Home Office refuses to apologise after 3,000 are wrongly labelled criminals

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The Independent Online

John Reid, the Home Secretary, faces another daunting week as he tries to rebuild confidence in his beleaguered department after a series of crises.

Mr Reid's baptism of fire since moving to the Home Office in this month's Cabinet reshuffle continued yesterday when it emerged that the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) had wrongly labelled up to 3,000 people as criminals.

Several hundred people had similar names or dates of birth to real offenders but were turned down for jobs or university places because it was thought they had committed crimes involving theft, robbery and pornography.

Some innocent people had to be fingerprinted at their local police station to prove that they were not criminals. The Tories said the victims might be able to sue the Home Office for compensation.

Mr Reid asked "tough questions" of his officials about the scandal yesterday. The Home Office said the mismatches were "regrettable" but stopped short of apologising.

Mr Reid also asked for a report on his department's troubled Immigration and Nationality Directorate, which suspended a 53-year-old chief immigration officer after newspaper allegations that he asked an 18-year-old Zimbabwean rape victim for sex in return for helping her claim asylum.

Today, Mr Reid will try to fight back in a speech to the Parole Board in which he will promise to "rebalance" the criminal justice system in favour of the victims. He is considering including victims or their representatives on the panels which decide whether prisoners should be released.

Tomorrow, the Home Secretary will be quizzed by the Home Affairs Select Committee about the fiasco in which 1,023 foreign prisoners were released without being considered for deportation. He is expected to reveal new information about what went wrong.

On the same day, Mr Reid will address the Association of Chief Police Officers, who want him to slow down plans for mergers of the 43 forces in England and Wales. On Wednesday, he will launch a nationwide knives amnesty.

The CRB has a contract with Capita, the IT systems, to update its systems. Capita's founder, Rod Aldridge, resigned as chairman in March, denying suggestions that his £1m loan to the Labour Party helped the company win lucrative government contracts.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: "The refusal of ministers to face up to their own responsibility and to allow this dreadful practice to continue is not just a failure to do their duty; it is a willingness to perpetuate a serial injustice."

Nick Clegg, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: " While dangerous criminals are allowed to walk freely in our communities, innocent people are being given criminal records and prevented from getting on with their lives. This latest fiasco will erase the last bit of public confidence in the Home Office."

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, defended the CRB, saying: "This is not about unsuitable people being allowed to work with children, this is about erring on the side of caution and people who are suitable being caught up in the system."

The Home Office said the number of mistakes that were naderepresented 0.03 per cent of the nine million disclosures issued by the CRB since it began operating in March 2002 and were a result of "mismatches" which arose during checks on people applying for jobs working with children or vulnerable adults.

A Home Office spokesman said that 25,000 unsuitable people were prevented from gaining such positions last year.

His bulging in-tray


Mr Reid will update a Commons committee tomorrow on the progress in tracking down 1,023 released foreign prisoners not considered for deportation. He must explain the lack of co-ordination between the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and Prisons Department


The troubled Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) was hit by " sex for asylum" revelations yesterday. The Tories want to know what ministers did after similar allegations earlier this year. Mr Reid will also face questions over whether he misled people after five illegal immigrants were discovered cleaning an IND office last week


Mr Reid will be in "let's talk" mode when he addresses the Association of Chief Police Officers tomorrow. They will press him to slow down the merger timetable for about 25 of the 43 forces in England and Wales


Tony Blair wants Mr Reid to review the Human Rights Act to possibly give more weight to protecting the public. He wants to look "tough" without alienating civil rights campaigners


Officially, Mr Reid is concentrating on putting the Home Office to rights. But he will have to consider whether the apparently "dysfunctional" department should be broken up.