LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday it was “outrageous” that hundreds of thousands of police records had been deleted due to a human coding error with the Police National Computer.
A piece of software to weed out records from the database that the computer had no legal right to hold went haywire because of faulty coding and began to automatically delete hundreds of thousands of other records, the Home Office said.
“Of course it is outrageous that any data should have been lost but at the moment … we’re trying to retrieve that data,” Johnson told parliament, adding that the Home Office (interior ministry) hoped to restore the deleted information.
“We don’t know how many cases might be frustrated as a result of what has happened,” Johnson said.
Johnson said 213,000 offence records, 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 personal records were being investigated as a result of the computer issues.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, quoted police chiefs as saying 403,000 records from the Police National Computer might have been deleted, as well as 26,000 DNA records and 30,000 fingerprint records from other databases been deleted.
The data included that from criminals convicted of serious offences while live police investigations had been affected and included DNA marked for indefinite retention following serious offences, Starmer told parliament.
When the Home Office became aware of the incident on Jan. 10, it rushed to stop the automatic deletions. A special command is trying to work out what has been deleted and recover what can be saved.
One issue is that the Police National Computer, which holds 13 million records, sits at the heart of a spider’s web of other databases and can cascade down deletions into other directories such as the IDENT fingerprint database or the national DNA database.
The Police National Computer is used by police and law enforcement agencies across the United Kingdom. It includes data on those convicted, wanted people, missing people, vehicles, stolen goods.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, writing by Elizabeth Piper; editing by William James, Michael Holden, William Maclean