Police ordered to destroy decades-old petty crime records

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The Independent Online

Four police forces in England and Wales have been ordered to destroy criminal records of minor offences committed by teenagers who have gone on to lead unblemished adult lives but claim they are still being punished for their past misdemeanours.

In a test case that has wide implications for the rehabilitation of many thousands of children, the police forces must remove information they have about petty crimes that took place nearly 30 years ago.

The Office of the Information Commissioner, ICO, which has issued the enforcement notices under powers of the Data Protection Act, said the old criminal convictions were still causing harm and distress to people long into their adult lives. In one of the cases held by the Police National Computer, Humberside Police has kept details of the theft of a 99p packet of meat stolen by a teenager in 1984 who was fined £15.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said he was sure there were many more cases like this.

In a statement issued by his office today, he said: "I have serious concerns that the police are holding on to some old conviction data for too long. I am sending a very clear signal to the police that conviction data that is excessive and no longer required for policing purposes should be deleted. The onus is now on all police forces to consider whether they are holding on to old conviction data that is no longer required for policing purposes."

The ICO is concerned that the old conviction information is held contrary to the principles of the Data Protection Act because the information is no longer relevant and is excessive for policing purposes. Under the Act personal data retained for any purpose should be adequate, relevant and not excessive, and should not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose.

After investigating complaints from four individuals, the ICO has issued enforcement notices to Humberside, Northumbria, Staffordshire and West Midlands Police.

The police forces are contesting the rulings and are to take their case to the Information Tribunal.

Mick Gorrill, the Assistant Commissioner for the ICO, said: "Each case relates to individuals who have been convicted or cautioned on one occasion and have not been convicted of any other offences. Some of the incidents date back nearly 30 years. The offences were non custodial and we believe there is no justification in terms of policing purposes for retaining the information. The retention of the previous conviction information is causing harm and distress to the individuals."

He added: "I held the rank of detective superintendent in the police prior to my retirement after 30 years' service. We are not satisfied that in these particular cases this information will be of any use for policing purposes."

Under the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act criminal convictions become "spent", or ignored, after a "rehabilitation period". Fines against teenagers are wiped from their criminal record after two and half years.

Kylie Smith, social care assistant: 'I lost my job because of a caution'

Kylie Smith was 14 when it happened. "It was about 8pm on a Friday and I was sitting on a bench with a friend. The grass had been cut and we were throwing grass at each other."

Kylie says she noticed a girl she had known from primary school

"She had been drinking cider and vodka from a bottle. She started swinging the bottle at me, trying to hit me."

Kylie says she was forced to defend herself and ended up pushing her to the ground.

Three days later, she was arrested.

"I was accused of kicking her which I denied because I had not done it but the sergeant said if I did not admit to kicking I would have to go to court. However, if I did admit it I would be given a reprimand and be allowed to go home."

Kylie admitted the kicking and was cautioned for assault.

But four years later when she began working as a social care assistant, she found the police had retained information about the caution. She got a job but a CRB check meant her employment was terminated. She took the complaint to the Information Commissioner, who ordered the caution to be expunged.