A senior police officer has warned investigations could be compromised (Picture: iStockphoto)
Criminal investigations could be compromised by the accidental loss of hundreds of thousands of police records, it has been claimed.
More than 400,000 records were deleted from a national database due to ‘human error’, it emerged on Friday.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said officers were ‘working at pace’ to recover the data and an initial assessment by police and the Home Office is there is ‘no threat to public safety’ as a result of the blunder.
But an unnamed senior police officer told Sky News on Saturday that investigations could be compromised as detectives would be unable to cross-reference information.
Speaking on Friday, Mr Malthouse admitted he was ‘not entirely sure as yet’ whether the Police National Computer (PNC) data loss would have an operational impact on police work.
While officials ‘have put in place contingency measures to allow the police to continue with their investigations that rely on the PNC’, he said, the policing minister failed to rule out that future cases could be jeopardised.
He told reporters: ‘The police have a number of evidential routes that they can use in cases, and part of that does rely on the PNC.
‘Our job now over the next few days is to recover the data that was erroneously deleted, and to make sure that what remains on the computer is sound and can be used by police officers.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse insisted the loss does not threaten public safety (Picture: ITV/REX)
‘What we’ve said to those who are currently relying on PNC data for investigations is that once we’ve done that, they can re-run their searches and hopefully get the result that they need.’
Mr Malthouse insisted steps had been taken to ensure the same mistake could not be made again.
Human error had led to ‘defective code’ being introduced during ‘routine maintenance’ earlier in the week which deleted some records, he explained, adding that the incident is still under investigation.
How much of the data can be recovered, if any, will be known later next week, he added.
Meanwhile the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to ‘take responsibility’ for the loss and said it was a ‘really serious situation’.
Mr Starmer, who once headed the Crown Prosecution Service, said: ‘Having worked in criminal justice for many, many years, having prosecuted every case in England and Wales for five years, I know just how important that information is.’
Keir Starmer called on Priti Patel to explain the loss before MPs on Monday (Picture: PA)
‘Some of these [records] now involve live cases, investigations which are going on now so this isn’t just a historic record, it’s a record that is relevant or some of them are relevant to ongoing investigations and the home secretary needs to take responsibility for that.
‘At the very least, she should be in parliament on Monday making a statement about this: explaining it, giving the full facts and facing questions from members of parliament. And that’s the least we expect from the home secretary.’
The loss includes at least 26,000 DNA records relating to 21,710 people, as well as 30,000 fingerprint records and 600 subject records.
Former Cumbria police chief Stuart Hyde said the loss represents a ‘very large proportion’ of the around 650,000 people arrested each year and is a ‘risk to public safety and a risk to the safeguarding of vulnerable people across the country’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘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. That may be only a few people, a handful, but nonetheless it still represents a risk.
‘They (police officers) should expect that the providers of the software ensure that there isn’t a system that can automatically wipe what is essentially nearly a quarter of custody delivered DNA and fingerprints in one quick go.’
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].
For more stories like this, check our news page.