DPA Convictions

On 6 December a firm of loss adjustors, its director and a senior employee were convicted, alongside private investigators, of a series of offences under s.55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The charges dated back to 2005 when the firm, Woodgate & Clark Ltd, were asked to investigate an insurance claim following a fire at a nightclub.

The Special Projects Director of Woodgate & Clark instructed a former police officer, John Spears, of private investigators Global Intelligence Services Ltd, to assist in the investigation of the claim. Mr Spears in turn instructed Daniel Summers to obtain personal data regarding the financial position of the nightclub’s owner.  

Both Mr Summers and Mr Spears had pleaded guilty in 2012 to a number of counts of ‘conspiracy to make false representations to obtain confidential information’ as part of SOCA’s Operation Millipede. This new prosecution was brought by the ICO, which started its own investigation in 2013 after SOCA handed over a list of clients of these private investigators.  

The charges concerned the obtaining of information from Barclays and Santander banks including mortgage details and bank balances. They were passed on to the Special Projects Director of Woodgate & Clark (who was convicted of unlawfully obtaining personal data), and then disclosed by a director of the firm (who was convicted of unlawfully disclosing the data). The company was also convicted of unlawfully disclosing the data, as the director was the ‘directing mind and will’ of the company thereby attaching criminally liability.

The defendants are due to be sentenced on 5 January 2018.

The case raises the profile of the ICO in its prosecution of data protection offences. It shows the willingness of the ICO to go after cases which pre-date much of the publicity which surrounded the phone-hacking and blagging scandals and no doubt there are many firms which are now concerned about similar historic approaches to data protection.

Whilst the maximum penalty is a fine, offences of this kind carry serious reputational damage for firms and even regulatory issues for insurers and law firms.

11KBW’s Julian Blake advised the ICO and appeared for the prosecution in preliminary proceedings.  

Christopher Knight