Priti Patel fails to appear in Commons to answer questions on missing police records

Home secretary Priti Patel

Home secretary Priti Patel - Credit: PA

Labour has criticised Priti Patel for failing to attend the House of Commons to answer questions on the loss of hundreds of thousands of records from a police database.

A significant number of fingerprint, DNA and arrest history records were lost due to human error and defective code.

Initially, some 150,000 records were believed to have been affected, but it has emerged the number is far higher than first thought at about 400,000.

Despite calls from the opposition for Patel to answer questions about the debacle, it was junior police minister Kit Malthouse left to address MPs.

He said that the home secretary has commissioned an internal review into the loss of hundreds of thousands of records from a police database.

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Acknowledging that it was a "very serious" situation, he told the Commons: “While any loss of data is unacceptable, I can say that other tried and tested law enforcement systems are in place which contain linked data and reports to support policing partners in their day-to-day efforts to keep us safe.”

He added: “I will urge patience while we continue our rapid internal investigation and begin the recovery. I hope the House will appreciate that the task in front of us is a complex one.

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“Public safety is the top priority of everyone working at the Home Office and I have full faith that Home Office engineers and our partners in the National Police Chiefs Council and the police forces across the country who they are working with are doing all they can to restore this data.

“While this is rightly our immediate priority, clearly the Home Secretary and I have commissioned an internal review as to the circumstances which led to this incident so that lessons can be learned. I will update this House regularly on the process.”

But shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds criticised Priti Patel for not answering questions in parliament following the loss of records.

He said: “I must ask, where is the home secretary? The loss of hundreds of thousands of pieces of data, data so important for apprehending suspects and safeguarding vulnerable people, is extraordinarily serious.

“It was the home secretary who needed to show leadership and take control. It’s what previous home secretaries have done in a crisis – on the passport office, on Windrush, on knife crime, whatever their mistakes, home secretaries came and answered to this House, they didn’t just offer a media clip as has happened today.

“This home secretary failing on violent crime, failing on the Windrush compensation scheme, with chaos on border testing, found to have broken the ministerial code, now won’t even answer to parliament and the public on this most serious of issues.

“The home secretary likes to talk tough, but when the going gets tough, she’s nowhere to be seen.”

SNP home affairs spokeswoman Joanna Cherry said “two weeks ago the home secretary was boasting that the UK is now a safer place because of Brexit”.

Expert evidence, she said, explained the opposite, adding: “One of the key reasons why that is so is that we’ve lost real-time access to Europe-wide databases on criminal records, DNA, fingerprints and, indeed, intelligence.

“You really couldn’t make it up yet curiously the Home Secretary is nowhere to be seen, instead she’s sent her junior minister to take the flak.”

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