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Councils Fear Missing Police Files Could Harm Major Abuse Investigations

Councils Fear Missing Police Files Could Harm Major Abuse Investigations
3 min read

The Home Secretary has been warned that missing police records risk jeopardising vital work on child sexual abuse cases, modern slavery and counter terrorism undertaken by local authority officers.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has said they are concerned the loss of 400,000 offence and arrest records, and fingerprint information, could have long-lasting effects on keeping residents safe, and said Priti Patel must urgently give an update on whether they have been able to recover the files.

Councillor Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the Local Government Association's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, told PoliticsHome the loss of the data is a national scandal and she feels there's been “silence” from Patel the issue.

Caliskan said the LGA is already hearing from social workers, modern slavery units and community safety teams within local authorities that staff feel they could miss out on building up an accurate pictures of patterns of abuse or exploitation.

“There are areas where we depend on records to protect vulnerable people," she said.

"One is child sexual abuse cases because it’s about building up a picture. There's no one bit of information that ever triggers an investigation. If we have something that is concerning to a front line worker, they might go and look at those records to establish a pattern.

“It’s the same logic for modern slavery investigations. They’re complicated cases and if you’re not able to go back and look at the data, it harms [an investigation] or you might miss something.”

Caliskan contrasted the response to the lost records incident with a recent cyber attack on files held by Hackney Council – a serious data breach that became national news, with signficant fall-out for councils.

"I cannot tell you the amount of training the rest of us had to go through to deal with it," she said.

"This is so much worse, yet there's been silence." 

It emerged in January that databases linked to the Police National Computer have seen records wiped by accident. Patel has said Home Office engineers are working to get the data back.

In a letter to the Home Secretary on behalf of the LGA, Caliskan said the organisation needs to know urgently if this data loss will “affect any child sexual abuse cases, modern slavery investigations or counter-terrorism investigations, areas in which councils have specific roles in terms of disruption and safeguarding.”

She said: “There are also concerns about this data loss leading to a failure to identify the recurring and escalating nature of domestic abuse.

“This is an area where a permanent loss of data could hamper councils’ work with partners to protect local victims of domestic abuse.”

Council housing teams, schools staff, community safety teams also feed into counter terrorism work by providing information to help other agencies build up patterns of behaviour.

Caliskan explained that liaising with the police and having some understanding of what is held by the PNC helps all agencies work better together.

While council professionals like social workers do not have direct access to the database, they can make a case to the police for information from it on the grounds of preventing a crime or safeguarding. Officers then decide what is relevant and can be shared. 

The deleted files means that this data might not be available to officers, and therefore cannot be communicated back to front-line local authority workers.

The Home Office said there will be an update on the missing files next week.

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