LEGAL EAGLE: What can I do if sensitive information is leaked?

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Readers may have heard about a case which featured recently in the news concerning a woman who received £75,000 after suing the police.

The case resulted from police disclosure of very sensitive and personal material.

The woman, who was a victim of domestic violence, agreed to let the police use anonymised details of her in training sessions for officers and other agencies dealing with domestic abuse.

It was later found out that her identity, medical history and the tape of the 999 call were used.

The claim included a claim for psychiatric injury and presumably (although it is not clear from the reports) a claim for substantial loss of earnings hence the very high award of compensation.

My firm has won a number of cases in which public authorities have unlawfully disclosed private and sensitive information about an individual.

Most recently, and rather disturbingly, we have been instructed on cases arising from medical staff accessing medical records for information to use in family disputes.

Our cases have included information unlawfully accessed on computer systems of an extremely sensitive nature such as pregnancy results, sexual health tests, including HIV status, and details of historic abuse.

In relation to police forces it is unfortunately not unknown for officers to have unlawfully accessed criminal records for their own personal use e.g. to do checks on personal acquaintances.

Fortunately access codes and other security checks are required for staff to obtain such information, which means it is usually possible to trace anyone who may have accessed information without good reason.

Claims for damages can be made in such circumstances. The value depends to a large degree on the losses suffered however, even without a specific injury or financial loss, compensation can be recovered for the mental distress caused.

Depending on the laws used, such claims need to be brought within certain time limits, ranging from 12 months to six years.

If you believe private information about you has been inappropriately accessed and/or disclosed you should seek legal advice.

At Ben Hoare Bell LLP we have specialist Solicitors working in this area – solicitors Richard Hardy and Andrew Freckleton are based at our Sunderland offices.

Please phone 0191 565 3112 or email For more information see