TENS of thousands of people who have never even been linked with an offence are on a secret North Yorkshire Police database, The Press can reveal.

Details of more than 180,000 people are on the force’s information management system, despite only a fraction being even suspected of any crime.

Privacy campaigners have condemned the force, after an investigation by The Press found information on innocent informants was stored along with that of suspects and vulnerable complainants.

The database contains information on 38,259 suspects and 181,917 people who have simply reported information.

Police staff have been told to routinely ask callers for their date of birth and ethnicity, so they can be added to the “niche” database. A force spokesman defended its use of the database, saying it was in line with national guidance and saying that people could opt not to give the information asked for.

But Gus Hosein, policy director of Privacy International, said such harvesting of information “absolutely does not happen” in other countries and said it could damage the force’s reputation.

He said: “I cannot understand what kind of relationship they are trying to establish with the public, where now a member of the public has to worry about approaching the police for fear of being put on a database with suspects.

“This is unheard of in the western world. I do not know who the hell thought this was a good idea.”

Phil Booth, national coordinator of the campaign group No2ID, said he was “utterly outraged” and called on the force to state its legal basis for collecting and storing such data.

The Press asked North Yorkshire Police on July 28 to state the legislation under which it runs the database, but although it acknowledged the question the force has yet to answer it.

North Yorkshire Police began using the niche records management system in 2005, since when it has been used to record information on people and incidents.

An investigation by The Press has found the database also has 107,566 people recorded as aggrieved or “vulnerable aggrieved” people.

Police said the figures may include some duplication, but Mr Hosein said that showed the system was “an absolute mess”.

He said: “Want to report a crime? Beware, the police may add you to an intelligence file. Want to ask a question? Beware, the police may file it. If it talks, record it; if it breathes, record it; if it questions us, deny it. I never thought this would happen here.”

Mr Booth said: “This is a database that intermingles criminal suspects with victims with random members of the public. There is potential for some sort of mix-up, even aside from the fact they should not be doing it in the first place.”

He said he also said he feared the data could be made available to police nationwide, as forces began uploading more and more information to the national police computer systems.

The information came to light following a Freedom of Information Act request by The Press. The force initially refused to provide the information requested, but provided some of it after an appeal by the newspaper.

Force: ‘Better records keeping’

A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police said: “In line with the national Management of Police Information, known as MoPI, guidance, issued to all police forces, call takers in the control rooms ask for a caller’s details is to ensure that the information stored is accurate, adequate, relevant and retained for the correct amount of time.

“Members of the public who contact us are not compelled to give any personal details.

“However, the more information that someone is prepared to share with us the better our records keeping will be.

“This, in turn, allows us ensure that when someone contacts us more than once we do not create unnecessary records or attribute the information to the wrong person.”