Personal data of Herts and Beds court defendants including national insurance and phone numbers repeatedly sent to journalists in error

Nurse Lea Ledesma, who was previously living in Stevenage, was given a suspended sentence at Southwa

Nurse Lea Ledesma, who was previously living in Stevenage, was given a suspended sentence at Southwark Crown Court today after being found guilty of unlawful killing by gross negligence. - Credit: Archant

Magistrates’ court lists containing personal data such as national insurance and phone numbers of defendants have been sent to journalists four times in the past month – despite the problem being pointed out twice.

HM Courts and Tribunal Service today confirmed it is ‘urgently investigating’ the repeated errors, which concern data sent to journalists about St Albans and Stevenage magistrates’ courts.

Such lists regularly contain ages and addresses as a matter of course, but in these four cases so-called ‘unvalidated registers’ for internal court use were sent out – containing defendants’ mobile phone numbers, national insurance numbers, ethnic details and more.

Much of the data affected came from youth courts, and contained information about defendants under the age of 18.

The origin of the messages was the centralised Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire admin unit, based at Luton Magistrates’ Court.

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After this paper twice received the erroneous lists on March 9 and 27, we wrote to the admin team to inform them – but on Wednesday this week another such register was sent out.

We again informed the team, also alerting the HM Courts and Tribunal Service press office – yet almost unbelievably received a fourth such list yesterday morning.

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Matt Adams, group editor for Archant titles the Comet, the Herts Advertiser, the Royston Crow and the Welwyn Hatfield Times, expressed deep concern.

He said: “Magistrates’ court lists and results are a vital resource for journalists when covering cases and it is a service we much appreciate, but the repeated failures to ensure personal information is not being shared are not acceptable.

“We understand that genuine mistakes are made, but when these are highlighted on two occasions and not remedied it is of great concern – and something we felt was our duty to highlight.”

The head of the Beds and Herts court admin team has this afternoon written to all recipients of the emails, requesting urgent confirmation that they have deleted and purged the messages from their systems.

An HM Courts and Tribunal spokeswoman said: “We take the security of data very seriously and we are urgently investigating what happened in this case.

“These incidents are rare and staff have been reminded of the care needed when handling such information.

“We are taking steps to ensure that our procedures are tightened in the future.”

Data for the Hertfordshire courts has been sent out by the Luton-based team since August, and previously came from a Herts central resulting unit based in Watford.

A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “Businesses and organisations are required under the Data Protection Act to keep people’s personal data safe and secure. If people have concerns about the way an organisation is handling their personal data, they can report them to us.”

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