly enough the verdict seems to be siding with the MP.

Personally I couldn't give a toss, they both deserve each other and more to the point will use each other to gain popular support.

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Bronze badge

Misquoted?

I once heard a politician say that they always asked for the questions from the press to be given in writing so that they could respond in writing. Thus making it harder for the press to misquote them. Radio and TV inteviews were OK, they said, because the responses were broadcast

How niaive is that exactly? OK so it would be possible to prove you'd been misquoted (assuming you had a copy of the questions and answers receipted, signed for, countersigned, witnessed, in triplicate, sent in, sent back and finally buried in soft peat for three years*) or that you could access the unedited recording. But what use is being able to prove that you were misquoted if the original misquote was splashed over the media - the apology won't get front page news will it?

In this situation the correct response to the Excess should have been something along the lines of: "What the fuck has this got to do with me? It's a police investigation and it is not for me as a politician to interfere with the day to day running of a police investigation." Much harder to miquote that. Although I suppose they could go with "Local MP doesn't care about murder case". Being the Excess they could manage to quote "yes" as "no" given a long enough run up.

The Excess is one of those papers that wants its readers to believe that their outrage is enough to influence the authorities and make them act or at least change their actions (the court of public opinion and all that shite). Of course the Excess themselves don't believe it for a minute, but they do believe that making their readers think that it will is going to sell more papers for them. The outrage they are aiming for here is that they want to make it seem that the police are deliberately refusing to follow a legitimate (ahem!) line of enquiry.

Of course if the police did follow this line of enquiry I'm sure the Excess would be outraged by the civil liberties issues, by the cost of DNA testing all those thousands of people (how many hospital beds is that worth?) and the fact that it would probably be a complete waste of time since there is no evidence that the killer was even from Bristol. And of course they would pass that outrage onto their readers.

* Apologies to the late Mr. Adams.

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Bronze badge

DNA?

What people need to realise is that a DNA match on its own does not necessarilly identify the killer. Lets say some hair or skin was found upon the victim's clothing would a DNA match identify the killer? Nope. It would show that the victim had probably come into contact with the owner of that DNA. It could still be quite a piece or work for the police to demonstrate beyond doubt that the identified individual was the killer.

Right now you could have DNA on your clothing and even your person from people you weren't even aware of. A hair stuck to your clothes that you picked up from a bus seat the other day? What about the bloke that sneezed on your back when you were queueing in the supermarket?

Just like fingerprinting there is a popular myth that a simple DNA match will always identify a killer. Crime fiction really has a lot to answer for. And so do the media. How often do we read that "DNA testing identified the killer" when the court case took days? If DNA evidence was that clear cut the court case would have taken minutes.

The problem with DNA testing from a civil liberties POV is not the idea of false positives, it is that a simple DNA match of itself does not demonstrate beyond doubt the guilt of an individual. The police, however, are pretty damn sure to devote their time to proving the guilt of the identfied individual as soon as they get that DNA match. Just like being damn sure your killer has got a dodgy geordie accent.

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Re: DNA?

>What people need to realise is that a DNA match on its own does not necessarilly identify the killer.

Unfortunately there is still this magical pixie dust quality about DNA evidence and until that dust has settled the average juror is going to equate such evidence with guilt. Also, until such a time that DNA has been de-mysticised it puts the accused in the position of having to prove themselves innocent.

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Silver badge

"slightly naïve politician"?

Any politician is naiive if they're gullible enough to be suckered by a newspaper's weasel-worded question.

One that starts eg "Do you support..." or "Do you think..." or "Would you say that..." should be treated with utmost caution because it's almost guaranteed that they're looking for anything they can hook an accusation of "MP says..." onto it.

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Paris Hilton

What do you expect?

1 - it is the Express after all

2 - byelection in the offing

3 - there is little of substance the Express can throw at non-Coalition political parties so make it up instead

4 - look for a weak link, misquote, snaffle some headline or column inches and make the con part of the ConDems feel good (they sure do need it)

Now, of more substance. What of the banker bonus fiasco? The ConDem policy fiascos? The ConDem MPs "get my money out of the UK as quick as you can" fiasco?

There! Let's see the Express work on those bad boys or not.

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Anonymous Coward

Police over-enthusiasm

The notion of blanket DNA testing an area might not be so controversial if the police were not so dead set on retaining the DNA records till the end of the universe. If there were legally backed assurances that any samples would be tested specifically for the case in question and then all material and results immediately destroyed, I'm fairly sure far fewer people would object in this (were they to pursue blanket testing) or other similar cases.

As it stands, public trust in the police is at an all time nadir in part due to their repeated insistence on having access to every conceivable detail of the UK population and their private habits "just in case". McCarthy may have been misquoted, but, like the police, MPs of all hues do have a bit of previous when it comes to punting poorly thought through and illiberal ideas in pursuit of a bit of media attention.

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FAIL

What she actually said vs what she meant...

"I am of course aware that people in Bristol would be concerned about the civil liberties aspects of DNA testing, and whether their records would be retained on the DNA database, so this would need to be looked at if the police do consider testing at some point."

"I am of course aware that people in Bristol would be concerned about the civil liberties aspects of DNA testing, and THAT THERE IS NO CHANCE IN HELL THAT THEIR RECORDS WOULD EVER BE REMOVED FROM THE DNA database."

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Big Brother

2345678

These Labour politicians just can't leave the 'control' bit alone can they? They lost an election partly on the fact that they wanted us all to have a card, they stripped us of many liberties and still they want to impose a STASI-like control on the population. Listening government? I think not.

I wouldn't hesitate to help the Police if they could be trusted to destroy DNA or fingerprinting. They can't. They lie. I won't.

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Is she saying that the police should decide?

"police are best placed to decide whether it would be helpful in this instance" ... so the police decide it would be helpful then it is alright to DNA test quarter of a million men then? Nice.

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Anonymous Coward

Not quite

She says the police would be best placed to decide whether it would be *helpful*, she doesn't say that they would be best placed to decide whether or not it was legal. That particular decision could only be made by the courts.

The whole thing is pretty much academic anyway as the police have not yet said whether or not they have any useful DNA evidence. It's been said before, but there could be all sorts of reasons for DNA being at the scene or on the clothing or person of the victim. Testing the whole population of Bristol would be very, very expensive and very, very time consuming. The police would be pretty damned certain they'd got the DNA of the killer before they spent all that money and tied up all that resource.

I suspect the original suggestion for this came from somebody who doesn't understand DNA testing and evidence and or have the vaguest understanding of PACE.

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