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Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner welcomes national investigation into the way police handle rape victim data

20th December 2018

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) today announced that they will launch an inquiry into how the personal information of victims in sexual offence cases is accessed and handled. Dame Vera Baird, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, has been vocal on this subject for some time and is delighted to hear that the ICO will be investigating the issue further.

She said: “Complainants of sexual offences are often scrutinised to a level unseen in any other type of criminal offence. A complainant’s signature on a ‘Stafford Statement’ is often requested shortly after they give their first video-recorded account of their experience, often when the complainant is in a state of trauma and does not fully understand what they are signing.

“This signature provides blanket consent for the police to obtain any personal information held by any public authority or charity, Including schools and health professionals such as GPs about the complainant since birth – everything from medical notes to counselling, social services or education records – even when the offence happened yesterday.

“This practice not only impacts on complainant’s rights to privacy but understandably, their willingness to pursue a case.

“There has been much focus on the downloading of a complainant’s mobile phone. However, this is just one area of possible intrusion and I am pleased to see that the ICO has acknowledged that there are possible data breaches – as well as potential breaches of a complainant’s human rights – in the obtaining of other personal material.

“In this age where our data is so easily obtainable, it is hugely important that the law, and officers of the law, are clear about what their obligations and responsibilities are, and in turn complainants feel able to come forward without fear of intrusion into their personal lives.

“I stand ready to assist the ICO in any way possible and I look forward to hearing the findings of this inquiry, which I hope will be informed by the experiences of complainants and other parties involved in the criminal justice process, so that some clarity in this area can be established.”