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£7,000 compensation for victim of police data breaches

The team at Hayes Connor were able to secure £7,000 in compensation for a client who suffered very significant harm as a result of three data breaches by officers of the Avon & Somerset Constabulary.

The background to our client’s police data breach claim

In late 2019 and early 2020, officers from Avon & Somerset Constabulary breached the Data Protection Act 2018, as well as related privacy breaches, on three separate occasions in relation to an incident involving our client, Miss A.

In October 2019, police officers from Avon & Somerset Constabulary visited Miss A’s home where she was in crisis after being the victim of a hate crime. Miss A is autistic, as well as having ADHD and Tic Disorder. This has resulted in her frequently being a target of abusive behaviour from her neighbours and others.

Avon & Somerset Constabulary officers disclosed this incident to Miss A’s manager at work and to the Housing Association with which she co-owns her home. This included showing police body camera footage of the original incident to representatives of Miss A’s Housing Association.

This caused our client very serious distress, to the point that she attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the third floor of a police station. After being detained due to this incident, a police officer told Miss A that she recognised her from a recent training video, at which point our client discovered that the police body camera footage of the original incident (in which she was clearly identifiable) had been used by police officers for internal training purposes without her permission.

Understandably, this increased the distress for our client still further. Miss A made a formal complaint to the police but felt the response she received from the Police Professional Standards Department suggested the matter was not being taken seriously enough.

Miss A contacted Hayes Connor and we were quickly able to identify that she was eligible to claim compensation in respect of data protection contraventions, breach of privacy under Article 8 ECHR and misuse of private information by Avon & Somerset Constabulary.

We acted on her behalf to make a claim against Avon & Somerset Constabulary, then to negotiate a settlement of £7,000 after an initial lower offer of £5,000 by the Defendant.

Miss A has decided to use the compensation to relocate so she can start fresh and attempt to put the incident behind her.

The three ways police breached the Data Protection Act

1.    Improper disclosure of a police investigation to our client’s employer

The first data breach incident occurred in October 2019, when a police officer employee of the Defendant disclosed information relating to Miss A to her manager at work regarding a current police investigation involving her that was unrelated to work.

In Miss A’s words: “It was horrendous. Two police officers attended my workplace and called my manager out of a meeting. They took him into a room and told him about my issues with my neighbour and a current police investigation that was unrelated to work. It was not only awkward for my manager, it was awkward for everyone involved.”

Miss A complained about this disclosure, which the Defendant has upheld. Although the officer concerned sought to justify the disclosure on the basis of safeguarding, suggesting that it was so our client’s manager could keep an eye on her at work, the Defendant accepted that this was not justified under their Procedural Guidance on Disclosure of Personal Data.

2.    Police body cam footage used for training purposes with our client’s approval

The second data breach relates to the police body camera footage (Body Worn Video or ‘BWV’) from the original incident where officers attended Miss A’s home.

The Defendant considered that this footage showed how the incident was handled well and wanted to show it as a training tool. We understand that Miss A was asked to provide consent to it being used in this way and she indicated that she wanted to see the footage first and also that she would want any identifying features removed. The Defendant made enquiries about pixilating the footage and was told this was possible but would take a considerable time.

A senior officer, Chief Inspector Jess Aston, decided to show the footage anyway, despite not having Miss A’s consent. The footage was shown in briefings to five response teams, which we understand amounts to approximately 70 officers. Miss A only discovered that the footage had been shown in this way when, on 1 February 2020, she was informed at a police station by one of the officers that dealt with her that they had seen her on the footage. Miss A also complained about this matter and her complaint in respect of this aspect was also upheld by the Defendant.

Miss A said: “I was gobsmacked. I didn’t know about this breach until after things had already escalated, but this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“For starters, I wasn’t happy that the video advertised that I was autistic, using my experience as a training tool to make me seem inhuman. I was really ashamed of this.

“Then, when I found out the true extent of the breach, I was truly shocked.”

The Defendant accepts there have been breaches of data protection in relation to the footage in two respects, although they maintain there were good intentions behind its use.  Firstly, for retaining the video for longer than necessary, as it was non-evidential footage and ought to have been deleted under their retention policy after 31 days. Secondly, they accept that they used the footage for different purposes than the purpose for which it was obtained.

3.    Disclosure of police body cam footage to our client’s Housing Association without justification

The third aspect to this case is the disclosure of the same footage to Miss A’s Housing Association, with which she shares ownership of her property. It appears that officers of the Defendant were seeking to persuade the Housing Association to apply for an injunction against Miss A due to issues that she had with her neighbour, which the police viewed as anti-social behaviour (Miss A’s position is that she is the victim of hate crime rather than the perpetrator).

The Defendant’s attempts to persuade the Housing Association to take such action were unsuccessful. Therefore, the officer arranged a meeting with them to discuss, which took place in January 2020 where they showed the footage of Miss A from the October 2019 incident. The Housing Association still decided against applying for the injunction, it would appear on the basis that there had been no incidents in the several months since the footage was taken, which they considered would undermine the application.

