In the Media

Missing criminals will be named…but only if they've been lost for three months

PUBLISHED March 12, 2012

The scheme only plans to publish the details of the missing prisoners for two weeks before removing them from the website and initially will not even include pictures of the criminals who are at large.

The policing minister Nick Herbert will write today to the Chief Constables of all police forces to announce the scheme. Previously it has been feared that publishing the details of wanted criminals could breach their human rights or data protection laws.

Mr Herbert's letter, seen by the Daily Telegraph, says: "Currently we do not disclose the individual identity of offenders who are unlawfully at large…Ministers have taken the decision that in future there will be a presumption that the identity of prisoners unlawfully at large should be publicly disclosed unless there are sound operational reasons for not doing so."

The proposal will focus primarily on those who have been convicted of serious criminal offences and who have been given a prison sentence.

It will target offenders who have been released on licence mid-way through their sentence, but have gone missing after being recalled to prison for committing further offences.

Prisoners who have been released by mistake, who have failed to return from day release and those who have escaped from prison will also have their details published.

But, the letter adds that the publication scheme "will be further restricted to those prisoners…who have been unlawfully at large and not apprehended for three months or more."

The delay has been criticised by the probation service union who pointed out that prisoners missing for such lengthy periods are likely to have gone to ground.

Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), said: "Hundreds of men who are high-risk are being released at the half-way point of their sentence.

"Many of them are absconding within hours or days of their release. It is imperative they are found straight away. Not after three months."

The publication scheme will begin in May this year and will then see the details of wanted criminals published quarterly on the Ministry of Justice website on the last Thursday of July, October, January and April.

But the letter adds: "All details will be removed from the website after a fortnight as it is recognised that unlawfully at large offenders are being apprehended all the time. Therefore this will reduce the risk of the list containing out of date information."

The information published is intended to aid in the return to custody of wanted criminals by alerting members of the public to people sought by the police.

But the information to be included in the initial publication in May will not include a photograph because "we do not know in how many cases photographs will be available or whether they will be of suitable quality and reasonably up to date."

It will be limited to the criminal's name, date of birth, offence and the reason for publication.

Criminals whose victims involve children will not have their information published.

Mr Herbert's letter says that other reasons for not publishing details will include situations where "disclosure could compromise and active police operation" or "put others at risk".

It adds that details will not be published if "there is a risk of vigilante action against the offender or their family".