The ICO has hit South Wales Police with a £160,000 fine for losing a video recording which formed part of the evidence in a sexual abuse case.
Three DVDs (one master and two copies) contained video of an August 2011 interview with a victim who had been sexually abused as a child. The victim’s face showed in the video and two perpetrators were named. The content was described as both graphic and disturbing.
The DVDs, which were not encrypted, were stored in the investigating officer’s desk – a desk shared with another colleague. In October 2011, the officer realized the DVDs were missing after an office move, but because no procedures were in place, the matter wouldn’t be reported up the chain until August 2013. Despite guidances issued by the Association of Chiefs Police Officers in 2007 and the Ministry of Justice in March, 2011, there were no policies or procedures in place for storing and managing digital recordings.
The loss occurred before the case against the perpetrators went to trial. In the absence of the digital recordings, the Crown Prosecution had to ask the officer to re-interview the victim due to the unclear nature of some written notes the officer had made. The second interview was abandoned due to the victim’s distress. The victim, a vulnerable young adult, did file a complaint over the loss of the DVDs.
The DVDs have still not been recovered.
The defendants were eventually convicted in court, but this is obviously the type of serious and sensitive material that required better data protection. The prosecution could have been seriously hampered, the victim may have had to testify in court to what could have been covered on the DVD, and the victim was left at risk if the perpetrators ever get hold of the DVD and seek revenge if they are released from prison or acquitted on appeal. Just knowing that unencrypted DVDs with such sensitive information could be found by someone and viewed is likely a stressor for the victim that could have been avoided.
In addition to the monetary penalty, the Information Commissioner has asked the police force sign an undertaking to ensure the changes are made to implement policies to stop any incidents happening again. As of May 2015, there was still no policy for storage and management of digitally recorded interviews in place.
The South Wales Police told the BBC that they are considering appealing the fine.