Tales of the Unexpected: the Communications Data Bill

We await with interest the report from the joint committee on the draft Communications Data Bill, and trust the committee has properly considered the substantial evidence submitted. The debate is hotting up, with Theresa May pitching hard in the Sun.

We are very interested to see if the Committee took a look at the submission by Caspar Bowden on page 102 of the written evidence highlighting the testimony given by Peter Davies (Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre), in support of the draft Bill. Mr Davies gave an example of a murder case in Lincolnshire in which increased data retention could have helped.

A check on the internet for the details of the case show a rather different picture. Rather than featuring a communication data problem, the case was one in which the police failed to properly investigate the murder. Worse, it later emerged that a corrupt police officer had been feeding police intelligence about the victims — to the murderer.

Not perhaps the best example to give as the Home Office ask us to trust the police with huge amounts of new intelligence gathering.

… there is a much grave concern about the good faith of the police evidence to the Committee on 12th July, when it was stated: 

(Q142) Peter Davies: For some time it has been possible, roughly or more precisely, to locate a mobile telephone through the use of communications data. A team I have led has used that as almost the sole means of detecting a serious double murder in one of my previous forces ….(Q146) …related to a retired couple shot dead in their home on the coast of Lincolnshire in August 2004 by, as it turned out, the pre-eminent organised crime group then operating in Nottinghamshire. Bluntly, without communications data relating to contacts between mobile phones it would not have been possible to detect that crime and lock up the people responsible. ..(Q147)…Bluntly, there were other people involved in the conspiracy whom it might have been possible to prosecute and convict, but who it but who it was not possible to prosecute and convict because there was a data loss in that investigation

Tracing this case using the details provided leads to news reports suggesting this account is materially misleading :

Police failed to protect innocent couple executed in gangland revenge attack, damning watchdog report reveals

The IPCC upheld five of seven complaints made by the Stirlands’ family. They found:

• After the shooting incident at their Nottingham home, Mr and Mrs Stirland were given neither protection nor help by Nottingham police.

• That incident was “not properly investigated, despite rumours circulating about who was responsible”.

• Nottinghamshire Police’s failure to share intelligence with Lincolnshire Police about the threat to the Stirlands was “unacceptable”.

• The response to Mrs Stirland’s call about the prowler was “delayed and unsatisfactory”.

Moreover it emerged two years later at the inquest that

Stirland revenge hit men ‘known before killings’: Police had identified Nottingham crime boss Colin Gunn’s team of six hit men weeks before two killed a couple in a revenge attack, an inquest jury heard….The former officer, who remained anonymous, said the two men who killed the Stirlands had been named as part of Gunn’s team of hit men.

Although this case was offered in evidence as an illustration of the necessity of blanket data retention, in actuality it precisely illustrates how diligent and proactive use of targeted data preservation could both prevent and detect crime. Had communications data preservation commenced promptly about suspects identified weeks before the crime, prima facie police might well have been able to prevent the crime as well as catch the perpetrators. Furthermore, it emerged, contrary to the conclusions of the IPCC investigation that:

Corrupt officer fed data to Colin Gunn on Stirlands: A corrupt detective searched Nottinghamshire Police computers for intelligence about a couple killed in a gangland execution, an inquest heard.

It seems ironic that the police cite a fatal case of police corruption and its subsequently botched investigation, as justification for blanket retention of data about the entire population. It would be more logical to propose blanket retention of data on the entire police force. This is probably not the conclusion drawn by the Committee from the evidence heard.