MORE than 1,500 children as young as ten have had their DNA swabbed by North Yorkshire Police in the past two years, even if they are not charged with any offence.

Human rights campaigners called the practice “illiberal” and “cruel”, said it conditioned youngsters to think breaches of privacy were normal and said it presumed they would go on to live a life of crime.

Last year, samples were taken from 497 boys and 184 girls aged ten to 17, while in 2010 582 boys and 269 girls were swabbed, according to figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.

Not all police forces take DNA samples from suspects of crimes, but under Home Office guidelines they can legally take them from anyone over the age of criminal responsibility, which is currently ten years old.

Of the 1532 swab samples taken from children in North Yorkshire in 2010 and 2011, 21 were taken from ten-year-olds, 36 from 11-year-olds, 84 from 12-year-olds, 162 from 13-year-olds, 254 from 14-year-olds, 290 from 15-year-olds, 299 from 16-year-olds and 406 from 17-year-olds.

A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police said: “DNA is a very important and successful tool used in the detection of crimes, some of which have been solved years after they were committed.

“DNA is stored in accordance with Home Office guidelines to help solve crimes and bring offenders to justice.”

But Gus Hosein, of Privacy International, said: “The rationale behind collecting and retaining a person’s DNA depends on two alternative presumptions: either the DNA will help solve a “cold” criminal case, or that person is likely to commit a crime in the future.

“Since ten-year-old children don't tend to have lengthy criminal histories, the former presumption will rarely apply.

“As for the latter, it seems illiberal – if not downright cruel – to presuppose that youngsters who find themselves in trouble with the police before even reaching adolescence will develop into hardened criminals as adults.

“DNA collection and retention is a significant breach of privacy that should be deployed when necessary, not by default. If today’s children come to think of it as commonplace, we should prepare ourselves for a future of invasive policing and repressive government.”

Police are allowed, but not legally required, to take DNA from mouth swabs, hair or blood samples regardless of whether that person is charged with an offence.

Previously they were allowed to keep the DNA profile and fingerprints even if a case is dropped – until the suspect reached 100 years old, but the Protection of Freedoms Bill, introduced earlier this year, requires the automatic deletion of innocent people’s records from the DNA and fingerprint databases, and the destruction of all DNA samples.

The person's records still remain on the Police National Database (PND). Currently, the Bill does not require these records to be deleted if a person is innocent: they will all be kept to age 100.

Of the 1532 children’s samples taken, the vast majority – 1486 – were taken from white North European nationalities.