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Over 400,000 crime records could be affected by police computer error


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Over 400,000 crime records could be affected by police computer error

Fingerprint, DNA and arrest history records deleted and visa system thrown into disarray

 

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Priti Patel faces questions after ‘an extraordinarily serious security breach’. Photograph: Reuters

 

More than 400,000 crime records could have been affected by a data blunder, with records for serious offences supposed to be kept forever accidentally deleted and police fearing criminals may not be caught, a letter from a senior officer reveals.

 

The records were accidentally deleted due to a coding error on 10 January, and the incident affects fingerprints, DNA, and arrest records on the police national computer (PNC).

 

The Guardian has learned that records related to serious offences, meant to be kept “indefinitely”, have been affected and police have already suffered what they term as “near misses” for serious crimes.

 

Police leaders are also concerned that the chaos may cause them to hold data they should have legally deleted.

 

Pressure is mounting on the home secretary, Priti Patel, to give a full account of the blunder affecting the PNC, which is run by the Home Office.

 

A letter sent to senior officers on the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) on Friday from deputy chief constable Naveed Malik, lead for the organisation on the PNC, outlines the scale of records affected: “In PNC approximately 213,000 offence records, 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 person records have potentially been deleted in error. In terms of understanding the potential linkage between records, a one-person record can have multiple arrest records and one arrest record can have multiple offences linked to it.”

 

The DNA database is connected to the PNC and has also been hit, the police chief’s letter reveals. It says: “Approximately 26,000 DNA records corresponding to 21,710 subjects have potentially been deleted in error, including records that have previously been marked for indefinite retention following conviction of serious offences.”

 

Technicians are also scrambling to recover tens of thousands of fingerprint records, according to the deputy chief constable’s letter, which says that “30,000 fingerprint records and 600 subject records have potentially been deleted in error”.

 

Police fear offenders may be missed. Malik wrote in the letter to police chiefs: “As the National DNA Database and the National Fingerprint Collection currently contain incomplete sets of biometric records, there is the possibility that biometric matches between crime scenes and offenders may not be identified.”

 

The letter reveals cases where some people police suspect nearly got away because of the blunder: “We are aware of a couple of instances of ‘near misses’ for serious crimes where a biometric match to an offender was not generated as expected but the offender was identified through matches between scenes. However, in these circumstances, without a direct match report to the subject, it may be more challenging for police to progress to an interview or arrest.

“We are also aware of at least one instance where the DNA profile from a suspect in custody did not generate a match to a crime scene as expected, potentially impeding the investigation of the individual’s involvement in the crime.”

 

The Home Office said it was working with police to assess the impact of the error, which reportedly occurred by accident during a weekly “weeding” session to expunge data.

 

The policing minister, Kit Malthouse, said the PNC was a large database of information that requires maintenance, adding: “Unfortunately down to human error, some defective code was introduced as part of that routine maintenance earlier this week and that’s resulted in a deletion of some records and that’s currently under investigation.

“We are now working very quickly with policing partners and within the Home Office to try and recover the data and assess the full extent of the problem.”

 

Although officials are “not entirely sure as yet” whether the problem has had an operational impact on the police, Malthouse said, contingency plans have been put in place to ensure investigations can continue.

 

The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, called on Patel to make an urgent statement: “It’s not good enough for the home secretary to hide behind her junior minister on this when there has been such a major security breach on her watch.

“It’s now vital that she makes an urgent statement outlining the true scale of the issue, when ministers were informed and what the plan is to provide public reassurance. Yet again, Conservative incompetence is putting people’s safety at risk.”

He added: “This is an extraordinarily serious security breach that presents huge dangers for public safety. The incompetence of this shambolic government cannot be allowed to put people at risk, let criminals go free and deny victims justice.”

 

On Friday night Thomas-Symonds wrote to Patel, urging her to show “personal responsibility and leadership” and asking when ministers were first made aware of the breach, if local forces had been informed of potential impacts in their area, and what steps were being taken to retrieve the data.

The PNC allows real-time checks on people and vehicles. Millions of records are kept on it, and they are removed automatically after certain periods depending on the nature of the offence, the suspect’s history and other factors.

 

The deletion also caused chaos with the visa process. Applications, which are checked against the PNC, were suspended for two days but have now resumed.

 

A spokesperson for the NPCC said: “We are aware of an issue with the PNC and are working closely with the government to understand the potential operational impacts.”

 

 

Source: Over 400,000 crime records could be affected by police computer error

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Police probes compromised after computer records deleted

 

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Police investigations have been compromised by an error that led to hundreds of thousands of records being deleted from UK-wide databases, according to a letter seen by the BBC.

 

The National Police Chiefs' Council said 213,000 records were deleted - more than the 150,000 first reported.

 

This resulted in a couple of "near misses" for serious crimes when trying to identify an offender, it said.

 

The Home Office has said it is assessing the impact of the mistake.

 

Data including fingerprint, DNA, and arrest histories was wiped from the Police National Computer (PNC) - which stores and shares criminal records information across the UK - after being inadvertently flagged for deletion.

 

The PNC is used in police investigations and provides real-time checks on people, vehicles and crimes, as well as whether suspects are wanted for any unsolved offences.

 

The Home Office said the lost entries related to people who were arrested and then released without further action.

