The United Kingdom has not transmitted the details of 75,000 convictions of foreign criminals to their countries of origin in the EU and hid the scandal for fear of damaging Britain’s reputation in the capitals of Europe, The Guardian may reveal.
The national police computer error was not detected for five years, during which one in three alerts about criminals, which potentially included murderers and rapists, were not sent to EU member states.
The authorities of the EU countries were not informed of the crimes committed, the sentences imposed on their nationals by the courts of the United Kingdom or the risk that the convicted criminals represented for the public.
Because the details were not transmitted, dangerous criminals could have traveled back to their home countries without normal notification to local authorities of their presence.
Such is the magnitude of the scandal that the Interior Ministry initially chose to hide the shameful failure of EU partners.
The minutes of an ACRO criminal record meeting last May indicate: “There is a nervousness from the Central Office when sending historical notices dating back to 2012 due to the impact on the reputation this could have.”
A minute from a meeting held the following month said: “There is still uncertainty about whether historical DAFs [daily activity file], received from the Ministry of Interior, will be sent to counties (sic) as there is a reputational risk to the United Kingdom. “
When asked if the Interior Ministry had solved the problem in the seven months since the second meeting, a spokesman said: “Work is already being done with the police to solve this problem as quickly as possible.”
The disclosure comes before crucial negotiations with the EU on the future security relationship with the United Kingdom, with Britain’s reputation as a reliable partner that is already under serious doubt.
This month, the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee received evidence of “deliberate violations and abuses” by the United Kingdom of the Schengen Information System, an EU database used by police and border guards in the Schengen area free of borders.
The British authorities had made complete or partial “illegal” copies of the database which, according to an EU report, represented “serious and immediate risks to the integrity and security of the SIS data”.
In a previous blow to Britain’s reputation, Belgian prosecutors concluded in 2018 that British spies working for GCHQ have probably hacked Belgium’s largest telecom operator for at least a two-year period on instruction from the ministers of the Kingdom United.
During the negotiation with the EU on the post-Brexit relationship, the government will try to convince Brussels that the exchange of data with the British authorities, operational cooperation between police authorities and judicial cooperation in criminal matters should continue.
The United Kingdom will no longer be a member of Europol and its police and security services will lose access to key EU databases at the end of the transition period in December 2020.
Sophie in ’t Veld, Dutch MEP of the European Parliament committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs, told The Guardian that there was much evidence that the United Kingdom could not be trusted.
“This is another scandal that casts a very dark shadow over cooperation in security and law enforcement,” he said.
“After revelations of deliberate abuse of the Schengen Information System and previous scandals such as the hack of [the Belgian telecoms provider] Proximus by GCHQ, it is clear that the principle of “mutual trust” will not work.
“This revelation of the lack of alert to the authorities about criminals and the subsequent cover-up casts serious doubts on the United Kingdom as a reliable partner.
“The purpose of information exchange is to improve security. If one side does not comply, the security gains are zero and cooperation makes no sense. The UK government has to consider very carefully how it intends to restore confidence, taking into account that the negotiations must conclude in the fall of this year. “
The authorities believe that the failure to alert EU partners is due to the national police computer, a database containing information on millions of convicted criminals and their prison records.
It generates daily activity files of the latest updates, and everything related to foreign criminals must be sent to the European Criminal Records Information Exchange System (ECRIS) by an agency known as the ACRO Office of Criminal Records, responsible for data exchange international police.
ACRO’s annual report showed that 35,881 “notifications” about foreigners convicted in the United Kingdom were sent during 2018-19, of which 31,022 were delivered to EU states. In 2015-16, the number of notifications was much higher at 46,210.
Last year, ACRO realized that a large number of alerts had been lost that should have been sent to foreign countries, many of which covered convictions of criminals who had dual citizenship.
The ACRO strategic management board received information last May on the “current problem dating back to 2015 regarding notifications for foreign citizens and that the current DAF reports are missing about 30% of foreigners.”
The board was warned that it is estimated that 75,000 controls have not been performed over the years.
An ACRO spokesman said: “ACRO relies on the daily activity files of the national police computer to send notification messages to other countries in relation to cases in which one of its citizens has been convicted in the United Kingdom.
“The problem arose when it was noted that not all relevant DAFs were sent to ACRO, for example, in cases where the subject had dual citizenship.
“As a result, a software script was developed in Hendon, the PNC headquarters, and will be published in the next software update program (whose date has not yet been confirmed).
“We can only provide an estimate of the numbers, although we believe they are now more than 75,000.”
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said: “Work is already being done with the police to solve this problem as quickly as possible. Last year, the United Kingdom sent more than 30,000 notifications of convictions through ECRIS to EU member states and received more than 16,000 from the EU, which helped ensure that serious criminals were brought to justice. “