The National DNA Database - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 38-116)


5 JANUARY 2010

  Q38 Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. This is a short inquiry into the DNA Database. We are taking evidence today, and next week we hope to have Sir Alec Jeffreys and perhaps another witness giving evidence to us. Perhaps you could start by telling the Committee how much crime is solved largely or solely because of the existence of the Database?

  Chief Constable Sims: Good morning. Let me just put some context around crime. There are about 4.9 million crimes reported every year; something around 1.3 million crimes are detected each year; and of those detections around about 33,000 originate from DNA. Another 45,000—

  Q39 Chairman: From the Database?

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes, from DNA.

  Q40  Chairman: Solely or largely from the Database?

  Chief Constable Sims: Correct,

  Q41  Chairman: 33,000.

  Chief Constable Sims: Around another 45,000 from fingerprints.

  Q42  Chairman: Could I just get the facts right, since you have started with facts. Of the 4.9 million crimes, 33,000 are solved solely or largely because of the DNA Database?

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes,

  Q43  Chairman: Do we know what percentage that is by any chance, for those who are not mathematically minded?

  Chief Constable Sims: No, I would have to sit down and work that out.

  Q44  Chairman: The chief clerk is trying to work it out!

  Chief Constable Sims: Chairman, could I put some context around that. Most crimes do not have a "scene" as such. Most crimes involve incidents between people, are minor in variety, dealt with locally and are generally solved because the victim and the offender are known to each other, or police happen upon the incident as it is taking place, but are dealt with broadly speaking by normal policing means.

  Q45  Chairman: In fact, what you are telling this Committee is the vast majority of crimes—the vast majority—are solved largely or solely because of samples taken from suspects and witnesses during the course of an investigation, rather than—

  Chief Constable Sims: No, I am not saying that.

  Q46  Chairman: How does that compare then, the 33,000?

  Chief Constable Sims: I will perhaps ask Gary to comment in a second, but I do not fully understand the second part of that question because we do not take samples generally during the course of investigations. What we generally do is if we find a sample at a scene then that sample will drive the investigation through the application of the Database.

  Q47  Chairman: But at the moment you are giving this figure of 33,000?

  Chief Constable Sims: I am trying to put the global figure here.

  Q48  Chairman: That is very helpful.

  Chief Constable Sims: I suppose I am trying to make a point that in the general terms of crime DNA and forensic science statistically is a small part of a bigger picture. However, if you then look at some of the more specific and serious crimes it will be a much, much more significant part.

  Q49  Chairman: You yourself, as the ACPO lead, are on record, at least to the BBC, I think you gave them some comments—

  Chief Constable Sims: It must be true then!

  Q50  Chairman: —saying that the current system does need clarity, and that you felt it was not clear in respect of the removal of—

  Chief Constable Sims: I am sorry, are we jumping to the last question?

  Q51  Chairman: What is the last question?

  Chief Constable Sims: The last question is about the removal process.

  Q52  Chairman: Have you had a list of the questions?

  Chief Constable Sims: I have, yes; is that wrong?

  Q53  Chairman: It is unusual!

  Chief Constable Sims: I do apologise.

  Q54  Chairman: How did you get them?

  Chief Constable Sims: This arrived on my email system.

  Q55  Chairman: How extraordinary!

  Chief Constable Sims: How extraordinary! Shall I ignore them for the rest of the session?

  Q56  Chairman: Not if you have read them. I think it is very difficult to ignore them if you received them on your email system! Do you know who sent them to you?

  Chief Constable Sims: I could find that out, I have no doubt; but I only received notification I was coming at all at five o'clock yesterday. We are all a little surprised perhaps by the turn of events.

  Chairman: Let us then leave it in the order that you were sent these questions on the email.

  Q57  Mrs Cryer: If you have had a list of questions you will already know that you have probably answered the question I was going to ask you! The question I was going to ask you is: do you actually believe that old-fashioned policing in the majority of crimes is the way that we solve them, rather than with a reliance on DNA and other forms of forensic science?

  Chief Constable Sims: Of course, but with the proviso that "old-fashioned policing" as you style it can be hugely strengthened by the application of forensic science. One of the things that I think gets hugely underplayed in debates like this is the degree to which innocence can be proved by using forensic science. Old-fashioned policing that might have relied on arrest and interview can actually be supported and supplemented by good use of forensics.

