A staggering 150,000 arrest records have been accidentally wiped from police databases in a Home Office tech blunder.
Fingerprint, DNA and arrest history records were deleted in the Police National Computer (PNC) error last week, the Times revealed.
The newspaper suggested this could allow offenders to go free – because evidence from crime scenes will not be flagged.
The error reportedly occurred by accident during a weekly “weeding” session to expunge data.
The Home Office confirmed the story, saying it was still “assessing the impact” of the glitch.
Officials insisted no records of criminals or dangerous people had been deleted, because that the wiped records were those of people against whom no further action was taken.
But the deletions could affect police’s ability to reopen investigations, if more evidence comes to light in certain cases.
Labour demanded an urgent statement from Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The Home Secretary must take responsibility for this serious problem.
“She must – urgently – make a statement about what has gone wrong, the extent of the issue, and what action is being taken to reassure the public. Answers must be given.
“This is an extraordinarily serious security breach that presents huge dangers for public safety.
“The incompetence of this shambolic Government cannot be allowed to put people at risk, let criminals go free and deny victims justice.”
The Times said “crucial intelligence about suspects” had vanished because of the blunder, and that Britain’s visa system was thrown into disarray, with the processing of applications having been suspended for two days.
The Home Office statement said: “The technical issue with the Police National Computer has been resolved, and we are working at pace with law enforcement partners to assess its impact.
“The issue related to people arrested and released where no further action had been taken and no records of criminal or dangerous persons have been deleted. No further records can be deleted.”
A Home Office official insisted there had been no risks around visa processing, which was operating as usual.