Scandal over Britain's failure to notify EU of crimes – an explainer

How did error happen, why was it concealed and what will it mean for post-Brexit security?

The UK failed to pass on the details of tens of thousands of foreign criminals to their home EU countries and concealed the scandal, the Guardian has learned. The police national computer (PNC) error went undetected for five years.

What is the police national computer?

According to the College of Policing, the PNC is used to help investigations and sharing information of both national and local importance.

It provides critical services to the police, UK law enforcement and criminal justice agencies throughout the UK and it also links in with the European-wide IT system known as the Schengen Information System (SIS II) that enables all participating member states to share real-time information on persons and objects of interest via a series of alerts.

The PNC provides real-time checks on people, vehicles, crimes and property.

How does the PNC alert European partners?

The PNC generates daily activity files based on all the latest updates and any related to foreign offenders are meant to be forward to the European Criminal Records Information Exchange System (ECRIS) by a body known as ACRO Criminal Records Office.

What is ECRIS?

According to the European Union website, ECRIS was established in April 2012 to improve the exchange of information on criminal records throughout the EU. All EU countries are connected to ECRIS. The database ensures that information on convictions is exchanged between EU countries quickly and simply and provides judges and prosecutors with easy access to information on the criminal history of persons concerned. It also removes the possibility for offenders to escape convictions by moving from one EU country to another.

What is ACRO?

ACRO Criminal Records Office is a national police unit that provides a range of services to organise criminal records information and improve the links between criminal records and biometric information. It is also responsible for international police data sharing.

What has gone wrong with this system?

It has emerged that ACRO failed to pass on details of 75,000 convictions of foreign criminals to their home EU countries via ECRIS.

Why has this happened?

It appears to be a software glitch. ACRO has responded by developing a “software script” to fix the issue.

What are the implications of the error?

Dangerous foreign offenders once released from prison could return to their home countries without local authorities being aware of their presence.

How does this all fit into Brexit?

There have been warnings from law enforcement agencies about the impact Brexit could have on cross-border information sharing.

But this relates to an error with the domestic PNC, which ACRO is working to correct.

However, it has been revealed that the Home Office initially chose to conceal the embarrassing failure from EU partners.

It also follows revelations that the British authorities had made “unlawful” full or partial copies of the database that were said by an EU report to pose “serious and immediate risks to the integrity and security of SIS data”.

Both have served to undermine trust between the UK and the bloc.


Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Revealed: UK concealed failure to alert EU over 75,000 criminal convictions
Calls in UK and Europe for inquiries into scandal in which details of crimes by foreigners not passed on

Martin Beckford and Daniel Boffey

14, Jan, 2020 @7:27 PM

Article image
Criminal records scandal: police chiefs blame Theresa May
Former home secretary accused of botched reforms that led to failures over foreign criminals

Martin Beckford

15, Jan, 2020 @8:18 PM

Article image
England and Wales police record highest number of violent sexual crimes in EU
64,500 of 215,000 violent sexual crimes recorded across EU were in England and Wales, compared with 34,300 in Germany

Alan Travis Home affairs editor

23, Nov, 2017 @11:09 AM

Article image
No-deal Brexit will make Britain less safe, police chiefs warn MPs
Home affairs committee told it may become easier for overseas criminals in UK to evade arrest

Peter Walker Political correspondent

30, Oct, 2018 @7:18 PM

Article image
'Poisoned' Russian whistleblower was fatalistic over death threats
Alexander Perepilichnyy, who had a rare poison in his stomach when he died abruptly in Surrey, feared revenge over his role in exposing a huge fraud in Russia

Luke Harding in London and Shaun Walker in Moscow

19, May, 2015 @6:31 PM

Article image
Brexit could draw more criminals to the UK, says police chief
Head of Northumbria police ‘very concerned’ about potential loss of extradition powers and access to shared surveillance information

Helen Pidd North of England editor

05, Dec, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Hate crimes double in five years in England and Wales
Home Office figures show surge in offences linked to sexual orientation and trans identity

Ben Quinn

15, Oct, 2019 @1:04 PM

Article image
Crimes against nature: how greed fuels illegal trade in animal parts
Scotland Yard’s small wildlife unit opens its store of raided treasures for the first time

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

28, Jan, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Theresa May takes first step to opting out of EU law and order measures
Home secretary joins Michael Gove in appealing to Conservative party's Eurosceptic wing

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

14, Oct, 2012 @8:38 PM

Article image
Maybot malfunctions under pressure over disappearing police | John Crace
In the wake of the London Bridge terror attack, a nation needs its security fears allayed. So why yet more talk of Brexit?

John Crace

05, Jun, 2017 @5:16 PM