  Q58  Mrs Cryer: So proof of innocence or guilt can lie with DNA but there is a great deal of work goes on beforehand?

  Chief Constable Sims: Of course. In general, the more serious the offence the bigger part that forensic science plays in its detection and particularly the less contact there is between victim and offender, the more important forensic science becomes.

  Q59  Tom Brake: You would not support a view that says, for instance, given there are a large number of teenage boys who have their DNA taken because they are involved in a minor offence, they go on the Database but they never subsequently commit any further offences, that actually you might as well just take a random sample of DNA from the population as a whole and you will probably get just as much use out of that as you would from the samples that you are currently taking?

  Chief Constable Sims: Can I ask Gary to respond to that.

  Mr Pugh: I think this goes to the heart of the debate of the retention of DNA from those who are arrested and not convicted. You highlight individuals, particularly those 10-18 year-olds who have what I might call a "single arrest event" and no further involvement with the police. I think in answer to your point about a random sample of the population, from where we look at this issue we are hoping that the basis of retention of that group of arrested not convicted needs to be based on some evidence or some basis assessment of risk, if you like, that they will or will possibly commit crime in the future. This is where the Government's recent proposals and their statistical analysis comes up with a six-year retention period based on that analysis which indicates that someone who is the subject of a single arrest event, if they do not come into contact with the police in a six-year period after that, then the level of potential offending is the same as the population at large. Therefore, there is a graph within the Government's consultation documents which demonstrates that. The point is that it is making an assessment of the likely risk, if you like, of future offending rather than just taking a random sample of the population. From an operational perspective clearly we want the Database to be effective and I think a random sampling would not be so.

  Q60  Tom Brake: Are you saying also that it is currently not effective because it has far too many young people of the nature that I have described and you have just confirmed?

  Mr Pugh: No, and this goes again to the heart of the matter, within that group of people who are arrested not convicted, there are individuals currently, as the law stands, who have a single arrest event and go on and do not come into contact with the police. There are, however, of course a significant proportion of individuals who do come into contact with the police and do commit crime, and a match is generated from the Database because we recover their DNA at a crime scene or on a victim. It is the distinction between those two groups that is clearly at the heart of the debate and the current legislation that is being proposed.

  Q61  Tom Brake: You will have heard my earlier question to the other witnesses about cost-benefit analysis. Have you got any cost-benefit analysis that can prove to the Committee that in maintaining a large DNA Database, which contains the records of many, many hundreds of thousands of innocent people, there is a benefit; that there is any advantage; as opposed to spending, if you are able to cost it, and I do not know whether you can tell me how much it costs, to maintain the DNA of one innocent person on a Database for a number of years? If you were to spend that money on something else in policing terms, would that be more effective at tackling crime?

  Mr Pugh: In terms of costing I do not have the underlying business case, but the cost of putting an individual on the Database at current rates, if you like, is around £30-£40. That is the cost of a single analysis and the retention of their DNA. What we do know is, and I can give you examples, where individuals who are arrested and not convicted subsequently match with DNA found at crime scenes or on victims and allow us then to detect that crime because their DNA was retained.

  Q62  Tom Brake: But you cannot tell us, "We've worked it out. We know that £30 times X number of innocent people equals a sum of money which we've looked at spending on something else in policing terms", and you cannot confirm whether that is more effective or less effective?

  Mr Pugh: Not least because we do not have that underlying business case for other methods of police use of informants or covert collection of information.

  Q63  David Davies: If I may disagree with the way the question was worded. The question should not be how much it costs to put somebody on, because obviously those people are all going on anyway; the question should be how much it costs to keep people there and to maintain them there. Presumably, as this is essentially an IT operation, the costs of actually keeping somebody there is minimal. If it is costs that are concerning Liberty and the other so-called civil rights groups then actually there is probably quite a high cost in removing people, is there not?

  Mr Pugh: Yes, I think it is fair to say DNA profiling generates a string of numbers. Your DNA profile is 20 numbers so it is in fact very simple, in a sense, from a technical point of view to retain that data; compared, to say, a fingerprint, which is an image and therefore more complex and requires more storage. The cost of retaining a DNA profile is very low I would say in comparison to the costs of retaining other data or information.

  Q64  Chairman: We have that figure for you: it is 0.67%. So what you are telling this Committee is that 0.67% of the crimes that are solved are solved largely or solely because of the existence of the database?

  Chief Constable Sims: It may be as high as 40% on burglaries, say, but the global figure—

  Q65  Chairman: Is 0.67%, which is pretty low, is it not?

  Mr Pugh: Can I expand? I think the figure you are using there is the number of detections generated from matches on the database, if you like the result of a "cold" search. Those figures do not take into account cases where, if you like, we have a known suspect, and DNA profiling is used to support the prosecution of that individual. So your focus is on the database rather than the general use of DNA profiling in tackling crime and particular violent crimes. I think it underestimates the contribution.

  Chairman: I am sorry; these are the figures that the Chief Constable has given this Committee, and I am just giving you what the percentage is, or was. It is 0.67%, which is quite low.

  Q66  Mr Winnick: Given those figures, you make take the view that some people are not persuaded that retaining DNA samples is all that necessary. However, can I put this to you, Chief Constable? In the West Midlands, and you probably know my constituency is in the region, I had a letter from a constituent who has been arrested but not charged—and I emphasise not charged—who strongly complained that she felt stigmatised as her DNA sample was being retained. I wrote to the Minister because if I had written to you you would have referred me to what Parliament has so far decided. Can you understand the feeling of that constituent of mine who, in the eyes of the law, is innocent but, nevertheless, feels that it is quite wrong that she should be stigmatised in the way which she described to me in her letter?

  Chief Constable Sims: Of course I can, and running through all of this debate is this much more fundamental question of balancing the rights of the individual against public safety, and that is absolutely at the heart of any discussion of the Database. I suppose we need to go right back to the Criminal Justice Act in 2003, where you, as MPs, decided that it was right to put on to the Database profiles of unconvinced persons. Since that date chief constables have owned that data and exercised the discretion given to them by that Act, and have attempted to interpret what Parliament's will was in exercising that discretion. It is a difficult balance, and, as I am sure we will come on to in a minute, I think there are ways that we could do that in a more transparent manner.

  Q67  Mr Winnick: What would you say to the argument, which may well be unfair, that the police, be it on pre-charge detention or, now, on DNA samples, want as much authority as possible regardless of the effect it has on civil liberties?

  Chief Constable Sims: Absolutely not. I picked up the debate before that you were listening to and I would utterly agree that the most important issue is maintaining public consent, public support and public understanding of what we do. To go back to that data that I gave you right at the start, the majority of crimes are actually detected by the relationship that forms between victim, offender and police. Nothing that we do should get in the way of that relationship. So the notion that the police want more and more power for power's sake is absolutely a nonsense, but we are uniquely placed to understand the impact of holding the data that we do. I know they were dismissed as anecdotal cases before but these are real cases involving real people and real lives that are solved by judiciously handling and managing data that Parliament has given us a right to hold.

  Q68  Mr Winnick: I wonder if the two of you will reflect on the fact that the number involved, such a very, very low percentage, which the Chairman has told you, once it is publicised will inevitably lead further to the view that Government and those who support retaining the samples would lose the argument. It is such a tiny, tiny percentage, which inevitably, as I said, could undermine the argument—at least one would have thought so—about keeping samples for such a long period.

  Chief Constable Sims: That is not new data; that data is in the public domain. I wonder, though, if people understood that in the last full year 83 murders were solved, 163 rapes were solved, each of which could have ended in an extended series of major crime that could have cost more lives or ruined other lives.

  Q69  Mr Winnick: We put that to the last witness, actually, who argued against your viewpoint.

  Chief Constable Sims: It is very tempting, is it not, to just simply call those anecdotes and dismiss them, but actually anecdotes are people and people are what we are in the business of protecting.

  Mr Winnick: I understand that.

  Q70  David Davies: Finally, on that point, surely the point is that of those 1.3 million crimes, the vast majority are minor offences.

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes.

