Posted: Mon 21st Dec 2020

Police boss referred to police watchdog after publishing report that could identify rape victims

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Dec 21st, 2020

The North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has been referred to the police watchdog after one of his  reports contained details which could lead to victims of sexual offences being identified. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The issue was raised after it was discovered by North.Wales in the public agenda for the North Wales Police and Crime Panel just hours before members were due to meet last week. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Details were spotted, which when coupled with a basic Google search, allowed victims of a rapist to be very easily identified. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Such an occurrence is known as “jigsaw identification”, where one or more pieces of information are pieced together, resulting in a person’s identity being disclosed. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Victims of sexual offences are granted lifelong anonymity, with the law specifically citing several examples of this type of identification. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Upon discovering the problem, North.Wales immediately notified Conwy Council, who publish meeting agendas for the panel, and the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, who is listed as the author of the report. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The report was then amended and was republished by the council within an hour. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mr Jones, a former police inspector, also responded confirming the move, adding: “As you know, openness and transparency are extremely important to me which is why I share as much information as I can with the Police and Crime Panel and put into the public domain. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“On this occasion we would appear to have provided too much information. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“I take such matters seriously and will take appropriate steps to ensure it does not happen again.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The meeting took place later in the afternoon, with no public reference to the changes to the report. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

North.Wales later asked the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and Conwy Council for further detail on what went wrong. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

North.Wales asked Mr Jones who was ultimately responsible for the content of the report, and if the commissioner believed it was legally compliant with the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 regarding the lifetime anonymity of victims. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He said: “The matter is being referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IPOC) by the North Wales Police and Crime Panel with my full support and that of the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner so that the matter can be looked into thoroughly.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“I have also made a self-referral to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“I take full responsibility for all reports presented to the Police and Crime Panel on my behalf, including the one in question.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We will publish the decisions from the IOPC and the ICO as soon as we receive them.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Conwy Council facilitates the Police and Crime Panel and published the documents onto the internet via their website. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

North.Wales asked a similar set of questions to them, and also if the council checks reports they publish, and if they acknowledged they were the publisher. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The council told North.Wales : “The North Wales Police & Crime Panel is duty bound to consider matters of conduct and complaints in relation to the Police & Crime Commissioner for North Wales and in light of the recent disclosure in one of his public reports, the Panel has referred the Commissioner to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Mr. Arfon Jones has taken full responsibility for the content of the report and, as data controller, has also made a self-referral to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Conwy County Borough Council and the North Wales Police & Crime Panel are not responsible for the contents of any reports produced by the commissioner or his office.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

We also asked both if any actions have been taken to ensure such information is not placed in the public domain again. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Neither the PCC nor Conwy Council detailed what work had taken place since we highlighted the issue. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

However, North.Wales  has seen internal emails which advised members of the committee: “Due to the disclosure of some information that should not be in the public domain can I ask you to delete any electronic copies of the agenda and that you dispose of any paper copies of the agenda in a confidential manner.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Often warnings about the possibility of jigsaw identification are aimed at the media, to ensure no court reports or other reporting can inadvertently identify victims. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The IOPC is the new name for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), and if they take up an investigation an investigator will produce a final report, where they summarise and analyse the evidence that has been collected. It is possible if the IOPC thinks a criminal offence has taken place they can pass reports to the CPS. The IOPC also consider whether particular actions could be taken to help prevent a similar matters happening again, and can make suggestions on lessons that could be learned. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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North.Wales has deliberately made the description of the issue discovered as vague as possible for obvious reasons, North.Wales have also waited on publishing until various caching services no longer held copies of the documents involved.  ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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(Report first appeared on North.Wales yesterday morning). ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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