Police reject 'ludicrous' pounds 45m fingerprint system

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THE Home Office is planning to spend pounds 45m on a national computer for fingerprint matching that senior police officers do not want. They say it duplicates a system that already exists.

Last night, one chief constable said the plan was 'bloody nonsense'. Another senior officer said: 'It is ludicrous given Michael Howard's (the Home Secretary) quest for law and order and for value for money.'

The Home Office is to award a contract for the system, called Nafis, within four weeks. It is to come on line in 1997, according to the magazine Government Computing and Information Management.

English police forces have already set up a system for matching fingerprints, called Automatic Fingerprint Recognition. It is managed and funded by a consortium of 37 forces, chaired by John Hoddinott, Chief Constable of Hampshire. It went on line last November and has worked without error since.

Running costs are thought to be about pounds 5m a year. The system has a database of 2.6 million prints and enough spare capacity for the 600,000 records not yet included, which belong to the six forces outside the consortium.

So far, the system has matched 30,000 to 40,000 prints during live investigations. 'We are getting loads of identifications and putting people off the streets, which is the important thing,' said one police source.

The system was established after talks with the Home Office in 1991 revealed that the Government was not proposing to create national fingerprint matching until 1997. Police felt the need was too urgent to wait that long.

Senior officers said Mr Hoddinott has repeatedly offered Mr Howard the police system as the basis for a national scheme. It would cost the taxpayer just pounds 2m a year extra to do this. However, the Home Secretary has declined this offer and has authorised the procurement of an entirely separate system.

The Home Office said: 'When you look at the options, we have taken the most cost-effective one available. We had our system planned for some time before the police had theirs.'

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