Police ordered to delete old records of one-time cautions

Four English police forces have been ordered to delete criminal records because they have been kept for too long. The forces are appealing the decision to the Information Tribunal.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered the deletion of the records because the holding of them breaches the Data Protection Act, whose enforcement the ICO monitors.

“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,” said an ICO statement. “Personal data processed for any purpose should be adequate, relevant and not excessive, and should not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose.”

The ICO said that the incidents involved were not serious and in some cases involved people who were minors at the time. The incidents are up to 30 years old and in each case involve people who were never again convicted of an offence.

Humberside Police, for example, holds a record of a person’s theft of a 99p packet of meat in 1984 when that person was under 18 years' old. Staffordshire Police hold a record of a 14-year-old’s caution for minor assault. The police force told the woman that the record would be deleted when she turned 18, but now says that it will not be deleted until the woman is 100 years old.

“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,” said Mick Gorrill, Assistant Commissioner for the ICO. “Each case relates to individuals who have been convicted or cautioned on one occasion and have not been convicted of any other offences. 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 concerned,” he said.

The police forces may retain the records while their appeal is processed by the Information Tribunal.