Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mix-up brands innocent citizens as criminals

Yahoo! News
Mix-up brands innocent citizens as criminals

The British government, already under pressure over a series of blunders in its immigration and prison services, has confirmed it wrongly branded around 1,500 innocent people as criminals due to a computer mix-up.

It said the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), which carries out checks on people who have applied for jobs working with children or vulnerable adults, had confused the innocent people with convicted criminals because they had similar or identical names.

The names were stored on a police database.

The case is the latest in a series of embarrassments for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his beleaguered Home Office (interior ministry), which oversees the CRB.

"We make no apology for erring on the side of caution. We are talking about the protection of children and vulnerable adults," a Home Office spokesman said.

Last month, the Home Office admitted it had allowed more than 1,000 foreign prisoners to walk free from British jails when they should have been considered for deportation.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke was sacked in a reshuffle shortly after the fiasco and has been replaced by John Reid.

The ministry is also looking into allegations a handful of illegal immigrants worked for several years as cleaners at the offices of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, also overseen by the Home Office.

And Saturday the ministry said it had suspended an immigration officer from his job after a newspaper alleged he offered to help an 18-year-old Zimbabwean woman with her asylum application in exchange for sex.

Blair, coming under increasing pressure to name a date for his departure after nine years in office, has vowed to sort the problems out.

The Home Office described the CRB incidents as "mismatches" rather than mistakes, and defended the bureau's actions.

"These cases are clearly regrettable, but represent a tiny proportion of cases -- 0.03 percent of the nine million disclosures issued by the CRB since it began operating in March 2002," the spokesman said.