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Courts launch probe after journalists sent defendants’ phone numbers

Court chiefs have launched an investigation after defendants’ phone numbers and other personal information were repeatedly sent to local journalists.

Journalist JP Asher, of The Comet, Stevenage, flagged up the error with HM Courts and Tribunal Service, which saw so-called ‘unvalidated registers’ for internal court use sent out to its journalists last month.

But despite this, the data was sent out on a further three occasions – with the personal details of youth court defendants among the data received.

The information related to court hearings in St Albans and Stevenage, and was sent from a centralised Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire admin unit, based at Luton Magistrates’ Court.

Mags Court

The register contained information such as defendants’ mobile phone numbers, national insurance numbers, ethnic details and more.

The Comet wrote to the unit after receiving the lists in error on 9 and 27 March.

After receiving a third list on 5 April the newspaper again informed the team, also alerting the HM Courts and Tribunal Service press office – but then received a fourth such list the following morning.

Matt Adams, group editor for Archant titles The Comet, Herts Advertiser, Royston Crow and Welwyn Hatfield Times, expressed “deep concern” at the issue.

He said: “Magistrates’ court lists and results are a vital resource for journalists when covering cases and it is a service we much appreciate, but the repeated failures to ensure personal information is not being shared are not acceptable.

“We understand that genuine mistakes are made, but when these are highlighted on two occasions and not remedied it is of great concern – and something we felt was our duty to highlight.”

An HM Courts and Tribunal spokeswoman said: “We take the security of data very seriously and we are urgently investigating what happened in this case.

“These incidents are rare and staff have been reminded of the care needed when handling such information. We are taking steps to ensure that our procedures are tightened in the future.”