  Q71  David Davies: So the really important statistic is what percentage of rapes, murders and serious burglaries are solved. As you have said, it can be up to 40%.

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes, 40% for burglary.

  Q72  David Davies: I have a question for you. One of the previous witnesses suggested that young black men are over-represented on the database, and I think that is actually a fact, I do not think anyone would argue with that. The elephant in the room here is this (and I would liked to have put this to Ms Abbott but I cannot because she is not here): is that not actually the case because, unfortunately, and for many reasons which we need to look into, young black men between 18 and 25—or, to be more precise, of Afro-Caribbean descent—are committing more crimes than other members of the population?

  Chief Constable Sims: Let me pass the question to Gary because through the Board he has done a lot of work on this important subject.

  Mr Pugh: Yes, and I understand this Committee has been looking at, if I could call it, the over-representation of black and ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system. It is a fact that the National DNA Database and the proportions of different ethnic groups mirror, if you like, the way that the criminal justice system operates and those individuals who are arrested. So the Database is not inherently discriminatory; it reflects, if you like, the position that we are in with regard to the number of people who are arrested from different ethnic groups. So, in that sense, it is a wider issue. I certainly do not duck that issue and in the role I have I have met with many who are concerned about this over-representation and, added to that, perhaps, the sensitivity of DNA profiling. We are doing a lot of work on this: we have an equality impact assessment; we are engaging with different communities to explain to them the way DNA profiling works, and, also, the safeguards that are in place in terms of the use of the data, the wider DNA profiling that is used in the criminal justice system and the nature of the records that are held on the database. I think there is general confusion, perhaps, between what I would call the genetic analysis—things like looking at medical conditions and ancestry—which is not something that we look at in the police applications of DNA profiling; we look at what is called "non-coding DNA" which does not look at any of those aspects, but that does heighten the sensitivity. It is certainly important to me, as Chair of the Board (and I know many other members of the Board share the same concerns), that we do explain the basis on which the ethnic mix on the Database is made.

  Q73  David Davies: Statistics are a funny thing, but there has been a lot of work done recently that suggests that, actually, some of the most deprived people in this country are white youths who come from what some would call (wrongly, in my view) a working class background. Probably, what they are actually referring to is a sort of severely deprived background. If you did a comparison of young black youths as a percentage of the population and white youths who came from those severely deprived backgrounds, both financially and socially, would you not probably find that the proportion was about the same, or even that the white youths were even more disproportionately on the database than their black counterparts?

  Mr Pugh: You might do. I am sorry, I cannot—

  Chief Constable Sims: As far as we know—

  Q74  David Davies: It is quite likely. It might be worth looking at, given that this is reflected in other statistics to do with unemployment and other matters.

  Mr Pugh: You mentioned the statistics. On some of the figures that have been used, particularly the three-quarters of young black males on the Database I think there is a need for caution with those statistics. They take the number of young black males on the Database and divide it by the 2001 Census data, which actually collects ethnicity data on a different basis. I am not denying the issue in any respect, but I think there is a need for caution in the way that those statistics are generated and used.

  David Davies: Ten years out of date.

  Q75  Gwyn Prosser: The previous two witnesses, you might have heard, both made the point that there has been no in-depth research on these matters in terms of the statistics. I think this exchange goes to show that just expressing the raw figures and then using figures like the 0.67% are pretty meaningless.

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes.

  Q76  Gwyn Prosser: However, you do say that you have figures in the public domain. Are they broken down in terms of very serious violent offences; rape; burglary? Would you be in a position outside of this meeting to provide the Chairman with those statistics?

  Chief Constable Sims: The National Database, part of the statutory duty is to publish an annual report which contains extensive data on the actual database composition, the usage of it and the governance arrangements, and that is in the public domain, and we can certainly make the reference available.

  Mr Pugh: I am happy to make it available.

  Q77  Chairman: If you could write to me with those details.

  Chief Constable Sims: Certainly.

  Q78  Gwyn Prosser: Mr Sims, in terms of the database itself, in general, would chief constables welcome a larger proportion of people's DNA being retained? Would they welcome the whole of the population's DNA being retained, albeit there would be practical matter, particularly the practical issues and the cost, perhaps? Would your colleagues encourage expansion of the Database?

