BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 February 2008, 12:50 GMT
DNA disc failings 'catastrophic'
David Cameron
Mr Cameron accused ministers of incompetence at handling data

The failure to check DNA data from 4,000 serious crimes abroad for more than a year was "catastrophic", Tory leader David Cameron has said.

Prime minister Gordon Brown confirmed that 11 people involved had gone on to commit offences in the UK, including assault and non-payment of fines.

In heated Commons exchanges, Mr Cameron accused the government of being "incompetent" at handling data.

The wanted individuals are linked with crimes including murder and rape.

Police in the Netherlands sent a data disc, containing DNA profiles from crime scenes, to the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] in January last year, to be checked against the UK's database.

But the checks did not start until this month, since when 15 matches have been found.

'Incompetent'

Of these people, 11 are known to have committed offences in the UK.

During heated exchanges the Commons, Mr Cameron said: "Can the prime minister explain how such catastrophic errors of judgement took place?"

Mr Brown said the CPS had been asked to set up an inquiry.

He added: "The inquiry will cover all details of what happened. But it was only possible for the Dutch to ask us to look at our DNA records because we are keeping those records. The Conservatives opposed that legislation."

Mr Cameron asked: "Why is it that this government is so incompetent when it comes to protecting information from criminals?"

Of course it's unsatisfactory that an administrative error led to serious criminals not being apprehended
Keith Vaz, Labour

An operation involving police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency has now begun to try to locate the 15 individuals found to have been in the UK.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: "This is yet another example of the public having been put at risk by the slapdash way that data is handled across government departments.

"It is another hammer-blow against public confidence which has been so severely damaged over recent months by the various cases of data losses."

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the Home Office had been told about the situation a week ago but was advised to say nothing to avoid jeopardising the police operation.

'Not security issue'

He said there was a suggestion that the information had been left in the desk of an official who was off on sick leave.

The CPS stressed there was not "a data security issue", saying: "This information was always in the possession of the CPS."

HAVE YOUR SAY
In the private sector anyone losing data in this way would be fired on the spot
Neil, Bath

"These are profiles relating to unsolved crimes in that country. As this information necessarily relates to ongoing police investigations, it would be inappropriate to provide any more detail at this stage."

Labour's Keith Vaz, home affairs select committee chairman, said a thorough investigation was needed.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It does raise issues about the way in which these processes work."

'Unsatisfactory'

He added: "Of course it's unsatisfactory that an administrative error led to serious criminals not being apprehended."

Mr Vaz added that there was a need for more "checks and balances", saying: "It's very important that we make sure this is not repeated."

The incident follows a series involving data, the biggest being the loss of 25 million people's child benefit details.

Last month Defence Secretary Des Browne announced an inquiry after it emerged that a Royal Navy laptop containing 600,000 people's details had been stolen - and there had been two similar thefts since 2005.

In December it emerged that details of three million British learner drivers, held on a computer hard drive, had gone missing in the US.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Opposition say public has been put at risk



SEE ALSO
Court case data CDs lost in post
23 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
More MoD laptop thefts revealed
21 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
Tougher data laws needed, say MPs
03 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
Discs 'worth 1.5bn' to criminals
28 Nov 07 |  UK Politics

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific