Threat of massive fine over Sheffield council data breach

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SHEFFIELD Council could be fined up to half a million pounds for breach of the Data Protection Act after confidential paperwork about mental health patients was found ‘blowing around’ a city centre street.

The extent of the punishment the authority could face was revealed by Peter Wright, a data protection lawyer at Taylor Bracewell, based at Fountain Precinct, Sheffield.

He said: “Under the law, the council has to report the incident for investigation by the Information Commissioner who can then levy a fine of up to £500,000.

“This kind of incident is on the increase, particularly involving councils, and there have been some quite stiff fines handed out recently.”

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Council’s opposition Lib Dem group, said: “Clearly a full and thorough investigation is needed after such a shocking breach of personal trust.

“A number of vulnerable people have been seriously let down and it’s vital that an incident like this is never repeated.”

Eddie Sherwood, Sheffield Council’s director of care and support, said: “This is an extremely serious breach of confidential information and we are taking the matter very seriously.

“People need to have confidence that we will keep their personal details safe and we will get to the bottom of how this happened.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office has levied £1.8 million in fines for data blunders in the 12 months to July - more than triple the £431,000 of fines in 2010/11.

Cases included a £140,000 fine to Midlothian Council in Scotland for disclosing sensitive personal data relating to children and their carers.