A NORTH-EAST police force yesterday won a crucial appeal against a ruling that old minor convictions must be deleted from computers.

Northumbria Police and four other UK forces said if the Court of Appeal ruling had gone against them, they could have been forced to delete the details of up to one million people.

But three judges ruled keeping the records could help the fight against crime.

Lord Justice Waller, sitting with Lords Justices Carwath and Hughes, said: “If the police say rationally and reasonably that convictions, how old or how minor, have a value in the work that they do, that should – in effect – be the end of the matter.”

The judges allowed an appeal against the Information Commissioner, endorsed by an information tribunal, by the chief constables of Northumbria, Humberside, Staffordshire, West Midlands and Greater Manchester police forces.

The five convicted people who had contested the case were refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

They lodged complaints after their records showed up when they applied for jobs.

One case, kept on Humberside Police files, concerned the theft of a 99p packet of meat in 1984 when the person involved, who was under 18 at the time, was fined £15.

Another – held by Northumbria Police – related to a man’s two convictions for obtaining property by deception in 1981, when he was 21.

Association of Chief Police Officers information director Ian Readhead, speaking on behalf of all five forces, welcomed the Court of Appeal decision.

He said: “This decision provides valuable clarification on the retention of criminal conviction data on the police national computer.

“While this particular case involved five individuals, the ramifications of losing the appeal were potentially huge.

“This data assists police officers in their work in preventing crime and protecting the public and the loss of such valuable information would have been detrimental to that.”

Alex Deane, director of privacy pressure group Big Brother Watch, branded the judgement “crazy”, while Anna Fairclough, a lawyer for the civil rights group Liberty, said it “forgets the privacy rights of millions”.