  Chief Constable Sims: It is a good question. It is a question that has been posed many, many times. I start by going back to the answer I gave to Mr Winnick a few minutes ago that we are acutely conscious of the (small "p") political issue around the Database. Therefore, there is no appetite to be expansive about it beyond the use that is kind of provable and current. If you got into the realms of a national database, literally, for everyone, the cost-benefit (that I accept we are unable to articulate particularly strongly at the moment) would tip heavily against its maintenance, and I think the public acceptability of it would tip heavily against it. I think my colleagues would see the current arrangement as being sensible and proportionate and doing the job that we would want it to do.

  Q79  Bob Russell: Mr Sims, you come to today's hearing extremely well-briefed in advance and, therefore, you will know that part of the purpose of this session is to inquire why the police think it necessary to obtain samples from those never charged with an offence or subsequently found not guilty of an offence. You have heard Mr Winnick refer to a case in his constituency (I have two in mine), and the simple maths are that if every MP has a similar ratio it is in excess of 1,000 cases with various chief constables. How many cases have you got from Members of Parliament?

  Chief Constable Sims: Personally in the West Midlands? I have that data somewhere. A few hundred. We are the second-biggest force in the country.

  Q80  Chairman: A few hundred?

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes. My colleague will find the data.

  Q81  Bob Russell: Raised by Members of Parliament?

  Chief Constable Sims: No, sorry, not by Members of Parliament. No, I do not know that number.

  Q82  Bob Russell: Would you accept from me, because you are the lead officer on this, there are significant inconsistencies in the willingness of the 43 chief constables to delete samples on request?

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes. It is a discretionary power, and I think we would like—and I hope that the current Bill before Parliament will provide—some codification of the way that power is used. We would fully support that process.

  Q83  Bob Russell: Without putting words in your mouth, are you saying, then, that you feel this power should be taken away from chief constables and given to some other independent body so that we get uniformity across the country?

  Chief Constable Sims: I have no strong views on that. I do think it needs to be exercised in a way that is more transparent.

  Q84  Bob Russell: And consistent?

  Chief Constable Sims: And consistent, because, again, by giving it as a discretionary power to 43 chief constables you are almost building in a level of inconsistency in its application. I know a previous question was asked about whether it would be useful for the power to be exercised centrally by the National Police Improvement Agency, and my only comment on that is that there would be, probably, some administrative advantages and there would certainly be advantages in consistency. You would be moving to a position, though, where data was owned centrally, and I think one of the strengths of British policing, if you like, is that data is actually owned by 43 chief constables, not by a central authority, be it the Home Office or the NPIA.

  Q85  Bob Russell: I suppose if it was an independent organisation, that would be a quango, would it not, like Ofcom?

  Chief Constable Sims: It could be.

  Q86  Chairman: The point Mr Russell has made is that if you look at the research that was produced by Damien Green only a few days ago, if you happen to live in Nottingham, Dyfed, Powys, Cambridgeshire, the City of London, Humberside and Gloucestershire, you will find that no DNA has been removed as a result of applications. So it is not just a question of codifying and making guidance clear; it is a question of actually having some kind of overall national consistency. What Peter Neyroud was suggesting was that one organisation should do this, and people should apply to that organisation and, therefore, you will get the consistency that is currently lacking. Even if you have guidance it still remains in the hands of the local chief constable to make those decisions, so you would have a situation where this just does not apply in at least half-a-dozen of these police authorities.

  Chief Constable Sims: I think, though, having had the experience of actually looking at these cases, there is still a professional judgment that would need to be made.

  Q87  Chairman: What professional judgment did you and your predecessor make in the case of our Parliamentary colleague, Greg Hands, who I spoke to this morning, who has been writing to the Chief Constable of the West Midlands for the last two years asking for his DNA to be removed, and who has not had the courtesy of a reply from the Chief Constable informing him, first of all, that his case is being dealt with, and, secondly, that it has been removed? Mr Hands told me this morning that he had to put down a Parliamentary Question in October of last year asking whether or not his DNA was still on the database. Is not part of the worry that we all have that the chief constables are not engaging in simple customer service? When people write and ask for information, no replies are being received.

