Devon and Cornwall Police have recently admitted to misusing the personal information of a rape survivor, agreeing to settle her claim for a six- figure sum in costs and damages.
Jane, whose name has now been changed to protect her identity, was on a night out in Plymouth around 44 years ago, when she met a man and agreed to go to back his hotel with him.
Once they arrived at the hotel, Jane had consensual sex with this man, who claimed to be a teacher and part of a touring rugby team from Wales. Jane heard a knock at the door and more than 10 men forced their way into the room. 6 or 7 of these men proceeded to rape her.
Jane initially reported matters to the police in 1993, albeit this investigation was quickly shut down. She came forward 20 years later to ask to review the records of the first investigation, only to find that there was no trace of the crime ever being reported. This made Jane reluctant to pursue matters further, however, after some encouragement by the police a new investigation was launched.
In an attempt to track down the officers involved in the previous investigation, detectives posted details of Jane’s rapes, including her name and address, on an unsecure website for retired police officers and staff. Jane was initially unaware that she had been identified.
This was unacceptable considering that the law provides life- long anonymity to victims of sexual offences, to protect them from being identified by the media and members of the public.
Jane did not know of the publication until 2017, when senior detectives visited her at her home to inform her.
Jane reports that she went into shock upon hearing this news. She told the BBC, ‘It was literally like an emotional bomb had gone off…my first concern was that nobody in my family knew.’
The police force did not carry out an investigation and Jane had to lobby for the breach of anonymity to be treated as a crime. It was eventually investigated by another police force, although unfortunately the file was handed to the CPS just days before the six- month time limit for prosecution was due to expire.
The CPS concluded that the prosecution would not go ahead as it was argued that the website was password protected and that her details were not accessible to the general public. However, over a year later Jane was going over the papers when she found a letter from the CPS which named the publisher and the website. She found the website and it was not password protected as stated.
In the months and years that followed, Jane pursued a number of professional standards investigations before appealing to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). Failings were identified by the IOPC, albeit the conduct of the two officers was not believed to have reached the threshold to be considered gross misconduct.
Fortunately, there was another route to redress for Jane, a civil claim for breach of her confidential information and rights under the Data Protection Act. A financial settlement was agreed at the end of 2021.
During negotiations, Jane asked for a face- to- face meeting and an apology from Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, named as Defendant in her case, in exchange for a reduction in settlement. The offer was declined and the force paid the higher amount.
Jane has described the ordeal as ‘second rape’, stating ‘I understand my rapists, rapists rape, I don’t understand the police…I would personally rather face my rapists than ever have to face the trauma of going through a rape investigation.’
Breaches of an individual’s confidential information such as this are often claimed to be careless mistakes by the authorities. However, whilst mistakes happen, where information has been released in highly sensitive situations, the consequences and impact upon the individual concerned can be catastrophic.
At Farleys we have acted for a number of claimants involving a breach of the Data Protection Act on the part of UK authorities. In such cases, a person who has suffered material or non- material damage has the right to receive compensation from the controller or processor for any damage suffered.
Claims can also be considered in tort for the misuse of private information and for any distress as a result, or in negligent for negligent disclosure if a duty of care to the claimant can be established and harm can be proved. A solicitor will be able to discuss the best approach.
If there has been a breach of your private information and this has caused you harm, it is essential that you obtain legal advice at the earliest opportunity. To speak to a member of the team at Farleys in confidence, please contact us on 0330 134 6430. Alternatively, you may wish to contact us by email or through the online chat below.