Data Protection Claim Against Cheshire Constabulary

I am pleased to report on another successful Data Protection Breach claim which has recently been settled by my firm on behalf of our client, Jason R.

 

In January 2011 our client, a taxi driver, applied to renew his dual private hire/hackney carriage licence with Cheshire West and Cheshire Borough Council.

 

By reason of an enhanced disclosure certificate dated 28th March 2011 which was issued by the Criminal Records Bureau, concerns were raised by Cheshire West and Cheshire Borough Council as to whether our client was “a fit and proper person to hold a dual licence”.

 

Specifically, the entry in question stated “24/03/11 – It is strongly believed that the subject is actively involved with an organised crime group engaging in criminality”. No further details in support of this dramatic assertion were forthcoming.

 

Our client entirely denied the allegation made against him and enquiries were made with the Criminal Records Bureau who received a response from Cheshire Constabulary dated 12th May 2011 stating “The Police confirmed the disclosure certificate to be accurate”.

 

Our client then received notice of a hearing to consider whether he was a fit and proper person to retain an operating taxi licence, which was listed to take place on 19th October 2011.

 

Prior to the scheduling of the hearing, Cheshire Constabulary refused to elaborate further on the disclosure information and refused to attend or participate in any way in the committee meeting.

 

Following a hearing of the committee on 14th December 2011, our client’s operational licence was then revoked, based entirely on the unsubstantiated entry on our client’s CRB certificate which he continued to maintain was entirely erroneous.

 

In our client’s view this was an outrageous slur against his character made by Police Officers who apparently had no evidence whatsoever to back it up.

 

Gone, it seems, was the presumption at the heart of British criminal justice that a person is deemed innocent until proven guilty.

 

Our client was dismayed by the cancellation of his taxi licence, subsequently re-applied to Cheshire West and Cheshire Borough Council.

 

As a result of the second application, our client received another enhanced disclosure report dated 19th June 2012 which contained an entry under the heading of “Other relevant information disclosed at the Chief Police Officer’s discretion” in exactly the same terms as the entry dated 24th March 2011.

 

On 12th September 2012, a hearing proceeded before the General Licensing Subcommittee of the Cheshire West and Cheshire Borough Council to determine whether our client should be granted an operational taxi licence, and once again he was refused.

 

Our client received the written reasons for the refusal, dated 13th December 2012 which concluded as follows “The Subcommittee, whose overriding concern is to the safety of the fair paying public decided that given the extremely serious nature of the statement disclosed by the Chief Police Officer on your CRB, it could not be satisfied that you are a fit and proper person to act as a hackney carriage/private hire driver at this time.”

 

Our client therefore exercised his right to appeal against this decision to the Magistrates Court. As with the previous committee hearing, an invitation had been extended to Cheshire Constabulary to attend the meeting but who once again declined.

 

On 15th February 2013, Cheshire West and Cheshire Borough Council saw sense and conceded our client’s appeal and issued him with his taxi licence. A new CRB certificate was issued which had removed the entry previously contained on the certificates from 2011 and 2012.

 

Our client subsequently submitted a formal complaint to The Independent Police Complaints Commission. This complaint was upheld and it was determined that our client should have been permitted the opportunity to make representations prior to the disclosure of his CRB certificate.

 

Furthermore our client made a request to The Independent Monitor to review the information contained on the CRB certificates from 2011 and 2012. On 6th September 2013 our client received a response from The Independent Monitor which concluded “I have decided to delete the disclosure as there is insufficient evidence in the disclosure to support the statement within it”.

 

Our client, who was extremely distressed by this whole process, and who had understandably suffered considerable emotional anxiety and financial loss in legal fees and in not being able to practice his occupation as a taxi driver, instructed us to investigate and pursue a claim against Cheshire Constabulary who were responsible for the false CRB entry.

 

We advised our client that it was arguable that the Police had breached Schedule 1, Part 1 of The Data Protection Act 1998 which provides that personal data shall be accurate and where necessary kept up to date.

 

Failure to comply with the same would then entitle our client to damages from the Police pursuant to Section 13(1) of The Data Protection Act 1998 –

 

An individual who suffers damage by reason of any contravention by a data controller of any of the requirements of this act is entitled to compensation from the data controller for that damage.

 

Notwithstanding the fact that Cheshire Constabulary, in response to our client’s earlier complaint had concluded in a written report that he should have been provided with an opportunity to make representations in regards to the allegations against him in both 2011 and 2012, the Police, following “investigations” denied liability in response to his DPA claim and to refuse to make any payment of compensation.

 

Neither we nor our client accepted the Police’s denial of liability.

 

It is surely only fair and just that where unsubstantiated allegations of serious criminality are being made against an individual i.e. mere rumours, reports or suspicions which are not substantiated by any conviction for a criminal offence, nor even evidence substantial enough to have justified an arrest on suspicion of such a crime, that the Police should at the very least have afforded our client the opportunity to make representations before this information was disclosed on his CRB certificate. A dialogue on this process may even have established that this was a case of mistaken identity – we have no way of knowing, because of the Kafkaesque way in which the Police conducted themselves in this matter, hiding behind a wall of bureaucratic silence whilst our client was criminalised without due process of law.

 

Certainly, the Independent Monitor, as all parties were aware, had given the clearly expressed view that there was simply no substantial information to justify the Police allegations.

 

We therefore wrote to Cheshire Constabulary threatening to issue County Court proceedings on behalf of our client.

 

We reminded the Police that no evidence or justification for the entries upon the certificates had been forthcoming.

 

At one point our client had even offered himself for interview under caution so that any evidential basis for the allegations against him could be tested by the Police, but this offer was declined.

 

It was our view that the conduct of the Police in this matter was inimical to the proper functioning of the just, transparent and democratic society which they are supposed to be protecting.

 

It was not until our client had submitted an appeal to the Magistrates Court and was on the very verge of that hearing when a new CRB certificate, omitting the previous allegations was issued, thereby enabling our client to regain his taxi licence. In the process however, our client had incurred significant legal costs fighting to prove his innocence against criminal allegations for which he had never even been arrested, let alone charged.

 

Once again, it was the threat of Court proceedings which appeared to bring the Police to their senses as they then finally indicated a willingness to enter into settlement negotiations and in August 2016 our client’s claim was settled, prior to the commencement of Court proceedings, for the sum of £15,000 damages to reflect the distress he had suffered, along with his loss of earnings and legal fees.