The High Court yesterday ordered IBM, to shut down the only computerised fingertip recognition system covering England and Wales, when it instructed the computer company to hand the system's computer disks over to a consortium of police forces.
The police first set up service in 1992 using an IBM system but late last month they cancelled the contract and demanded the return of the disks.
The forces, led by Hampshire, claimed IBM did not deliver a satisfactory service, and are suing the computer giant for millions of pounds.
IBM refused to hand over the disks, arguing that it had a moral obligation to keep an interim fingerprint system running while the consortium arranged for a replacement system.
Shortly after the contract was terminated on 24 March, IBM wrote to the police inviting them to continue to use the system. The company has continued to run it since then, although no force has used the system since the contract was terminated.
IBM argued in court that a replacement system will take up to six months to set up, and that in that time, the 37 forces would be deprived of computerised fingerprint matching. It offered to keep the system running and to hand over a copy of the data used for emergency backup, but the forces demanded the return of all disks.
Mr Justice Lightfoot, said: "The consortium may or may not be foolish in rejecting IBM's offer, but that is a matter for them. It would not be right for me to require the consortium to accept IBM's offer, when the consortium has lost all confidence in them [IBM]."
A police spokesman said the consortium was pleased to win the case, but declined to comment further. IBM had no comment on the judgment last night.