Chris White writes: silencing the whistleblowers

Hertfordshire County Council has just received a £100,000 fine for breaching the Data Protection Act. The charge sheet as published by the Information Commissioner is serious.

The council had faxed confidential details about a child abuse cases to the wrong number that of a private individual (P). On the day the Information Commissioner’s staff were at the council persuading them to change their practices to prevent further breaches, another fax, containing confidential and sensitive details of care proceedings, was wrongly sent to a set of lawyers’ chambers.

The Information Commissioner clearly wanted to make an example of the council, which now claims that it has changed its systems and has apologised.

But we began to delve. The council’s story that someone had manually dialled P’s number when he or she found the correct pre-programmed number busy appears to be in doubt. P complains that this was a repeated occurrence (P’s number is one digit different from the correct one) and that it is more than likely that the wrong number had been pre-programmed.
The council says there is no evidence for this, neatly confusing the idea of ‘no evidence’ with ‘never was any evidence’.

It gets murkier. P in fact complained to the council AND to the Information Commissioner about the repeated breaches. The council claims that it reported itself first.
When P said he was minded to report the breach to the data subjects (those whose details were so carelessly faxed around) the council took out an injunction. This not only prevented P from talking to the data subjects (which might be fair enough) but also prevented P from providing materials to the Information Commissioner or to councillors.

And of course there are significant costs to being on the receiving end of an injunction –costs that the county council has yet to meet.

The breaches took place in June. The Liberal Democrat Group, the Official Opposition, was informed only after several months had elapsed and then in only the vaguest of terms.

No briefing was offered to councillors until after the matter had hit the Today Programme on Radio 4.

When we asked why there had not even been a full disclosure to key councillors the night before the story was due to break in the national media, we were told that there had been technical difficulties in getting information out from the council.

It is interesting to speculate what those technical difficulties might be. We know that the council is not good with faxes. Perhaps it is equally troubled with telephones or email.

Who else knew? The tiny Labour Group apparently knew all about it. The ruling Conservatives knew that they knew all about it. But they continued to conceal it from the Liberal Democrat Opposition.

What do we learn?

That Hertfordshire County Council will use the full weight of the law to crush whistleblowers.
That it will cover up its mistakes, even (or especially) the most serious.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sal Brinton 9th Dec '10 - 12:38pm

    Thanks for letting us know this, Chris. I find this story quite extraordinary.

    Usually, a whistle blower comes from within the organisation, but P was the innocent recipient of their confidential information, and notified them himself of their mistake. When repeated, he remonstrated with them. Their behaviour is disgraceful, intimidating and should be exposed. I hope that the Information Commissioner throws the book at them further for this.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 27th Feb - 11:24pm
    David Was not referring to our former leader Charles, only to Ludovic. Let me say more. After winning Rochdale, in the fifties, if he had...
  • User AvatarJohnny McDermott 27th Feb - 11:23pm
    You missed the point, David Evans, and I fear rather failed to make your own. Which makes sense, given your aversion to full stops. Glancing...
  • User AvatarGlenn 27th Feb - 11:21pm
    Science isn't liberal and climate change research is not liberal either. It's an accumulation of data that that strongly indicates human behaviour (use of fossil...
  • User AvatarGary J 27th Feb - 10:39pm
    Brian Ellis - Actually I think Peter Morrison is also unfairly treated in the Report. Unlike with Cyril Smith there is no evidence against Morrison,...
  • User AvatarSally Burnell 27th Feb - 10:30pm
    William Wallace - completely agree. Your 'left behind' paper was discussed by FPC, including at our away day, and it directly influenced our paper on...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 27th Feb - 10:26pm
    "Even the most committed party member should be asking themselves what the party is for or if it still serves any purpose at all.' I...