In April 2015 the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) informed the Home Office that information in a number of files they held on behalf of the relevant Northern Ireland departments had been destroyed between 2010 and 2013. The bulk of this action was undertaken as part of routine data management procedures by the service’s predecessor organisation, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), to ensure compliance with data protection legislation. The disposal of the information was, however, in contravention of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the ISA and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Northern Ireland and the Department of Education, Northern Ireland. The MoU was developed in preparation for the ISA taking over responsibility for barring services for Northern Ireland from March 2009, and specified that the files were on loan to the ISA and that information was not to be destroyed.
While it is extremely regrettable that these files have been destroyed I can, however, assure the House that the disposal of this information does not present a safeguarding risk to the public. Nevertheless in the interests of transparency I wanted to inform the House of this matter.
The DBS has conducted a comprehensive internal review to establish the number of files affected. In addition, the Home Office’s Permanent Secretary instructed the DBS board to commission an independent review to establish how many files had been destroyed, and their content where known. Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) were commissioned to undertake this work and a copy of their report on the first phase of the review, including the DBS’s management response, will be placed in the Library of the House today and published on www.gov.uk.
PwC’s report confirms that in total 826 case files were loaned. Four hundred and four files related to individuals who had been previously barred; and 422 files related to individuals where the decision had been not to bar. It concludes that 64 files were destroyed: 62 by the ISA; and a further two files by the DBS. It also confirmed that some information in a further 18 files had been destroyed and a further two files remained unaccounted for. In all cases where the file had been destroyed, the authorities in Northern Ireland had made a barring decision before the files were loaned. In 62 cases the individual had not been barred, and in two cases the individual had been barred. The ISA reviewed these two barred cases and decided that the two individuals should not be transferred onto the new barred lists in line with revised legislation. All cases are reviewed by the DBS if new information comes to light. In the additional 18 files where some information had been destroyed, the DBS confirmed that the information destroyed was not material to the case.
The DBS is taking further steps to identify whether they can locate the remaining two files that are unaccounted for. In both these cases the authorities in Northern Ireland had made a barring decision prior to the loan of the files and neither person was barred. In one case where the original file was unaccounted for, further information came to light and, following normal procedures, the ISA made a determination and the individual was then barred.
In her statement of 12 March 2015 the Home Secretary made it clear that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, chaired by Justice Goddard, would have the full co-operation of Government and access to all relevant information. The Home Office has informed the inquiry secretariat about this matter and the relevant Northern Ireland departments have informed the Hart Inquiry.
On announcing the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, the Home Secretary requested a moratorium on the destruction of material. Following this announcement the DBS revised its data retention policy to stipulate that information in any barring cases that identify sexual abuse should not be destroyed. Any further changes to this guidance will be approved by the Home Office. On 23 June the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse issued further guidance on the detail of what may or may not be destroyed across government and by other agencies. The DBS has assured the Home Office that the DBS will fully comply with the inquiry guidance.
The second phase of PwC’s review will look at wider file management processes and provide a view on the relevant application of, and compliance with, data retention polices. I will make a further statement to the House when PwC’s review is completed.
I also wish to announce that the 2014-15 annual report and accounts for the Disclosure and Barring Service (HC 309) is being laid before the House today and published on www.gov.uk. Copies will be available in the Vote Office.