Traveller families win damages row with Essex council


An Essex council has been ordered to pay damages to two traveller families and pay High Court legal bills after it released sensitive family information.

Families campaigning to stay on an illegal site gave confidential details to Basildon District Council, which released them to the public.

The ombudsman ruled this was "illegal" and awarded the families £300 damages.

The council refused to pay but the High Court has ordered it must. The council said it was deciding how to respond.

Mr Justice Kenneth Parker ruled the council's decision not to accept the local government ombudsman's recommendation must be quashed as it did not show "the rational quality of response required by law".

Medical details

Mothers Paula Gallagher and Mary McCarthy, travellers living on the illegal site at Dale Farm near Basildon, had campaigned for the council to be forced to pay damages.

In January 2006, when the mothers applied to remain on the site, they provided the council with personal information.

"That information included the names and ages of their children and medical details," Judge Parker said.

The information was put into a council report distributed at a meeting and posted on the council's website.

The mothers complained to the ombudsman this breached the 1998 Data Protection Act and violated their right "to personal and family life".

'Missed the point'

In July 2008, the ombudsman published a report finding there had been maladministration and the council agreed to apologise but refused to pay compensation.

The judge said the council's deputy leader was reported to have said: "What is done is done. Today's compensation culture has gone too far."

Despite more ombudsman reports the council was adamant it would not pay compensation but sent the letter of apology.

Mr Justice Parker ruled the council had "missed the point entirely" as injustice had occurred.

Following the High Court ruling, Tony Ball, leader of the council, said: "I am disappointed with this result, as I feel Basildon council has always acted properly.

"We will look at this ruling and decide what course of action the council will take."

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