This Bristolian wants to take Avon & Somerset Police to court

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Founder of the police surveillance group Bristol Copwatch John Pegram initiates proceedings against Avon & Somerset Police. The reason for this is that the police are breaking data protection laws. And he’s currently raising funds to ensure he can take the force to justice.

data breach

Pegram is trying to challenge his inaccurate records on the Police National Computer (PNC) — the nationwide database of 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 Defense League (EDL) rally in Bristol. Pegram tells The Canary that officers arrested him after warning him to remove his face covering.

He was found guilty of assaulting a police officer. He then appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal and the High Court. While the conviction was upheld, the High Court found that:

All the evidence was that the contact with the officer’s face was accidental, although the Crown Court found it was reckless.

Even the officer involved admitted that Pegram “didn’t expect to smack the officers in the face.”

However, Pegram found that the PNC not only listed the wrong officer, but also gave a completely inaccurate description of what happened. It said he punched the officer in the face.

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This inaccuracy means the force is in breach of the Data Protection Act 2018. And it is also an inaccuracy that has far-reaching consequences. As Pegram, a mixed-race Black man, points out in his Crowdjustice appeal:

The information in my PNC record is real-time information provided to officers on the road. It’s the kind of information shared in intelligence briefings that could inform decision-making by senior officers. We need only look at how readily the police use force against it black to understand the implications.

Targeted by the police

Pegram wants to take Avon & Somerset Police to court to ensure police correct his criminal record. And he’s also demanding compensation for the “strain and trauma” caused by the police data breach. He believes officers have targeted him on multiple occasions for being flagged as a “violent criminal” in the PNC database.

Pegram – who frequently takes part in protests across the country – said:

It is important to correct this violation as it marks me out as a dangerous person and when it comes to protesting it can affect how the police treat me when I exercise my right to freedom of association.

He suggests that his community organizing work and multiracial identity may also have contributed to this harassment.

A spokesman for Avon & Somerset Police said The Canary:

Our Professional Standards Division has investigated a number of complaints from a man that officers have been harassing him. Each of the incidents he highlighted was evaluated and the service provided was found to be acceptable with no evidence of wrongdoing found.

Hold power accountable

In January 2022, Bristol Copwatch issued a data rectification notice on behalf of Pegram. The organization has raised concerns that Avon & Somerset Police are breaching the Data Protection Act. It asked police to amend Pegram’s criminal record to accurately reflect the High Court’s 2019 ruling. The force still hasn’t managed to correct Pegram’s criminal record.

So Pegram feels he has no choice now but to go to court over the data breach. Pegram set out his intentions for the trial, saying:

Police must be held accountable and comply with data protection regulations and my details must accurately reflect the 2018 and 2019 court ruling.

A spokesman for Avon & Somerset Police said The Canary:

We are still investigating a complaint from the man regarding the accuracy of information held about him in the Police National Computer (PNC). If necessary we will liaise with partners such as the HM Courts Service and the ACRO Criminal Records Office which administers the PNC.

Kevin Blowe from the police surveillance organization Netpol The Canary:

John’s case underscores Netpol’s long-standing concern over how inaccurate information held in secret police databases can have alarming real-world consequences. In John’s case, the false details in the police files reinforce the stereotype of black communities as violent that is so prevalent in institutionally racist, everyday policing.

It has taken John’s tremendous persistence to uncover the false data, which means he is routinely targeted and harassed by the police. Now, hopefully, he’ll raise enough money to finally start clearing his name.

Represented by Bindmans LLP, Pegram is raising funds to ensure he can bring the police to justice over the alleged data breach. Supporters can donate through his Crowdjustice campaign.

Featured image above Oli Woodman/Unsplash

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