£70k fine for lost rape file

The location on North Drive in Anchorsholme where confidential police files were found by a member of the public. PIC BY ROB LOCK'25-7-2011

The location on North Drive in Anchorsholme where confidential police files were found by a member of the public. PIC BY ROB LOCK'25-7-2011

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LANCASHIRE Police has been fined £70,000 after a confidential file containing personal details of a teenage rape victim was found on a Blackpool street.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) launched an inquiry after the sensitive document was handed to The Gazette by a member of the public who discovered it on North Drive in Anchorsholme.

Police documents regarding a missing girl found on North Drive, Anchorsholme

Police documents regarding a missing girl found on North Drive, Anchorsholme

The ICO says it is the first penalty it has served to a police force but a fine was appropriate because there had been a breach of data protection “likely to cause substantial distress”.

The 10-page document – which had been printed off a police computer system and was discovered on 23 July last year – contained the photograph and details of a missing teenager including the girl’s name, age, address, phone numbers, school, parents and foster carer.

It also made reference to her being a rape victim and named her attacker.

The report had been used by an officer trying to locate the missing girl and is thought to have been left in a police vehicle. It is believed the file then fell out of the car when it was used by a different officer.

The ICO found the force did not record when sensitive personal information was taken outside the police station and officers had no specific training on how to look after hard copy documents outside the station.

Steve Eckersley, ICO’s head of enforcement said: “The fact information as sensitive as this could go missing without anybody realising is extremely worrying.

“The loss of this information is likely to have been extremely distressing for all involved.”

The police officers involved have been given “words of advice” and Lancashire Police was ordered to pay a fine of £70,000, which will be fed into the Consolidated Fund – the Government’s general bank account which supports public services such as health and police.

If the penalty is paid by April 11, the fine will be reduced by 20 per cent to £56,000.

Lancashire Police did not wish to comment on the impact the fine could have on the force as it faces budget cuts of £42m by 2015.

But Deputy Chief Con Chris Weigh said: “I’d like to apologise to all the parties involved for any upset or distress that might have been caused.

“The loss of any personal data, particularly sensitive information, is extremely serious and is rightly a cause for concern. We will learn lessons from this unfortunate event and do all we can to make sure the risk of this happening again is as low as it can be.

“Both officers involved were embarrassed at the consequences of their actions and dismayed at the potential upset that might have been caused to the parties involved. Both officers received management action.”

Lancashire Police has now signed an undertaking committing the organisation to take action to keep the personal information it handles secure. This includes ensuring a written policy is in place detailing employees’ specific responsibilities when removing personal data from the station, as well as its subsequent use, protection and return.

The force will also make sure its staff receives training on how to follow the guidelines.