A police constable has been sacked after reportedly tracking down young women motorists through their car numberplates and propositioning them on social media.
Stephen Woods, formerly of Guernsey Police, was dismissed from the Channel Island’s local force after searching for their car registration details to find their names.
A judge rejected his defence that he was looking for new models for a fitness-based Instagram cartoon page that he ran.
“In my view his interest in these women was more than just about comic book drawings,” said Judge Gary Perry, following Woods’ guilty pleas to nine counts of breaking the Data Protection (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law 2017.
Guernsey Magistrates’ Court heard on Friday (4 December) that Woods tracked the women down by using a trust-based lookup system before sending them social media messages.
Local newspaper the Guernsey Press reported how local police workers could obtain details of any locally registered car “if they provided a vehicle registration number to the Joint Emergency Services Control Centre,” with the paper stating: “The system was based on trust.”
A woman contacted by Woods in July this year told the court that she was in her car outside a sweetshop in St Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital village. Noticing Woods gazing at her, she became “uncomfortable” and drove away – only to see a police car following her. Its driver, Woods, pulled alongside her at a junction and smiled at her before driving away.
Later, she said, he sent her a request on Instagram – prompting her to complain to the police force. Woods had applied to transfer to Cambridgeshire Police and was due to leave Guernsey towards the end of July. After the complaint was made local investigators acted swiftly and found lists of numberplates on his phone, including the complainant’s.
Woods pleaded guilty to obtaining personal details without the consent of the controller, under section 87(1)(a) of the Data Protection (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law 2017. In the mainland UK, his behaviour would have been in breach of the Data Protection Act 2018. His punishment was 150 hours' community service and the destruction of his mobile phone.
State-owned databases with few meaningful controls on access and use are a persistent temptation to police offenders. Last year a sergeant in London’s Met Police used a database to monitor an investigation into his own conduct (seemingly without success), while separate figures revealed that one police staffer is disciplined every three days around the nation for misusing official IT systems for private purposes. ®