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Old criminal records ordered to be removed

23 July 2008

The Information Tribunal has dismissed appeals from five English police forces who had been ordered to remove old criminal convictions from a national database.

The tribunal (formerly the Data Protection Tribunal) ruled that storing the information, which related to minor convictions many years ago, was a breach of the Data Protection Act. Currently, criminal records on the Police National Computer remain there for 100 years.

However in a ruling last November, in a case concerning the police forces of Humberside, West Midlands, Staffordshire, Northumbria and Greater Manchester, the Information Commissioner's Office held that keeping such information did not comply with data protection rules, which state that personal information must be relevant, up to date and not excessive, and should not be kept for longer than necessary. That decision has now been upheld by the tribunal.

One record complained about covered the theft of a 99p packet of meat in 1984. The offender was under 18 at the time.

The ICO said it welcomed the ruling as it believed there was no justification for old conviction information to be held by the police.

However Ian Readhead, spokesman on data protection and freedom of information for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said the police were very disappointed with the decision, as they thought it would have significant implications for the police service as a whole.

Pointing to the recommendations of the Bichard inquiry which followed the Soham murders, that forces should reconsider the way records were managed, he called for clear national guidelines to ensure a consistent approach.

The Scottish Police Services Authority operates a "system weed" under which information on convictions, unless in certain categories, will be removed from databases when an individual reaches 40 years old and the conviction is more than 20 years old.