 

But the letter from the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) says officers are aware of at least one instance where the DNA profile from a suspect in custody did not generate a match to a crime scene as expected, potentially impeding the investigation.

 

It says that some of the records had been marked for indefinite retention following earlier convictions for serious offences.

 

And it reveals that a "weeding system", developed and deployed by a Home Office PNC team, started to delete records wrongly last November.

 

The process was only brought to a halt at the start of this week.

 

The letter was sent on Friday afternoon by Deputy Chief Constable Naveed Malik of the NPCC to chief constables and police and crime commissioners.

'Risk to safety'

The deletion of the records has been blamed on a coding error.

 

This resulted in records that had been flagged for deletion being lost from the database before checks had been carried out to determine whether they could be lawfully held or not.

 

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said the problem had been identified and the process corrected so "it cannot happen again".

 

He said the Home Office, National Police Chiefs' Council and other law enforcement partners were working "at pace" to recover the data.

 

The Home Office said no records of criminal or dangerous persons had been deleted.

 

But Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to take responsibility for the error and be clear about the impact it had had.

 

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he described the situation as "extraordinarily serious", adding: "Priti Patel will be responsible for criminals walking free. We're not going to be able to link suspects to crime scenes without the DNA and fingerprint evidence."

 

A home office source said the accusation was "scaremongering and irresponsible".

 

Former Cumbria Police Chief Constable Stuart Hyde told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday the "very large" loss of arrest records presented a "risk to public safety".

 

The records are linked to police investigations that were terminated before charge (No Further Action or NFA cases) or to those where an individual had been acquitted at court.

 

It is not yet known how many records of each type were lost and full extent of deletions is still being investigated. A minister is expected to update the House of Commons on Monday.

 

It comes after about 40,000 alerts relating to European criminals were removed from the PNC following the UK's post-Brexit security deal with the EU.

 

 

Source: Police probes compromised after computer records deleted

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Priti Patel faces growing pressure over deletion of police records

Keir Starmer calls on home secretary to take responsibility for ‘fiasco’ as officers begin to report ‘near misses’

 

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Priti Patel speaking at a media briefing on the Covid pandemic in Downing Street. Photograph: Leon Neal/AP

 

Priti Patel is under mounting pressure to give a full account of a police computer error, which may have affected more than 400,000 crime records.

 

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, highlighted the gravity of the issue on Saturday and that some of the lost files pertained to live investigations. He urged the home secretary to take responsibility for the fiasco.

 

The blunder, in which records for serious offences supposed to be kept in perpetuity were accidentally deleted, left police fearing criminals may not be caught – with officers already suffering what they term “near misses” for serious crimes.

 

The junior Home Office and Ministry of Justice minister Kit Malthouse released a statement on Friday blaming human error and saying urgent efforts were under way to recover the data and assess the full extent of the issue. He later said contingency plans had been put in place to ensure investigations could continue.

 

Starmer told Sky News: “This government is very good whenever there is a problem at saying it’s somebody else’s fault. At a time like this we need the home secretary to take responsibility herself for this. At the very least she should be in parliament on Monday making a statement about this, explaining it, giving it the full facts and facing questions from MPs. That’s the least we should expect.”

 

The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, also told the broadcaster: “You do not make our streets safer by losing such a substantial amount of information about criminal behaviour. This is extraordinarily serious.

“The home secretary needs to be gripping this and tell us what’s going to be done to mitigate the risk, to try and recover this data and how do we prevent it from happening again.”

 

Late on Saturday afternoon, Patel said Home Office engineers were continuing to work to restore data lost following a routine housekeeping process earlier this week.

“Public safety is the number one priority of everyone within the Home Office, and I would like to thank the data engineers working to restore these records,” she said. “I continue to be in regular contact with the team, and working with our policing partners, we will provide an update as soon as we can.”

 

A letter sent to senior officers on the National Police Chiefs’ Council on Friday from Naveed Malik, lead for the organisation on the police national computer (PNC), seen by the Guardian, outlined the scale of records affected.

“Approximately 26,000 DNA records corresponding to 21,710 subjects have potentially been deleted in error, including records that have previously been marked for indefinite retention following conviction of serious offences,” he said.

 

The letter revealed cases where some people police suspect nearly got away because of the blunder: “We are aware of a couple of instances of ‘near misses’ for serious crimes where a biometric match to an offender was not generated as expected but the offender was identified through matches between scenes. However, in these circumstances, without a direct match report to the subject, it may be more challenging for police to progress to an interview or arrest.

“We are also aware of at least one instance where the DNA profile from a suspect in custody did not generate a match to a crime scene as expected, potentially impeding the investigation of the individual’s involvement in the crime.”

 

Technicians are also scrambling to recover tens of thousands of fingerprint records, according to Malik’s letter, which said “30,000 fingerprint records and 600 subject records have potentially been deleted in error”.

 

The deletion also caused chaos with the visa process. Applications, which are checked against the PNC, were suspended for two days but have now resumed.

 

The Guardian understands that a rapid review identified the problem and corrected it so it cannot happen again.

 

Malthouse said on Saturday: “As I’ve said, the affected records apply to cases where individuals were arrested and then released with no further action, and we are working to recover the affected records as a priority.

“While we do so, the police national computer is functioning and the police are taking steps to mitigate any impact.”

 

 

Source: Priti Patel faces growing pressure over deletion of police records

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