Police Scotland has confessed to the loss of more than 20,000 stop and search records in an embarrassing blunder. The records reportedly went missing after a careless computer programmer “pressed the wrong button.”
Senior officers made the admission while appearing at the Scottish Parliament before a committee of MSPs. Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, who had to apologise for giving incorrect stop and search information to watchdog the Scottish Police Authority, said that the records had been lost through simple human error.
According to Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson, also present before the committee, 20,086 records were lost in total. The important data disappeared when a “computer programmer pressed the wrong button between May and July last year.”
Mawson emphasised that the records “had been properly put on the system by the officers as a result of stopping and searching people,” but information regarding to the outcome of those stop and search incidents had been lost as a result of the blunder.
He went on to say that Police Scotland had been “working really hard” in their efforts to recover the data which was lost as a result of the blunder. These efforts included follow-up audits, and thousands of emails being sent out to officers that had been involved in the stop and search operations in question. As a result, he insisted, “the vast majority of that data, those results, are now back on the system.”
Nonetheless, the fact that such important data was so quickly and easily lost in the first place and through such a simple blunder, has cast a shadow over the Scottish police force. Chief Constable Sir Stephen acknowledged the mistake, but insisted that this had not eroded the trust that the public has in Police Scotland. Nonetheless, he recognised that as a result of the missing records stop-and-search statistics that were recently released by Police Scotland had not been “100% accurate” and were “not fit for public consumption.”
Sir Stephen also insisted that he had only released the data because he had been forced to by the Information Commissioner. However, this claim was thrown into doubt by emails that took place between the Information Commissioner and Police Scotland, which seemed to show that the latter had released its stop and search figures willingly and voluntarily.
Alison McInnes, a Liberal Democrat MSP and member of the justice subcommittee, was critical of the way Sir Stephen and Police Scotland responded to the issue. She described the response as “incoherent” and said that some of the claims made were “barely credible.”
Speaking to Sir Stephen, she asked: “is it incompetence or do you have a disregard for the authority of the Scottish Police Authority?”