Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hillsborough: using police databases to smear the dead

Yesterday saw the publication of the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel which confirmed many of the criticisms made by the families of those killed in the disaster. One of the most shocking points in that report for me was the revelation that criminal record checks were carried out on some of the dead, with a view to smearing them and deflecting criticism of police handling of the event. This illustrates an important point that privacy campaigners have been making for a long time: centralised databases of this type can and will be abused, and the power to trawl databases for information on individuals - in effect, to manufacture a case against them - is a dangerous one. It's not hard to imagine how data retention records might be abused in a similar way in future. With that in mind, here's an excerpt from the Report setting out what was done:
Criminal record checks on the deceased

2.5.111 A solicitor involved in the Hillsborough inquests disclosed a document to the Panel showing that criminal record checks were conducted selectively on some of the deceased who had recorded blood alcohol levels. To protect the privacy of the deceased the Panel has decided not to make public the document but to describe the process through which an attempt was made to establish links between blood alcohol levels and previous criminal convictions.

2.5.112 The document indicates that a Police National Computer (PNC) check was conducted on all who died at Hillsborough for whom a blood alcohol reading above zero was recorded. It includes a handwritten list of the names, dates of birth, blood alcohol readings and home addresses of 51 of the deceased and provides screen-prints apparently drawn from the PNC. A summary of the results appears on the front page, establishing the number ‘with cons’ (convictions).

2.5.113 The document was not formally part of the West Midlands or South Yorkshire Police inquiries and there is no record in the documents provided by either force or by the Coroner. There is no record of who conducted the checks or precisely when the checks occurred. The National Policing Improvement Agency, the organisation responsible for the PNC, confirmed to the Panel that information has not been retained within the PNC.

2.5.114 It is the Panel’s view that criminal record checks were carried out on those of the deceased with recorded blood alcohol levels in an attempt to impugn personal reputations. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that this inappropriate – and possibly unlawful – exercise was used in the investigations, inquiries or inquests.

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