AN average of over one member of Avon and Somerset Police staff is accused of breaching data protection laws every week, according to a Freedom of Information response.

The constabulary reported 289 incidents over the past five years – the highest in England and Wales – although there was no case to answer in a quarter of instances.

A spokesman said the figures were inflated because other forces may not have been so ‘open and transparent’.

One case revealed by Avon and Somerset saw a chief inspector receive management action for being ‘negligent when disclosing personal information’.

And a complaint was made – and later withdrawn – against a PC for disclosing a person’s name ‘after they had made it known that they wished to remain anonymous’.

Ian Marsh, Avon and Somerset head of corporate information, said: “We take an extremely robust approach to the recording and investigation of alleged Data Protection Act breaches.

“The FoI request we received in November 2013 asked for the number of police staff breaching the Data Protection Act but in the spirit of being open and transparent we gave the figure for the number of police officers, specials and police staff. Other forces may not have included the same level of detail in their response.

“The figure of 289 relates to the number of staff investigated for potential Data Protection Act breaches over a 55-month period.

“In 72 of these cases (or 25%) there was found to be no case to answer, as no breach had been committed. “We recognise police integrity is of the utmost importance to the public and would like to reassure people that any potential breach of the Data Protection Act is investigated fully.”

Nationally, a total of 2,031 data protection breaches were recorded by 35 forces between January 2009 and October 2013. Other ‘high-scoring’ forces were Merseyside (289), Greater Manchester (161), West Mercia (116) and Devon and Cornwall (95 over a longer period).

Commenting on the overall figures, Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: “It is very worrying to think that the personal data of victims of crime – who are often extremely vulnerable – might be accessed and used inappropriately by people in a position of trust.”