Future Tense

Scottish Police Accidentally Deleted 20,000 Records, Blame Programming Error

Shadows of stop-and-searches past.

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Scottland’s police stop-and-search policy has been controversial for years, and a parliamentary justice subcommittee has been trying to get to the bottom of some fishy statistics about recent stop-and-search rates for groups like children. But it turns out that there’s something really basic at work: The police department accidentally deleted 20,000 relevant records.

In a meeting with the subcommittee, Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson said that the stop-and-search records disappeared because a “computer programmer pressed a wrong button between May and July last year, and that lost the results data from those records.” Ah, the magic poof! button.


He went on to say, “They’d been properly put on the system by the officers as a result of stopping and searching people, but we lost the outcome of it as a computer programming error.” He also said that they are working to reconstruct the results from officer notes and other sources.

Alison McInnnes, a member of the justice subcommittee, said that the police response was “incoherent.” And Guardian data journalist and former programmer Marc Ellison points out that almost all databases have redundancies to avoid these exact types of situations. He also notes that it’s pretty standard practice in 2015 to create backups of important data. You don’t even have to be a former programmer to know that.