Hudgell Solicitors is investigating how a London Metropolitan Police Force list of suspected gangs – which has already been heavily criticised for failing to distinguish innocent people from suspects – was shared over social media.
The firm is acting on behalf of a 28-year-old man who says he and his family have been left fearing for their safety as a result, needing panic alarms and new safety measures on their home.
They were sent the document by a family member – clearly showing his name and the address of his parents – via the social messaging platform WhatsApp.
The document – dated January 2017 and labelled ‘Newham Gangs Matrix’ – was sent to the man two days after police hand delivered a letter to the family’s home.
The letter, from the Newham Gangs and Firearms Unit, simply said ‘Please contact the police regarding a matter that we need to speak to you about. It will take 5 minutes’ of your time and it is ‘important we talk to you’.
Gangs Matric database was ‘poorly managed’
The Met Police was heavily criticised by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last month and ordered to overhaul how the database is managed and shared.
The ICO said the database, which sees each of London’s 32 boroughs collect and manage local lists which then feed into the London-wide Matrix system, was ‘poorly managed’, saying it constantly failed to properly differentiate between dangerous offenders and their victims, leading to ‘serious breaches of data protection laws with the potential to cause damage and distress’.
Now, civil liberties claims specialist Victoria Richardson, of Hudgell Solicitors, says it is her understanding that a serparate investigation is now being conducted into the leak of the document onto social media platforms.
She says the matter has caused her client to fear for his own safety, and that of his family members, leading to them needing a panic alarm fitting in their home, as well as increased secuity through new windows and doors.
“Our client lives with his parents and his child. It was of course frigtening for his parents to come home and find a letter asking them to contact the police,” she said.
“They then received the WhatsApp message from a family member who had become aware of it. The document clearly contained his name and the address of his parents, where they all live together.
“Our clients name was one of around 150 which was clearly visible, along with other personal details and gang names.
“For our client’s family, it is of course particularly worrying to see their address on this list, knowing it has been shared on social media platforms and not knowing who has seen it, and what the result of that information getting into the wrong hands could be. They feel it has left them and their home exposed.”
Hudgell Solicitors are now pursing a civil claim against the Met Police for the data protection breach in relation to their client’s details.
“In making representations on behalf of our client we are of the understanding that the Information Commissioners Office are currently investigating how this matrix was leaked onto social media, which we feel is only right,” added Mrs Richardson.
“Obviously there have already been strong criticisms as to how this list was managed between agencies and as to why innocent people, and those who were suspects, were not easily distinguishable.
“It was obviously known that this information was shared with other agencies such as social services, housing authorities and education providers, but now this poses further questions over the agreements in place as to how this information was being shared and protected to prevent it being leaked in this way.
“Whatever agreements or policies were in place, if any, they were clearly not enough and it is quite shocking that such a sensitive document could end up on social media.
“It is obviously a clear and serious breach of data protection laws but also effectively means that some of the most sensitive police intelligence was leaked onto a platform where it can be widely spread in a matter of minutes. It is beyond belief.”