LONDON, Nov 1 (Reuters) Britain's data watchdog said today it had ordered four police forces to delete the records of a number of old criminal convictions because they were no longer relevant.
In one case the data -- held by Humberside Police -- related to the theft of 99 pence worth of meat by a youth in 1984 resulting in a fine of 15 pounds.
In another case a girl cautioned for minor assault when under 14 was told by Staffordshire Police the record would remain on file until she reached 100.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said it had issued the orders after complaints by four individuals.
The cases could set a precedent for other police forces across England and Wales.
''The ICO is concerned that the old conviction information is held contrary to the principles of the Data Protection Act because the information is no longer relevant and is excessive for policing purposes,'' the watchdog said.
''Personal data processed for any purpose should be adequate, relevant and not excessive, and should not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose.'' Humberside, Staffordshire and the two other forces -- Northumbria and West Midlands Police -- are all challenging the enforcement notices, which require them to remove the details from the Police National Computer.
The records will remain on file until the cases are heard by the Information Tribunal, which deals with appeals over the data watchdog's rulings.
The opposition Conservatives said the orders showed the need for a review of the rules on keeping criminal information.
''This ruling exposes the lack of proper guidance for police on when and how they retain crime data,'' said Conservative Home Affairs Spokesman David Davis.
''If serious crimes have been committed, it is appropriate for information to be retained by the police,'' he said.
''But in more trivial circumstances a greater degree of proportionality is required.'' Reuters BJR VP0735