GS mystery unresolved
Last year’s shocking breach of data protection by Scottish Borders Council officials and their mysterious data processor, known only as GS, resulted in hundreds of sensitive staff pension documents being dumped in a supermarket rubbish bin more than 50 miles from the scene of the crime.
But after a lengthy (and no doubt costly) investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and a damning written judgment by a tribunal judge which revealed a catalogue of carelessness and neglect it would appear that both SBC and GS have escaped Scot free.
Lawyers for the council successfully persuaded the tribunal to quash the £250,000 fine imposed on SBC by the ICO. And there does not appear to have been any criminal proceedings against any of the perpetrators even though the law was clearly broken and an offence committed.
So council tax payers and, more importantly, former council employees whose personal data was compromised as a result of the scandal, still do not know who was responsible for an act of gross misconduct.
One aspect of this disgraceful saga, which has barely been mentioned, is the concerted efforts by all sides to conceal the identity of the data processor who had apparently been employed by successive Borders councils for 20-30 years without so much as a formal contract or a list of safeguards ever being in place.
In fact, the tribunal judgment showed GS had not had a secure method for the disposal of personal files since 2008. How could SBC or any other potential customer give work to a data processor on that basis? And surely having caused the council such a major embarrassment with potentially far-reaching consequences, GS deserved to be hauled over the coals before being publicly identified.
When the ICO imposed the largest ever monetary penalty on any public authority in the country in September 2012, the penalty notice failed to name the processor, merely referred to the firm as GS. Why? Within days three inquisitive or disgruntled individuals submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to SBC asking for the name of the data digitiser.
But perhaps predictably each request for information was denied.
According to SBC: “Unfortunately, the council cannot provide you with the name of the contractor in relation to the breach. This is regarded as being personal information and is therefore exempt under Section 38(1)(b) of FOISA.”
Even the tribunal report does not tell us who GS might be. So as someone with a family member whose pension records may or may not have ended up in a South Queensferry waste bin I decided to submit a FOI request to the ICO in a bid to get at the truth. I asked for copies of correspondence between SBC and the ICO which took place during the investigation. According to the ICO website one of the Commissioner’s key roles is to “promote openness by public bodies.”
But not, it would seem, on this particular occasion. The information I asked for was withheld. The ICO told me: “Having considered all of these factors we have taken the decision that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing it. I am sorry, therefore, that in this instance we are unable to provide you with all of the information that you have requested.”
So the unsolved mystery remains. Does GS stand for Good Samaritan or Great Shredder. It looks as though we will never know.
Casting the Colours
The community of Selkirk will conclude its Flodden Commemorations this Sunday with the riding of the South Marches, culminating on the return of the cavalcade with a ceremony at Fletcher’s monument.
What a pity it is that this ceremony will not include the Casting of the Colours.
The spectacular event that is the pinnacle of the Common Riding celebrations is our symbolic link to that fateful day that is being remembered this weekend.
That the Royal Burgh flag is not being cast as part of that remembrance is incomprehensible. In deciding not to insist that the flag is cast organisers are giving agreement to the idea that it is somehow inappropriate to do so. Nonsense!
It’s certainly more appropriate in these circumstances than it was casting the flag at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the opening of the Scottish Parliament, or the Royal Highland Show – all of which, I may add, I fully supported.
Indeed it could be argued that it is more pertinent to replicate Fletcher’s final act at this anniversary time than it is to do so on the first Friday after the second Monday in June.
History will record these commemorative events.
My appeal to those in charge of proceedings is to not miss this unique opportunity to honour our past – there’s still time and many qualified and willing to perform the duty.
Otherwise that history will forever be left asking the question, ‘Why didn’t they cast the Burgh flag?’
J Stuart Kemp
The Coach House, Bleachfield Road, Selkirk
I’m a Souter who left Selkirk many years ago, but I return annually for the Common Riding.
This being the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, which had such a profound effect on the people of the town, I felt that I had to return to be at the commemorative events this month. I am, however, totally bewildered by the decisions made in Selkirk as to how to mark the occasion.
The memorial garden is very nice, the ride round the Border towns organised by the Flodden 1513 club appropriate, events at Flodden, Etal and Coldstream are well organised and apt, and John Nichol’s Soddin Flodden is fantastic and shouldn’t be missed.
But what has been overlooked is the fact that there is one ceremony which was uniquely created specifically to mark the aftermath of the battle; and that is the Casting of the Colours.
How could the organisers not see that this moving ceremony had to be included in the schedule of events? Instead, they decided to ride the south marches which has as little to do with the Battle of Flodden as a rugby match does.
All Souters are brought up knowing the story of Fletcher. The casting brings a lump to my throat each Common Riding and it should have been the first thing that was thought about.
