BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Saturday, 1 September, 2001, 04:36 GMT 05:36 UK
Inquiry into sex abuse files blunder
Computers
Sensitive information should be held in accordance with the Data Protection Act
Avon and Somerset Police are investigating how confidential files containing the identities of alleged paedophiles and their victims were found on a second-hand computer bought from Bristol University.

The computer was bought two years ago and contained data from a research project for the Home Office into how child abuse cases were dealt with.

The files were given to the university's law department by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The abuse victims and their families were not told that sensitive details had been released to Bristol University by police, BBC Two's Newsnight programme revealed on Friday.

Testimonies and transcripts of police interviews were supplied to the university's law department for study into how evidence was collated in child abuse cases.

It's disgusting really. It's supposed to be private and confidential. It's not supposed to leak out

Mother of victim

The highly sensitive details, which were still stored on the computer's hard disk, were discovered when a computer company was called out to do a virus check on the PC.

A mother of one of the victims mentioned in the files told BBC's Newsnight: "It's disgusting really. It's supposed to be private and confidential. It's not supposed to leak out.

"You put your trust in the professionals who deal with these things and it seems they trivialise it."

Another man who had been wrongly accused of sexual abuse and was also named on the file said: "Once I'd been acquitted I felt the information would be automatically destroyed."

The university is urgently reviewing procedures to prevent anything similar from happening again

Bristol University

Bristol University said in a statement that the university's policy of destroying sensitive or personal data after it was used had clearly been breached.

"This is a matter of great concern, and the university is urgently reviewing procedures to prevent anything similar from happening again," the statement said.

A spokeswoman for Avon and Somerset Police said the information on 11 offenders and victims should have been held in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1984.

She said this "required the information to be held securely and only kept for the life of the project".

"We are satisfied that we as a force conformed to the Data Protection legislation in place at that time."

Professor Colin Pritchard
Professor Colin Pritchard relies on police records

Professor Colin Pritchard, of Southampton University, relies on police records for his research into child sexual abuse.

He told Newsnight that the incident could result in a restriction of access to sensitive material.

"It brings the system into disrepute in an area where we really are desperate for research," Professor Pritchard said.

"Without research we will not be able to improve services for those who have been victims."

The Director of human rights group Privacy International, Simon Davies told the programme: "There are lots of systems of anonymisation that researchers could use to guarantee the integrity of the research and the privacy of the people involved.

"But it is endemic in the research culture to want names, addresses and personal data."

See also:

23 May 00 | UK
10 Jul 01 | Entertainment
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes