Data protection law stops our attempt to name criminal suspects - including man wanted for 11 years over a rape in Ipswich

Police are investigating two armed robberies in Essex. Library image. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Police are investigating two armed robberies in Essex. Library image. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

An attempt by this newspaper to name criminal suspects wanted by police in Suffolk for years has been blocked.

Last year we asked Suffolk police under the Freedom of Information Act for the details of the 15 suspects wanted for the longest period of time by them.

They included suspects wanted for rape, serious assault and drug offences.

Some of them have been sought by the police since the mid 1990s, but the force refused to tell us who the suspects were.

They said releasing details to the public would breach the Data Protection Act and would be “unfair” to the suspects.

This newspaper appealed to police but they rejected our appeal. We then took the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) which regulates the Freedom of Information scheme.

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We argued the public’s right to know about suspects wanted for years by their police force should override the data protection rights of the suspects.

But the ICO rejected our appeal.

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Other police forces in the country have released the information through similar requests, but the ICO said that did not mean all forces had to.

It agreed that personal data should not automatically be excluded under the Freedom of Information Act but said releasing it in this case would breach data protection rules.

We argued a suspect who had evaded police capture for years should expect police to seek them and it was not beyond their expectation for police to release their details as part of this.

The Information Commissioner agreed public interest could override data protection and there was “considerable public interest” in this case, but said its “default position” was to protect the individual’s personal data.

It said the police had shown it protects the public as well as the public’s right to know.

The Information Commissioner concluded that disclosing names would not be in the suspects’ “reasonable expectations” and would be “unfair”.

The suspect on the run for the longest period is someone wanted for drug supply in Newmarket in 1993.

The most serious offence is someone wanted for a rape in Ipswich in 1999.

Officers said they would not say who the suspected rapist was as they were “presumed to be abroad”.

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