Private investigators charged with ‘blagging’ personal data

Two women allegedly got details for credit unions from HSE, Department of Social Protection

Assistant data protection commissioner Tony Delaney is prosecuting a firm of private investigators and its two directors for allegedly obtaining personal information about individuals illegally, and with ‘connivance’ in those offences. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Assistant data protection commissioner Tony Delaney is prosecuting a firm of private investigators and its two directors for allegedly obtaining personal information about individuals illegally, and with ‘connivance’ in those offences. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

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Two private investigators have appeared in court charged with allegedly ‘blagging’ personal information on a number of individuals from both the Department of Social Protection and the HSE and with passing it to credit unions.

Margaret Stuart (56) and Wendy Martin (45), both directors of MCK Rentals Ltd (trading as MCK Investigations) of Trafalgar Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, were before Bray District Court charged with breaches of the Data Protection Acts between May and November of last year.

Some 23 charges against each of them allege that they obtained information from both the Department of Social Protection and the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service, which handles medical cards.

They are charged with obtaining personal information without the authority of those departments and with disclosing it to another person, in contravention of section 22 of the Data Protection Acts.

The two women are also charged in their personal capacity as directors with “connivance” in those offences, under section 29 of the Acts.

Assistant data protection commissioner Tony Delaney told the court the charges arose from an investigation he had carried out into a number of credit unions.

The credit unions had given statements that they had hired MCK Investigations and paid the company to trace people in relation to loans. The defendants had obtained new addresses for people by unlawful means, Mr Delaney said.

The credit unions involved include Tullamore, Portlaoise, Portarlington, Athy, Caherdavin in Limerick and St Mary’s Parish in Limerick.

Mr Delaney said the defendants had obtained information on individuals using “blagging” techniques over the phone.

Patrick McCormack of Maguire McNeice solicitors for the defendants told the court they had received “substantial disclosure documents” from the Data Protection Commissioner last week.

He sought an adjournment of four weeks.

Sophie More O’Ferrall of Philip Lee solicitors, for the Data Protection Commissioner, had no objection to the adjournment.

Judge William Early asked whether the offences were indictable, and Ms More O’Ferrall indicated that they were but that the commissioner had directed summary prosecution, before the District Courts.

The judge said he was “somewhat reluctantly” accepting jurisdiction. He adjourned the matter to Bray District Court on Monday October 6th.

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