Council has a hand in fingerprint system

Lawyers at Hampshire County Council are celebrating their role in the establishment of a national automatic fingerprint recognition system for the police.

Principal solicitor Ted Mason and his team helped secure a deal with North American Morpho Systems to supply the system, which will be used by 33 of the 43 police authorities in England and Wales.

Mason's involvement in the deal dates back to 1990 when he was asked to assist Hampshire's chief constable and a consortium of three other police authorities to help set up a fingerprint recognition system, after they became frustrated by central government inaction over the issue.

From the start, other police authorities began joining the consortium and a primary role for Mason was the construction of the consortium's management agreement.

Initially IBM was hired to set up the system, but the deal ended acrimoniously in 1992 when the consortium terminated the arrangement over a contractual dispute

In 1995, the consortium won a court order to get its database back from IBM, and hired Morpho Systems to set up the system.

Mason instructed an IT team from Garrett & Co to handle the deal "for the sake of speed".

The fingerprint system is now fully operational with a central computer based in the US and 34 remote sites throughout the UK.

"Just on the housekeeping side it was quite a job," explained Mason.

"What is firing us up here is that we are playing a part in fighting crime."

Mason added: "I would say it is a rare opportunity for a local government lawyer to be involved in international jurisdiction."

Hampshire's legal department, which consists of 1solicitors and 12 legal executives, is continuing to pursue a breach of contract claim against IBM.