Officers are “working at pace” to recover 150,000 arrest history records that were accidentally wiped, the policing minister said, as fears grew that the major technological blunder could impact future investigations.
Fingerprint, DNA and arrest history records were deleted from policing databases, which could reportedly allow offenders to go free because evidence from crime scenes will not be flagged on the Police National Computer (PNC).
The Home Office said in a statement it was working with police to “assess the impact” of the glitch, which reportedly occurred by accident during a weekly “weeding” session to expunge data.
It said no records of criminals or dangerous persons had been deleted, and that the wiped records were those of people arrested and released when no further action was taken.
Kit Malthouse told Home Office officials and police officers to confirm their initial assessment that “there is no threat to public safety” from the blunder over records of suspects released without further action.
But a former police chief warned the “very large” deletion from the Police National Computer (PNC) risks officers failing to identify suspects who have been released but go on to offend.
The blunder, as reported in The Times, would appear to at least impinge on police power to reopen investigations should more evidence come to light in certain cases.
The policing minister said officials are “working at pace to recover” the records, as he vowed the problem had been corrected “so it cannot happen again”.
Kit Malthouse said on Friday: “Earlier this week, a standard housekeeping process that runs on the Police National Computer deleted a number of records in error.
“A fast time review has identified the problem and corrected the process so it cannot happen again.
“The Home Office, NPCC and other law enforcement partners are working at pace to recover the data.
“While the loss relates to individuals who were arrested and then released with no further action, I have asked officials and the police to confirm their initial assessment that there is no threat to public safety.
“I will provide further updates as we conclude our work.”
“The Home Secretary must take responsibility for this serious problem. She must – urgently – make a statement about what has gone wrong, the extent of the issue, and what action is being taken to reassure the public. Answers must be given,” Mr Thomas-Symonds said in a statement.
“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.”
The Times said “crucial intelligence about suspects” had vanished because of the blunder, and that Britain’s visa system was thrown into disarray, with the processing of applications having been suspended for two days.
The Home Office statement said: “The technical issue with the Police National Computer has been resolved, and we are working at pace with law enforcement partners to assess its impact.
“The issue related to people arrested and released where no further action had been taken and no records of criminal or dangerous persons have been deleted. No further records can be deleted.”
The Home Office is understood to believe there have been no risks concerning visa processing.