Handling of police files on dangerous criminals raises furor in Britain

Senior officials in the Home Office, responsible for public safety in Britain, were summoned for an urgent meeting Wednesday after police said files on hundreds of convicted criminals were not entered into computers as they should have been.

This means that background checks on any of the criminals who were convicted abroad, and who include rapists, murderers and pedophiles would not have set off any alarm bells if they were to have applied for jobs dealing with vulnerable people, such as school children.

Officials are now checking whether any of the 525 serious offenders included in the files have applied for such jobs.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said that the information, contained in more than 27,000 pages, was "left sitting in desk files."

John Reid, the Home Office secretary, may address Parliament on the issue later Wednesday. On Tuesday evening, he called it a "very serious problem."

Opposition politicians pounced on Reid, criticizing what they called the Home Office's "incompetence" and calling for an urgent review of the ministry's procedures.

"This blunder not only exposes this government's administrative incompetence, it puts the British public at greater risk from these offenders," Liberal Democrat spokesman Nick Clegg said. "Once again Home Office ineptitude has left the police and the public in the lurch.

"I dread to think what other scandals are lurking in the Home Office filing cabinets if 27,000 documents detailing such vital information can be simply left sitting on someone's desk."

David Davis, the Conservative party's home affairs critic, described the situation as "disgraceful" and on Tuesday called on Reid to answer questions about the issue in public, reports AP.

"Why is this only just emerging? Did John Reid have any plans to tell Parliament and the public about this?" Davis asked. "John Reid should come to Parliament and make a statement as soon as possible."

Reid took over at the Home Office in May, after a series of errors that led to the dismissal of former minister Charles Clarke. Foreign criminals were released from prisons without being considered for deportation, and there were claims that five illegal immigrants worked at the government's immigration department for several years without raising suspicion.

When he took over, Reid said that some parts of his department were "not fit for purpose."

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