'It felt like being stalked' - police to pay £35,000 compensation after officer's gross misconduct

Stevenage police station. Photo: DANNY LOO

Herts police are set to pay £35,000 in compensation to Alex Topham, after an officer used the force's data base to track down his address for personal gain - Credit: Danny Loo

Hertfordshire Constabulary has agreed to pay £35,000 in compensation to the victim of a privacy breach at the hands of one of its officers.

Alex Topham from Stevenage has spoken out about the stress and anxiety he felt when an officer told him he was "coming to see him", after getting hold of his address.

It later transpired that the officer, PC Anthony Martin, had used the force's database to find the 24-year-old's address. 

Alex and PC Martin had been texting over the course of 18 months, but had never met in person. 

When PC Martin was dealing with an incident in Canterbury Way, he sent a message to Alex which said he was "coming to see" him, and cited his home address.

However, Alex had never given his address - nor details of his family member which PC Martin appeared to now know.

This led Alex to believe he had obtained the information via the force's computer system, and he subsequently made an official complaint to the Professional Standards Department.

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"It was awful to go through this," Alex told the Comet. "It felt like I was being stalked. To get that message out of the blue was quite a shock.

"Makes you wonder who you can trust in this day and age. It's scary because you don't know what their intentions are."

PC Martin also sent a video of police officers escorting a detainee to a police vehicle.

An investigation was launched following the complaint, and it became apparent that PC Martin had another live complaint against him which had also been assessed as applicable for a gross misconduct hearing.

Following the complaint, an internal audit showed that PC Martin typed Alex's name into the police intelligence system. The address was shown within these results.

PC Martin admitted the allegations and accepted that this was not for a policing purpose. He said that he did this because he had strong feelings for Alex, and was just ‘being nosey’.

Further, PC Martin stated that he realises that he should not have sent video, and did so because ‘he was looking to impress’. In conclusion, PC Martin stated that he was very remorseful for what he had done and did not think before sending the messages.

It was decided that PC Martin’s actions amounted to gross misconduct, and a public hearing was held in October last year.

The panel found that the officer's use of the database was deliberate, planned and targeted while also being entirely for his personal benefit and gain. He was subsequently dismissed without notice.

Alex then approached head of Irvings Law’s specialist Actions Against the Police Department Matthew McConville, who lodged a formal Letter of Claim to Hertfordshire Constabulary as PC Martin had acted unlawfully which resulted in his dismissal.

Mr McConville alleged that Herts police had breached or invaded Mr Topham’s privacy under the Human Rights Act, had breached the Data Protection Act 2018/the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as confidence following their misuse of private information.

In response, Herts police admitted the claims brought by Mr Topham and offered him £5,000 plus his legal costs in settlement of his claim. After this, settlement discussions were had between Mr McConville and Herts police, culminating in a settlement being achieved in a sum over £35,000, without court proceedings being issued and served.

Alex added: "I'm quite relieved that it's all over now. It's been quite a long process and it's now finally come to a conclusion and I've been compensated for all the stress I've gone through."

Mr McConville said: “It goes without saying that my client, and the public in general, have the right to expect integrity in the police service and should have confidence in police officers to act in a professional manner.

"Unfortunately, there has been a definite shortfall in the service that my client has received in this incident and there are grave concerns over how it happened at all.

"Although this should never have occurred in the first place, I welcome Hertfordshire Constabulary’s decision to settle my client’s claim swiftly so as to prevent an unnecessary waste of significant legal costs at the public’s expense.

"We at Irvings Law are specialists in helping victims just like my client here of when police misconduct unfortunately occurs to obtain compensation so, if you have been affected, please contact us via our website."

A Hertfordshire Constabulary spokesperson said: “Anthony Martin was found for gross misconduct at a misconduct panel [hearing] that concluded in 2020. He was dismissed without notice.

“The public quite rightly expect that the police use our systems with respect and probity. Being part of the police family comes with huge accountability and while the majority of officers and staff are hugely responsible, there are some individuals who disregard the rules and undermine all the good that we do. 

“There has been consistent communications and training about appropriate use of police systems and no officer or member of staff can claim that they are not aware of the requirements around their use. 

“Anthony Martin’s misuse of these systems was deliberate and he paid the consequences by losing his job.“

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