Last year Big Brother Watch highlighted the troubling scale of the misuse of police databases by both officers and civilian staff. Our report was the first national research undertaken to expose the extent of these very serious invasions of privacy.
But are some of the officers involved escaping justice?
In recent days, the Daily Mail reported how in Essex a number of officers resigned pending disciplinary proceedings, while in Merseyside the Liverpool Echo reports on an officer who has been sacked for searching police databases 170 times for information on women he wanted to date.
Last year BBC’s Panorama questioned if staff resigning in this way – before the conclusion of disciplinary proceedings – officers and staff would be able to take up jobs that had they been sacked they would not have been able to. (While in some cases also retaining benefits and pensions).
Big Brother Watch believes anyone who abuses their access to personal information should be prosecuted under the Data Protection Act – in addition to whatever disciplinary action their employer may take. We have previously argued that in the most serious cases, judges should be able to impost custodial sentences for offences – something the Government has continued to oppose.
We are now researching the scale of this problem and will publish our findings in due course. It is not good enough for the police to deal with these things ‘in house’ – whether that involves people losing their jobs or lesser sanctions. If evidence exists that someone has broken the law, then they should be prosecuted.