Suffolk Police Apologise Over Putting Sexual Abuse Victims At Risk By Online Data Leak

| General

The Police Force are under a duty to prevent crime, make individuals think twice about committing offences of a criminal nature, investigate crimes which have taken place by gathering evidence in relation to such criminal conduct, liaising with the Crown Prosecution Services to persuade the independent prosecution body to press charges against suspected assailants of crime and to generally keep victims of criminal offences safe. However, this latter point appears to have been all but forgotten in a case which emerged in mid-November 2022  when law enforcement authority, the Sussex Police Force was left seemingly shame faced when it was left with no other conceivable alternative but to issue a statement in which the force expressed its heartfelt apology for its part in a leak of personal data which appeared to belong to those persons who had found themselves in the harrowing position of being subjected to abuse of a sexual nature. 

What Happened In The Case?

The circumstances surrounding the case are very disturbing to say the least and appear to be as follows. Information appearing to belong to victims of disturbing episodes. Information such as data concerning persons names, postal and email addresses, dates of birth and arguably the most extraordinarily an explanation of the circumstances of the offences such victims had been subjected to inexplicably became visible on the website which belongs to the respective Sussex Police force.  

What Did The Police Authority Say?

As alluded to earlier in this article when the Sussex Police Authority found themselves confronted with the evidence of this leak of personal data from persons affected by the most disturbing offences of a sexual nature they had no reasonable feasible alternative but to express their unreserved sorrow for the disclosure of the personal data belonging to such affected persons who found themselves in such a situation. By way of action the police authority in the county of Sussex confirmed that once they had recognised that this unfortunate incident had taken place in relation the personal data, they worked to rectify the situation promptly by publishing such a communication, opened an investigation into how such a violation of such persons data protection obligations could have taken place within a law enforcement authority and to their credit they openly that such personal data of a sensitive nature should never have been allowed to be published on the police force’s public facing website under any circumstances.

How Did the Sussex Police Authority Respond to the Incident?

The Sussex Police force decided to act swiftly in relation to such a disclosure of personal information belonging to victims of horrifying sexual abuse and worked to ensure that such material was removed from the public domain and cannot be retrieved from the website. 

Why Was It So Serious?

The matter was taken so seriously because it was not just the matter of a person being easily identifiable from the data incorrectly published. This on its own would have been a cause for concern. However, the response was so prompt from the police force for the reason that the data had the potential to put the victims of the criminal offences of a sexual nature in some jeopardy and there was a real and pressing danger that those victims could be identified, traced and further abuse being inflicted against them imminently.   

Way Forward?

All law enforcement authorities and those handling data from victims of such harrowing and disturbing acts of a criminal nature need to ensure that personal data belonging to individuals are:

  • properly safeguarded
  • not published on any website without consent
  • not processed and
  • if such a violation of a person’s data obligations is discovered then as what happened in this case: 
  • a full investigation is required
  • information belonging to such persons needs to be identified
  • a full heartfelt apology issued to the victims and
  • the offending material removed promptly and as a matter of urgency. 

This will go some way to mitigate the likelihood of healing the wounds from the damage caused, build back the trust of affected persons and the wider public and reduce the risk of such information being disclosed incorrectly.  


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[SOURCE 1] BBC – Suffolk Police apology over sex abuse victims’ data on website – 15th November 2022 - Suffolk Police apology over sex abuse victims' data on website - BBC News

[SOURCE 2] Guardian – Suffolk Police apologise for publishing details of victims of sexual offences – 22 November 2022 - Suffolk police apologise for publishing details of victims of sexual offences | Police | The Guardian

[SOURCE 3]ITV News – Suffolk Police launch investigation after sex abuse victims’ details appear online – 15 November 2022 - Suffolk Police launch investigation after sex abuse victims' details appear online | ITV News Anglia 



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