A case which I have recently concluded is yet another reminder of the absolute importance of attention to detail in the processing of data connected with legal matters, where sloppy errors by law enforcement officials – here West Yorkshire Police – can have serious consequences for innocent individuals.
My client Emily Baker is a person of good character and has no previous convictions or cautions.
Unbeknownst to Emily, on 24 August 2020 a Miss Emily Barker was involved in a road traffic accident, Miss Barker failed to stop although her vehicle’s registration was noted. The officer in the case then extracted the vehicle’s registered keeper’s address from the Police National Computer. However, when obtaining further details regarding the registered keeper, the officer misspelt Miss Barker’s name, crucially missing out the “r”, and thereby linking the incident to my client’s details rather than those of Miss Barker.
A request to furnish driver details was then sent to Miss Barker’s (correct) address. However, the letter to Miss Barker included my client’s date of birth and driving licence number. Miss Barker did not return the request.
Miss Barker was subsequently charged by West Yorkshire Police with failing to provide the identification of the driver. On 2 October 2020 Miss Barker was convicted at Bradford Magistrates Court of failing to stop, however due to the earlier mistake 6 points were placed on my client’s licence and a fine was issued in her name (Emily Baker).
Miss Barker (the real culprit) did not pay the fine and therefore a warrant of control was issued by the Court, and High Court Enforcement Officers from Marstons Recovery were instructed to obtain payment of the fine.
On 6 September 2021 my client received a letter from Marstons Recovery alerting her to the points on her licence and the fine, which including other charges, was now £1,126. Emily was understandably shocked and distressed by this, and on learning of the mistake immediately alerted Bradford Magistrates Court and attempted to rectify the situation. The Court replied that they could not rectify the matter themselves and that instead Emily would have to make a report to the Police (which she did, by way of a complaint).
A few weeks later – in fact on Emily’s birthday – High Court Enforcement Officers from Marstons Recovery attended her home address. The Officers possessed a warrant and locksmith authorisation to enter the address and seize goods. Emily found their attendance to be deeply distressing and intimidating, however, to avoid the seizure she agreed to pay the fine (having to call a family member for assistance in making that payment).
On 15 September Emily attended Bradford Magistrates Court in person to request that she be provided with the details of the case. Despite my client providing her current address to the Court, another letter containing Emily’s personal details was then incorrectly posted to the real driver Miss Barker.
Having received little or no assistance from the Police or the Court, Emily took steps to identify Miss Barker via Facebook and contacted her directly. Miss Barker admitted to Emily that she was in fact the party responsible for the incident on 24 August 2020.
On 21 September 2021 the matter was heard again in Court and the case against my client was withdrawn, and the points removed from her licence. Emily was informed of this by West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department on 28 September, who confirmed that the data breach was a result of the original officer’s mistake.
Emily was left feeling very shaken by these events, to such an extent that she no longer felt comfortable at home out of concern of more unexpected bailiff visits and suffered sleeplessness. She instructed me to pursue a claim for damages on her behalf and I am pleased to confirm that not only did I secure full reimbursement of the fine from West Yorkshire Police, but in addition got them to pay compensatory damages in the sum of £4,500 for the distress and inconvenience caused to Emily.
However, the bottom line is that this is a mistake which should never have been allowed to happen in the first place; a casual error, unchecked, leading to significant disruption to a person’s life. In today’s ‘data rich’ age more care than ever must be taken by the Police in the processing of that data, or else our data fingerprints could become connected with another person’s financial or criminal misconduct.
Names have been changed.