  Chief Constable Sims: Can I very strongly refute that. I do not know the case that you have mentioned—

  Q88  Chairman: Of Greg Hands, the Member of Parliament for Fulham? You do not know of that?

  Chief Constable Sims: It is not a case that I know of, no, but I will—

  Q89  Chairman: He has been writing to the West Midlands Police who took his DNA.

  Chief Constable Sims: It is not a case that I have seen.

  Q90  Chairman: Not at all?

  Chief Constable Sims: Not at all.

  Q91  Chairman: No notice of it?

  Chief Constable Sims: I have not seen that case, but we deal with many hundreds of cases, so I will go from here and research that to find out what the case is and will be replying to your colleague.

  Q92  Chairman: Mr Sims, is it not the fact that people are upset about the way in which chief constables are currently dealing with very simple queries (Mr Russell mentioned the case that he wrote about; I, indeed, have written about cases myself)? Replies are not forthcoming; there is a lack of engagement.

  Chief Constable Sims: I am sorry, I cannot just accept that comment from a case that I do not know of.

  Q93  Chairman: Tell us about your area in the West Midlands. How many letters have you received asking—

  Chief Constable Sims: From MPs?

  Q94  Chairman: From anybody, asking for their DNA to be removed?

  Chief Constable Sims: I have, in the 12 months in question, received 227, and 55 of them have been removed.

  Q95  Chairman: How quickly do you reply to people informing them?

  Chief Constable Sims: We would attempt to reply within 10 working days, as we would with any other question. I do not think this is a question of customer service; I think there is a fundamental issue about the way discretion has been given in a diffused manner and I think there is an opportunity in the current Bill that is before Parliament to provide a better framework for that discretion, which we would welcome.

  Q96  Chairman: So you would accept Mr Green's statement and his article in The Guardian of 31 December that all this demonstrates is that the DNA issue is in a bit of a shambles?

  Chief Constable Sims: No. I think it is being perfectly well managed but it would be better managed against the background of some agreed codification of the regulation.

  Q97  Tom Brake: Mr Sims, you said that if, say, the NPIA took on the responsibility for it this is something that we would need to think carefully about because this would mean centralised data.

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes.

  Q98  Tom Brake: Why would that be the case? Presumably, someone who wanted their DNA removed would contact the NPIA and say: "I want it removed", then the NPIA would contact the relevant force and say: "Tell us about the circumstances of this case" and then request that they delete it. So the NPIA would not have to have the data, would it?

  Chief Constable Sims: I think you are talking about a slightly different option there. I would support the ability of a central co-ordinating point to manage inquiries. The issue, I think, though, is whose decision is it to make the removal. The strength of the current system, for all the frailties that have been discussed, is that decision sits with the chief constable of the area who owns the data. I think in our response to the consultation on DNA we did suggest a level of national co-ordination of the way that requests come in and of the sort of servicing of the request. That will be absolutely right and proper, but I do think that is one step away from actually making the decision a centralised decision on the back of who owns the data.

  Q99  Gwyn Prosser: Mr Sims, you have talked about the Bill having some measures in it to codify these decisions.

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes.

  Q100  Gwyn Prosser: When we talked to Peter Neyroud we talked about the possibility of him or his agency taking over this responsibility centrally. I got the impression that he said there was no need for legislation; all it needed was for his 43 colleagues to delegate authority for him to make these decisions. If that is the case, and I believe it to be the case, are we talking about individual chief constables who are coveting—

  Chief Constable Sims: No, I do not think so, Mr Prosser, but I do think it is slightly more complicated than that because I think it brings into question the whole question of data ownership. That is probably a more complex question than we have got time for this morning but, at the moment, data is owned by the originating force rather than by one central body. I do take quite seriously actually the notion that we would want to think very carefully before we put all of the data ownership into the hands of a central body that itself is a tripartite organisation governed by the Home Office.

  Q101  Chairman: You are using the term "owned" as a legal term, are you?

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes, I am.

  Q102  Chairman: Rather than "held". It sounds very strange that somebody's DNA, who is innocent, is actually owned by you if they happen to live in the West Midlands. It is a legal term, is it?

  Chief Constable Sims: It is a legal term.

