Police counter terror IT system was 'not fit for purpose'

A former counter terrorism officer has told the BBC that a key intelligence database used by police to investigate extremists was ‘not fit for purpose’ when introduced in 2014.

The officer says the National Common Intelligence Application (NCIA) had serious flaws, although Counter Terrorism Policing says ‘substantial improvements’ were made following a significant review after terror attacks in 2017, including at the Manchester Arena.

Former detective constable Tony Thorne, who was part of a pilot project in 2013, told the BBC the NCIA was known to be ‘clunky’, ‘clumsy’ and produced inconsistent results. According to Thorne, the pilot saw users sitting side-by-side at computer terminals while they conducted identical searches.

Thorne said they came up with different data and that the 2013 trial also found that the system allowed data to be destroyed as users could accidentally overwrite it - and that there was no way of monitoring if any information had been altered.

The NCIA system roll-out to police forces began in 2014. Delays meant the Metropolitan Police did not receive it until 2019, but it had been deployed to the north-west before the Manchester Arena bomb attack that killed 22 people on 22 May 2017.

Thorne believes that the system was rolled out too quickly and put to use before faults had been corrected.

A government spokesperson told the BBC: "It is a matter for the chair of the Manchester Arena Inquiry to decide whether the systems Counter Terrorism Policing used impacted their ability to prevent the attack."

The spokesperson added that the NCIA has ‘greatly enhanced’ counter terrorism work in the years since the bombing in 2017.


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