Ministers stress mass deletion was result of ‘human error’
Police forces are working to “mitigate any impact” of the accidental deletion of as many as 400,000 arrest records, as efforts continue to recover the data.
It emerged late last week that a mass deletion of records contained on the central Police National Computer database had taken place earlier in the week during what the Home Office described as a “routine housekeeping data update”.
It was initially reported that the deletion had resulted in the loss of information on 150,000 people that had been arrested but released without charge. Reports over the weekend have suggested that, in fact, as many as 400,000 records may have been affected.
An update released by the government over the weekend did not comment on how much data had been lost, nor did it elaborate on the “initial assessment” made on Friday, which policing minister Kit Malthouse had said indicated “that there is no threat to public safety”.
The update instead made repeated reference to the fact that the data loss was caused by “human error”.
It also revealed that members of the Home Office’s Digital, Data and Technology unit have worked “throughout the weekend… to develop and test new code, with the ultimate aim of restoring the data”. This work is being supported by “the NPCC and other policing partners”, with Malthouse and home secretary Priti Patel being kept regularly updated.
Despite firmly attributing the deletion to “human error”, the Home Office also insisted that “a fast time review identified the problem and corrected it so it cannot happen again”.
“Home Office engineers continue to work to restore data lost as a result of human error during a routine housekeeping process earlier this week,” she said, in Saturday’s update. “Public safety is the number one priority of everyone within the Home Office, and I would like to thank the data engineers working to restore these records. I continue to be in regular contact with the team, and working with our policing partners, we will provide an update as soon as we can.”
Malthouse added: “We continue to work closely with the police to rectify this issue and I want to thank both Home Office staff and policing partners for their ongoing efforts. As I’ve said, the affected records apply to cases where individuals were arrested and then released with no further action, and we are working to recover the affected records as a priority. While we do so, the Police National Computer is functioning and the police are taking steps to mitigate any impact.”
Patel had faced criticism for not making an initial public statement about the incident, instead leaving Malthouse to do so.
Labour leadership, including Patel’s counterpart in the shadow cabinet, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said that the home secretary needs to do more, including facing her colleagues in the House of Commons to address the issue.
“This huge ‘loss’ of data by the Home Office is a clear and present danger to public safety,” he said. “The home secretary must show leadership and answer urgent questions before parliament without delay.”