Whose record is it anyway? Thousands of CRB errors revealed

police-3Today Big Brother Watch has unveiled the scale of errors in the criminal record check system.

Nearly 12,000 people over the past five years have wrongly been branded criminals or seen irrelevant or inaccurate information disclosed during criminal record checks.

  • 11,893 people successfully challenged CRB results in past five years
  • £1.98m paid out in redress
  • 4,196 people challenged information held by a local police force
  • 3,519 people given the wrong person’s criminal record
  • 4,088 found inaccurate information or potential wrong identity on police national computer

We’ll be writing to the Information Commissioner to highlight the scale of this issue and the clear issues that this research identifies.

It’s essential people should not have to rely on a CRB check to find out about inaccurate, misleading or wrong information being stored about them, particularly when that information is available to other public organisations and police officers.

The most common errors were where information was disclosed by local police forces or the police national computer. In 3,519 cases the wrong person’s entry on the police national computer was disclosed.

Of course there is also the risk that convicted criminals escape detection when their records are allocated to the wrong person.

The CRB system is rightly being reformed by the Coalition but more needs to be done. Every error has the potential to ruin someone’s reputation and career. The fact that thousands of cases have involved information held by local police forces, often never tested in court, shows how dangerous it is to create a culture of safety by database.

While the new process of allowing candidates to see their CRB check is a step forward, but the fact that so many errors are occurring in police forces must beg the question whether something more fundamental needs to change.

“The police hold a vast amount of information, from photographs to written notes, and the way forward must be to bring this murky system out into the open and ensure that only information that is absolutely necessary is held.


  1. Concerned Citizen
    28th December 2012

    I would like to see my own record before I apply for a job. Is that possible?

    • Guest
      30th December 2012

      Doesn’t the freedom of information act allow that?

      • Alastair McGowan
        24th February 2013

        Right to see police records kept on us //www.ico.gov.uk/for_the_public/topic_specific_guides/crime.aspx

  2. Paul Smith
    29th December 2012

    The whole CRB system should be scrapped. I currently have 3 live (my work, my voluntary work and Mrs childminds from home so all have to have CRB). It is too slow and only finds current info so is invalid next day.
    System would be better if licenced to work.

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    29th December 2012

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  4. anon
    4th January 2013

    Too many people wrongly believe that a CRB disclosure is some sort of guarantee of a person’s safety or suitability to work with children or vulnerable adults. It is not a guarantee of anything and this is not made sufficiently clear. It is only intended to be one part of a robust recruitment process but too many use it as something else altogether. Wrong information via CRB is devastating for the people involved and once again shows the damage that relying on databases can have. The whole concept of CRB is flawed and how it used is flawed.

  5. Alastair McGowan
    24th February 2013

    The idea that disclosure to an employer/university and their adjudication is predictive of probability of the person causing harm is laughable.

    The police may (but most likely do not) have the skills and statistical base to use criminal records as a prediction of future behaviour, and this was not what criminal records were originally made for, they wererecorded for courts and juries to use in further conviction and rehabilitation. To the extent that they represent prediction this should be quantified, and it can be quantified.

    However at present, the criminal record is only valid as far as we know in general relationships as an incremental assessment of past behaviour, not prediction of future behaviour. Its use for prediction of future behaviour has never been tested and the evidence never published for all crime types and their prediction of harm against – in this case – vulnerable people.

    Even if a police officer has access to such data to aid investigative decisions an employer does not have access to any. There may or may not be any predictive relationship between stealing a bicycle at age 11 and whatever the university believe would be a risk to people when studying sport science.

    If any assessment is made it should be by an agency basing its decisions of risk, on quantitative evidence, and if appealed against should be challengable against publicly available evidence in a court

    Let me expand with an example: if a person has an offence of rape against a child on their record and there is a 1:10 statistical chance they will repeat that offence then you would justifiably never them near children, ever.

    However, if the chance of them going on to rape an adult is let’s say (for the sake of the argument) 1:10,000 and the same as the average population, (or again for the sake of argument, maybe LESS than the general population, and without any evidence I hazard this is possible?) then you would not have grounds to prevent them working with vulnerable adults, or in further education, and so on. If the risk were less than the general population then you would be obliged to favour them for the job – and why not, they would be a better candidate since the risk of harm would be less!

    The problem is that employers/universities are being asked to make these decisions on a binary selective basis. That is, without all the data such as probabilities of offending predicted by earlier offending, and then cross-tabulated based on type of offending. The data is just not being collected, or is at best a set of assumptions traded implicitly among police officers. Worse still employers are being asked to make such judgements based on records of ‘police caution’ and possibly even hearsay ‘evidence’. What could work well as an evidence-based assessment is really a catch-all safety net which allows that if there is so much as a whiff that someone may have broken a law then they are not to be trusted. This is, as the Court of Appeal has ajudged, a breach of human rights.
    It is a form of deep discrimination that sweeps up millions in order to stop thousands from being put at risk. A more evidence based approach using statistics would at least narrow this safety net considerably down to risk based on evidence and permit better prediction of harm (and safety).

