Client: Nigel Lang from Sheffield (details provided with his permission)
Claim: Civil Action Against the Police for Breach of the Data Protection Act, False Imprisonment, Police assault/ battery, Trespass, Negligence, Loss of Earnings, and other quantifiable losses
Claimant’s Solicitor: Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors
Defendant: Chief Constable of Hertfordshire Police
Result: Compensation of £60,000 plus legal costs. Admission of liability. Deletion of incident and personal data from police records.
(This is based on Mr Lang’s version of events, some of which is disputed.)
Nigel Lang was, at the time of arrest, a 44-year-old university graduate who worked full-time as a drug recovery worker. He mainly worked with teenagers suffering substance misuse problems and females who were either at risk of, or had been, victims of sexual exploitation. His job involved training other professionals as well as one-on-one counselling. He loved it. Personally, he was in a happy, stable relationship with his partner, an accountant, and they had a 2-year-old son.
One Saturday morning, while at home with his family, Nigel heard a knock at the front door. He opened it to find a woman and two men standing in front of him. One of them asked if he lived at the property. He did. The strangers pushed past him and stood in the living room. Before he could protest, the woman, who said she was a police officer, told Mr Lang and his partner that Nigel was under arrest on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children.
Nigel felt like he had been hit. He screamed out in shock. He later said:
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing… it was like a dream or a terrible nightmare”.
The officers refused to answer questions and treated Mr Lang like he was guilty.
Over the next hour and 10 minutes the police searched the house and seized the family’s tower computer and laptop. They told Nigel that he posed a risk to his family and children in general. He felt sick. They supervised him while changed out of his nightwear and took him to the local police station.
As he was “booked in” the arresting officer repeated the reason for arrest to the Custody Officer. Nigel
“was disgusted because these people thought I was a nonce”
and that, because of his work with children,
“my world was finished”.
The police took Mr Lang’s fingerprints, DNA, and other information and locked him in a cell. Eventually they interviewed him. Nigel denied their allegations. The police released him on bail while investigators conducted a forensic analysis of the seized computers. The bail conditions were disruptive and devastating. Mr Lang could not:
- live at the family home
- visit his son at home
- have unsupervised contact with his son anywhere.
When Nigel got home his partner was distraught. She told him that Social Services had been to the house. They conducted a full “safeguarding assessment” and told her that their son would be taken away unless sufficient safeguarding was put in place.
Mr Lang stayed at his mother’s house while waiting for the police to confirm the outcome of their investigations. He had to listen while his son begged for him to come home. He thought:
my family was going to be destroyed”.
He felt scared, helpless, frustrated, angry. The desperate situation played on his mind. He barely slept.
3 weeks later the lead officer told Nigel that nothing had been found on the computers and that he should collect them from the police station. She told him that if any further information came to light the police could re-arrest him, and did not formally confirm that No Further Action would be taken.
Sensibly, Mr Lang reported the arrest to his employer as soon as he could. Nigel’s manager immediately suspended him and took away his work ID, phone, diary, and keys. He was told not to talk to colleagues.
He returned to work after being cleared by the police, but
“had trauma dealing with work… my work, my reputation was in tatters”.
Mr Lang was hyper-vigilant about being accused of inappropriate conduct and struggled to do his job, particularly in the one-on-one counselling sessions he previously enjoyed. He also worried about Social Services having a file on him. (He dealt with the department and its workers regularly.)
Nigel was signed off with stress and eventually left his job. He said:
“I love my job…this incident has smashed up the best job I ever had…I could never work around kids again and that makes me feel sick”.
After the initial trauma Mr Lang said he felt “forever tainted” by the police’s false accusation. He suffered with stress, loss of sleep and appetite. His family relationships were severely strained.
He became reclusive and thought that people were judging him. The officer’s comments that he could be re-arrested played on his mind.
Mr Lang’s doctor prescribed antidepressants and arranged counselling, but his symptoms continued.
Taking Action Against the Police
Eventually Nigel resolved to act. He wanted various remedies, including:
- to clear his name
- deletion of all
- records of arrest and detention from local and national police computers,
- personal data and DNA, and
- financial compensation.
After paying another solicitor to bring a police complaint, Mr Lang searched online for help and contacted Donoghue Solicitors. Kevin Donoghue, our Solicitor Director, reviewed his case and agreed to act on a “no win no fee” basis.
Kevin learned that Hertfordshire Police issued the warrant for Nigel’s arrest. That Force mistakenly identified Mr Lang’s home Internet Protocol (IP) address as being linked with indecent images of children. Mr Lang’s local police force, South Yorkshire, acted on this incorrect information when effecting the police warrant. In Mr Donoghue’s view, Hertfordshire Police’s error was an actionable breach of the Data Protection Act (1998).
