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Unlawful Retention of Data - Police Force Ordered to Pay £36,000 Damages

In a ground-breaking case, a disabled young man has been awarded £36,000 in compensation against a police force that breached his human rights by taking the disproportionate step of retaining certain information and data about him.

The man suffers from autistic spectrum disorder and is prey to high levels of anxiety. As a coping mechanism, he engages in 'stimming', a behaviour in which he rubs fabric between his fingers. That was said to have given rise to complaints by two women that he had touched them inappropriately.

The complainants' perception that they had been subjected to sex attacks was, a judge found, mistaken. The man presented no real risk to them and his disability diminished the risk he posed generally. He was not charged with any criminal offence, but details of the complaints were nevertheless retained by the force in the form of computerised occurrence summary reports (OSRs).

Following a five-day trial, the judge found that the retention of the OSRs amounted to a breach of his right to respect for his privacy, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The force was ordered to delete the OSRs and pay him £15,000 in respect of his lost earnings, a further £15,000 for the distress he endured and £6,000 in aggravated damages.

Ruling on the force's appeal against that outcome, the High Court found that the OSRs were intended to reflect the information that was provided to the police by the complainants, rather than the underlying facts as to what actually happened. When measured against that purpose, they were accurate.

It did not, however, follow that the retention of the OSRs was lawful. It had not been shown that the judge was wrong to find that their retention was a disproportionate interference with the man's Article 8 rights. Given the extent of his distress and financial loss arising from the retention, the amount of the damages award was justified.

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