LONDON — Britain failed to notify other European countries about tens of thousands of foreigners convicted of crimes in Britain, and then covered up the error to avoid embarrassment, according to a report on Tuesday in The Guardian.
With Britain on the precipice of significant negotiations with the European Union over its post-Brexit security relationship with the bloc, the mistake threatened to weaken Europe’s trust in British law enforcement agencies heading into those talks.
Under Britain’s arrangements with the European Union, it is supposed to send other member states an alert when citizens of another European country are convicted of crimes in a British court.
But for five years, the Guardian reported, a British computer system failed to send the details of 75,000 such convictions to the offenders’ home countries, amounting to one in three of the required alerts.
The notification system is supposed to allow local European police agencies to monitor people convicted of serious crimes abroad and to prevent offenders from escaping their convictions by moving to another European Union country.
The Guardian quoted from the minutes of a meeting in May of the ACRO Criminal Records Office, a British police unit, indicating officials knew about the problem but did not want to send out alerts belatedly.
“There is a nervousness from Home Office around sending the historical notifications out dating back to 2012 due to the reputational impact this could have,” the minutes say, according to The Guardian, which published its article on Tuesday.
Opposition Labour lawmakers and European lawmakers called for an urgent investigation.
A Home Office spokeswoman said on Tuesday night that “work is already underway with the police to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.” The Home Office said it sent more than 30,000 notifications about convictions to European Union member states last year, and received more than 16,000 from other member states.
The ACRO Criminal Records Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The criminal records office told The Guardian that the problem was a technical one that stemmed in part from cases in which an offender had dual nationality. It said a software fix had been developed that would be released in the next update, though it said it did not know when that would be.
As part of negotiations over Britain’s exit from the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government will have to work out whether and how British and European law enforcement agencies will continue to share information.
Britain is scheduled to formally leave the bloc on Jan. 31, but its current trading and security arrangements with Brussels will not expire until the end of a transition period in December.