Officers who passed on data details are named

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The Independent Online

Police officers found to have illegally disclosed information from confidential databases have been named in a dossier handed to ministers.

The report, compiled by the information watchdog, shows how personal information from private and public bodies is being used to commit more serious crimes.

In one case, a pensioner died after a policeman passed on his address to a man who later went to his house and threw a brick through his window after a parking dispute in a supermarket. The 79-year-old from Derby later died from the shock of the attack.

In another case, an Essex police officer was found to have unlawfully searched the Police National Computer and other intelligence systems 800 times.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said the dossier formed the hard evidence that he hoped would force ministers to give courts the power to impose two-year prison sentences for the most serious misuse of protected information. Under the current law, those who breach the Data Protection Act can only be fined.

The media has fought a campaign to stop the Government from activating custodial sentences because of fears it would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism.

But Mr Graham said while police officers, private investigators and "rogue employees" were among the worst cases, there was "no new evidence about the misbehaviour of tabloid journalists".

He told The Independent: "We have a dossier as long as your arm of examples of dirty-doings under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act which have nothing to do with investigative journalism... I have got no further evidence of this activity in the press sector, but I have got plenty of evidence of it going on in other areas where real damage is taking place, and the present modest fines are not stopping it."

In the past 12 months, West Midlands Police have prosecuted three members of staff for unlawfully accessing personal information held on police systems. A serving police constable obtained information from police databases and then passed this to a relative who was involved in a case of assault against the named individual. In another case, a rape victim was harassed by the rapist after he paid a private investigator to obtain unlawfully her personal details.

Yesterday, the Information Commissioner found Verity Trustees Ltd to be in breach of the Data Protection Act after the Trustees reported the theft of a laptop containing the names, addresses, dates of birth, salaries and national insurance numbers of around 110,000 people. The laptop, which also contained the bank details of around 18,000 people, was stolen from a locked room at NorthgateArinso – suppliers of the Trustees' computerised pensions-administration system.