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COMPUTER GAFFE LETS GUN THUGS WALK FREE; EXCLUSIVE Key databases can't link up Home Office won't pay for fix.

Byline: By NIGEL NELSON, Political Editor

TWO computer databases used in the fight against gun crime can't link up because of Home Office penny pinching.

All illegal and stolen guns seized at crime scenes can be tracked via the new pounds 5.5million National Ballistics Intelligence Programme.

Cops should then be able to trace the weapon to its owner using the National Firearms Register which records anyone who has ever applied for a gun certificate.

It would mean murders and robberies are solved quickly and easily. But the databases won't work together - and the Home Office refuses to stump up pounds 250,000 so boffins can fix the problem.

Ann Pearston, of the Snowdrop Campaign to ban guns, said: "This would make police more efficient in solving gun crime and the public would be much safer."

Shadow Home Office minister James Brokenshire added: "It's remarkable that the databases aren't linked.

"One of the main purposes of the new IT systems was to enable better intelligence sharing."

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith launched the National Ballistics Intelligence Service in April with the aim of extending it nationwide by the end of the year.

Its database (NABID) can track a gun or bullet from the moment it is recovered to the moment it is destroyed after any investigation.

It is supposed to work alongside the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS) which was set up after the 1996 Dunblane Massacre in which 16 schoolchildren and a teacher were murdered.

NFLMS was designed to replace individual gun records held by 43 police forces.

It should have been completed by 2004 but by the time it became operational it was three years late.

Ms Smith has set a target of 2011 for gun crime to begin to fall.

But the refusal to connect the two computer systems threatens to let gunmen walk free.

Police minister Tony McNulty defended the decision not to invest. He claimed that data sharing between the computers was not necessary, adding: "The risk of legally-held firearms being used in crime is so low the cost of building an interface outweighs the benefits."

A Home Office source admitted: "There would need to be considerable software development and testing costs to put the link in place."

N.A.B.I.D

THE National Ballistics Intelligence Database was set up this year and aims to track all guns and bullets used at crime scenes so they can beused in police investigations.

N.F.L.M.S

THE National Firearms Licensing Management System was launched after the 1996 Dunblane Massacre. It keeps a record of anyone who's applied for a gun licence, successfully or otherwise.

nigel.nelson@ people.co.uk

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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 8, 2008
Words:450
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