Pressure on Reid as Home Office 'misses' gangland killer

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Indy Politics

More damning details have emerged in the foreign criminals scandal, leaving John Reid, the Home Secretary, facing a fresh crisis last night.

Home Office officials are investigating claims that a man whose conviction in Europe was not registered on the police database went on to kill on his return to the UK.

Dale Miller, from Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, was convicted in 2002 of shooting dead gangster Freddie Knights.

It is understood that Miller is among more than 80 serious criminals who committed crimes abroad and have gone on to reoffend in Britain.

This latest disclosure in the foreign offenders scandal will cause fresh embarrassment to Mr Reid, who has already launched an inquiry.

His officials had failed to log the details of 27,500 offenders convicted overseas on the police national computer, it emerged last week. The massive backlog included more than 500 serious criminals including murderers, rapists, paedophiles and other sex offenders.

Home Office ministers received a letter warning them of the problem three months ago. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) wrote to the police minister, Tony McNulty, in October on the issue of processing information from foreign countries.

Acpo's letter noted that Mr Reid might want to be briefed on it, "given the obvious links to foreign national prisoners".

A Home Office spokeswoman said the letter was referred from Mr McNulty's office to the junior Home Office minister, Joan Ryan, who has responsibility for the Criminal Records Bureau. Ms Ryan signed a letter acknowledging receipt of the Acpo letter on 6 December.

Ms Ryan has admitted that she had seen the letter, although she said she did not recall that it had made clear how serious the problem was.

Probation service sources confirmed yesterday that they have checked their records for names of offenders provided by the police. This revealed that each probation area had, on average, positive matches for between two and three criminals flagged up as "serious" on the Home Office list.

Harry Fletcher from the National Association of Probation Officers said the situation was "extremely worrying".

Those who had reoffended would have been given lenient sentences by judges who were unaware of their criminal history, he said. "Hundreds of individuals who should have been risk-assessed have not been, which means there is serious concern that their previous offences have not been revealed to the court."

At least five of those whose details were not entered on the computer have been cleared to work with children on the basis of Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks.

The Home Office said that none of those given jobs had convictions for violence or of a sexual nature. Four had committed drug offences abroad and one had assisted illegal entry into a country.

A further nine cases had been found where individuals with similar details to those on the list had undergone CRB checks, a spokeswoman said. Efforts were continuing to establish whether they were actually the same people, she added.

"Again, none of the offences committed were of a violent or sexual nature, but because public protection is our top priority, and purely as a precautionary measure, Acpo and staff at the CRB are making every effort to contact the employers who may have offered these individuals employment."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the foreign offenders blunder demonstrated the "extreme seriousness" of the Government's incompetence in "letting this scandal spiral out of control". He said: "Lack of supervision has put the public at risk and criminals have been getting lesser sentences as a result of ministerial negligence.

"The fact this only came out because Acpo publicised it after several attempts to draw it to the Home Office and ministers' attention, and not as a result of John Reid's so called "fundamental" review, demonstrates that in his first eight months in office, John Reid has done nothing to fix the Home Office's serial failure to protect the public."

Catalogue of errors

The Home Office has suffered a series of major setbacks in the past nine months.

April 2006: more than 1,000 foreign prisoners have been freed without being considered for deportation, it is revealed.

May 2006: home secretary Charles Clarke is sacked and replaced by John Reid.

July 2006: Mr Reid abandons Clarke's police merger plans.

November 2006: prison population in England and Wales rises above 80,000.

December 2006: Mr Reid reveals that instead of getting a new computer database, the National Identity Register will be compiled from existing records.

January 2007: Prison Service says it does not know how many offenders have absconded.

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