Police IT systems under fire

The Bichard Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, has criticised the police...

The Bichard inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley, has criticised the police for serious failings in their IT and information systems.

Sir Michael Bichard described failures by Cambridgeshire police as “serious” and those by Humberside police as “deeply shocking”, in a 200-page report published today.

But he said that the Data Protection Act, which was initially given by Humberside Police as a reason for failing to keep intelligence records, was not to blame.

Humberside’s chief constable must take personal responsibility for not dealing with systematic and corporate failures which took place over a period of many years, said Bichard.

“Intelligence haemorrhaged in an alarming way: the pattern of Huntley’s criminal behaviour was not identified soon enough and the various investigations of Huntley might well have been handled differently if officers had known about past incidents,” said Bichard.

A lack of effective guidance and training, widespread ignorance of how intelligence records were created and confusion about what was meant by reviewing and deletion of data meant that vital intelligence on Huntley was not preserved by Humberside.

The Bichard inquiry identified failings in Cambridgeshire police’s local Criminal Records Bureau, including the failure to enter Huntley’s date of birth during vetting checks, and the fact checks were made under Huntley’s alias “Ian Nixon” rather than his real name.

These mistakes were caused by work pressures, poorly defined work processes and inadequate training and guidance, but did not indicate a systematic or corporate problem at the force, the inquiry concluded.

The report called for the urgent introduction of a national IT system to support police intelligence coupled with investment in the Police National Computer to ensure its medium and long-term future.

Bichard also urged the government to create a new register, which could be accessed by employers of people wishing to work with children or vulnerable people to check that there were no adverse reports.

There is a need for a clear national code of practice for police forces on record creation, review, retention, deletion and sharing.

The Criminal Records Bureau should address the need to access relevant non-police data, for example from Customs and Excise, and should review the thoroughness of checks made on the growing number of overseas workers.

“We should never forget how important these apparently dry looking systems can be - and we should never undervalue the people who administer them. The consequences of when these systems go wrong can be devastating,” he said.

Bichard said he would reconvene his inquiry in six months to review progress on the recommendations.

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