Private Eyes, Fire and Fines: ICO Hands Down Record Damages

Private Eyes, Fire and Fines: ICO Hands Down Record Damages

A tale of a fire, insurance and shady business practices has resulted in record fines being handed down from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK.

To wit: A firm of loss adjusters, Woodgate and Clark Ltd, has been fined £50,000 for using rogue private investigators to collect information illegally and then disclosing it to an insurance firm client.

A certain person (unnamed in the case) had made a claim on an insurance policy in relation to a fire at a business he owned in Lancashire. Woodgate and Clark engaged the services of two private investigators, Daniel Summers, 38, and Adam John Spears, 78, to uncover the facts of the situation (presumably to determine if there was arson or if the fire was fraud-related). They went on to unlawfully obtain confidential financial information on the person that filed the claim, including details of his banking transactions, dutifully reporting it back to Woodgate and Clark. The loss adjusters in turn sent the information on to their insurer client.

The case is part of an ongoing ICO investigation into allegations of a criminal trade in confidential personal information involving corporate clients suspected of using the services of private investigators, who may be employing shady methods for gathering their information.

“The illegal trade in personal information is not only a criminal offence but a serious erosion of the privacy rights of UK citizens,” said Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner. “As well as these record fines, the organizations and individuals involved also face serious reputational damage as a result of being prosecuted by the ICO.”

A jury at Maidstone Crown Court had returned 15 guilty verdicts after the ICO prosecuted the defendants under s55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. Woodgate and Clark was convicted of two counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data, and in addition to the £50,000 fine, it was ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.

Also, firm director Michael Woodgate was fined £75,000, while Colum Tudball, senior loss adjuster, was fined £30,000—both were ordered to pay £20,000 costs.

Private investigator Summers was fined £20,000 and £20,000 in costs, while Spears was fined £10,000 and £2,500 in costs.

The ICO’s investigation began in 2013 after the Serious Organised Crime Agency handed it a list of ‘blue chip’ clients of criminal private investigators.

“Today’s sentencing hearing was part of a long, complex and detailed investigation by ICO staff and our work in this area continues,” Denham added. 

Source: Information Security Magazine