Rape complainants’ confidential details were exposed by a cache of lawyers’ files dumped in a bin and found by a passer-by.
Graphic accounts of alleged attacks - and the names of alleged victims and the accused - were among a stash of papers left in a dumpster by a canal in Ancoats.
The papers were among 77 files which revealed the personal details of clients of a Manchester law firm accused of serious criminal allegations.
The names of two schoolgirl witnesses in a sexually-motivated abduction case, then aged 14, who were being looked after by the Child Protection Unit, were also revealed.
The solicitors’ files are believed to belong to city centre based law firm Nicholas and Partners - who say they are baffled as to how the documents ended up there. They were discovered on Saturday - and were still there on Monday when the MEN visited the area.
People who complain of sexual offences being committed against them in the UK are entitled to lifelong anonymity.
Now the Information Commissioner and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority have launched investigations into what went on with the documents, which contained the personal details of 77 people accused of offences, as well as naming their accusers and witnesses in their cases.
The files cover every stage of the solicitor’s process from arrest and custody records to the details of the case being dropped.
Police statements, custody records, and hand-written solicitors notes and correspondence sent to clients and the police were found in the pile of papers along with details of suspects’ names, addresses, marital status, previous convictions, mental health, their occupations and the number of dependants they have.
They were discovered by a resident in a council bin on a public right of way near New Islington Marina on Saturday morning.
Of the 77 client files the MEN recovered from the refuse bin, 37 files had letters to the client explaining that no further action was to be taken against them.
Some of the files date back as far as 2007. Of the four files relating to sex cases, three identified victims, including a rape allegation which not only named the alleged victim, but had the phone number of a witness scrawled on papers in the file.
One case file details allegations against a man accused of kidnap, including details of the ‘torture’ which was alleged to have been endured by the complainant.
A resident of Ancoats was dropping rubbish into a large industrial bin along the marina, directly behind Central Retail Park, when he noticed the papers.
“I was just putting stuff in the bin and when I looked in I noticed it had all these documents in there,” he said.
“There’s so much information, witness statements, names and addresses of people who are accused of crimes, and there are details of some really bad crimes.
“If someone was being accused of rape and someone saw all their details and address it’s really dodgy. They just shouldn’t be in there.”
Nicholas and Partners owner Kevin Nicholas said he could not understand how the confidential documents had ended up in a bin in Ancoats.
He asked to take back the documents so he could try and understand the circumstances surrounding the incident.
He added: “I would always arrange to destroy files. I would have them shredded or I have burnt them in the past.
“If I was to shred them I have done it myself or I have hired a company in the past to do it. We usually keep files for six years.
“I do know what should happen with files. I just don’t know how these have got into a bin by the canal.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office is now investigating what it has described as ‘a potential data breach’.
A spokesperson said: “We have been informed of a potential data breach involving legal documents being found in a public place and will be looking into the details. All organisations have a duty under data protection law to ensure they keep personal information in their care safe and that they securely dispose of it when it’s no longer needed.”
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has also been informed about the incident.
A SRA spokesperson said: “Now that we have been made aware of the situation, we will make the necessary enquiries and take appropriate action where needed.
“Solicitors must act in the best interest of their clients. Our rules make clear our expectations around keeping their information confidential. This includes complying with any relevant legislation such as data protection.”
Source: Manchester Evening News