Crime

Police launch mugshots database to catch criminals who move around the country

Detectives say face-matching technology is a 'game changer', but doubts remain on what data should be held

The photographs of millions of people are being put on a national police database for the first time next year to try to stop criminals escaping detection simply by moving around the country.

From March detectives will be able to compare suspects' images with an estimated 16 million mugshots of people taken into police custody, using Facebook-style photo technology that has never before been available to forces on a nationwide system.

However, campaigners raised concerns yesterday about breaches of civil liberties, with the pictures of people not convicted of any offence being held on the system, and police tactics changing to make use of the new photographic resource.

The system is an extension of the police national database (PND), which was established in 2011 following recommendations by a judge, prompted by the failure of intelligence sharing over the 2002 Soham murders.

Mike Barton, the Chief Constable of Durham Police and the lead on intelligence matters for the Association of Chief Police Officers, explained that with many of the 43 police forces in England and Wales using incompatible technology, police could currently compare photographs of suspects only with ones held in their own files. "This is a game changer," he said. "A criminal from Cornwall might get away with it in Newcastle because they don't know about him. We're closing that door."

The PND currently holds information on millions of people who have been convicted, cautioned or arrested, as well as driving licence holders and others not suspected or convicted of crimes. Discussions are continuing about what photographs can be kept on the database, following successful court challenges by people who have argued that their images should not be retained by the authorities.

National police guidelines introduced in 2010 say that information held on an individual "must not be excessive and must be proportionate to the risk they pose to the community". Mr Barton said the Information Commissioner, the European Court of Human Rights and domestic court cases had all thrown up different views. "If we have to change our rules of engagement then we will," he said.

Campaigners maintained that only those who have been convicted, or on a judge's ruling, should have their pictures on the database.

Nick Pickles, the director of Big Brother Watch, said: "For the police to make themselves judge and jury when deciding what information they should be holding is a flagrant abuse of due process and a serious threat to people's civil liberties,"

The technology is not currently good enough to match images retrieved from CCTV cameras with the database. Mr Barton said it would need a clear full-face shot for the computer to produce a list of possible matches.

He said it could be used, for example, if police were trying to identify photos seized during a raid on a passport forgery factory. Police were trying to get "ahead of the curve", he said, and to capitalise on advances in technology.

National approach: The lesson of Soham

The police national database was the key recommendation from the Bichard inquiry following the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Cambridgeshire, in 2002.

After the murders it was found that their killer, Ian Huntley, had come to the attention of Humberside Police over eight separate sexual offences from 1995 to 1999. This information did not emerge during the vetting check on Huntley when he moved to Cambridgeshire and was appointed caretaker at Soham Village College in 2001.

News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?