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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 17:33 GMT
Home Office boss: We fell short
Prison bars
There is a backlog of 27,000 cases to be put on computer
Home Office staff have "fallen short" in failing to give police details of crimes committed by British people abroad, its top civil servant has said.

Sir David Normington told the Commons public accounts committee ministers "didn't get told what was happening".

A Home Office official was suspended after it emerged there was a backlog of files on 27,000 cases which should be on the Police National Computer.

The Tories have accused ministers of "hiding" the truth on the crisis.

Asked by Labour MP Sadiq Khan whether he was happy with the service officials had provided to ministers, Sir David, Home Office permanent secretary, said: "In this case I think we have fallen short."

Suspension 'justified'

Sir David said neither he nor ministers had known about the backlog until last week but said the senior civil servant now suspended from duty appeared to have known.

He added: "The information available to us, we thought, justified a suspension."

Why is it that civil servants get suspended for admitting the truth and ministers do not for hiding it?
David Davis, Conservatives

Sir David said: "I understand the damage that is being done to the Home Office by some of the present circumstances."

Earlier in the Commons, Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said it was "nonsense" not to give the public more information immediately.

But the government says an internal investigation will be completed soon.

The unnamed senior civil servant was suspended after offering information to the inquiry.

Mr Davis asked: "Why is it that civil servants get suspended for admitting the truth and ministers do not for hiding it?"

He said: "What's gone wrong in this fiasco...who's responsible...and what's going to be done about it?"

'Different age'

Home Secretary John Reid has said he is planning an overhaul of databases carrying details of criminal convictions.

He told MPs he wanted an "overall review of all of the data collection relating to criminality in this country, because I think that the volume and the mobility of criminality now and the transportation - the easy transportation nowadays - means that we are living in a different age".

He added that "the old systems, as illustrated by some of the problems we're facing, haven't always been able to cope".

Meanwhile, Home Office Minister Joan Ryan has been meeting officials from across Europe in the hope of encouraging more thorough notification of Britons committing offences outside the UK.

She wants biometric information, such as fingerprints, to become part of the data passed between EU governments. Mr Reid, Ms Ryan and Police Minister Tony McNulty have insisted they were not told of the backlog in notifications of British criminals' European convictions or police requests for resources to clear it.

But they have accepted that meetings took place between department officials and police about the problem.

The Association of Chief Police Officers, (Acpo) which now has responsibility for updating police records, sent a letter to Mr McNulty in October warning of the difficulties in processing notifications.

Violent offences

That was passed on to Ms Ryan, who has responsibility for the Criminal Records Bureau.

Sir David replied to Tory and Liberal Democrat requests to see the letter by saying it "did not relate" to the backlog in files.

But the Conservatives are accusing him of splitting hairs, because Acpo says the letter was about general problems with putting people with convictions from other countries onto the Police National Computer.

They also ask why, if the letter does not relate to the backlog of cases, is it not being published?

Of the 27,000 case files involved in the backlog, 540 were for serious or violent offences.

It has been confirmed that four drug offenders and a people smuggler had passed Criminal Records Bureau checks to work with children or vulnerable adults.

But no violent or sexual offenders appear to have slipped through the net.

And it is now thought that about 70 of those 540 serious offenders not logged on the system have been convicted of a further offence since returning to the UK.

The head of the National Association of Probation Officers, Harry Fletcher, said others may have disappeared, changed their names or gone abroad again.

John Reid warns war on terror could last a generation

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