This article is more than 1 year old

Home Office moots 'Precrime' agency for future serial killers

But wacko ideas don't fix dud IT systems

This information quite possibly (and with justification) would not have been passed on by the police. As for the local systems, limitations on the way things were recorded on CIS Crime and Nominals meant that Huntley tended to fall down the cracks. If the incident was not investigated as a crime, then there would be no record opened on CIS Crime, while CIS Nominals entries stemmed from source documents, such as custody records, a Form 310 (the basic form to generate entries for the PNC or CIS Nominals) or a bail form. If none of these applied, then there would be no record.

Historically, where records did exist retrieval could be difficult, because prior to December 1999 It wasn't possible to search CIS Crime by name, only by a Unique Reference Number (URN), which was assigned to an individual when the first record of them was made on CIS Nominals.

As Huntley had not been charged, convicted or cautioned over any of the underage sex allegations, he was not on any of the national child protection registers. He possibly had been on the Humberside Police Child Protection Database, but if so the entries were weeded in 2002. Entries in other systems concerning other incidents were patchy, and because most of the incidents resulted in no action, vulnerable to deletion.

In one case where Huntley was arrested (in April 1998, for rape), case papers have been lost. The case was discontinued, and as he was not charged there was no entry on the PNC. If there was an entry on CIS Nominals, it was subsequently deleted, and while an entry on CIS Crime remained, and was marked 'retain' (so it was not automatically archived after three years), this does not record Huntley as being involved in the incident, although it should have done.

Human error also seems to have favoured Huntley as regards PC Harding's report, which is thought to have been deleted in error or by misjudgement in 2000. The report still existed in the hands of Lincolnshire police, who had been faxed a copy by PC Harding, so might have shown up if Cambridgeshire had contacted Lincolnshire, but having no record of an address for Huntley there, it did not do so.

Criminal record checking

The systems used to check criminal records described by Bichard could in no sense be seen as producing a complete, guaranteed and reliable result. Cambridgeshire had no means of ensuring that all of the required checks had in fact been done during the processing, while at the Humberside end not all of the appropriate systems would necessarily have been queried. The query itself would have been carried out via a combination of fax and manual processing, and as no audit trail was retained and the originating form destroyed, Bichard was forced in the main to say what probably took place.

Huntley did leave an imprint on police systems, but the systems themselves did not readily give up the data, and the processes used to query them didn't help either. Presuming, as Bichard does, that the surviving copy of PC Harding's report was not identified because Lincolnshire was not queried, one could note that a Criminal Record Check of a particular force area could be avoided by the simple expedient of the subject falsifying their address records. And as much of the joining up of police force's databases is still done by form and fax, this loophole quite possibly still exists under the current centralised CRB regime.

Essentially, the government's concerns about failures to identify dangerous individuals and to share information are in some senses right, but in most of the important senses, wrong. The systems clearly are failing to identify these people, but making failure an offence (and, if past experience is anything to go on, increasing the penalties when that doesn't work) won't help. Nor will adding more systems on top of the failing systems, while allowing the fixes for the failing ones to recede into the middle distance, be any help.

And while there are obvious barriers to data sharing, these are, at least as far as the Soham case is concerned, a consequence of inadequate or non-existent systems, not the fault of the Data Protection Act.

The latter, incidentally, was initially blamed, wrongly, by Humberside Chief Constable David Westwood for the deletion of Huntley's records. In fact, those records which were deleted were purged either in accordance with relatively standard police procedures or by operator error. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like