Britain's Stasi cops a setback
The exhaustive record keeping of the Stasi was legendary
Police will have to destroy mugshots of innocent people following a landmark case brought by a 15-year-old. The boy went to court after being told his image would be held until he reached 100 – even though no charges were laid against him.
The High Court ruled yesterday that retaining photographs of suspects who have never been charged was a breach of their human rights.
Police forces will now have to trawl through their records deleting images, including those of people cleared at trial.
The teenager from Peckham, South London, was arrested on suspicion of rape in April 2009 but no charges were brought when a witness failed to confirm an offence took place. When he asked to have his details removed he was told the mugshot could be retained until he reached the age of 100. He was 12 at the time.
The second claimant was a cyclist from Chelsea accused of assaulting a police community support officer who stopped her riding on a footpath in April 2007.
The 60-year-old, who was described as of good character, had DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs taken but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge her with any offence. When she complained, the Metropolitan Police refused to delete her record.
The force’s policy, which is based on the Home Secretary’s code of practice, is to retain mugshots for a minimum of six years, although this can be extended indefinitely. Scotland Yard argued that it was necessary to keep the photographs to prevent crime and disorder.
But Lord Justice Richards said the policy drew ‘no adequate distinction’ between those who are convicted and those who are either acquitted or not even charged.
The judge, sitting with Mr Justice Kenneth Parker, concluded: ‘I am not satisfied that the existing 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 unjustified interference with their right to respect for their private life and is in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.’
The judge granted the force a few months to revise their policy. Home Secretary Theresa May now has two weeks to lodge an appeal on the ruling, which has implications for all police forces. The courts have already ruled that it is unlawful to keep innocent people’s fingerprints and DNA indefinitely.
But Lord Justice Richards said the Met would not have to delete details of the teenage boy’s alleged offence from the police national computer.
Yesterday John Wadham, general counsel for Equality and Human Rights Commission, which backed the test case, said: ‘There is no good reason why the police should hold on to information about people who have not committed any crime.’
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are urgently examining the implications of today’s ruling.’