Andrew Sharland KC and Hannah Ready successful in strike out of over 400 data breach claims


In an important judgment, Nicklin J has struck out hundreds of claims brought by police officers alleging a breach of the GDPR and/or misuse of their private information (“MPI”). The claims concerned the officers’ annual pension benefit statements (“the ABSs”) that had, by mistake, been sent to out of date addresses.  The ABSs provided an overview of the police officers’ accrued benefits under the pension scheme and included some limited personal data.

The police officers asserted that they had suffered annoyance, distress and anxiety as a result of this mis-posting and claimed damages of £2000 each for alleged MPI and between £1065 and £2606 for the alleged breach of the GDPR. A few of the officers alleged that they had suffered personal injury as a result of the mis-posting.

Nicklin J struck out 432 out of 446 claims (97% of the claims).  The police officers had asserted that, unless Equiniti could prove otherwise, an inference should be drawn that their ABS envelopes (which had been marked “private and confidential”) were opened and the contents read by unknown third parties.  This inference was disputed by Equiniti, including on the basis that it was contrary to well-established defamation principles.  The police officers also claimed that they were entitled to compensation because their ABSs had been put at risk of being opened.

Nicklin J accepted Equiniti’s argument that, in the absence of evidence that the ABSs had actually been opened, there was no viable claim either under the GDPR or for MPI.  Nicklin J concluded that the officers could not claim compensation for a “near miss”, ie the mere risk of opening was insufficient for both the MPI and GDPR claims.

In relation to the remaining 14 claimants who had positively pleaded that their respective ABS had been opened, Nicklin J suggested that the majority of those claims were trivial in nature and may well be dismissed because they fail to surmount the threshold of seriousness. However, Nicklin J felt unable to dismiss them on this basis without hearing evidence.

Andrew Sharland KC and Hannah Ready acted for Equiniti instructed by Freeths.

A copy of the judgement can be found here.