Friday, April 28, 2006

No computer 'trace' of offenders

No computer 'trace' of offenders

Details of more than 20 of the 80 most dangerous foreign prisoners freed without facing deportation cannot be found on the national police computer.

They include one murderer and a rapist. A source told the BBC police may not have sufficient details to run a check.

Officials are trying to trace hundreds of foreigners released without being considered for deportation since 1999.

But Home Office minister Hazel Blears insisted the most serious offenders would be out on licence and monitored.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke is due to give a written update to the House of Commons speaker on what has happened to some of the 1,023 foreign prisoners released between 1999 and last month.

Ms Blears said she was unable to say whether all the offenders were registered on the national police database or not, but added that every offender would have been registered by the Prison Service.

"Things don't just have to be on the police national computer," she told BBC Two's Newsnight.

"Clearly the Prison Service will have a record of who they were, when they came in, what their sentence was, and all those sources of information will be being used to make sure that they're being tracked properly."

She said the foreign inmates would have been dealt with in exactly the same way as British ones.

"What I can say to you is that the police are going through every single one of these individuals," she said.

"The people who've committed serious offences will be on licence and will be being monitored and the public should be reassured about that."

Mounting pressure

Newsnight reported that the Association of Chief Police Officers has appealed to regional police forces to search their own databases for the 20 foreign nationals who could not be found on the national system.

But it appears unclear whether their details are not listed or just have not shown up during checks.

I have to tell you that when your job is to defend the safety of the public that is a major failure and accordingly I'm afraid he has to go
David Davis, shadow home secretary

The Police National Computer stores details of convictions and cautions but one official told the BBC no trace of 20 of the 80 most serious offenders had been found because police were given only surnames, or names with multiple spellings.

Probation records are thought to have provided the best guide to their whereabouts, because many are under supervision or on licence.

Immigration files have also been reviewed.

The searches come amid mounting pressure from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for Mr Clarke to resign over the issue.

Shadow home secretary David Davis accused Mr Clarke, who has apologised, of a "major failure" and said he "had to go".

"Charles knew about this from July of last year - 10 months ago, his assertion - and we only got to the point of doing anything about it... two weeks ago," he told BBC One's Question Time.

'Black Wednesday'

"And in that time, the number of people being released had actually increased - it accelerated to nearly 300 - and what's more, they only gave the names of the thousand people who'd been released to the police to track down two days ago.

"I have to tell you that when your job is to defend the safety of the public that is a major failure."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair robustly defended Mr Clarke and two of his Cabinet colleagues who have been under pressure in recent days.

He laughed off claims that he had suffered his own "Black Wednesday" the day before.

He was speaking after nurses booed Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt at the Royal College of Nurses' conference over job cuts, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott admitted to having had an affair and Mr Clarke faced calls to quit in the Commons.

Story from BBC NEWS: