The policing minister, Kit Malthouse, on Friday said law enforcement agencies were working “at pace” to recover data lost after the accidental deletion of 150,000 arrest-related records from the UK’s Police National Computer.
The error, first revealed by The Times, occurred this week when technicians were “weeding” out data from the computer. Police are obliged to follow the process for information relating to arrests of people who were subsequently never convicted.
The newspaper said the accidental deletion was the result of a software bug, which had the knock-on effect of temporarily halting criminal records checks and the processing of applications for visas to enter the UK.
A Home Office official said the visa-processing issue had been resolved and applications were being processed as normal.
Mr Malthouse said a “standard housekeeping process” on the computer had deleted “a number of records in error” but that a “fast-time review” had identified the problem and corrected the process so that it could not recur.
The policing minister said the data loss related only to individuals arrested 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.”
Mr Malthouse added: “The Home Office, [National Police Chiefs’ Council] and other law enforcement partners are working at pace to recover the data.”
The opposition Labour party called the incident an “extraordinarily serious security breach” that posed “huge dangers” to public safety.
“Yet again Conservative incompetence is putting people’s safety at risk,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow Home Secretary. He also questioned why Home Secretary Priti Patel had asked a junior minister to make the statement rather than address the issue herself.
The function of the computer — a series of interlinked databases pooling information from forces across the UK — is partially to ensure that evidence from crime scenes and arrests of even unconvicted people in different force areas are matched up.
The Police National Computer is critical to law enforcement in the UK given the highly fragmented nature of the country’s policing, with 43 regional police forces in England and Wales and separate forces for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Police have often struggled to match information held in separate, ad hoc collections of databases, a process that has been further complicated as criminals have become more mobile, often crossing force boundaries.