It has been truly shocking to learn that a police force lost a recording of an alleged rape victim’s interview and had no way of discovering whether it had or hadn’t been sent on to another force.
Humberside Police has quite rightly been hit by a £130,000 fine by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for the error, which could have far reaching consequences.
The highly sensitive information had been left on a police officer’s desk before it disappeared
The discs had not been encrypted, meaning information including the alleged victim’s name, date of birth and signature, as well as details about the alleged rape itself, the victim’s mental health and the suspect’s name and address, were not protected.
The envelope including the case information had been due to be posted to another police force in the Teeside area where the alleged offence had happened.
It never arrived though, and such was the substandard audit trail at the Humberside force the package was not only lost, but it is wasn’t even able to be established if it had ever even be posted in the first place as intended.
The ICO found Humberside Police had failed to maintain a detailed audit trail and that the Protecting Vulnerable People unit within the force failed to adhere to its Information Security Policy in relation to removable media recording and information.
Deputy Chief Constable Chris Rowley says the force ‘deeply regrets’ the error and has apologised ‘unreservedly’. He said the force understands it has been an extremely difficult situation for the alleged victim, who has now said she cannot face giving evidence again.
In our work representing people in actions against the police, our team at Hudgell Solicitors have had a number of successful claims against other forces in which there have been very similar circumstances with regards to management of sensitive information.
When something like this happens, an apology is simply not enough. Serious questions have to be asked and answered. Lessons must be learned.
Case suggests lack of care and procedure even with regards to most serious allegations
Given our work also sees our solicitors support many victims of sexual assault and abuse, we know that making an allegation such as sexual assault or rape is something many victims find incredibly difficult to do.
It is therefore paramount that they not only feel that they will be listened to and understood, but also protected by our police forces.
This case undermines that crucial level of trust and suggests a lack of professionalism and care, even when handling the most serious and sensitive of cases.
It begs the obvious question of how other cases are handled across the force, and how often such sensitive information relating to victims and alleged crimes is not being properly protected.
There now needs to be a full internal investigation at the force with regards to the procedures and policies in place for handling such sensitive information. Those responsible for the failings in this case must also be held to account.
It is too serious of a matter to simply be dealt with through a public apology.
The alleged victim has now told the Hull Daily Mail that the matter has left her feeling guilty, as she now feels unable to face going through the traumatic ordeal of speaking to officers to give her evidence again.
That means not only do we have a situation where an alleged victim has been badly let down in terms of the duty of care owed to her by the force with regard to protecting her identity, but also the possibility that potentially dangerous person has not been brought to justice, leaving others at risk.