The UK government has begun procurement for a police national database in a contract worth up to £600m - and admitted that the £25.2m cross-regional information sharing project (Crisp) has been axed.
Crisp was seen as a crucial stepping stone to the national police IT system recommended in June 2004 by the Bichard inquiry into the deaths of schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells the June 2004.
In March, it emerged that ministers were reviewing the programme - due to be implemented this summer - although the Home Office would not confirm whether or not procurement for Crisp had been halted.
Now, nearly three years after the Bichard recommendations, security, counter-terrorism and police minister Tony McNulty has admitted that Crisp is to be scrapped. In a written ministerial statement, he said: "After a review of options in consultation with the main stakeholders, we have decided not to deploy the CRISP application as an interim solution."
He added: "Our primary focus and efforts are now delivery of the new Police National Database, which will meet our pledge of a national police intelligence sharing capability."
But the database is not expected to be up and running until 2010, six years after the Bichard Report said: "A national IT system for England and Wales to support police intelligence should be introduced as a matter of urgency."
The National Policing Improvement Authority, which took over responsibility for delivering computer systems from the defunct Police Information Technology Organisation in April, has now opened the tendering process, seeking a supplier to design, build and operate the giant database.
The contract, for up to 10 years, will be worth between £300m and £600m, the tender notice says.
McNulty admitted that other key recommendations from the Bichard inquiry would be further delayed. "Elsewhere, progress is being made although in some areas technical issues have meant that timetables have had to be revised," he said.
The home secretary had told parliament in May 2006 that ministers aimed to have courts directly updating records on the Police National Computer by the end of 2008, in line with Bichard's recommendation 7.
But McNulty said: "Whilst my determination - and that of ministerial colleagues at the Ministry of Justice - to achieve this remains undiminished, it has been necessary to drive forward this complex change in step with the wider IT-enabled reforms to the criminal justice system the Ministry of Justice is delivering and so we plan to achieve delivery of recommendation 7 by the end of the 2008-09 financial year."
The future of IT systems in the courts is unclear after roll-out of the long-delayed and troubled Libra project to provide a new case management system and infrastructure for magistrates' courts was halted at the end of February, pending a review.
Libra systems provided by Fujitsu services had been rolled out to just 23 of the 370 magistrates courts in England and Wales. Last year the Department of Constitutional Affairs - now subsumed in the Ministry of Justice - admitted that the cost of Libra would hit £487m - more than three times the original £146m price set in 1998.
In March, Fujitsu lost the Libra contract, which was split in two and awarded to Atos Origin and LogicaCMG.