UK gov urged to replace "inflexible" police records system

An old style computer in pink
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Urgent reforms are needed after thousands of criminal records were accidentally deleted from an IT system that was first developed in the 1970s, an independent report has said.

In January, an engineer accidentally deleted 209,550 offence records, including fingerprint and DNA data, from the Police National Computer (PNC).

While all the records have been fully recovered, an independent inquiry, chaired by former Metropolitan Police chief Lord Hogan-Howe, has attributed the "critical incident" to both "human error" and failures at the management level.

However, the system in question, a mainframe computer used for background checks on suspects, was first built in 1974 and the report has also called for it to be fully updated or replaced. There is a planned replacement for the 47-year-old system, but that is not expected to be ready for another two years.

The PNC has had several updates since its launch but was slammed as "inflexible" in the report as it relies on a "diminishing skills base" of software engineers who know how it works. The deletion of the records was down to a single error in a piece of code, made while the engineers were trying to update the system, which was a legal requirement.

"The team who operate it have worked together over a long period of time," the report noted. "The expertise and closeness of the teams involved in running the PNC increased the risk that their work would be accepted rather than checked by a leadership that was in a poor position to challenge their decision-making."

The report has stated that management was too slow to act when the deletion of the data was first discovered and have also given the Home Office eight weeks to come up with a plan to either replace the PNC or to invest in substantial improvements.

The PNC is based in Hendon, North London, and holds personal records on around 13 million UK citizens, including data for arrests, convictions and even vehicle owners.

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

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