It comes as fears are voiced that the lost data could allow offenders to walk free because evidence from crime scenes will not be flagged. Labour has said Home Secretary Priti Patel should take responsibility for the “extraordinarily serious security breach” that it said would present huge public safety dangers.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse has told Home Office officials and police to confirm there is “no threat to public safety” from the apparent blunder.
He said the deletion from the Police National Computer related to people who were arrested but released without further action. The records disappeared during a “standard housekeeping process” and the problem “cannot happen again”.
He added: “The Home Office, NPCC (National Police Chiefs’ Council) and other law enforcement partners are working at pace to recover the data.
“While the loss relates to individuals who were arrested and then released with no further action, I have asked officials and the police to confirm their initial assessment that there is no threat to public safety.”
The computer deletions appear to affect police powers to reopen some investigations should more evidence emerge.
Former Cumbria Police chief constable Stuart Hyde said the loss of arrest records were a risk to public safety and the safeguarding of vulnerable people.
He said: “In order to understand the scale, if you think between 600,000-700,000 people are arrested every year in the UK, that’s a very large proportion of those people. In terms of the risk this creates, clearly some of those people may be involved in subsequent offending and could only be identified through either fingerprints and DNA when they were subsequently brought to light.”
He added: “That may be only a few people, a handful, but nonetheless it still represents a risk.”
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The Home Secretary must take responsibility for this serious problem.
“She must urgently make a statement about what has gone wrong, the extent of the issue, and what action is being taken to reassure the public. Answers must be given. This is an extraordinarily serious security breach that presents huge dangers for public safety.