A Norfolk police official broke a privacy law after blurting out "sensitive information" to the relative of a 54-year-old bloke – who had been seriously hurt in a car crash and left unnoticed in a ditch for five hours.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission today said that one of the force's control room operators had violated the Data Protection Act by "inappropriately disclosing sensitive information" over the phone to a member of the injured man's family three days after the road smash.
The crash happened off the A47 at Walpole Highway near Wisbech, Norfolk, last year, the IPCC said. Officers turned up to the accident spot on the morning of 8 July but, after a thorough search, could not find the severely injured driver.
It took five hours for the unnamed man to be discovered by members of the public, who spotted him in the ditch. At about 4.30pm that day, an ambulance was called and the driver was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn. Doctors said he had life-threatening injuries, and he is still recovering from the crash to this day.
A day later, the plods' handling of the accident was referred to the IPCC by Norfolk Constabulary. It probed their actions, and upheld a complaint from a relative about the police officers' failure to find the wounded man.
The IPCC concluded that while that blunder was not deliberate and didn't amount to a criminal offence, it did find "potential performance issues" that the force needed to address. The watchdog noted: "Both officers were interviewed by the IPCC under criminal caution. While their searches should have been more thorough, the ditch was not easily visible and the immediate area was covered in dense vegetation."
As for the data breach, the commission said:
[A] control room operator breached the Data Protection Act by inappropriately disclosing sensitive information in a telephone call with a member of the injured man’s family, soon after the accident.
It did not reveal what data had been blurted out by the operator, who is now being re-trained by Norfolk Constabulary for what the IPCC Commissioner Sarah Green described as "an error of judgement". ®