Bri­tain failed to alert EU about 75,000 crim­i­nals

The Guardian - - Front Page - Martin Beck­ford Daniel Bof­fey

Bri­tain has failed to pass on the de­tails of 75,000 con­vic­tions of for­eign crim­i­nals to their home EU coun­tries and con­cealed the error for fear of dam­ag­ing Bri­tain’s rep­u­ta­tion in Europe, the Guardian can re­veal.

The EU’s trust in Bri­tain on se­cu­rity is­sues sank to a new low last night af­ter de­tails emerged of the ap­par­ent cover-up, prompt­ing calls for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Bri­tain and a warn­ing from one se­nior MEP that a Brus­sels in­quiry was in­evitable.

The po­lice na­tional com­puter (PNC) error, re­vealed in min­utes of a meet­ing at the Crim­i­nal Records Of­fice, went un­de­tected for five years, dur­ing which one in three alerts on of­fend­ers – po­ten­tially in­clud­ing mur­der­ers and rapists – were not sent to EU states.

Au­thor­i­ties in EU coun­tries were not in­formed of the crimes com­mit­ted, the sen­tences given to their na­tion­als by Bri­tish courts or the risk the con­victed crim­i­nals posed to the pub­lic.

As a re­sult, dan­ger­ous of­fend­ers could have trav­elled back to their home coun­tries with­out the usual no­ti­fi­ca­tions to the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties.

The shadow home sec­re­tary, Diane Ab­bott, joined calls yesterday for a “full ur­gent in­ves­ti­ga­tion” into the de­ci­sion to keep the error from Euro­pean part­ners, with the Lib­eral Democrats also say­ing the Home Of­fice had “se­ri­ous ques­tions to an­swer”.

Min­utes of a Crim­i­nal Records Of­fice (ACRO) meet­ing in May – deleted from the ACRO web­site af­ter the Guardian story ap­peared on­line – state: “There is a ner­vous­ness from Home Of­fice around send­ing the his­tor­i­cal no­ti­fi­ca­tions out dat­ing back to 2012 due to the rep­u­ta­tional im­pact this could have.”

Min­utes of a meet­ing held the fol­low­ing month said:

‘It seems there was an at­tempt at a cover-up. When did min­is­ters know about these fail­ures?’ Diane Ab­bott

Shadow home sec­re­tary

“There is still un­cer­tainty whether his­tor­i­cal DAFs [daily ac­tiv­ity file], re­ceived from the Home Of­fice, are go­ing to be sent out to coun­ties [sic] as there is a rep­u­ta­tional risk to the UK.”

Asked if the Home Of­fice had re­solved the prob­lem in the seven months since the sec­ond meet­ing, a spokesman said: “Work is al­ready un­der way with the po­lice to re­solve this is­sue as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

The back­log of 75,000 no­ti­fi­ca­tions has still not been sent to Euro­pean law en­force­ment agen­cies, in­sid­ers con­firmed. “It’s an on­go­ing glitch that we need to fix. We are work­ing to­wards get­ting that done,” one ad­mit­ted.

Ab­bott told the Guardian: “It is bad enough to have made se­ri­ous er­rors in re­la­tion to shar­ing in­for­ma­tion on crim­i­nals, but it seems that there was also an at­tempt at a cover-up.

“Min­is­ters need to come clean. When did they know about these fail­ures, why did they not make them pub­lic and how are they go­ing to pre­vent any rep­e­ti­tion? A full, ur­gent in­ves­ti­ga­tion is needed.”

Yvette Cooper, chair of the home af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee in the last par­lia­ment, called the rev­e­la­tions “deeply dis­turb­ing”. She said: “It is clearly a prob­lem if the po­lice com­puter sys­tem failed to pass on in­for­ma­tion to other coun­tries about for­eign crim­i­nals who might go on to com­mit crimes in their own coun­try. But it is even more trou­bling if the Home Of­fice then cov­ered it up and chose not to pass on the in­for­ma­tion even once the prob­lem had been spot­ted.”

The rev­e­la­tion comes ahead of cru­cial ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU over the post-Brexit se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship, with Bri­tain’s rep­u­ta­tion as a trust­wor­thy part­ner al­ready un­der ques­tion.

