High-ranking police officers censured for data breaches

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Peter Bunyan, a former Devon and Cornwall police community support officer, was jailed for seven years after being convicted of misconduct in public office

Hundreds of police staff, including high-ranking officers, have been censured for breaching data protection laws over the past five years.

Cases have included officers snooping on their children and ex-wives, social media blunders and breaching data protection regulations.

More than 100 staff were sacked and nearly 200 resigned as a result of breaches in England and Wales.

Avon and Somerset Police reported the highest number of incidents with 289.

In one case revealed by the force, a chief inspector received management action for being "negligent when disclosing personal information".

A PC was subject to a complaint, also with Avon and Somerset Police, when they disclosed the name of an individual "to the media after they had made it known that they wished to remain anonymous". The complaint was later withdrawn.

'Very worrying'

Police forces from across England and Wales recorded a total of 2,031 cases of data protection breaches between January 2009 and October 2013, figures obtained by the Press Association showed.

Investigations led to 186 resignations, while 113 were sacked. At least 34 of those investigated were inspectors or chief inspectors, while 474 were civilian officers.

Of 43 police forces contacted, 35 responded with information.

Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: "It is very worrying to think that the personal data of victims of crime - who are often extremely vulnerable - might be being accessed and used inappropriately by people in a position of trust."

Avon and Somerset Police's corporate information spokesman, Ian Marsh, said: "We take an extremely robust approach to the recording and investigation of alleged Data Protection Act breaches.

"We recognise police integrity is of the upmost importance to the public and would like to reassure people that any potential breach is investigated fully."

The force said that the figure of 289 incidents relates to a 55-month period and that in 72 of the episodes there was no case to answer because no breach had been committed.

Mr Marsh added that "in the spirit of being open and transparent" the force gave the figure for the number of police officers, special constables and police staff, but claimed other forces may not have included the same level of detail in their responses.

In Lancashire, a PC "received management action" after an allegation that she wrongly divulged information about the death of her estranged husband to her daughter shortly after he died.

A special constable with Dorset Police resigned after he posted a video of himself walking around Poole police station on YouTube. The video featured other officers and contained information on the station layout.

Two staff with Gloucestershire Constabulary were censured for posting information on a social media site and inappropriate comments made about a work-related case, while another was investigated for altering details on police systems without justification or explanation.

'Serious failings'

Merseyside Police revealed that in 2009 there were 154 data breaches - almost all of which were connected.

A force spokesman said the high figure for that year was attributable to an internal investigation into people in the force "viewing a computer record relating to a high-profile arrest".

A sergeant with North Wales Police was censured for accessing the records of his son and ex-wife, while in Cleveland a special police officer was handed a written warning after divulging confidential information relating to a murder.

The Information Commissioner's Office, which upholds information rights among public bodies, said it had fined two forces £220,000 in recent years after "serious failings" were uncovered.

In March, a married police community support officer, Peter Bunyan, from Cornwall, was jailed for seven years after being convicted of eight counts of misconduct in public office.

And last month, award-winning former Warwickshire Police officer David Hilton, from Derbyshire, was given a four-month suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to five counts of misuse of a computer and one of harassment of a woman.

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