The Central London County Court has awarded data protection and misuse of private information damages totalling £9,000 to former police officer Andrea Brown. In a judgment [pdf] handed down on 7 October 2016, HHJ Luba QC order the Metropolitan Police to pay £6,000 and the Greater Manchester Police to pay £3,000.
The claim arose out of a request made by the Metropolitan Police for information about Ms Brown’s travel arrangements whilst on sick leave. She had flown to Barbados with her daughter and the police sought information about her from the National Board Targeting Centre (“NBTC”) which is managed by the Greater Manchester Police.
The NBTC provided details of Ms Brown’s trip along with her name, date of birth,national, passport number and of 15 flights taken by her over a 6 year period. It also provided details about her daughter. Further information was sought and provided about the trip. The information was then used as part of police disciplinary proceedings concerning an allegation of unauthorised absence abroad.
The defendants admitted liability for breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998 and for wrongful interference with Ms Brown’s Article 8 rights. The Judge held that a claim for misuse of private information was also made out. He dismissed a claim for misfeasance in public office.
The Judge accepted that the breaches had caused shock and upset to Ms Brown and that they were not “technical” or inadvertent. He did not, however, accepted that the situation had an adverse effect on her health.
The Judge dismissed Ms Brown’s claims for declaratory relief and aggravated damages.
In assessing general damages the Judge took into account two matters
- On the one hand, the fact that the defendants were both police forces who might have been expected to obey the legal requirements rather than transgress them but, in fact, pursued the requests cavalierly.
- On the other hand, the fact that there was not wide dissemination of the information for profit.
After considering the authorities and Counsel’s submissions the Judge concluded
“In my judgment, the award made must be substantial. The personal information disclosed was not of the highest order of sensitivity but it was wrongly sought, obtained and disclosed by state authorities in their accessing of data initially obtained and held so as to be available for quite different and limited purposes … But this was not repeated misuse or abuse of personal data nor the disclosure of highly personal material for pain, for wide distribution or with the intention to injure or embarrass” [73- 74]
As a result, the Judge rejected the £10,000 “starting point” in Gulati v MGN, but made an award of £9,000, apportioned two-thirds/one-third between the Metropolitan Police and the Greater Manchester Police.