TheRealSyp takes South Yorkshire Police to court – and wins !

Between 2012 and 2014, the author of this blog has made two subject access requests to South Yorkshire Police(SYP). In both cases, SYP failed to comply with the act but they continually refused to accept this was the case.
The first SAR was submitted in Feb 2013 and took in excess of the allowed 40 day limit before the data was provided. When it was finally received, there were a number of issues with the data, not limited to :-
– Exceeding the 40 day limit for provision of data
– Missing data that had explicitly been requested

I contacted the ICU department directly and requested they provide me with the missing data / unredacted copies of my personal data but they refused insisting that all personal data had been provided.

Disgruntled, I submitted a complaint to the Professional Standards Department which was picked up by the then head of PSD, Terence Mann. He attempted to deflect the complaint, by logging it as an MI and not a complaint, stating that he had personally reviewed the data and concluded that there had been no breach of the DPA and attempted to refer me to the ICO if I was not happy. After querying whether he was refusing to log the complaint it was subsequently recorded within 4 days and assigned to the Head of Conduct(Lorna Smith) for investigation.

I met with Lorna and an Insp Bob Souter who did little more than boast about his involvement in the disclosure of Hillsborough documents over the years. A number of documents were photocopied by Insp Souter and he would go away and review to see if there had been a disclosure breach.
Shortly after this meeting I received confirmation that there had been a breach and SYP offered an apology. Immediately after this apology, additional documents were disclosed but there was an ongoing battle over the next 9 months or so where other documents were drip fed to me. During this time I made a referral to the Information Commissioner who, based on a small number of example documents, decided that SYP had likely breached the Data Protection Act on all points raised.

The second SAR was submitted in Jan 2014 following an unannounced visit on my doorstep by two DCIs (Foster & Darbyshire) from the PSD. In their own words, they were just passing and thought they would call on me to discuss a few items I had raised over email in relation to two complaints. Despite being ‘just passing’, they happened to have a file with them containing vital information I had been trying to get my hands on for over 3 weeks to supplement an IPCC appeal.
As has become the norm for SYP, the data provided was heavily redacted along with the claim that some of the data requested simply did not exist. I pursued the matter with CC Crompton directly and during these exchanges he confirmed one of the documents I had requested did exist but did not contain my personal data. He made claims that he had consulted both his own legal team and national experts on DPA who had confirmed to him that this document did not contain my personal data and as such should not be disclosed.
I made another referral to the Information Commissioner regarding the over redaction and the withholding of this document and once again this was upheld on all points. SYP did provide a lesser redacted document and a copy of the single document that it was claimed did not contain my personal data. In reality this document only contained a date, my full name, the name of the local Chief Inspector and a hand written note by the CI stating that he had tried to contact me.

The County Court Claim.
In my referrals to the Information Commissioner, I was a little naive in that I wrongly assumed that if SYP were found to have breached the DPA, then the ICO would force them to comply. Sadly that is rarely the case and the ICO merely advises or recommends that an organisation does the right thing or advises them to review their processes.
With so many documents that were heavily redacted I decided to issue CC Crompton with an ultimatum – reprocess my SAR in line with the findings of the two upheld referrals to the ICO or face me in court. CC Crompton refused to reprocess my SAR so on the 12th July 2015 I filled out an online claim with the Moneyclaim Online service. This is the quickest and simplest way to issue a claim in the county court. The claim was for the sum of £34.40 (costs incurred in securing the data provided so far) and the court fee of £25. The documents are normally issued the following working day by the Northampton Bulk County Court.
The matter was then picked up by SYP Legal Services in the form of Gary Slinn, a relatively newly qualified solicitor(Apr 2012), in his capacity as Senior Legal Services Officer (at this time he did not appear to be working as a solicitor for SYP).
Over the next month or so, all of the necessary exchanges of papers, filing with the court took place and a preliminary hearing date of 11th Nov 2015 was set.
Up until this time, all papers submitted by SYP to myself and the court indicated that Legal Services would be the only party in attendance and no witnesses would be attending.

A written statement of truth by Gill Bower-Lissaman(Cromptons delegated authority for Information Compliance) had been submitted along with SYPs evidence bundle to the court, however this was unsigned.

My day in court
On the 11th Nov 2015 to my surprise, SYP turned up to court mob handed – Gary Slinn, Gill Bower-Lissaman and a barrister called Robert Clark who according to this page is the Head of Civil dept at Bank House Chambers in Sheffield and is also a part time Judge! Either I’d got them on the backfoot or this was an attempt to intimidate me I thought.
The judge heard my long standing crusade to make SYP comply with the DPA along with SYP conceding that they had made errors in the past and had sought to correct these but they did not accept that any more data needed to be disclosed. Faced with a pile of documents almost a foot high before her, the judge made an order that I submit a short list of documents (10 – 20) that I wish the court to review on a Scott Schedule and that SYP were then to provide both the redacted and unredacted documents to the court for review. This review would be a papers only hearing and then a decision would be communicated.

The papers only hearing took place on the 12th May 2016. The court found a number of documents were in breach of the DPA and made an order for SYP to disclose this data. In addition, the court made an order for SYP to pay me £15 in damages in addition to the court costs. This money, once the claim is finalised, will be donated to charity.
There was one document that SYP failed to provide to the court and this item was set aside but could be re-instated. I did ask for SYP to re-instate this item as it was they who had failed to file the relevant papers with the court but as I had come to expect, nothing moves quick enough in SYP so I had it re-instated myself.

My second day in court
On the 15th Aug 2016, myself and SYP (only Gary Slinn for SYP this time) attended court once again for a preliminary hearing. Ahead of this hearing I had already had to chase SYP for my copy of the documents that they had filed with the court as they had not provided them. On my arrival at the court, Gary Slinn approached me and handed me a revised copy of the documents as they had provided myself (and the court) with incorrect versions. Gary Slinn had to confess this to the Judge when we entered his office – how embarassing!
After 40 minutes of discussion, the judge ordered that I submit a statement of truth along with a schedule of my costs / damages to SYP who will then forward this to the court with a bundle of the correct documents for review at a later papers only hearing.

Following this hearing a complaint was submitted against CC Crompton to the South Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner. This complaint was recorded but has not been upheld and is now the subject of an IPCC appeal.