Data Protection breach by chairman thrown out by Information Commissioner's Office

An alleged breach of Data Protection which resulted in a complaint against the chairman of Peebles Community Council, was regarded as “not serious or significant” enough to be even investigated by the Information Commissioner, it has emerged.

By Hilary Scott
Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 10:12 am
Peebles Community Council chairman Les Turnbull.
Peebles Community Council chairman Les Turnbull.

Les Turnbull came under fire from Tweeddale councillors last year, who accused him of breaking the Data Protection Act by supplying a local newspaper with a recording of the community council’s October meeting, despite it being live to the general public.

Former council leader Shona Haslam, wrote to Mr Turnbull stating that he had “broken the law”. No evidence to support this was ever provided.

Following the claim, due to technical issues, a local reporter was unable to follow an Innerleithen Community Council meeting, and was later denied a recording after a Tweeddale councillor objected due to the unsubstantiated allegations made in Peebles.

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Mr Turnbull felt that data protection laws were being used to threaten local democracy, and insisted that the public have “every right to know what their community council is doing”.

However, he apologised at the November meeting if he had “inadvertently” breached the law, which did not appease Cllrs Haslam and Tatler, who said he should report himself to the Information Commissioner – which he did.

An anonymous complaint was made to the community council in January, calling for Mr Turnbull to stand down as chairman.

Despite the details of the complainant being unverifiable, vice-chairman of Peebles Community Council, Scott Rae, conducted a thorough investigation.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) identified the potential Data Protection issue as “not reportable”, as it was not serious or significant enough for the ICO to investigate.

Mr Turnbull said: “I am grateful to Scott Rae, and the other community councillors who have spent a great deal of time looking into the complaints made against me, and have compiled a comprehensive response which vindicates my actions.

"This matter has been considered by the community council who have accepted the findings and have stated their confidence in me.”

Innerleithen resident, Dr Eamonn O'Neill, an associate professor in journalism at Edinburgh Napier University, who lectures on the Press and the DPA, said: "The original complaints were unsupported by common sense or previous ICO rulings.

"Of the greatest concern was that elected representatives had misread, or were unaware of, the guidance from both the Scottish Government regarding openness of community council meetings in these digital times, and the encouragement the ICO offers in terms of ensuring press scrutiny in an open democracy.

"This ruling suggests the original complaints were so wrong, they weren't even wrong."