Client: “Rani Singh” (name and some details changed)
Claim: Civil action against the police for:
- a police data breach claim
- misfeasance in public office
- misuse of private information.
Claimant’s lawyer: Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor
Result: The police paid five-figure compensation and the claimant’s legal costs.
In January 2018, Rani Singh met Keith Robinson (name also changed), through a dating website.
Keith was a police officer, and, at the beginning, everything went well. Their relationship quickly became serious, and Rani was thrilled when she became pregnant.
The couple decided to get a home together. Unfortunately, things went sour not long afterwards, with PC Robinson causing Rani emotional distress and abusively controlling her finances. The relationship ended.
In retrospect, Rani always felt that there was something not quite right about PC Robinson. He “was the type of person who would boast that he was a police officer at the earliest and every opportunity,” she said.
The officer also had a relaxed attitude towards policing procedures. At one point PC Robinson showed Rani some personal mobile phone footage of an arrest which he’d undertaken.
Miss Singh gave birth to a boy. Later, the (now-ex) couple were involved in family court proceedings for child contact.
But that was not the end of the story.
Rani was forced to make a criminal complaint about PC Robinson for his controlling behaviour, stalking, and domestic abuse.
The police took it seriously, suspending the officer while the force’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) investigated.
The outcome of the investigation was no more than a “talking to”. The PSD warned PC Robinson about his behaviour and assured Miss Singh that the officer wouldn’t bother her again.
Despite this warning, he continued to stalk her on a further eight occasions.
Significantly, during the officer’s suspension, Miss Singh received a letter from Robinson’s solicitor, who was representing him in the family court proceedings. It contained sensitive and personal information Rani had reported to the police when making her criminal complaint. Robinson should not have known about it.
Rani immediately contacted the PSD and asked what had happened. She wanted to know how PC Robinson, who was under investigation and suspended, knew this personal information.
The PSD seized two of the officer’s personal mobile phones. The investigators found evidence of 47 police data breaches on them, including images, videos, and crime reports.
They also learned that PC Robinson had accessed the body worn video footage of another officer. The video was from the camera of the officer who spoke to Rani when she made her criminal complaint. Rani’s ex even took photos of the computer screen he was watching which showed Rani giving her account. He then sent these images to outsiders (his mother and a friend in another police force).
To do this, Robinson unlawfully accessed various police computer systems which contained Rani’s personal data, including:
- Fotoweb, a “Digital Asset Management” system where the body worn video evidence was saved
- the “Niche” police computer systems. The officer accessed Niche on seven occasions to research Rani’s criminal complaint, find out what she said about him, and learn about any allegations.
Robinson was interviewed by the PSD investigators under caution. They confirmed the outcome of their investigation and findings to Rani.
But at this point, PC Robinson was being investigated for gross misconduct relating to another matter. This meant that, despite everything he had done involving Rani, PC Robinson kept his job pending the misconduct hearing.
The 47 police data breaches were taken into account when the officer was dismissed from the force.
Instructing Donoghue Solicitors to Investigate a Police Data Breach Claim
Miss Singh was
- dissatisfied with how the police dealt with matters
- had suffered serious psychological effects because of PC Robinson’s misconduct.
Rani wanted expert legal help to find out if there was anything she could do.
She found Donoghue Solicitors via an internet search and contacted Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, a few days after the PSD meeting which confirmed the outcome of the investigation.
Even though the PSD refused to proceed to a misconduct hearing based on the 47 police data breaches, Kevin was immediately confident about Miss Singh’s case. He agreed to represent her on a no win no fee basis, and advised his client to claim compensation for:
a breach of the Data Protection Act 2018
This law incorporates and gives effect to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a set of EU rules on data protection and privacy. Kevin felt Rani had a strong data breach claim against the police because:
- PC Robinson unlawfully accessed police computers and Rani’s personal data for a non-policing purpose.
- the force could be held liable for the acts of its employee, Keith Robinson. This is because:
- the police failed to put systems in place to control and limit Robinson’s unlawful access to sensitive police records
- the Chief Constable could be held liable for the acts or omissions of his employee under the principle of “vicarious liability”. (This is a common law principle but became a statutory obligation in civil actions against the police under section 88 of the Police Act 1996.)
