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Police database delayed indefinitely

Response to Soham murders canned

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The Police National Database has been scaled back because of budget over-runs and technical problems.

The commitment to a full implementation of the Police National Database (PND) by 2010 appears to have been dropped. Full implementation of the PND could only now be managed if the budget was allowed to over-run by up to £186.3m.

The information is included in the Fourth Progress Report of the Bichard Inquiry - the inquiry into the murder of school girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Failures of data sharing between forces were blamed for allowing Ian Huntley to get a job at a primary school.

The planned link between the PND and the courts service computer systems has been delayed by two years after the emergence of legal and technical problems related to Libra, the long-running attempt to sort out IT in magistrates' courts.

Meanwhile, the CRISP programme, which was to provide an interim solution and a stepping stone to the final PND, has been scrapped, as revealed by The Register in April.

Last year's Third Progress Report on Bichard said clearly and repeatedly that the the PND would be "fully operational" by 2010, though an unspecified proportion of the budget had been set aside for work through to 2016.

The Fourth Report, published yesterday, said that "deployment of first phase of PND capabilities" would be finished by 2010.

The PND deadline would be dependent on negotiations held with potential suppliers from mid-2007, and presumably the given contract deadline of 2008 being met promptly. Regardless, it appeared that plans were being scaled back.

"It is currently believed that the most promising approach would be to deliver the PND capabilities in a phased manner...[The] first capabilities would be deployed during 2010," said the Fourth Report.

Moreover, it said: "subsequent deliverables" would be "subject to affordability in later spending periods".

It was not clear what this revision would mean for post-Soham policing. Police would be given the means to "search for and access intelligence and other operational information" by 2010. If the post 2010 developments went ahead they would "enable locally held information to be linked with that on national systems, including the PNC".

"Pressure on the Home Office budget as a whole" was blamed for the demise of CRISP. However, there was also a technical snarl-up that may have led the project to run over-budget. The project had accumulated unforeseen costs to deal with a "technical problem which had emerged in the course of testing the software and which was causing slippage in the procurement timetable".

Neither details of the problem nor its additional costs were given, even though the the core elements of CRISP will still be employed in the final PND.

The estimated cost of the full PND had increased by between £53.3m and £186.3m. This time last year, the PND was set to cost £367m between 2005 and 2016. £31m of that was spent in 05/06. Another £30.4m was spent in 06/07. But the Fourth report estimated that another £156.9m would have to be spent between 2007 and 2012.

"Requirements after then will depend on considerations around affordability of possible options for linking locally held information with that on national systems," said the report.

The full PND, if further developments were given the go-ahead after 2012 (or 2010, as it said elsewhere in the report) and lasting to 2017, would cost another £202m to £335m.

Links to the courts service computer systems have also been delayed by two years, though in the Fourth Report, the Home Office has dropped any reference to the 2007 deadline for the police national computer to be linked to Libra, the ill-fated magistrates' courts system. This gave the impression that the link had been delayed only one year, but it has in fact slipped by two years.

The Fourth Report predicted the following milestone: "Direct reporting of results from Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Court – Mar 2009 (originally end 2008)".

The Third Report gives a more complete picture. It states that the deadline for the Crown Courts to start adding court results direct into the PNC was indeed 2008 (though not necessarily the end). The deadline for the link from the Magistrates Libra system was given as December 2007.

"Direct input of courts’ results to the PNC is now a fully approved and fully funded project," said the Third Report, though it said: "For Magistrates’ Courts’ results, this rests on implementation of the planned Libra case management system by the Department for Constitutional Affairs".

Libra has been notoriously problematic for the DCA and even as the Home Office was writing these words last year it was known to still be causing the DCA a headache. The DCA's mammoth DISC contract renewal last year was delayed by about five months because of problems with Libra that the DCA consistently failed to explain.

The Fourth report said that the PND would no longer be "delivered in partnership" with CJIT, the criminal justice IT organisation, "in the light of subsequent research and legal advice". Last year, it said the CJIT had approved the funding for its development of the PND interface. This would now be handled by the PND team, it said. No further details were given.®

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