Police ordered to delete criminal records

Information Commissioner rules retention of old information is breach of Data Protection Act

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered four police forces to delete old criminal convictions from the Police National Computer.

The ICO ruled that retention of old convictions is contrary to the principles of the Data Protection Act because the information is no longer relevant and is excessive for policing purposes. Under the Act personal data processed for any purpose must be adequate, relevant and not excessive, and must not be kept any longer than is necessary.

After investigating complaints from four individuals, the ICO has issued Enforcement Notices to Humberside, Northumbria, Staffordshire and West Midlands Police. The police are appealing each case to the Information Tribunal, which means the information in question does not need to be deleted until after the appeal is determined.

Mick Gorrill, Assistant Commissioner for the ICO, said: “Each case relates to individuals who have been convicted or cautioned on one occasion and have not been convicted of any other offences. Some of the incidents date back nearly 30 years. The offences were non custodial and we believe there is no justification in terms of policing purposes for retaining the information. The retention of the previous conviction information is causing harm and distress to the individuals concerned.”

Examples given by the ICO include:

  • A record held by Humberside Police relating to the theft of a packet of meat valued at 99p stolen by a person under 18 years old. The person was fined £15. The incident took place in 1984.

  • A record held by West Midlands Police relating to an offence of attempted theft which was committed over 25 years ago when the individual was fined £25.

  • A record held by Staffordshire Police relating to a person under 14 years old who was cautioned by the police for a minor assault. The individual was told that the information would be deleted when she became 18. She has now been told that the record will not be deleted until she reaches 100 years of age.