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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us