Police National Computer

If you are arrested, your details will be entered on three linked databases: the Police National Computer (PNC) records your arrest and other personal details. It contains an Arrest Summons Number (ASN) which links your PNC record to your record on the National DNA Database (which includes your DNA profile) and to the fingerprint database (known as IDENT1).

Since 2006, for the first time in British history, all police records of arrest have been kept indefinitely on the PNC unless an individual can demonstrate an 'exceptional case' for removal of their records. Anyone who is arrested for any recordable offence has a record created on the Police National Computer (PNC). Current policy is to retain all these records to age 100.

Removal of PNC records

Under the Protection of Freedoms Act, most innocent people's DNA profiles and fingerprints will be automatically removed and all DNA samples taken from individuals will be destroyed. However, most innocent people will still have a record of arrest on the Police National Computer (PNC).

Individuals can check if they have a PNC record (and what it contains) by making a Subject Access request to the police (this now costs 10 pounds).

People who have not been cautioned or convicted for any recordable offence can apply for their PNC record to be removed by writing to the police force which arrested them and asking for it to be removed under the Exceptional Case procedure. This is an example of the procedure from North Yorkshire Police. The police say exceptional cases will be rare and will be considered where any of the following circumstances apply:

  1. no offence exists (e.g. false allegation / self defence)
  2. unlawful or wrongful arrest
  3. unlawful or inappropriate Caution, Reprimand or Final Warning
  4. unlawfully processed
  5. inappropriately advised re sample retention

You can also write to your MP to ask him or her to support your request for removal of your PNC record and to ask the Government when it will implement its promise to remove innocent people's records from the PNC.

Policy and law

It is questionable whether the retention of all arrested persons' PNC records indefinitely is lawful. The Supreme Court found that in the case of PNC records no separate issues arose from those raised by the retention of innocent people's DNA and fingerprints.

In November 2011, Government minister Lord Henley told the House of Lords that "if the biometric data [DNA and fingerprints] is to be deleted or destroyed, then so must be the arrest record on the PNC". This suggested that innocent people's PNC records will be deleted at the same time as their records on the DNA and fingerprint databases under the Protection of Freedoms Act. However, no action has been taken to implement this promise, although the circumstances in which "non-conviction information" can be passed to an employer have been considerably restricted.

In November 2012, the European Court of Human rights issued a judgment about the indefinite retention of Police National Computer (PNC) records from a person with a caution.The Court decided the UK Government has breached the European Convention on Human Rights because there are currently no specific rules on when PNC records should be deleted and how they can be used. However, the Government has said it will appeal against this ruling.

A new computer database called the Police National Database (PND) has also been set up to make it easier for police forces to share intelligence information. It is estimated that the PND will contain information about a quarter of the UK population, including 6 million innocent people.

Following legal challenge, changes were made in November 2020 to what information can be revealed during criminal record checks. Read about these on the website of the campaign group Unlock.

Why should you be concerned about your police record?

Police records can be used to refuse someone a visa or a job simply because they have a record of arrest and can lead to stigma and discrimination when accessed by officers on the beat.

Information about arrests can be released as part of a criminal record check, even if there has been no charge, caution or conviction, although the use of "non-conviction" information has been restricted by the Protection of Freedoms Act.

The US embassy now states that anyone who has been arrested must apply for a full visa, rather than using the visa waiver scheme. Visa applicants must then pay the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Criminal Records Office (ACRO) to release their record to the US embassy as part of the expensive and time consuming application process. This has major implications for a large proportion of the population who may no longer be able to travel freely simply because they have been arrested.

Business travellers could lose business, or even their job or a promotion, because applying for a visa can take several months and a visa can be refused simply because someone has a record of arrest.

People who were arrested as children under the previous government will be the most affected because of the large numbers of arrests for alleged minor offences (such as pulling hair and throwing snowballs) due to police targets.

ACRO charge substantial fees for releasing records of arrest to people applying for visas and criminal record checks and might be regarded as having a financial conflict-of-interest in supporting this system.

What is in the PNC record?

A person's PNC record contains their name, date of birth, sex and ethnic appearance and an arrest summons number, which is also stored in their record on the National DNA Database. Other information is also stored in the PNC record, including: whether or not a DNA sample has been taken; the arresting officer; and any convictions or arrests.

Why are people's PNC and PND records retained to age 100?

In the past, PNC records used to be deleted after 42 days if a person was not convicted. People with cautions had their records deleted after 5 years, and those with single convictions for minor offences after ten. People with multiple convictions or convictions for serious offences could have their records kept for life. There were some exceptions e.g. records from people arrested but not convicted of sexual offences could be kept for five years with the authorisation of a superintendent. (See the old ACPO weeding rules).

By 2006, these guidelines had been abandoned in favour of retention of all PNC records, from everyone arrested for any recordable offence, to age 100. The change was made as a matter of Association of Chief Police Officer (ACPO) policy and never debated by parliament. The justification provided at the time was that the police needed to retain PNC records to see whether or not they had already taken a DNA sample from an arrested individual, and to help them track an individual down in the event of a DNA match. This justification no longer applies because new legislation requires a person's record on the DNA database to be deleted.

The PNC was set up in 1995, and some records of cautions may have been removed between 2000 and 2005, but no records of convictions were removed before the policy was changed.

This affects both innocent people and people convicted of a minor offence, including children.

Both the PNC and the National DNA Database (NDNAD) were set up in 1995, but the PNC contains records from a lot more people because DNA was not taken routinely on arrest until April 2004. The new PND will contain all the information on the PNC plus other information, some of which may come from older databases.

What does this have to do with the Soham murders?

Ian Huntley had been arrested multiple times for other offences before he committed the Soham murders. The Police National Database (PND) has been created to share police information between different forces in response to the findings of the Bichard Inquiry which followed the murders. However, Bichard did not recommend keeping all records of arrest until age 100: this risks swamping the system with irrelevant information as well as eroding the rights of millions of innocent people. More detail about the Huntley case and why PNC and PND records should be deleted at the same time as DNA and fingerprint records is in GeneWatch's submission to the Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee (paragraphs 23 to 29).


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