Belfast Telegraph

Families hit out over loss of data

The families of three men whose deaths sparked judge-led inquiries have told of their dismay after it emerged that information relating to the investigations has gone missing in the post.

Officials realised that two discs containing documents about the inquiries into the deaths of Azelle Rodney, Mark Duggan and Robert Hamill were lost in early January.

It a statement, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said police have taken "necessary steps" to ensure the protection of any officers whose information could be disclosed.

Mr Rodney's mother, Susan Alexander, branded the revelation "shocking" and "very disappointing", while Mr Duggan's aunt, Carole Duggan, said the MoJ has "questions to answer".

The Government has now launched an investigation into the security breach of its guidelines and said disciplinary action will be taken if appropriate.

All three men were killed either at the hands of the police or in circumstances sparking accusations of police collusion.

Their deaths sparked public outcry, and government officials bowed to pressure and set up judge-led inquiries to probe the killings.

Mr Duggan, 29, was shot by an anonymous police marksman known only as V53 when the taxi he was travelling in was brought to a hard stop by armed officers in Totenham, north London, in August 2011.

His death sparked days of riots and looting across the country and a judge-led jury inquest was established to probe it.

Police marksman V53 and other police officers involved in the hard-stop were granted anonymity and gave evidence to the inquest from behind a screen.

After four months the jurors found that Mr Duggan's death was lawful, despite ruling that they believed that, contrary to the account of police officers, the father-of-four was unarmed at the time.

In a statement on the Justice For Mark Duggan website, Carole Duggan said: "The criminal justice system went out of its way to protect the identities of the officers who killed Mark, issuing all manner of reporting restrictions and anonymity orders in court.

"Now we learn that this apparently sensitive information has been 'lost in the post' at the Ministry of Justice.

"How did this file go missing? And why? Scotland Yard and the Ministry have questions to answer if we are ever going to get to the bottom of why Mark was shot dead while unarmed and surrendering to police."

Her anger was echoed by the family of Mr Rodney, who was shot dead in Edgware, north London, in 2005, in a swoop by armed officers who believed he was going to stage an armed heist on Colombian drug dealers

Former High Court judge Sir Christopher Holland led an inquiry into the shooting and found there was ''no lawful justification'' for killing the 24-year-old.

In a statement issued through the charity Inquest today, Mr Rodney's mother, Ms Alexander, said: "This is shocking news and very disappointing.

"My lawyers are in contact with the Ministry of Justice on my behalf to establish exactly what data from the case (and particularly that relates personally to me) is on the discs that have gone missing."

And the family of Mr Hamill, 25, a Catholic beaten to death by a loyalist gang in Portadown, Co Armagh, in April 1997, said they were "dismayed".

His was one of four cases examined by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory following claims of security force collusion in the killing, one of the most notorious of the later days of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Allegations that police failed to intervene to intervene were the subject of the subsequent public inquiry.

In a statement the family said: "We are at a loss to understand why any material relating to the Robert Hamill inquiry should have been posted or sent at this particular time, given the fact that the inquiry report itself was completed in February 2011."

They added: "We are asking our solicitor to seek an urgent meeting with government officials to seek answers to our concerns about this serious breach of data protection."

Deborah Coles, co-director of the charity Inquest, said: "This is an astonishing and unacceptable lapse that will further undermine public and family confidence in the way contentious deaths are dealt with.

"It is shocking that such sensitive material can be treated with such apparent disregard, particularly considering the strict confidentiality undertakings families and their lawyers have to sign up to."

A statement from the MoJ said: "Government officials became aware on January 8 that two discs containing documents relating to these inquiries were missing, having been dispatched by post.

"Immediate steps were taken, including intensive searches to locate the discs. These searches continue, with police assistance. The discs have not, as yet, been found."

It added: "At this stage there is no evidence to indicate that the information loss arose from malicious intent.

"Nevertheless, it is essential to take the most precautionary view and to take all necessary steps to safeguard the interests of anyone whose information could be disclosed.

"Police and other agencies have undertaken their own risk assessment, and have identified and taken any steps necessary to ensure the protection of officers.

"The Rodney, Hamill and Duggan families and the three judges who conducted the inquiries and inquest have been informed. So too has the Information Commissioner's Office."

Lawyers are undertaking a review of the missing documents to discover if they held confidential or sensitive details, the MoJ said.

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said the force has undertaken a risk assessment of the material that was on the discs and has taken "appropriate steps".

Isabella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty, said: "The loss of these discs shows that all - even the most sensitive - data is vulnerable to human error. Contrary to the Government's claims state handling of our data can leave us less safe, not more. These families have already been let down multiple times by the state, which makes this blunder all the more shocking."

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