British police cross-check just one in seven foreign criminals' records, even after they are arrested in the UK
By JR on Thursday, December 08, 2011
Police are failing to check the criminal histories of tens of thousands of foreign offenders – even after they are arrested in the UK. Officers request details from a suspect’s home country in just one in seven investigations involving EU nationals, according to a Home Office review.
And each year, around 30,000 foreign offenders who pass through the courts do so without anyone knowing the full extent of their criminal past. Judges are therefore unaware if the offender they are sentencing is a convicted rapist, murderer or paedophile – or someone with no criminal history at all.
In the worst cases, it could mean the alert is not sounded when dangerous offenders wanted on the continent are picked up in Britain.
Without information on their criminal past, an offender could face a much shorter sentence, be bailed even though they present a threat to the public or escape deportation.
Details of the way officers are failing to carry out even basic checks emerged in a Home Office review of criminal records systems. Sunita Mason, the independent advisor on criminal records in England and Wales, said: ‘It is clear that we should be making such checks routinely when EU nationals are arrested and charged. ‘Even minor offending in the UK might lead to the disclosure of much more serious offending overseas.’
Under EU data-sharing rules, officers can ask to see the records of any EU nationals they arrest. Of the 35,000 EU nationals charged with criminal offences in England and Wales last year, checks were ordered on just 5,500. A similar proportion – 15 per cent – of the EU nationals arrested in this country had their criminal histories explored.
Astonishingly, police may not even be aware they can request the records, the report found. Miss Mason also warned funding for the UK body which handles requests to foreign forces is in doubt. She said: ‘To not address this issue is a potentially huge public protection risk.’
The same report showed EU countries alerted the UK to 20,000 Britons convicted of crimes overseas. That includes 450 Britons convicted of serious violent or sexual offences and 276 criminals who committed offences against children. Just 37 were already known to the UK authorities.
The Association of Chief Police Officers said many offenders refused to say where they were from or lied about their nationality, making it difficult for officers to find out about their past.
The ‘free movement’ directive means it is virtually impossible to stop EU citizens with criminal convictions from entering Britain. Even in cases where officials are aware of serious convictions, criminals cannot automatically be turned away.
Regulations say they can be barred to maintain public security, but ‘convictions in themselves do not constitute grounds for taking such measures’. In reality, they allow all but the very worst criminals free access to the UK.
Just two weeks ago a Latvian axe-killer was jailed after running down an innocent woman while drink-driving. Police had no idea Intars Pless, 34, was a convicted murderer and living in the UK until February this year when he ran his car straight into moped rider Valentina Planciunene, who died on the road.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘It is an operational matter for police to decide when to request information on foreign nationals. ‘The UK worked hard to implement an EU-wide agreement to share this information – but we know all countries do not currently comply fully. ‘That is why it is important that the new European legislation implemented next spring will require member-states to share this information.’