A firm of loss adjusters has been fined a total of £50,000 for unlawfully disclosing personal data which had been obtained illegally by senior employees and rogue private investigators. A director and a senior member of staff at the Kent-based business Woodgate and Clark Ltd have also been sentenced to record financial penalties, along with the private investigators involved.
The case was part of an ongoing Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation into allegations of a criminal trade in confidential personal information involving corporate clients suspected of using the services of rogue private investigators.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, commented: “The illegal trade in personal information is not only a criminal offence, but also represents a serious erosion of the privacy rights of UK citizens. As well as these record fines, the organisations and individuals involved in this case also face serious reputational damage as a result of being prosecuted by the ICO.”
The data subject involved in the case had made a claim on an insurance policy in relation to a fire at business premises he owned in Lancashire. The private investigators unlawfully obtained confidential financial information, including details of his banking transactions, and disclosed it to Woodgate and Clark Ltd, which then disclosed it to an insurer client.
The Jury at Maidstone Crown Court had returned 15 guilty verdicts last month after the ICO prosecuted the defendants under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. The following sentences – the highest ever imposed for these offences – were passed on Friday 5 January:
*The company, Woodgate and Clark Ltd, was convicted of two counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data. It was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs
*Woodgate and Clark Ltd director Michael Woodgate, 67, of King Street, West Malling in Kent was convicted on one charge of unlawfully obtaining personal data and two counts of unlawful disclosing personal data. He was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs
*Colum Tudball, 54, of Farriers Walk, Kingsnorth, Ashford in Kent, senior loss adjuster at Woodgate and Clark Ltd, was convicted on two charges of unlawfully obtaining personal data. He was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs
*Private investigator Daniel Summers, 38, of Pilgrim Close, Radyr in Cardiff was convicted (in his absence) of two charges of unlawfully obtaining personal data and two counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data. He was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs
*Private investigator Adam John Spears, 78, of Pleasance Road North, Lydd on Sea in Kent was convicted of two charges of unlawfully obtaining personal data and two counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data. He was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £2,500 in costs.
The ICO’s investigation began in 2013 after the Serious Organised Crime Agency handed the organisation a list of ‘blue chip’ clients of criminal private investigators.
In conclusion, Elizabeth Denham added: “This sentencing hearing was part of a long, complex and detailed investigation by the ICO’s staff. Our work in this area continues.”