The Claimant also met with the Housing Association who recognised that she was the victim of a hate crime. The Housing Association sought to work with the claimant with the view of potentially applying for an injunction against the neighbour.

Therefore, it appears that showing the footage to them made no difference to their decision making. The Defendant has not upheld Miss A’s complaint in respect of this aspect, on the basis that an enquiry was made with the data protection officer beforehand who advised that it could be shown but not given out.

In Miss A’s words: “This breach occurred with the aim to get me evicted from my home and this, alongside the workplace breach, drove me to attempt suicide.

“At this point, I truly felt as though the police were trying to get at me from all angles; work, home, and my housing association. Firstly, I was a victim of hate crime and the police have done nothing to help me. This made me feel as though there was no way out, driving me to attempt to take my own life by jumping off of the third floor of the police station (currently under investigation by the IOPC).”

The impact of the police data breaches on our client

These breaches have had a considerable impact on Miss A. She has suffered significant distress from the data breaches, which has caused considerable anxiety. If her suicide attempt had succeeded, then these data breaches could have cost Miss A her life.

The effects of these data breaches on our client are, sadly, ongoing. Miss A has described that she feels humiliated, ashamed, degraded, and anxious as to who else may have seen the footage, and in relation to the disclosure to her manager, she has felt this has damaged her reputation amongst work colleagues. She feels that the police have acted to harass her rather than to help her and she is now worried about being stopped by the police and has lost her trust in them.

Miss A said: “As an autistic person, it’s a common misconception that I have trouble understanding other peoples’ emotions. The police have definitely treated me like I have no regards for other peoples’ emotions, but I have found that it’s the other way around.”

How the Hayes Connor team helped our client to secure compensation

After Miss A contacted Hayes Connor, we submitted a letter of claim to Avon & Somerset Constabulary in respect of the three incidents detailed above.

The Defendant responded, admitting liability for two out of the three breaches, while denying liability for the disclosure of the police body camera footage to our client’s Housing Association.

In light of their admission of liability for two of the breaches, Avon & Somerset Constabulary offered our client £5,000 in compensation.

Based on our barrister’s calculation of the potential damages available, we felt a higher settlement was obtainable and advised our client as such. Under Miss A’s instruction, we then made a counteroffer to the Defendant.

Avon & Somerset Constabulary responded with a higher settlement offer of £7,000, which we felt was the maximum possible for our client’s claim.

Our client has since accepted this offer and has advised that she is more than happy with the result.

With regard to the outcome, Miss A said: “I was really happy with the amount, as it wasn’t what I’d expected. I’m just unhappy that the officers still have their jobs and will move on from this without any real understanding of the damage they’ve inflicted. I can’t be the only one this sort of thing has happened to, so I really want to let people in on the damage their actions can cause.”

Miss A’s thoughts on working with Hayes Connor

“In June, the police admitted it was a breach of data protection, and I felt that those involved were getting no punishment. I’m also worried that someone so neglectful (Jess Aston – the officer responsible for sharing the body camera footage) had been promoted to Chief Inspector, so I had to do something. I couldn’t just leave it and had to get justice.

“I went looking online for other data protection breaches and found numerous solicitors who could help me. I spoke to a couple on the same day, but it was Hayes Connor who had the best first impressions. They were the most professional, and I felt as though they were the ones who actually took my case seriously; they weren’t about the money.

“James was supportive throughout but kept my expectations realistic by making me aware of the times when things might go a little quiet whilst waiting for a response. In the end, the case was settled pretty quickly. I ended up getting my first offer within 90 days of £5,000, and James advised me to reject this offer, as it wasn’t enough.

“Overall, Hayes Connor were fantastic. They weren’t just looking at the practical elements of it all but considered the emotional impact it had on me. James also explained everything in plain English to me, and consistently reassured me that what had happened to me was wrong.”

Miss A also has this advice for anyone else who suffers a police data breach: “Once someone has admitted that a breach has happened, get a good solicitor. Keep fighting, because it’s wrong; the police aren’t above the law.”

Speak to our legal experts about a data breach

If you have suffered harm as a result of a data breach, you are likely owed compensation. Even if you have not suffered specific harm, you may still have a claim, but if you have experienced financial, emotional or other personal consequences of a data breach, substantial damages could be available.

Hayes Connor has one of the largest teams of data breach claims specialists in the country, boasting a wealth of experience in representing clients who have suffered due to a data breach. Our friendly team are equipped to advise you on whether you have grounds for a claim, the level of compensation you may be entitled to, and what you need to do to start a claim.

We understand the emotional impact a data breach can have on an individual. So, not only do we want to help you get the compensation you deserve, we want to make the process as simple and stress-free as possible.

You can find out more about our expertise and how we handle data breach claims here.

To start a claim, you can use our online claim form.

To speak to a member of our team, please do not hesitate to give us a call on 0151 363 5895.