Former housing worker convicted by jury of data protection offences
A former housing worker who shared a confidential report identifying a potential vulnerable victim has been convicted of data protection offences by a jury.
A trial at St Albans Crown Court was told that in August 2015, London Borough of Islington took back control of the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) for a housing estate in the borough after its former chairman was convicted of child sex offences.
The council had additional concerns regarding the behaviour of three other people who had either been employed or contracted by the TMO – one of whom was the defendant, Paul Shepherd – and so conducted a safeguarding investigation.
A draft copy of the subsequent safeguarding report was sent to solicitors representing the former TMO, stating it was only for circulation amongst relevant legal representatives and the TMO board, and requested an undertaking that the document would not be disclosed further.
The document included information which could have identified a young person who was said to be potential victim of alleged misconduct, and two men also involved with the TMO who were accused of protecting individuals who were a risk to children rather than safeguarding them.
Having previously tried to obtain the report through subject access and freedom of information laws, Shepherd subsequently obtained a copy of the document from a source he declined to reveal, and then shared it with 83 people including council members and staff, in order to highlight grievances he had with the authority.
Shepherd, 47, of Belswain Lane, Hemel Hempstead, Herts, denied three counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data in breach of s55 of the Data Protection Act 1998, but was convicted following a week-long trial at St Albans Crown Court. He was fined £200 on each count and was also ordered to pay £3,500 costs.
Michael Shaw, criminal investigation manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office, which brought the case, said afterwards:
“People have a duty to act responsibly and within the bounds of the law if they come into possession of personal data, particularly when sensitive information is involved.
“Data protection laws exist to protect the rights of individuals and are pleased that the jury and the court recognised this fact.”
Notes to Editors
- The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
- The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
- The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
- Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
- fairly and lawfully processed;
- processed for limited purposes;
- adequate, relevant and not excessive;
- accurate and up to date
- not kept for longer than is necessary;
- processed in line with your rights;
- secure; and
- not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
- The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sit alongside the Data Protection Act. They give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications. There are specific rules on:
- Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
- Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.