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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 November 2007, 00:32 GMT
Have lessons of Soham been learned?
By Victoria Bone
BBC News

Anthony Joseph
Anthony Joseph should not have been free to kill Richard Whelan
Anthony Joseph, who admitted the manslaughter of 28-year-old Richard Whelan this week, killed just hours after he was wrongly freed from custody.

The government has blamed "a number of failings in the criminal justice system as a whole" for allowing Joseph to be freed to kill.

Key among them seems to be a breakdown in communication involving two police forces, a young offenders' institute and a magistrates court.

Critics have been quick to draw attention to parallels between Joseph and the blunders surrounding Soham murderer Ian Huntley.

He was able to work as a school caretaker in Cambridgeshire despite having serious criminal allegations on file against him in Humberside.

After Huntley's conviction the government launched the independent Bichard Inquiry into the way police forces share intelligence.

But following Joseph's conviction on Thursday, Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said it seemed lessons had not been learned.

He said: "We shouldn't be going over old ground again because this is something that ought to have been sorted out after Soham."

'Resource constraints'

The Bichard Inquiry made 31 urgent recommendations to the police, Home Office, Court Service and other bodies.

Ian Huntley
The Bichard report found "deeply shocking" failings in Huntley's case

At their heart was the need to use technology more effectively to prevent dangerous people slipping through the net.

Sir Michael Bichard recommended creating the PND (Police National Database), a one-stop shop for information.

A grand aim, but its implementation has not been problem-free.

The roll-out of the PND has been delayed to at least 2010 and its estimated cost has doubled to 367m.

Financial difficulties have also hit the system that was meant to fill the information void in the meantime.

A system known as Crisp (Cross Regional Information Sharing Project) was supposed to provide an interim solution.

In 2006 Tony Blair said it would be up and running by the end of this year and would allow forces to share intelligence on eight key areas - child protection, command and control, crime, custody, domestic control, firearms, intelligence and the Holmes (the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) database.

But in May 2007 the situation changed and the government said "in the light of resource constraints" and "general pressures on Home Office budgets" Crisp was being abandoned.

All effort would instead go to the PND.

Also in May, Home Office minister Tony McNulty said 21 of Sir Michael's 31 recommendations had been "substantially delivered", but more "technically complex" issues remained outstanding.

One of those was a system of linking courts and the police, which is what failed in the Anthony Joseph case.

Eventually case information will be able to be sent to courts electronically by police. In turn, court results - sentences, warrants, bail conditions - will be sent back to the local force to be entered into the police national computer.

This system was meant to be up and running by the end of 2008 but will now not be ready until at least March 2009.

Child protection

The programme of reform since Bichard, known as Impact (Intelligence Management, Prioritisation, Analysis, Co-ordination), is now run by the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA).

The INI enables users in one force to quickly establish which forces hold information on a person of interest
Spokeswoman for the National Police Improvement Agency

An NPIA spokeswoman said good progress was being made on the recommendations.

One area of success is in the area of child protection with the implementation of a system called the Impact Nominal Index (INI).

The INI went live in all child abuse investigation units across the UK in December 2005 and currently holds more than 51 million records.

It brings together information on people who could be a risk to children.

"The INI enables users in one force to quickly establish which forces hold information on a person of interest," the spokeswoman said.

"Although the INI is designed primarily to support child protection work, it has also been used in support of other operational policing areas including investigations into serious and organised crime and counter terrorism activities."

Areas of success

The system does not, however, provide access to the records themselves and officers in one force must contact those in the other to get further details.

Other areas of success since Soham include Visor (Violent and Sex Offenders' Register), which has been running since 2005.

Visor gives every police force access to a shared national database of "those individuals who have been identified as posing a risk of serious harm to the public".

The NPIA said Visor would be expanded to include to prisons and probation offices by the end of March 2008.

Finally, although not one of Bichard's recommendations, police are also proud of the National Firearms Licensing Management System which allows forces service to share and search information on firearm licenses and their owners throughout the UK.

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