This month, the Euro­pean par­lia­ment’s jus­tice and home af­fairs com­mit­tee was given ev­i­dence of “de­lib­er­ate vi­o­la­tions and abuse” by the UK of the Schen­gen In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem, an EU data­base used by po­lice and bor­der guards across the bor­der­free Schen­gen zone.

Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties had made “un­law­ful” full or par­tial copies of the data­base ma­te­rial that were said by an EU report to pose “se­ri­ous and im­me­di­ate risks to the in­tegrity and se­cu­rity of SIS data”.

So­phie in ’t Veld, a Dutch MEP on the Euro­pean par­lia­ment’s com­mit­tee on civil lib­er­ties, jus­tice and home af­fairs, said she ex­pected an ur­gent in­quiry by her com­mit­tee, adding that the rev­e­la­tion would be raised with the Euro­pean com­mis­sion in a res­o­lu­tion.

“This is yet another scan­dal that casts a very dark shadow over se­cu­rity and law en­force­ment co­op­er­a­tion. This cover-up could have ex­posed EU coun­tries to se­cu­rity risks and should ur­gently be in­ves­ti­gated by the Schen­gen scru­tiny group in the Euro­pean par­lia­ment. Cer­tainly, we will add this to the al­ready long list of is­sues that need to be dis­cussed with the UK in the con­text of the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship.

“This rev­e­la­tion of the fail­ure to alert au­thor­i­ties on crim­i­nals and the cover-up af­ter­wards casts se­ri­ous doubts on the UK as a re­li­able part­ner.”

An EU of­fi­cial con­firmed the is­sue would have un­der­mine trust in Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties. The source added that the rev­e­la­tions also un­der­mined Bri­tish claims that a UK loss of EU data­bases would be mu­tu­ally dis­ad­van­ta­geous.

Dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions over the postBrexit re­la­tion­ship, the gov­ern­ment will seek to per­suade Brus­sels that there should be con­tin­ued data ex­change with Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties, op­er­a­tional co­op­er­a­tion be­tween law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties and ju­di­cial co­op­er­a­tion in crim­i­nal mat­ters. Bri­tain will lose ac­cess to im­por­tant EU data­bases at the end of the tran­si­tion pe­riod in De­cem­ber 2020.

Of­fi­cials be­lieve the fail­ure to alert EU part­ners is down to a prob­lem with the po­lice na­tional com­puter, a data­base con­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion on mil­lions of con­victed crim­i­nals and their prison records. It gen­er­ates daily ac­tiv­ity files of the lat­est up­dates, and any re­lat­ing to for­eign of­fend­ers are meant to be for­warded to the Euro­pean Crim­i­nal Records In­for­ma­tion Ex­change Sys­tem (ECRIS) by ACRO, re­spon­si­ble for shar­ing in­ter­na­tional po­lice data.

Last year, ACRO re­alised that a large num­ber of the alerts for for­eign coun­tries had been missed, many cov­er­ing con­vic­tions of crim­i­nals with dual na­tion­al­ity. ACRO’s strate­gic man­age­ment board was briefed last May about the “on­go­ing is­sue dat­ing back to 2015 re­gard­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tions out for for­eign na­tion­als and that the cur­rent DAF re­ports are miss­ing about 30% of for­eign na­tion­als”. The board was told an estimated 75,000 checks had not been done over the years.

A spokesman for ACRO said: “The is­sue arose when it was no­ticed that not all rel­e­vant DAFs were sent to ACRO, for ex­am­ple in cases where the sub­ject had dual na­tion­al­ity. As a re­sult, a soft­ware script has been de­vel­oped at Hen­don, the PNC head­quar­ters, and is due to be re­leased in the next soft­ware up­date sched­ule (the date of which is yet to be con­firmed).”

‘It is a prob­lem that the po­lice com­puter failed to pass on the in­for­ma­tion – and even more trou­bling if it was cov­ered up’ Yvette Cooper Com­mit­tee chair

PHO­TO­GRAPH: FINNBARR WEB­STER/ALAMY

▲ Po­lice of­fi­cers dur­ing train­ing. News of con­vic­tions of EU na­tion­als was not sent to their home coun­tries

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