I now discover that there was an unannounced casting by the Hammermen in Selkirk at midnight on Monday, which was kept a secret apparently. Why? I would have loved to have been there as it would have been the highlight of the commemoration.
There is, in my opinion, no question that there should have been an arranged casting on September 10 or 11 in the Square to mark Fletcher’s return. For my part, the best I could do was to post photographs on Facebook. The Flodden flag flying on my flagpole (no-one noticed it had disappeared) and a shot of poppies in the fields around Flodden. Oh and I included a video of a casting from this year’s common riding.
Let’s hope that Souters get it right for the 600th anniversary but, as with the 500th they only have 100 years to prepare!
Never suffer in silence
Last month I attended an event highlighting the range of support available to victims of domestic abuse.
The event, organised by Police Scotland, sent out the clear message to women that they should never suffer in silence – help is available and reports will be treated with the seriousness and sensitivity that they deserve.
However, this positive message of support risked being seriously undermined by the continued presence in the Scottish Parliament of disgraced MSP, Bill Walker.
In August, Mr Walker was found guilty of 23 charges of assault and one breach of the peace over a period spanning 28 years. His victims, three former wives and a step-daughter, were subject to attacks from a man described by prosecutors as violent, domineering, controlling and relentless.
His conduct was condemned in the strongest possible terms by MSPs from all sides of the Chamber and last week I joined with MSPs, members of the public and a range of organisations at a rally calling on Mr Walker to resign.
I am pleased that over the weekend, Mr Walker finally decided to do the right thing and stand down. His position was untenable – how could victims of domestic abuse trust Parliament to take action to tackle this most serious of crimes when one of its members had been convicted of a string of such offences?
Mr Walker’s constituents in Dunfermline deserved better from a person elected to represent them in Parliament and they will now have the chance to elect a new MSP in the coming months.
Despite overwhelming condemnation from MSPs, this sorry episode reflects poorly on the Scottish Parliament whose only course of action was to explore withholding Mr Walker’s salary. Mr Walker could not be compelled to stand down as the maximum sentence he can receive for his crimes is below the threshold set out under Parliamentary rules.
Looking to the future, I firmly believe that we must now revisit the rules to ensure that should a similar situation arise in the future, Parliament is able to take action quickly to restore public trust.
In the meantime, I will continue to work with colleagues across the Chamber, with the police and with the wonderful organisations who work to support women affected by domestic abuse. I will be taking this agenda forward as deputy convener of the Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Men’s Violence Against Women.
We must redouble our efforts to send a message to victims of domestic abuse that support is available and that they must never feel they have to suffer in silence.
Claudia Beamish MSP
Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland
Retiral from charity shop
As I retire from being the Sue Ryder shop manager in Jedburgh, I send a big thank you to Nikki, all the volunteers (past and present) and the staff from all the neighbouring shops for all the help and support over the last 17 years. Also to everyone who has sent all the lovely cards and gifts, many thanks.
Sue Ryder Care, Jedburgh
A huge thank you to everyone who donated items or who bought from me at St James Fair in Kelso this weekend, in aid of the Borders Exploration Group to Malawi 2014.
I had a fantastic response to my flyers asking for goods to sell and a few people came and gave me a cash donation, which was very kind.
I took £512.67 over the two days of the fair, which is a huge help towards the amount I need for this trip. So, thank you good folk of Kelso, you are amazing!
I would like give a big thank you to the staff, the residents and our many friends for their hard work and generous donations to our annual Macmillan Coffee Morning at Plenderleith Court, Kelso, on September 4, at which we raised £1,004.80. Thanks also to RI Wilson,Kelso, for their help with removals and setting up tables etc.
Mrs Francine Fortune
Plenderleith Court , Kelso
I would like to thank everyone who supported us at our recent quiz in the Conservative Club. Thanks to the efforts of the 11 teams who took part, we raised £260. Special thanks to the winners, Beauty and the Beasts, who not only won, but donated their winnings back to the Christmas Lights fund. Thanks also to The Southern’s Bob Burgess for the questions and to those who donated raffle prizes. We look forward to seeing you all at our next fund-raiser, a coffee morning in St Joseph’s Church Hall on the October 12.
On Wednesday, September 4, the Air Training Corp, 1716 Rox Sqd held there annual parade night at the Tait Hall, Kelso.
We the committee would like to thank everyone who attended the evening, which saw great achievements and accolades being awarded.
The cake stall and raffle was a great success, raising £193.80 to boost cadet funds and we would like to thank everyone for their generous additions to the cake stall and raffle, with special thanks to the local shops and businesses of Kelso.
Many thanks for all your support and hard work.
Chairman 1716 Rox Sqd