An unprecedented blunder wiped 400,000 pieces of information from the Police National Computer including details of convicted criminals, it can be disclosed.
Police and Home Office officials were scrambling to recover the data yesterday but there are fears it has been permanently erased – in what one former chief constable described as a ‘risk to public safety’.
Initial estimates put the number at more than 150,000 but last night it emerged over 400,000 separate records were lost.
The wiped records included 213,000 offence records, details of 175,000 arrests and 15,000 ‘person records’, Mr Malik said in a letter to chief constables and police and crime commissioners, leaked to The Times (file image)
Policing minister Kit Malthouse admitted last night he was ‘not entirely sure’ if the mistake was having an effect on policework.
But Naveed Malik, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, revealed officers were already aware of an investigation which had been ‘potentially impeded’ by a failure to secure a DNA match.
The wiped records included 213,000 offence records, details of 175,000 arrests and 15,000 ‘person records’, Mr Malik said in a letter to chief constables and police and crime commissioners, leaked to The Times. This data mainly related to suspects who had been arrested and released with ‘no further action’. A potentially more serious error involved the deletion of 26,000 DNA records and 30,000 fingerprint files, some related to convicted criminals.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse admitted last night he was ‘not entirely sure’ if the mistake was having an effect on policework
Officials are believed to have been carrying out a ‘weeding’ process to delete extraneous information in the PNC.
But a mistake – said by ministers to be human error when new coding was inputted – set off a ‘chain reaction’ of deletions because the PNC is linked with other police computers. It was only when a series of alerts were triggered that officials carried out an emergency shutdown.
Former Cumbria police chief Stuart Hyde said the loss was a ‘risk to public safety and a risk to the safeguarding of vulnerable people across the country’.
‘In terms of the risk this creates clearly some of those people may be involved in subsequent offending and could only be identified through either fingerprints and DNA when they were subsequently brought to light,’ he told BBC Radio Four’s Today.
Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said police records that do not initially lead to convictions often go on to play a vital role in cases. ‘In the case of a serial sex offender, the links between cases can be made and it does finally become prosecutable,’ she said.
Mr Malthouse yesterday ordered Home Office officials and police to double check there was ‘no threat to public safety’.
He said: ‘We’ve already put a stop to the problem so it cannot reoccur and we are working very closely and quickly with policing partners and within the Home Office to try to recover the data and assess the full extent of the problem.’
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: ‘We are aware of an issue and are working closely with government to understand the potential operational impacts and resolve them at pace.’