A police force has been fined £100,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office after confidential information – including interview videotapes – was left in the basement of a former police station.
The incident came to light when a police officer visited some business premises in November 2012 on an unconnected matter. The officer concerned noticed a box of tapes apparently with the logo and name of Kent Police.
The owner said he had found the tapes in the basement after his company had bought the site two months before. He said he was intending to view the contents as a possible source of entertainment.
The next day police officers went to the former station, which had been unoccupied for more than three years.
There they discovered that a large number of items had been left in the basement. These included files relating to threats to kill, rape, grievous bodily harm and child abuse cases; interviews with victims, witnesses/informants and suspects; sickness and absence records; and details of loans and pay relating to police staff.
Some of the information contained dated back to the 1980s, but most was fairly recent, according to the ICO monetary penalty notice.
The ICO said Kent Police had no guidance or procedures in place to make sure personal information was securely removed from former premises.
“In the absence of any specific policies or procedures, it wasn’t clear who was ultimately responsible for ensuring that the former police station was vacant at the point of sale,” the watchdog added.
“This lack of documented procedures was exacerbated by a breakdown in communication between the different departments involved in the long process of decommissioning the building.”
Kent Police’s estates department has now implemented a procedure to be followed when vacating police premises and designed to prevent a recurrence of this type of breach.
Stephen Eckersley, ICO Head of Enforcement, said: “If this information had fallen into the wrong hands the impact on people’s lives would have been enormous and damaging. These tapes and files included extremely sensitive and confidential information relating to individuals, many of whom had been involved in serious and violent crimes. How a police force could leave such information unattended in a basement for several years is difficult to understand.
“Ultimately, this breach was a result of a clear lack of oversight, information governance and guidance from Kent Police which led to sensitive information being abandoned. It is only good fortune that the mistake was uncovered when it was and the information hasn’t fallen into the wrong hands.”
A Kent Police spokesman said: “Kent Police has co-operated fully with the Information Commissioner’s Office and accepts the findings of its investigation. It is unacceptable for police property to have been left at the site of the former station in Gravesend following the move to North Kent Police Station in July 2008.
“Since this was reported in 2012, Kent Police has reviewed its policies to ensure all documentation and files containing personal information are dealt with appropriately and in compliance with Data Protection legislation. In addition we have now implemented new procedures when vacating police premises.”
The spokesman added: “After the discovery of the loss of data from the former police station, officers quickly retrieved and secured all documentation and property belonging to Kent Police. No sensitive information was lost or further disseminated.”