Founder of police monitoring group Bristol Copwatch John Pegram is launching a case against Avon & Somerset Police. It’s on the grounds that the force is in breach of data protection laws. And he’s currently raising funds to ensure that he can take the force to court.
Data protection breach
Pegram seeks to challenge his inaccurate record on the Police National Computer (PNC) – the nationwide database for criminal records information.
The PNC entry concerns a conviction for assaulting a police officer during a protest in 2018. The protest was against a fascist English Defence League (EDL) rally in Bristol. Pegram told The Canary that officers arrested him after warning him to remove his face covering.
He was convicted of assaulting a police constable. He subsequently appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal and the High Court. While the conviction was upheld, the High Court stated that:
All the evidence was that the contact with the officer’s face was accidental, albeit the Crown Court found it was reckless.
Even the officer involved conceded that Pegram had “not calculated to hit the officer in the face”.
However, Pegram discovered that not only did the PNC list the wrong officer, it also gave a completely inaccurate description of what happened. It stated that he had punched the officer in the face.
This inaccuracy means that the force is in breach of the 2018 Data Protection Act. And it’s also an inaccuracy that has far-reaching consequences. As Pegram, a mixed-race Black man, sets out in his crowdjustice appeal:
The information on my PNC record is real time information provided to officers on the street. It’s the sort of information that is shared in intelligence briefings and could influence senior officers decision making. We need only look at how willingly the police use force against black people to understand the implications.
Targeted by the police
Pegram wants to take Avon & Somerset Police to court to ensure that the force corrects his criminal record. And he’s also seeking compensation for the “distress and trauma” the police’s data breach has caused. He believes officers have targeted him on a number of occasions due to being flagged as “a violent criminal” on the PNC database.
Pegram – who frequently attends protests around the country – said:
It’s important to put this breach right as it labels me as a dangerous person, when it comes to protest it may influence how the police treat me when I exercise my right to freedom of assembly.
He suggests that his community organising work and his mixed-race identity may also have contributed to this harassment.
A spokesperson for Avon & Somerset Police told The Canary:
Our professional standards department has investigated a number of complaints made by a man alleging officers have harassed him. Each of the incidents he’s highlighted have been assessed and the service provided was deemed to be acceptable in each, with no evidence of misconduct identified.
Holding the force to account
In January 2022, Bristol Copwatch issued a data rectification notice on Pegram’s behalf. The organisation raised concerns that Avon & Somerset Police is in breach of the Data Protection Act. It urged the police force to change Pegram’s criminal record to accurately reflect the 2019 High Court ruling. The force has still failed to rectify Pegram’s criminal record.
So Pegram feels that he now has no choice but to take the force to court over the data breach. Setting out his intentions for the court case, Pegram said:
The police must be held to account and comply with data protection regulation and my data must accurately reflect the court ruling of 2018 and 2019.
A spokesperson for Avon & Somerset Police told The Canary:
we continue to assess a complaint from the man relating to the accuracy of information recorded about him on the Police National Computer (PNC). Should it be necessary, we will liaise with partners including HM Courts Service and ACRO Criminal Records Office, which manages the PNC.
Kevin Blowe, from police monitoring organisation Netpol, told The Canary:
John’s case highlights Netpol’s long-standing concerns about the way inaccurate information retained on secretive police databases can have alarming real-world consequences. In John’s case, the wrong details on police records reinforces the stereotype of black communities as violent that is so prevalent in institutionally racist everyday policing.
It has taken John’s enormous persistence to discover the false data that means he is routinely targeted and harassed by the police. Now, hopefully, he will raise enough funds to finally start to clear his name.
Represented by Bindmans LLP, Pegram is raising funds to ensure that he can take the police force to court over the suspected data protection breach. Supporters can donate via his crowdjustice campaign.
Featured image via Oli Woodman/Unsplash
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?