Police and prosecutors 'losing sensitive evidence'

Scales of justice Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Investigators found discs containing sensitive evidence were sometimes misplaced

Sensitive details held by police and prosecutors in England are being lost because evidence is still being shared on computer discs, watchdogs say.

Police and prosecution watchdogs looked at criminal justice computer systems and found the testimonies of underage and vulnerable victims and witnesses had been kept on portable discs.

In one case a DVD interview of a 12-year-old sex offence victim was lost.

The CPS said it and the police were reviewing their handling of such data.

'Widespread issue'

The joint report from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said there was a "widespread issue" involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) "misplacing discs containing sensitive evidence and information".

This included CCTV, 999 recordings, suspect interviews and the testimony of vulnerable and underage victims and witnesses.

The report said in the case where the DVD interview of a 12-year-old sex offence victim was lost a new system for tracking evidence had to be introduced.

"Many officers informed us that it was common to receive several requests from the CPS to supply further copies of discs because the original copy submitted could not be found," the report said.

'Good progress'

The report also cited one case where the CPS was fined £200,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office in November 2015 after laptops containing videos of police interviews with victims and witnesses were stolen from a private contractor's studio.

It also said that some police forces were using computer systems that had been in place for up to 20 years.

Inspectors, who visited six forces and their corresponding CPS regions, said police and prosecutors needed "to urgently review arrangements for the handling of hard media".

However, they said "good progress" had been made towards a full digital system, highlighting examples of the installation of wi-fi in magistrates' courts and a prosecutor app which allows cases to be updated from court in real time.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The CPS was fined £200,000 after laptops containing videos of police interviews were stolen

A CPS spokesman said the majority of prosecutors now worked digitally.

"The CPS is already working, with its partners, to create a unified digital case management system, which when completed will make the use of discs obsolete," she said.

"In the meantime, new standards have been developed for the handling of electronic hard media.

"CPS areas are working closely with their local police forces to jointly review their handling and transportation of such material."

The CPS added that the sensitive material on the stolen laptops was not accessed and it had strengthened arrangements for handling sensitive material after the theft.

The forces inspected were Kent, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Northamptonshire, West Midlands, and the Metropolitan Police, and the corresponding CPS regions in the South East, Merseyside and Cheshire, North West, East Midlands, West Midlands and London.

They also observed magistrates' and crown court cases, and interviewed representatives from the police, CPS, courts service, Ministry of Justice and Home Office.

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