Tim Pollard, the leader of Croydon Conservatives, has been accused of breaking data protection laws with an email widely circulated to residents asking them to support his party’s latest petition over council policy.If enough Croydon residents complain, Pollard and his Tory mates could face a fine of up to £5,000.
It is not the first time that Croydon Tories have been accused of abusing residents’ personal information, with local MP Gavin Barwell having been let off with a warning for a similar offence in 2012, when he was found to have abused constituents’ data for party political purposes.
Yesterday, some Croydon residents began receiving the latest Tory email, titled “Stop the Council’s disastrous Local Plan”. Pollard, described as the “Leader of the Opposition”, was named as the sender.
In the email, residents are invited to sign up to a petition opposing a wide range of issues in the Local Plan, though it is clear from the petition page that Croydon’s Tories are keen to exploit fears and prejudices over gypsies and travellers, since they have utilised a large aerial image of the permanent camp site proposed for Purley Oaks.
In his unsolicited email, Pollard seeks to deceive recipients when he refers to a “residents’ petition”, when the petition is really just the latest campaigning effort by the Croydon Conservatives (most of whom happen to be “residents”).
Pollard claims in his email: “Residents, residents’ associations and various groups around Croydon are behind the petition which is our last chance to persuade the council to rethink the unpopular elements of the plan.”
Inside Croydon has been contacted by readers wanting to know how Pollard and Croydon Tories got hold of their private email addresses.
“Why is a Sanderstead councillor emailing me in Waddon?” one asked us. “And more importantly, where did he get my data?”
Another copied us in on their own reply to Pollard’s email: “How did you harvest my personal email address?”
Inside Croydon contacted the local offices of that well-known firm of solicitors, Sue, Grabbit & Runne, to seek their advice on the legal position about Pollard’s Tories apparent abuse of people’s email addresses.
“It’s a breach of the Data Protection Act unless the recipient has consented to receiving political emails from Croydon Conservatives,” the firm’s senior partner told us.
Offences in the Data Protection Act 1998 include processing information without notification or registration and unlawfully obtaining, or disclosing personal data.The legal expert suggested that the technique being used in the latest instance has the hallmarks of previous campaigns from Croydon Tories’ Purley headquarters on behalf of Barwell in which the MP’s “petitions often sneakily state that the data of people signing may be used for contacting them subsequently”.
Anyone who has received the Pollard email and who thinks that their personal data has been abused by Croydon Tories should write to them immediately and, if you do not receive “a satisfactory explanation” (we’ll leave you to determine what you regard as “satisfactory”), then you should contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (click here).
If enough recipients complain about the misuse of their data, Pollard could be hauled up before the beak and if prosecuted face a nasty fine – which will be determined by the severity and number of breaches of the law.
Inside Croydon sought a comment on his actions from Tim Pollard – we used his publicly available councillor’s email address – but at the time of publication he had failed to respond.
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