(Read more about these data protection claims by clicking on the link.)
misfeasance in public office
This is a civil law “tort” (wrong) which can be brought against police officers, as holders of public office, if they misuse or abuse their power.
misuse of private information
This is also a civil tort. It can be raised when private information is used or disclosed without consent. In Rani’s case, that information included the body worn video footage, Niche records, and any other details about her that PC Robinson accessed. To prove it, the court must find that the claimant had a reasonable expectation that the information would be kept private. If so, then it must consider if that right to privacy is justified under Article 8 of The European Convention on Human Rights.
In essence, as Mr Donoghue explained to his client:
The officer was acting in the course of his public office when he unlawfully accessed the police computer systems. He knew, or was recklessly indifferent, as to whether he had the power to act as he did, and to the likelihood that he would injure Rani as a result.
Complaint and Civil Claim Submitted to the Police
Mr Donoghue also represented Rani in her complaint against the police. By doing so, he:
- eased the burden of dealing with the PSD
- helped maximise Miss Singh’s prospects of success in her civil claim
- accessed documents sourced during the PSD investigation. These included a 341-page interview transcript.
Kevin sent details of his client’s police data breach claim to the police. The force’s lawyers responded by admitting that PC Robinson:
- accessed the force’s computer systems for no policing purpose
- retrieved and sent still photographs of Rani from the body worn camera footage to others.
But, despite these clear breaches, they refused to compensate Miss Singh.
The police lawyers argued that the Chief Constable was not vicariously liable because of the “actions of ex-PC Robinson who was clearly pursuing a personal objective unconnected to his duties or authority as a police officer.”
Kevin advised Rani that vicarious liability arguments are frequently made in civil actions against the police. They cannot be ignored. Rani’s civil action against the police claim would fail if the court agreed that the Chief Constable was not vicariously liable.
What Happened Next
Kevin explained to Rani that he needed more evidence to properly advise her. Despite what the police said, Mr Donoghue was still confident in his client’s claim. Among other things, he noted that:
“The police didn’t put any information barriers in place, to stop other officers (and PC Robinson, who was under investigation) accessing body worn video footage without a proper policing purpose. The force, acting as a data controller, had to justify this failure, regardless of PC Robinson’s unlawful acts. If proven, this would make the police’s vicarious liability argument irrelevant.”
The police dragged their feet on sending the evidence, so Mr Donoghue pursued it through the courts.
Kevin also arranged for his client to meet a Consultant Psychiatrist via virtual examination. The doctor noted that Rani was getting specialist counselling at the time of the examination and gave a prognosis for recovery. The expert’s report confirmed that PC Robinson’s acts had caused Rani to suffer psychological harm.
Eventually, the police sent Kevin some documents after a court hearing about disclosure of evidence. But they were incomplete, so he pressed for, and got, more. Finally, Mr Donoghue had the proof he needed: the body worn video photographs of Rani sent from PC Robinson’s personal mobile phone.
Despite this, Kevin was forced to issue “protective” court proceedings due to the police’s delays. (This allowed the solicitor to preserve his client’s claim because strict time limits apply in these cases.)
Result: Claim Settled for Three Times more than Offered
In the meantime, Kevin and the police’s lawyer discussed the potential for an out-of-court settlement.
The police initially offered compensation by way of “Part 36 offer”. (This is a civil procedure rule designed to pressure the receiving party to settle or risk being responsible for legal costs).
Mr Donoghue advised his client to reject the force’s offer, and a second Part 36 offer, despite the risks.
Rani was confident in her lawyer’s judgement and held firm. Kevin proposed that she settle her claim for a five-figure sum plus legal costs. Miss Singh agreed, as did the police. As Kevin explained:
“The settlement we agreed properly reflects the value of my client’s claim, the impact PC Robinson’s unlawful acts had on her, and the consequences of the police’s lax approach to data protection. It also meant that she did not have to go to court. Most importantly, my client is satisfied that justice has been done.”
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, represents people with police data breach claims throughout England & Wales. Contact him here.