Why police won’t know a bike is stolen after six years

Published: 16 April 2012

Police only keep records of stolen vehicles for six years meaning bikes missing for longer are unlikely to be detected.

An MCN investigation has discovered that stolen vehicles’ details are automatically deleted from the Police National Computer on the sixth anniversary of the crime report.

Because officers rely on the PNC when running vehicle checks, bikes stolen before 2006 are less likely to be identified as such. As a result relatively high-value stolen machines could go undetected. 

The details are deleted under guidelines set out by the National Policing Improvement Agency in a restricted document called the ‘PNC Manual’.

An NPIA spokesman refused to provide the manual “until it has gone through the proper process to ensure that any confidential or restricted information has been removed”.

However, the relevant section states: 'The entry will remain on the application for six years from the date of the original input, unless the vehicle is recovered.  After this time the report is deleted.

'Forces are notified of impending deletion one month in advance.  If a force wishes the entry to remain on the system beyond this period, a fresh entry of the original details is required.'

The practice came to light as a result of a Freedom of Information request to every police force in the country. All but one of 18 forces to so far respond said details were deleted after six years.

The Met, Gwent and South Yorkshire said the record might be renewed but did not specify in what circumstances.

Durham refused to answer, claiming it could 'hinder the prevention or detection of crime' and ‘more crime could be committed'. 

Devon and Cornwall also refused, arguing: 'To disclose the number of years a vehicle status remains as stolen on PNC would be harmful as the information could be used to abuse the system. A person could steal a car and keep it hidden for the number of years disclosed and after that time they would be able to drive the vehicle around with a massively reduced risk of the vehicle being detected as stolen.'

A Freedom of Information Officer at another force admitted he was worried about releasing the answer because: “If you stole a vehicle and kept it in your garage for six years, you’d know then that you could start using it because it wouldn’t be marked on the PNC.”

He added: “It would be more difficult to detect in as much as it wouldn’t be on the PNC. The PNC is the bible for stolen vehicles and all other sorts of information. It’s the first port of call.”

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