Police abuse data systems

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BREACHES of the Data Protection Act led two police forces to discipline a total of 17 officers and civil staff in the last three years.

Cleveland Police had one officer lose their job while seven were disciplined for accessing or using information they shouldn’t. Three support staff were also sacked or stood down and three more were disciplined between 2007-2010.

Durham Constabulary had one civilian worker lose their job and three others were disciplined in the same period.

The figures have been released amid the ongoing controversy over the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and the paper’s relationship with the police.

There is no suggestion that the Cleveland or Durham figures are related to the probe into the News of the World situation.

Martin Campbell, head of Cleveland Police’s professional standards department, said: “Any breaches of the Data Protection Act are taken extremely seriously.

“Each case is looked at on its own merits and according to the circumstances involved the most appropriate action is then taken against anyone found to have misused systems.”

Durham Constabulary’s Superintendent Darren Ellis said: “As the public would expect, we take the issue of officers and staff abusing their access to confidential databases very seriously and on the rare occasions this has happened it has been dealt with robustly.

“Access to these systems is monitored daily and there are strategies in place to both prevent their abuse and alert us should a breach occur.”

The figures were released by Big Brother Watch, a campaigning group on privacy and civil liberties.

They show a total of 904 police officers and police staff were subjected to internal disciplinary action nationwide, with 98 losing their jobs and 243 also receiving criminal convictions for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Top of the league of breaches was Merseyside where 208 legal cautions were made for “viewing a computer record relating to a high profile arrest”.

No criminal convictions were recorded in the Cleveland or Durham force areas.

Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Our investigation shows that not only have police employees been found to have run background records checks on friends and possible partners, but some have been convicted for passing sensitive information to criminal gangs and drug dealers. This is at best hugely intrusive and, at worse, downright dangerous.

“Police forces must adopt a zero tolerance approach to this kind of behaviour. Those found guilty of abusing their position should be sacked on the spot.”

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