In December 2017, at Maidstone Crown Court, a jury returned 15 guilty verdicts after the ICO prosecuted four individuals in connection with the unlawful disclosure of personal data which was obtained illegally by senior employees of Woodgate & Clark Limited, a firm of loss adjusters, and two private investigators. Director Michael Woodgate, senior staff member Colum Tudball and private investigators Adam John Spears and Daniel Summers, were all sentenced to financial penalties along with Woodgate & Clark themselves being fined the sum of £50,000. The case related to a claim made on an insurance policy in relation to a fire at business premises in Lancashire in 2004. The private investigators were deemed to have unlawfully obtained confidential financial information, including details of the claimants banking transactions, and disclosed it to Woodgate and Clark, which then disclosed it to an insurer client without permission. The defendants were prosecuted under s55 of the Data Protection Act 1998, the fines and costs that they were ordered to pay totalled a whopping £267,500.
What was interesting about the fines and costs, was the variation in amounts that each defendant was ordered to pay. Perhaps as expected, Michael Woodgate was subject to the biggest fine and compensation costs probably because he was a Director at Woodgate & Clark, however the two private investigators were ordered to pay a considerably different amount. Daniel Summers, who was convicted in his absence of two charges of unlawfully obtaining personal data and two counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data had to fork out a total of £40,000. Whereas Adam John Spears, who did attend the hearing, was ordered to pay £12,500 for the same convictions as Summers.
These convictions and the fines imposed are a prime example of the ICO’s no nonsense approach, and it will be interesting to see if the increased penalties that they can impose under the GDPR will see a decrease in this type of activity, and even higher fines being handed out to anyone who dares to risk getting caught.