Data protection rules should not stop police releasing details of on-the-run prisoners to journalists, the information commissioner has ruled, Press Gazette reports today.
After it emerged yesterday that almost 1,000 criminals are still at large when they should be behind bars, forces were met with requests from the media for offenders' details.
But at least two in England and Wales said data protection rules meant they would not publish the names and pictures of local criminals who breached the terms of their release from prison and have absconded.
Merseyside and North Wales police said they would refuse to release names in some circumstances because of the Data Protection Act.
But the information commissioner said the Act "does not require" names of convicts to be kept secret.
A spokesman for the information commissioner's office (ICO) said: "The Data Protection Act plays a very important role in protecting our personal information but ought not to be a barrier to sensible information sharing.
"We realise that there may be operational reasons for not disclosing the details of escaped convicts, for example to protect ongoing investigations.
"However, the Act does not require the names of escaped convicts to be kept secret."
In the past the police have been crticised for wrongly using theData Act as a reason not to release details of crimes to the press.