Monday 10 December 2018

DNA way to catch a thief

Ballyboughal man, John McLoughlin tells John Manning about a product that is new to Ireland and helps reunite stolen property with its owner

John McLoughlin.
John McLoughlin.
SelectaDNA is looking for communities to embrace its crime prevention system.

A Ballyboughal man has launched an innovative anti-theft system onto the Irish market which not only helps reunited an owner with their stolen property but also helps prevent the crime occurring in the first place.

SelectaDNA Ireland uses synthetic DNA to give any of your possessions, a unique identity that is linked to yours for its lifetime, or until you sell it on.

John McLoughlin from Ballyboughal and his partner, John Kissane head up the company and the retired Garda detective believes the product's real power is in crime prevention.

Explaining the system, John said: 'It's a property marking system that utilises the uniqueness of synthetic DNA. We are all familiar with DNA and how that works and that for each individual it is unique, but what we are doing is that we are bringing that uniqueness to the physical environment.

'So, anything that you value or cherish or own, you can now apply that uniqueness to your property. It's limitless - you can apply it to anything, including animals like livestock.'

John explained how he came upon the product, saying: 'I was in the Gardaí up to 2014 and before I left, I was researching opportunities for when I left and I was aware that a Garda Inspectorate Report in 2014 recommended that the Gardaí promote and support property marking initiatives such as this. It was quite a strong recommendation.

'So, I saw there was an opportunity there to provide a solution to that problem. So I looked around the world and saw this.

'This is a global product and it is in 40 countries. It's a UK product and it's up and running since 2004 and I think to date, there has been 15 million kits sold around the world.'

It is a timely introduction into the Irish market in light of a recent media focus on the shifting of stolen goods at markets and car boot sales.

John said: 'I saw that as an opportunity to deal with a problem we have seen recently in the Prime Time programme that featured a market where tools were being sold where a lot of people suspected they may have been stolen or lost or illegally gained.

'The difficulty is, particularly with tools, is to find a way to get it back to the owner and another area where that is difficult is in the likes of jewellery. It is very hard to give jewellery an identity.

'I know from my previous life that there are warehouses and stores that are full of property that gardaí can't return to their its owners but this system will give them that capability.'

John is a former shop owner and ran the Mace store in Ballyboughal for a number of years. That store was targeted by thieves more than once so the Ballyboughal man has a personal stake in making life difficult for thieves.

The company is also trialling another synthetic DNA system in a number of Topaz stores that sprays an intruder with a DNA solution when they break into the store, and provides a direct link between the thief and the scene of the crime.

The product marking system is more straightforward. It just requires a small kit and the application of a small, invisible marking that can be seen under ultra violet light and be read under a microscope.

John explained that wherever the product has been used, it has proven effective not only in reuniting stolen property with its owner, but as a crime prevention measure.

He said: 'The crime deterrent value in this is huge - it works.'

John added: 'In the UK, it is in 93% of police force regions and it has reduced crime in their areas.

'So, it is a proven crime reduction initiative wherever it is rolled out. On the back of that success we sought the distributorship and we just got it there at Christmas.

'We are in conversations and we're talking to the Gardaí to say, look, this is available and it's something that will help you in your fight against crime.'

The Ballyboughal man said: 'We can mark anything, so you have the tradesman with his van and his tools, the farmer with his tools and machinery and livestock.

'Homeowners is another target market we are particularly interested in but we are not just selling a product, we are looking at the bigger picture. Since we started we have spoken to a number of rural communities to get the likes of Rural Watch of Neighbourhood Watch for a community to come together and look at introducing this in conjunction with the Gardaí, maybe the local Muintir na Tíre or the IFA.'

John is certain the product is something the market has been waiting for. He said: 'We have been asking people if there is a problem out there, and anecdotally there is a problem. People are sick and tired of their property being stolen and this is quite cost-effective compared to say, putting in extensive CCTV, alarms, trackers on tractors.

'Our product doesn't have an annual subscription fee, it's a once-off fee. We are going to spend the next number of months primarily talking to people in the community and to get the word out there that this product is available.

'Another interesting thing about our product is that we have a global database so we can track property across international borders. Say, for example, a tractor that may be stole in the North County, it can go up north and they are trialling this system in Armagh with the PSNI and the local council and Joint Policing Committee, It's fortunate in that it is State-funded - I can only dream of that but they get the benefit of that and they have rolled it out to quite a number of farms in the border area because property was crossing south.'

It is easy to understand how the product is effective in reuniting a stolen item with its owner, but just how does it prevent that crime from happening in the first place?

John explained: 'The key thing about crime prevention is that we want it to deflect, deter, stamp out and make it difficult for people to commit burglary.

'Part of the process in marking a product is that you display warning signs and that's where I come back to a community using this. For example, you know the signage that goes with the Text Alert schemes, we would provide similar signage showing that this area has embraced property marking using synthetic DNA and the potential thief is aware of that because he sees the signs. On a house, too, on windows and doors there are small signs that say 'thieves beware'.'

The product was only launched in Ireland on January 2 of this year and so far, John said the reception has been 'very positive'.

He said: 'I have 100 calls to make to various community groups that we have met at trade shows that told us they have a problem and they're trying to solve it. One of the things we do, is that we don't just sell the product, we take a holistic approach. If a community is interested, we will go down to a town hall meeting and we will tell them what we do. '

John is now planning to have talks with Fingal County Council and local gardaí about introducing community schemes piloting the product in this region.

The Fingal Joint Policing Committee may provide the perfect forum for the Ballyboughal man to make those contacts and possibly present to both organisations at the same time.

Before John and his business partner launched SelectaDNA, they ran a risk management company and John says the Fingal Local Enterprise Office has been crucial in the evolution of his start-up businesses.

SelectaDNA has the potential to grow massively in this country and John believes it's a good news story for everyone. He said: 'The good news story is important - a person can have confidence that their property is difficult to steal and if it is stolen, the good news is that it can be returned to them and if they are interested, they can make a complaint and gardaí can initiate a prosecution.

Any Garda worth his salt, presented with the potential for evidence, will jump all over it because he sees a way to a charge. It's another tool in the evidentiary box in the ongoing fight against crime .

Fingal Independent