Mr Matthew McConville, the Head of our specialised Data Breach Department at Irvings Law has successfully represented a client called Mr Alex Topham in a data breach compensation claim against Hertfordshire Constabulary. This blog and is a continuation of this previous blog.
Mr Topham and PC Martin from Hertfordshire Constabulary are known to each other on a personal level. PC Martin was dealing with an incident on Canterbury Way in Stevenage and then contacted Mr Topham via WhatsApp to inform him that he was ‘coming to see’ Mr Topham at his home address and gives it in the message. However, Mr Topham has never given PC Martin his address (nor details of his family member which PC Martin appeared to now know) and thus Mr Topham believed that PC Martin must have obtained this information from the Hertfordshire Constabulary Police Force’s computer systems. Further, in the message, PC Martin states that Mr Topham’s details ‘came up as a neighbour’ while he was dealing with the incident and sent a video to Mr Topham of Police Officers escorting a detainee to a Police vehicle as well as informing Mr Topham of criminal situations that had arisen.
As a result of these incidences, Mr Topham lodged a complaint to Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Professional Standards Department. During the initial stages of this investigation, it became apparent that PC Martin had another live complaint against him which had also been assessed as applicable for a gross misconduct hearing. Following Mr Topham’s complaint, an internal audit was requested in order to assist in the complaint investigation and showed that PC Martin typed ‘[Mr Topham]’ into the internal police intelligence system. By viewing just the results, Mr Topham’s address was shown within these results and as such would have been seen by anyone looking at the results. The said internal audit has then shown that PC Martin has gone eight pages on and then clicked on an entry called ‘HERTS FASTFOTO RECORDS’ which was a photograph document.
In response to Mr Topham’s allegations, PC Martin admitted to the same and accepted that this was not for a policing purpose. PC Martin said that he did this because he had strong feelings for Mr Topham and was just ‘being nosey’. Further, PC Martin stated that he realises that he should not have sent the said video to Mr Topham and did so because ‘he was looking to impress [Mr Topham]’. In conclusion, PC Martin stated that he was very remorseful for what he had done and did not think before sending the messages.
The result of Mr Topham’s complaint investigation against PC Martin was that he was found to have a case to answer in respect of improper disclosure of information and oppressive conduct or harassment. Although the matter was not referred to the CPS (which is surprising), it was decided that PC Martin’s actions amounted to gross misconduct (for the second time in two complaints) and a public hearing was held and completed on the 30th October 2020.
At the said public hearing (where Mr Topham was forced to give oral evidence despite PC Martin’s admissions to the allegations against him), the Panel found that PC Martin using FedSearch was deliberate, planned and targeted whilst also being entirely for his personal benefit and gain; which is absolutely prohibited. It was also found that PC Martin lied when telling Mr Topham where he got his address from. Further to this, PC Martin also discovered Mr Topham’s interactions with the Police and ultimately, PC Martin’s actions were and abuse of his power as a Police Officer and a significant deviation from his instructions. PC Martin was ultimately dismissed from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Police Force without notice.
Unhappy with this, Mr Topham approached Mr McConville for specialist advice and without hesitation no win, no fee terms were offered. Once instructed, Mr McConville lodged a formal Letter of Claim to Hertfordshire Constabulary as clearly, PC Martin acted unlawfully which resulted in his dismissal. Mr McConville alleged that Hertfordshire Constabulary (responsible for PC Martin’s conduct) had breached / invaded Mr Topham’s privacy under the Human Rights Act, had breached the Data Protection Act 2018/the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as confidence following their misuse of private information pertaining to Mr Topham.
In response to this, Hertfordshire Constabulary admitted the claims brought by Mr Topham and offered him £5,000.00 plus his legal costs in settlement of his claim. After this, settlement discussions were had between Mr McConville and Hertfordshire Constabulary as this offer was derisory in his view. These said discussions culminated in settlement being achieved for Mr Topham in a sum over £35,000.00 without Court proceedings being issued and served.
Press: The Comet news report