In addition, Mr Donoghue used his experience as a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police to identify other “heads of claim” (categories of damage). He sent a letter of claim to Hertfordshire Police and, to preserve Mr Lang’s right to claim compensation, acted quickly and issued “protective” proceedings. (Read our time limits page to find out why.)
He later sent formal “Particulars of Claim”, which described the case in legal terms. These confirmed the grounds for Nigel’s compensation claim as:
- Breach of the Data Protection Act 1998
- False imprisonment
- Police assault/ battery
- Trespass by the police at Mr B’s home.
Kevin obtained written confirmation from Hertfordshire Police that the Force admitted liability and obtained medical evidence from a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist confirmed that Mr Lang suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and recommended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. Kevin arranged for Nigel undergo treatment.
The solicitor also obtained evidence about the rest of Mr Lang’s claim, including his lost earnings.
He forwarded the medical report and evidence in support of the claim for quantifiable losses and invited offers of settlement.
Pleading a Breach of the Data Protection Act 1998
In the Particulars of Claim filed at court Mr Lang alleged that the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire Police failed in his duties under the Data Protection Act (1998). The breach of the Data Protection Act case was “pleaded” (described in legal terms) as follows:
BREACH OF THE DATA PROTECTION ACT 1998
- The Defendant held personal data and sensitive personal data in respect of the Claimant, as defined by Sections 1(1) and 2 respectively of the Data Protection Act 1998 (the 1998 Act).
- That personal data and sensitive personal data consisted of information relating to alleged criminal activity by the Claimant, including the creation and/or management of a record that linked incidents of possession/distribution of indecent images.
- The Defendant was a data controller in respect of this data, within the meaning of Section 1(1) of the 1998 Act.
- The Defendant was, by virtue of Section 4(4) of the 1998 Act, under a duty to comply with the data protection principles set out in Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the 1998 Act.
- The Defendant was, at all material times, in breach of the third and fourth data protection principles, or either of them, in that;
a) The personal data held in relation to the Claimant were not accurate and/or kept up to date, since they were wrongly indicated that the Claimant was wanted in relation to the offence of possession/distribution of indecent images; and/or
b) The personal data held in relation to the Claimant were not relevant, for the same reason as mentioned in sub-paragraph a) above.
Claiming Aggravated Damages
As well as “basic” damages for his personal injuries and quantifiable losses, Kevin also felt that his client’s case merited “aggravated” damages. (Read why here.) He pleaded the case as follows:
PARTICULARS OF AGGRAVATING FEATURES
a) The conduct of the Defendant in procuring the arrest and detention of the Claimant without lawful justification was an affront to the Claimant’s personal dignity;
b) The Claimant was arrested in full view of his family who also heard the nature of the offence for which the Claimant was arrested;
c) The Defendant procured the arrest of the Claimant which resulted in gratuitous assault and unlawful, unreasonable and/or unreasonably prolonged detention. Such conduct was arbitrary, high-handed and oppressive;
d) The offence for which the Claimant was arrested was grotesque and one with which carries immense stigma;
e) The Claimant was on bail for several weeks and, during this time, was prevented from seeing him family;
f) Whilst on bail, and thereafter, the Claimant lived under a cloud of suspicion from his work colleagues in view of his sudden temporary suspension from employment;
g) His reputation with Social Services was adversely affected in his professional capacity;
h) He waited nearly three years to be provided with an explanation as to why he was arrested.
49. The Defendant’s officers in acting as aforesaid were acting in the purported performance of their police functions. Their actions as servants of the Crown were arbitrary, oppressive and unconstitutional for which exemplary damages should be awarded. The Claimant repeats and relies upon the aggravating features set out above and further avers that the conduct of the officers needlessly inconvenienced the Claimant.
Settling Nigel Lang’s Compensation Claim for Breach of the Data Protection Act and Other Losses
In its formal Defence Hertfordshire Police admitted liability but made no admissions about the extent of Mr Lang’s claim and questioned some details in the Claimant’s version of events. It denied his claim for aggravated damages.
The Force sought, and obtained, its own medical evidence and challenged the extent of Mr Lang’s damages claim. Both Kevin Donoghue and the Force’s solicitors prepared the case for a court hearing on quantum (the value of the claim), at which Mr Lang would give evidence.
Eventually, following extensive negotiations Kevin settled Nigel’s compensation claim for £60,000 plus legal costs. Kevin also made sure that his client’s personal data, DNA, and police computer records were cleared.
Nigel thanked Kevin Donoghue for his “professionalism and expertise” and was relieved that he:
- had cleared his name
- removed his details from police records
- got the compensation he deserved and, at last,
- could try to move on with his life.
Media Coverage of Nigel Lang’s Case
Buzzfeed News exclusively reported Nigel’s case. Their story describes the “horrendous nightmare” Nigel endured and the “heartbreaking” impact on him and his family.
For help with your breach of the data protection act compensation claim contact us on 08000 124 246 or complete the online form on this page.