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Rise in Northern Ireland violence highlights data failing

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Police remain unable to access records on some of Northern Ireland's most notorious terrorist killers who now live on or travel to the British mainland, months after a deadline to link computer systems passed.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has its own system for storing and accessing criminal records.

In a report for the Home Office last July, former senior civil servant Sir Ian Magee said it should urgently be linked to the Police National Computer (PNC), and that he expected the work to be complete by "early 2009".

Counter-terror officers are reportedly increasingly concerned by the disconnect, especially given the recent rise in activity by dissident groups. Last week army bomb disposal experts defused a 600lb bomb near the border with the Republic.

The intelligence gap on the mainland was highlighted recently by police after they stopped a man in the northwest, The Times reports. A search of the PNC during the stop suggested he had been arrested only once, for assaulting his wife in 2005.

A later Google search back at the police station however revealed the man was in fact Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair. Until 2002 he was a commander in the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Freedom Fighters. He was later driven out of Northern Ireland by violent feuding within loyalism.

At present, PSNI adds records to the PNC manually, which according to Magee it does only for "information relating to sex offences and some other very serious offences".

The Home Office today said it aimed to connect the two systems "as quickly as possible".

"It is important to strengthen this connection between Northern Ireland and the Police National Computer, and urgent work is underway to define the most effective and affordable technical solution," it added.

It is estimated the work will cost £3m. ®

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