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The Information Tribunal has told five police forces to remove old, minor criminal records from their databases.

Some of the cases date back 30 years. They include a person under 18 who was fined £15 for stealing a 99p packet of meat in 1984; a girl under 14 cautioned for a minor assault who was told her record would not be deleted until she was 100; and a person fined £25 for a theft over 25 years ago.

The five forces - Humberside, Northumbria, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands Police were originally told by the Information Commissioner's Office in November to delete the records, but they appealed the decision. The Information Tribunal upheld the ICO decision.

In a further blow for police database ambitions a Home Office advisory group - The Ethics Group - is calling for the removal of records from the DNA database for people not convicted of any crime.

The National DNA Database contains some 4.2m records, including those of 100,000 children and half a million people who have never been convicted or even cautioned for any offence.

Some people give samples voluntarily in order to help out with a specific investigation - such records, the group believes, should be deleted once that case is closed. The police also have the power to take a DNA sample from anyone arrested and taken to a police station, regardless of whether they are subsequently charged.

Ian Readhead, Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire and ACPO lead on data Protection and Freedom of Information said:

“We are very disappointed with the decision of the Information Tribunal today, which could have far-reaching implications for the police service as a whole. The Bichard Inquiry which followed the tragedy of the Soham murders recommended that forces should reconsider the way in which records are managed. It is now important that clear national guidelines are put in place so that forces take a consistent approach to the retention of criminal records. Our aim is to ensure that the police service can be in the best possible position to protect the public.

“We will now take some time to discuss these implications with the service and decide on the most appropriate course of action.”

The Home Office said it would consider the recommendations and consult with police before making any decision. ®

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