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May 4th 2017

Civil Liberties

Losing interviews of crime victims in post shows complete disregard for those Greater Manchester Police were serving

Leanne Stephenson

Leanne Stephenson

Solicitor, Civil Liberties

Losing interviews of crime victims in post shows complete disregard for those Greater Manchester Police were serving

When victims of any crime give their statements to the police, they expect the information they provide to be handled with care, respect and sensitivity.

When victims of any crime give their statements to the police, they expect the information they provide to be handled with care, respect and sensitivity.

The police – at all times – are required in their duties to respect their privacy and ensure they –  as the victims of crime – are fully protected from any further harm.

It is therefore truly shocking to learn that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has, for a number of years, been sending unencrypted interviews through the post to the Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS) of the National Crime Agency.

The fact they have done so with interviews of victims of violent or sexual crimes, without any appropriate measures in place to guard against accidental loss, is completely unforgivable.

It shows a complete disregard for the huge impact these offences may have had on the victims – and the possible further impact of that information falling into the wrong hands

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Potts today defended the force, saying the discs had been ‘sent in accordance with national guidance for sending sensitive information’.

An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), concluded differently however and resulted in a £150,000 fine for breaching data protection laws.

The ICO found the force to have failed to keep highly sensitive personal information in its care secure, and revealed the force had been sending unencrypted DVDs by recorded delivery to SCAS since 2009.

It only stopped after the most recent security breach in 2015, when the DVDs of three victims’ interviews, which showed named victims talking openly, went missing despite being recorded deliveries.

The force said all three victims concerned were informed as soon as it became apparent that the discs had gone missing – but the damage was already done. The force had simply made matters worse.

It is the most basic of errors, and from the outside appears to show a complete disregard for the wellbeing of those the force was serving.

It is very worrying that GMP had been operating in this way – without any appropriate measures in place to prevent loss of information – for six years.

It poses the question as to whether information on more victims of crime has fallen into the wrong hands.

I have no doubt that this major failing to protect the victims will have had a substantial further impact on them, and although Assistant Chief Constable Potts says procedures have been reviewed, with ‘postal delivery no longer used by GMP for sensitive information’ – it is too late for these victims – and perhaps others too.

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