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Police database patch-up planned

'Aged' and 'collapsing' and waiting for Impact

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The "aged" and "collapsing" Police National Computer (PNC) that provides intelligence to the flawed Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) will be patched up by the end of the year, according to the man leading police efforts to build a national intelligence system yesterday.

Following stories of mistakes derived from the CRB database, Impact programme manager David Stevens said the system that will replace the PNC, the long overdue Impact Police National Database, would be developed slowly and carefully to avoid problems.

A refit of the PNC had been a key recommendation of the Bichard enquiry into the system failures leading up to murders of Soham school girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, two years after it first emerged that the PNC was shot through with errors.

In 2004, Sir Michael Bichard recommended that the PNC, which is meant to hold the fort while Impact is developed, should be secured for medium and long-term use. But following his advice has been hindered by all the usual problems that beset government IT projects, including political differences among central and local authorities, and a lack of funding.

"The technology platform was aged and the only serious concern was if it would collapse before it could be replaced," Stevens said at the Association of Chief Police Officers conference in London yesterday, two years after Bichard's recommendation.

"Money has been found and PITO (the Police Information Technology Organisation) may have it done by the end of the year," he added.

The funds are likely to be taken from £367m set aside for Impact in April. PITO warned two years ago that it was short of funds to manage all its work. Delays may have been inevitable.

Impact is already expected three years late, in 2010, but it is running in a limited capacity as the Impact Nominal Index, a central record of paper and computer records kept by regional police forces. Even though its scope is limited to six criminal areas, it has to account for the information kept on 250 separate databases containing 60m records, and that excludes paper files.

Common data standards have to be developed in order for information to be shared across forces and a central intelligence database to be developed.

The government admitted its plans had been ambitious. They had been declared amidst the furore about police intelligence that followed Bichard.

"When we looked at it in greater detail and saw the size, scale and importance of the project, we realised it would take a bit longer," the Home Office told Computer Weekly in March.

Yesterday, Stevens said the government was taking a realistic view of what it could achieve and when.

"We will not adopt a big band approach," he said. "The trials have to be kept in strict control because we could overload the forces manual searches." ®

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