In an echo of a case we investigated last year, a Welsh court has given a British man who was injured in a Welsh police cell access to security camera footage of the incident.
The man lost the tops of three of his fingers in June last year when he put his hand in the hinge of the cell door as it was being closed. He has since been prosecuted for assaulting a police officer during his arrest but cleared of the charge.
In the hearing at the Llanelli Magistrate Court, the man’s lawyer argued for a copy of the video footage to be given to the man. This week, the man won the right to obtain custody of the security camera footage and it was released to the news media. A copy of the video was also handed to the country’s Independent Police Complaints Commission which has reviewed the footage and is assessing statements from the police officers.
The footage showed the man being taken into the cell and placed on the floor by four officers. They leave the cell one-by-one and as the last police officer leaves, the man jumps up and rushes at the closing door. The man says he is suing the Dyfed-Powys Police for the loss of the tops of his fingers in the incident.
We noted this case with interest because it has some similarities to one in New Zealand in which a man suffered serious injuries when assaulted in prison and subsequently sought security camera footage.
In our case, the man wrote to the Department of Corrections and asked for copies of the security camera footage recorded just before, during, and after the assault. The Department offered to let the man view the footage but it declined to give the man a copy on the grounds that staff and other prisoners could be seen in the recordings, and releasing it would breach their privacy. It was also concerned that releasing the footage could pose security risks, and risks to staff and prisoner safety.
The man then complained to our office.
Principle 6 of the Privacy Act says individuals have the right to access information held about them by an agency. The presumption of access is strong and is limited by the withholding grounds in sections 27-29.
Our view was that the complainant was entitled to a copy of the footage as the Department had failed to meet the threshold to be able to withhold the footage.
We believe the case raised important matters which require public discussion. It is important for agencies deploying surveillance technology to consider in advance the implications of that technology, such as how they will store and secure the information, and how they will meet legitimate requests by the individuals for access to that information.
Image credit: Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and Jeepers Media on YouTube. Via Flickr.