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Private Investigator found guilty of "blagging"

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Barry Spencer, a private investigator and director of ICU Investigations Ltd has been found guilty of conspiring to unlawfully obtain personal data under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA).  Geoffrey Sturgess, Company Commercial Consultant, here reviews the case and the possible ramifications that lie ahead for those who use private investigators to retrieve personal data.

Mr Spencer was convicted in connection with the “blagging” activities of ICU Investigations Ltd, which can include impersonating a legitimate party, or otherwise deceiving an information holder, in order to obtain personal data. Mr Spencer, along with other employees of the company, managed to “blag’” personal data from a variety of organisations.

Mr Spencer has been ordered to pay a £12,000 fine, £8,000 in prosecution costs and to comply with a confiscation order (an order requiring a defendant to pay back money obtained by way of criminal activity to the Crown) for the sum of £69,327.32. As well as this significant financial punishment, Mr Spencer has also been disqualified from acting as a company director for 8 years (in any company, not just ICU Investigations Ltd), which has more far reaching consequences than one might first realise. As a result of his disqualification, Mr Spencer will also be unable to be involved in the management of any company, which may include acting as a consultant to a company. Therefore, if Mr Spencer did want to become involved in the running of a business in any way, it would have to be as a partner in a partnership under the Partnership Act 1890, or as a sole trader.

Five employees of ICU Investigations, along with Adrian Stanton who ran the company with Mr Spencer, have been ordered to pay fines totalling £18,500 and a total of £15,607 in prosecution costs for their involvement in the unlawful obtaining of personal data. The company itself was fined £100.

Although imprisonment is not an available sentence under the DPA, if Mr Spencer does not comply with the confiscation order, he could face imprisonment of up to 20 months. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 contains provisions which would permit a direct prison sentence for an offence under the DPA, however, these have not yet been commenced. With the black hole of criminality in the area of obtaining personal data ever widening, as highlighted by the phone hacking scandal and subsequent Leveson Inquiry and criminal proceedings, it is expected that the government will soon increase the penalties available for offences under the DPA.

Similarly, were he to be found subsequently to be “concerned in the management of a company or LLP” he could also face imprisonment.

Mr Spencer’s offence was “conspiring to unlawfully obtain personal data”. That offence can be committed by those hiring investigators to obtain information illegally and the legal profession is on tenterhooks whilst the authorities consider whether or not to prosecute partners in some well known law firms for this offence.

Whilst we are sure that none of our readers would ever be involved in such activities, those who engage private investigators who do use such practices in order to obtain personal data are at real risk of prosecution.

For more advice on this area, you can contact Geoffrey or the Commercial Team on 02380 717717, or visit their section of the website here.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.