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
Q40 Chairman: Solely or largely from
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
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 crimesthe
vast majorityare solved largely or solely because of samples
taken from suspects and witnesses during the course of an investigation,
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
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
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
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
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
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 chargedand I emphasise not
chargedwho 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
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 argumentat least one would
have thought soabout 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%
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 25or, to be more precise, of Afro-Caribbean descentare
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 analysisthings
like looking at medical conditions and ancestrywhich 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,
Chief Constable Sims: As far as
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
David Davies: Ten years out of
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
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
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
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 likeand
I hope that the current Bill before Parliament will providesome
codification of the way that power is used. We would fully support
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
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
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
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
Q93 Chairman: Tell us about your
area in the West Midlands. How many letters have you received
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Chief Constable Sims: 23% per
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,
Chief Constable Sims: Thank you
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Pugh, for coming