    I speak as someone who was convicted at age 17 of a traffic offence (and 2 decades before I could Google for some information and avoid it) of ‘using a tax disc fraudulently’ because I niaively assumed that when I put a different frame on my motorbike and there was no option on the registration form to change the chassis number, that I did not have to do anything with the DVLA. I had this brought up at job interviews several times because they were concerned about the word ‘fraud’. Just the word fraud, combined with my stumbling and shamed attempts to explain that the 17 year old me ‘really was that stupid to make rapid assumptions in my haste to get back on the road’ and convinced them that I may well be a fraudster in the making, if not then just more stupid than my CV told. It would probably have been enough to damage my job prospects, if as there had been as there is these days, intense competition for jobs. But I am just speculating 😉

    It concerns me that employers make fast assumptions and any whiff of wrongdoing leads to mass discrimination. Especially (from my own perspective) against people who like me often come into contact with the law because we are either a bit dim and too quick, over-assertive of our rights, or not easily able to speak up for themselves and accept cautions as an easy way out, or attend demonstrations, or get into arguments with bosses or others, and generally try to assert ourselves against authority and power.

    People being overlooked in job selection because false assumptions are being made about their positive and negative attributes – this is a topic in Personnel Selection and Appraisal research which shows consistently that employers make consistently bad decisions based on false assumptions and discard the evidence in favour of biases.

    I suggest that assessments of risk should be carried out by an agency that transparently bases its conclusions and recommendations to an employer on statistical data that has predictive validity. With that we have a minimisation of discrimination AND an empirical tool with which to protect people from harm. At present we have a system that is not being monitored for efficacy (and no idea how well if indeed it does diminish harm – do people go underground choosing unregulated areas of work and cause more harm?), it discriminates against people, and breaches human rights of employees and potentially of people at risk too. If employers can make wild assumptions then that last statement should be taken with equal validity?

  6. seaside
    4th March 2013

    I have just had mind for a new job within a school, it had it down as Burglary and inflicted grievous bodily harm ! l am disputing this but they say it could take over a month AH l may be suspended or lose my job

  7. seaside
    6th April 2013

    Back again, l was suspended without pay till the situation had been sorted. well 5 weeks latter and l get a letter from CRB saying my dispute was upheld and my new CRB form will be with me soon and to destroy the old one! Now l am safe to work with children ! I will be applying to the redress department for loss of wages and such huge emotional stress people believing that l am capable of grievous bodily harm. A very scary process to go through the computer says you are guilty and then it says you are not. Glad the death sentence isn’t around. This should so not be able to happen. I have to walk back into that school with my head held high, however mud sticks only 5 weeks ago they thought l was a Burglar who inflicted grievous bodily harm and now l am an innocent member of the public.

  8. Dataveillance | co204an
    22nd April 2013

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  9. anon
    14th December 2013

    I just found out I have a crimal record dating back to 2000 and I it says i was born aboard and I dont think Hertfordshire has voted to be its own state as yet plus the normal things on a record like firarms drugs and fraud I am so sickened by this after I clear my name I moving out of this circus were least you can protect your self from robbers in your own home I thought my life was abit boring day to day work paying taxs and working since I was 17 and respecting the law now I am a gangster but with no gold teeth what a joke

  10. anon1
    5th September 2014

    My record came back with convictions for crimes I did not commit and was not charged for but was only accused of during an unlawful stop an search.

    DBS/CRB and the police took 72 weeks to process complaint/correct and for the police to respond (32 weeks of this was for the police to check my history). I am an addition 1 year into a complaint with local police, who refused this as a valid complaint initially and only after passing to the IPCC did they accept it as a complaint, 3-4 months later it still has not hit the desk of an officer. They even tried to palm me off to a member of staff who was never in the office from the “legal team” to deal with the complaint (that is if the staff member even exists).

    At least know I know why I was pulled over repeatedly and had vehicles turned over repeatedly while on my way to or from work, or a shopping trip and at least this explains the unwarranted strip searches over the the years being told no more than “I am a known criminal”.

    I am not even entitle to redress for this period of unemployment, lost job, refused start dates due to CRB etc… as it was the polices error and not CRB/DBS. So this was an instance when DBS was not at fault. Now I have to deal with these fools hours of the day.

  11. martin lacey
    13th November 2015

    My crb has a pack of lies on it , when i went to a lawyer to amend it he told me; ” it’s beyond his scope ” ?
    It’s cost me to loose job’s and will continue to do so, i’ve never commited any real crime in my llife, yet have been denied a taxi license over the remarks section which is complete nonsense.