  Mr Pugh: It is a general governance issue which is covered in the Government's proposed legislation. I chair the DNA Strategy Board, as a member of ACPO, and I am a data controller in common, so in a sense I take decisions about the totality of the data but that decision-making is, in a sense, still kept within ACPO, within the chief police officer community. I think what Peter Neyroud is proposing is taking that decision somewhere else, if you like, and I think Chris is highlighting that would need careful consideration because it is changing the basis on which the police hold and own data under the Data Protection Act.

  Q103  Gwyn Prosser: Could I ask you, perhaps, to look at the evidence put before this Committee on 15 December by Mr Neyroud and then, if you think it appropriate, you might want to submit further written evidence to the Chairman.

  Mr Pugh: Yes.

  Q104  Mr Winnick: You said that you will be looking into the correspondence.

  Chief Constable Sims: Yes.

  Q105  Mr Winnick: I also said, when I was questioning you about the letter that I received from a constituent, I did not write to you for the reasons I stated, and I wrote to the Minister. However, since you are before us and you are the Chief Constable of the West Midlands, can you just clarify the position about letters from Members of Parliament? There have been occasions, certainly with your predecessors, when I did write (and I am sure this applies to other West Midlands MPs) and did not always get a reply from the Chief Constable himself (it was always himself). Is it your practice to make sure that you sign the letter which goes to Members of Parliament?

  Chief Constable Sims: Not necessarily. You might recall that I came down to the House just before Christmas and met with the group of West Midlands MPs and we raised this issue (I know you were there for part of the session, not for all of it). The majority of your colleagues would, I think, quite properly, want the ability to write to the chief constable, but recognise that very often these are local issues that are better dealt with directly through correspondence with the local chief superintendent.

  Q106  Mr Winnick: If I write to the chief constable it is because it is a more serious matter than writing to who I would normally write to.

  Chief Constable Sims: Quite rightly that escalates the debate very properly but, generally speaking, if it is about a local issue then the local chief superintendent—

  Q107  Mr Winnick: If it is not about a local issue, as such—

  Chief Constable Sims: Then it would be through me, certainly.

  Q108  Mr Winnick: And then you would sign the letter?

  Chief Constable Sims: I would sign the letter.

  Q109  Bob Russell: I do want to put a further question to Mr Sims, but before I do so I hope you did not misinterpret, Chairman, my observations about my pursuing cases with the Chief Constable of Essex as being anything other than successive chief constables gave prompt and very efficient answers to my requests. The problem is the Government have not yet responded positively to the December 2008 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, and that is where successive Chief Constables of Essex find themselves. What I am intrigued about, however, is I wonder if Mr Sims could repeat the figures he gave, Chairman, of the number of applications or requests he has had in the last 12 months and how many he granted. That struck me as being a very high figure compared with some—

  Chief Constable Sims: It is about just over 20%.

  Q110  Bob Russell: Well, 20% is more than zero, is it not?

  Chief Constable Sims: It is. I think the average across the country is 22%, so I think we are roughly on an average figure.

  Bob Russell: Chairman, if we have not got those force-by-force statistics, I wonder if we could have them, please?

  Q111  Chairman: Absolutely. I think these statistics come from the Freedom of Information requests from Mr Green.

  Chief Constable Sims: Indeed.

  Q112  Chairman: I think it would be helpful if the Committee had these statistics on a regular basis. Certainly that is a very high figure, and it certainly seems if you live in Birmingham it is better than living in Nottingham.

  Chief Constable Sims: At all sorts of levels that might be true! I think it is an average figure, Chairman, actually; it is about an average figure.

  Q113  Chairman: What is? Your 20%?

  Chief Constable Sims: 24%. 22% is the average.

  Q114  Chairman: Yours is 20%?

  Chief Constable Sims: Ours is actually, for accuracy, 24%.

  Q115  Chairman: What is the Met's figure?

  Chief Constable Sims: 23% per cent.

  Q116  Chairman: Mr Sims and Mr Pugh, thank you very much. Mr Sims, thank you for coming at such short notice. You have been very helpful. We might write to you again about a number of points but you have been extremely helpful, thank you.

  Chief Constable Sims: Thank you very much.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Pugh, for coming as well.

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