Reid’s Men Had Four Meetings On Offenders

Home Office civil servants held at least four meetings with police chiefs to discuss the foreign convictions backlog that ministers say they knew nothing about, it became clear last night.

{mosimage}They took place last October as a new police unit struggled to deal with the details of thousands of British citizens convicted of offences overseas.

This information — including data about 540 serious criminals – had never been entered on to the Police National Computer (PNC) despite being submitted to the Home Office over a 10-year period.

Last May, responsibility for dealing with the data passed to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), which set up a unit in Hampshire.

But the backlog was so great that Acpo asked the Home Office for more money to ensure the information could be more swiftly entered on to the database.

A letter was sent to Tony McNulty, the police minister, last October to update him on the work of the new unit but the Government said this did not mention the problem with the backlog.

However, at a series of meetings with officials from the crime and policing directorate, Acpo specifically informed them about the difficulties of dealing with what it called ”historic notifications”.

An Acpo statement said: ”We estimated it would take at least a year to deal with them whilst continuing to deal with all new incoming notifications.

”We also indicated that the outstanding notifications could be dealt with more quickly if we were able to expand our team with further funding. We did not receive any additional funds.”

By the time the meetings happened, Acpo had already identified the 540 serious offenders as warranting ”priority attention”. They included murderers, rapists, child-sex offenders and drug traffickers. The question being asked at Westminster last night was whether officials informed their ministers about this and if not, why not.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, told the Commons on Wednesday: ”I found it inexplicable that such a backlog had not been brought to my attention when it was pretty obvious to everyone that I wanted to identify the problems in the Home Office that we needed to address quite openly and then deal with them.” In view of that statement, Mr Reid would be in serious difficulties if any paper emerges showing that he was informed.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “It is beyond belief that something as serious as this in a department as bad as this was not checked with a minister.

“These are things that should be brought to the attention of the Home Secretary — especially given the constrained financial environment that is today’s Home Office. Things like this are important and should not be treated so trivially by officials and ministers.”

Opposition leaders last night said they also wanted to see the letters written by Acpo to Mr McNulty, which apparently suggested the information should be passed up the line to Mr Reid.

Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have made requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the letter, which the Home Office says that it does not want to publish for fear of setting a precedent.

Ministers criticised the procedures for exchanging data as patchy and often non-existent. But Terry Davis, a former Labour MP and now secretary-general of the Council of Europe, said: “It is clear that the origins of the problem are in London, not Strasbourg.

“If anything, the fact the authorities in the UK have received 27,000 files from other European countries, including non-EU countries, shows that the Convention is working.”