Police chief warned not to blame act over Huntley records

UK Humberside Chief Constable David Westwood was twice warned not to blame Britain's Data Protection Act for the deletion of records on Ian Huntley, the Soham Inquiry heard today.

UK Humberside Chief Constable David Westwood was twice warned not to blame Britain's Data Protection Act for the deletion of records on Ian Huntley, the Soham Inquiry heard today.

Both a senior member of the UK Association of Chief Police Officers and the Assistant Information Commissioner, David Smith, raised concerns about the force’s stance with the police chief.

And it was revealed today that the issue was discussed in a meeting between the ACPO lead on sex offences, Terence Grange, and Mr Smith two weeks before Mr Westwood went on to blame the Act.

The revelations emerged in written submissions to the Bichard Inquiry today as it investigates how Huntley slipped through police vetting nets.

After his conviction for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman last year, it emerged Huntley had a string of previous sex allegations but Humberside police had deleted all records of them.

On December 17, Mr Westwood issued a statement in which he said his force believed it was required to delete the files under the terms of the act.

But in his evidence to the inquiry earlier this month, he admitted he was wrong to say that and had misinterpreted guidance given.

He revealed he had spoken to Mr Smith in advance of making the statement but did not tell the inquiry that he had also spoken to Mr Grange, the chief constable of Dyfed Powis Police.

In his written statement prior to giving evidence today Mr Smith revealed he had met Mr Grange on December 4 because the latter wanted to discuss Humberside’s position.

He said, in the statement: “He (Mr Grange) said that it seemed likely that David Westwood would seek to place responsibility for Humberside Police’s deletion of information about Ian Huntley on the UK Data Protection Act.

“He was concerned and suggested that this would not be helpful to either the police of ourselves.

“I agreed, confirming that we did not want a public dispute over whether the Data Protection Act was to blame, but if the Data Protection Act was blamed we would defend our position robustly.”

Mr Smith said following the meeting it was decided Mr Grange would speak to Mr Westwood but also that the Humberside chief would speak with Mr Smith.

His statement went on: “I understood he (Grange) would try to persuade him not to raise data protection as the reason why records were deleted.”

Mr Westwood spoke to Mr Smith on either December 12 or 15 just days before the Humberside statement which said details could not be kept under the act purely for employment vetting purposes.

Mr Smith said in his statement: “I remember David Westwood being particularly interested in the distinction between purposes of policing and employment vetting.

“I explained that the distinction is in many ways academic because information that the police need for the prevention and detection of crime can be retained for ’policing’ and then be revealed through employment vetting checks.”

The statement went on: “I advised David Westwood that we could not accept that either our office or the Act was to blame for the premature deletion of records by Humberside Police.

“However, if he was to state that Humberside Police had misinterpreted the Act and that further guidance was needed we would not have a problem.

“I hoped David Westwood would accept this advice but I was not convinced that he would do so.”

Mr Smith was giving evidence today along with UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas who previously said he found Humberside’s position “astonishing“.

In a new statement to the inquiry, submitted on March 17, Mr Westwood said: “I reject absolutely the implication in the final paragraph and elsewhere of Mr Smith’s note, that I was intent on blaming the DPA or the Information Commissioner.

“The conversations referred to above were based on my belief at the time that data on Huntley had been deleted because of an over-restrictive local interpretation of the DPA and guidance.

“I also wanted to establish whether the law or the guidance needed to be changed to prevent a recurrence.”

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