London

Retained Met Police photos of suspects breached human rights

A police decision to retain photographs of two suspects who were never charged has been declared a breach of human rights in a landmark High Court ruling.

Two judges ruled as "unlawful" the Metropolitan Police policy on custody photographs.

The policy is based on the home secretary's code of practice on the management of police information and related guidance.

The ruling was won by two applicants aged 15 and 60.

They have been referred to as RMC and FJ.

A Met spokesman said: "The Metropolitan Police Service fully accepts the court's decision.

"We await new national policy but in the meantime we will review our own internal policies."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are urgently examining the implications of today's ruling and its potential impact on police operations.

"This will guide what further action may be appropriate."

Fingerprints and photographs

RMC is a 60-year-woman from Chelsea, who was arrested five years ago on suspicion of assault and had DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs taken.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge her but the Met refused the "distressed" woman's request to destroy her records.

In the second case, FJ, a 12-year-old boy from Peckham, was arrested on suspicion of rape after voluntarily attending a police station for questioning in April 2009. Again no charges were brought.

During the arrest DNA was taken from FJ, now 15, along with fingerprints and photographs.

The Met refused a request to destroy the material and also retained a record of his arrest and other information on the Police National Computer (PNC).

The judges had rejected the Met argument that keeping the photographs was necessary for preventing crime and disorder.

In a written judgment, the judges warned the unlawful policy should be revised "in months, not years".

Lord Justice Richards, sitting at the High Court with Justice Kenneth Parker, said: "I am not satisfied that the existing (police) policy strikes a fair balance between the competing public and private interests and meets the requirements of proportionality.

"In my judgment, therefore, the retention of the claimants' photographs in application of the existing policy amounts to an unjustified interference with their right to respect for their private life and is in breach of Article 8 (of the human rights convention)."

Nationwide implications

But the judges ruled that police retention of FJ's PNC record was justified and was only a "small and plainly proportionate" interference with his Article 8 rights.

Lord Justice Richards said the Met Commissioner had indicated he did not intend to seek permission to appeal.

But he said Home Secretary Theresa May wished to consider her position on the ruling, which has nationwide implications, and gave her two weeks to make any appeal application.

Following the ruling, Equality and Human Rights Commission spokesman John Wadham said: "There is no good reason why the police should hold on to information about people who have not committed any crime.

"However, we recognise the importance of retaining the identification of people who have been charged with or convicted of offences."

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