Home Office scraps Police Portal service

A Home Office agency has scrapped a "world-first" secure, multi-million-pound online system that helped to reduce crime by providing online links between the public and police forces across the UK.

A Home Office agency has scrapped a "world-first" secure, multi-million-pound online system that helped to reduce crime by providing online links between the public and police forces across the UK.

The National Policing Improvement Agency has also cancelled a contract for the system's replacement. The agency said that Police Portal is no longer operational and that a replacement system from defence and security specialist Qinetiq is the subject of a legal dispute.

A spokeswoman for the agency told Computer Weekly, "This service [Police Portal] is no longer available. The system that was in development was not fit for live use - due a range of serious defects and delays - and consequently failed user acceptance testing. It is not possible to issue more details as it is now subject to legal proceedings."

The scrapping of the existing system will add another failure to the Home Office's list of cancelled and troubled IT-related projects.

That list includes failures of systems that supported immigration services, the issuing of e-passports, the probation service, criminal justice and the criminal records bureau. A Home Office agency, the Identity and Passport Service, is running the £5.3bn ID cards scheme.

The scrapped system - the "Police Portal" - went live in April 2001 and was run by BT under a contract which expired at the end of March this year. After this the service was suspended pending a replacement system from Qinetiq. Now that the National Policing Improvement Agency has refused to accept the replacement system, no service at all is operational.

The Police Information Technology Organisation, which was subsumed into the National Policing Improvement Agency, commissioned the Police Portal in 2001. Pito described the system as a "world-first". It linked dozens of police forces across the UK and allowed the public to provide intelligence information, report hate crime or non-emergency incidents via a secure link. Hate crime is defined by the Home Office as any criminal offence that is perceived by the victim or others as being motivated by prejudice or hate.

Officers in various police forces also used the system to communicate internally. The police used it shortly after the London bombings to send messages to key teams, and to request information from the public. The public was asked to send digital photos and text video pictures for use by the Metropolitan Police.

Some forces had also started to use the Police Portal for broadcasting appeals for information on missing people and cars. The National Policing Improvement Agency has declined to say how much has been spent on the police portal. A request under the Freedom of Information Act elicited a statement that £5.1m was spent on the running of the Police Portal in one year alone - 2006/7.

A spokesman for Qinetiq said that he was unable to comment other than to say that his organisation is in a legal dispute over the replacement system.

The National Policing Improvement Agency said there was a connection between the system being unavailable and the matters that are the subject of the legal dispute.

Those involved with the system believe it is ready to go live and are not unclear why the contract has been cancelled. The dispute is expected to go to mediation and if still unresolved may go to court. One of the issues will be whether the system was defective and unacceptably late, or whether the contract was cancelled in part because it was proving difficult to fund and was not fully supported by all police forces.

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