The Independent Police Complaints Commission has identified serious inconsistencies which are significantly impacting on the effectiveness of the Automatic Number Plate recognition systems nationally.
The finding comes following an investigation into how Cleveland Police, Durham Constabulary and North Yorkshire Police responded to intelligence from the ANPR system about the movements of Peter Chapman. Chapman, 33, murdered 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall on 25 October 2009.
Chapman had befriended Miss Hall over the Facebook social networking site, pretending to be 19-years-old. Miss Hall left her home in Darlington at 7.10pm on 25 October, telling her mother that she would be staying at her friend's house. She was murdered by Chapman that night.
The IPCC investigation determined that on 23 October 2009 Merseyside Police put information on the police national computer stating that Chapman was wanted for arson, breach of the sex offenders register and theft. The information was that he was driving a blue Ford Mondeo car. The report was given a medium priority.
Between 23-26 October 2009 static ANPR cameras in the Cleveland Police, Durham Constabulary and North Yorkshire Police areas picked up Chapman's car on a total of 16 occasions. The last occasion at 5.07pm on 26 October resulted in Chapman's arrest by Cleveland Police.
Chapman subsequently confessed to Miss Hall's murder and led the police to her body. He pleaded guilty to murder at Teesside Crown Court on 8 March 2010 and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Whenever a hit is generated by an ANPR camera an image is captured of the number plate and this is converted into an electronic file. This file is checked against a "hotlist” on local and national databases.
The details of the hits on Chapman's car are:
The investigation determined that the systems for monitoring ANPR hits differed greatly between the three police forces.
In the North Yorkshire Police area there were a total of 14,413 hits between 23-26 October. Two of these hits related to Chapman's car. However North Yorkshire Police knew nothing of the hits at the time because the force did not monitor its ANPR system 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The systems were only monitored in relation to specific operations.
In the Cleveland Police area there are around 2,650 hits per day. There were 12 hits on seven different cameras relating to Chapman's car. Cleveland Police does monitor its ANPR systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The system is either monitored by a dispatch operator for the dedicated ANPR intercept team or supervisors in the Force Control Room.
The two hits picked up by Cleveland Police cameras on 23 October were assessed by an Inspector in the Force Control Room. As a result of his assessment of the intelligence, the proximity of units and the demand on resources at that time, the officer decided not to dispatch officers.
The three hits on 24 October and the hits on 25 October at 10.26am, 11.31am and 11.59am did result in officers being dispatched or information circulated to units to watch out for Chapman's car. However none of the units saw Chapman's car.
The hit at 11.58pm on 25 October was not monitored. The hits at 1.38pm and 2.02pm resulted in officers being dispatched or information circulated to units within the Cleveland Police force area. Again Chapman's car was not found. The hit at 5.07pm resulted in Chapman's arrest.
In the Durham Constabulary area there are approximately 6,000 hits per day. Two hits were generated in relation to Chapman's car on 25 October.
Durham Constabulary monitors its ANPR system via its Control Room staff. Area dispatchers have the responsibility for the monitoring of ANPR activations within their geographical area. The hit at 7.48pm was not spotted because the relevant staff were not logged onto the system.
The investigation team learned subsequently that there had been reliability issues with the system in Durham, ranging from instances of staff not being able to log in to total loss of the system.
The hit at 8.25pm was of Chapman's car leaving the Durham Constabulary area. Due to the configuration of Durham's ANPR monitoring system vehicles leaving the force area were not flagged up on the dispatchers' systems.
The investigation concluded that the quality of the information put into the Police National Computer varies greatly, with the system sometimes being used for minor issues. This in turn led to the possibility of an overload of information on the ANPR monitoring systems which could lead to high and medium priority matters being missed.
It is equally important that there is effective management of the monitoring of the databases and systems.
IPCC Commissioner Nicholas Long said: "This investigation has highlighted serious flaws in the operation of the ANPR system. It is clear that it can be a very valuable asset, but it is dependent on the system being managed and monitored well and containing accurate information.
"I am aware work is ongoing by the Association of Chief Police Officers and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in relation to the effectiveness of the ANPR system, but added importance is placed on this from our findings. There needs to be a full review about how the ANPR system is operated, including the development of consistent policies for the monitoring of the system across all forces, the prioritisation of information and the accurate input of data.
"There are many ‘what ifs' thrown up from our investigation. It is impossible to say with certainty that better use of the ANPR system could have prevented Ashleigh Hall's murder. But it is clear there were opportunities missed here. It took 16 hits on the ANPR system before Chapman was finally arrested. Tragically in that time he was able to enact his terrible plan to murder Ashleigh.
"My sympathies go out to her family again for their loss. I cannot begin to comprehend how terrible this loss has been for them. What I hope they can see from this report is that the issue here is around systemic failures, and not individual misconduct. The ANPR system is championed as a wonderful tool for police forces. However it has undoubtedly become a victim of its own success in that the amount of information contained in the system and the hits generated has made it virtually impossible to monitor adequately given police resources. A full review is required to ensure the system is fit for purpose.”
Ian Christon, IPCC Regional Communications Officer (North Region)
Tel 0161 2468582
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