HNK Solicitors HNK Solicitors

Catt v United Kingdom: Court finds retention of data by police concerning a 94-year-old peaceful protestor unlawful

Unlawful retention of data by police is a common issue. When police arrest an individual, they take a series of personal details from them. However, if this person is then released without charge or conviction, or with an outcome of ‘no further action’, provided they don’t have any other convictions or impending prosecutions, this data should be removed.

Under the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Human Rights Act 1998, you have the right to have this data removed from their databases and they cannot lawfully retain this data. The police force responsible should remove this data, and if they don’t, you could be eligible to claim compensation for unlawful retention of data.

In this article, we discuss a case in which an individual successfully took action against the police for the unlawful retention of his data. The European Court of Human Rights found that the police were violating this peace activist’s right to privacy by collecting and retaining his data in an “extremist database”, despite him never having been assessed as a threat or convicted of any offence.

In 2019, Mr Catt, a peaceful protester, escalated the UK Supreme Court’s decision regarding police data collection to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR found that Mr Catt was a victim of unlawful police data retention as his human right to privacy was breached.

After R (Catt) v United Kingdom 2019 [EHCR], public awareness around police data retention has been under scrutiny. Continue reading to learn more about how Mr Catt successfully escalated the case and how, if you are a victim of unlawful police data retention, you can make a claim.

The Case: R Catt v United Kingdom 2019

Mr Catt was a 94-year-old man who lived in Brighton. He was a peaceful protester who had regularly attended public demonstrations since 1947. In 2005, he began attending protests held by Smash EDO.

Smash EDO, a group of anti-war protesters, campaigned to shut down an arms factory in Brighton. The activist group used many methods of protest, from leafletting to more destructive methods. However, Mr Catt was only ever involved in a peaceful capacity, his legal right.

In 2010, Catt made a subject access request to the police under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 to determine whether any records were held against him and, if so, what information they had. After his request, the police disclosed that they had 66 entries identifying him at protests between 2005 and 2009. Only a proportion of the entries were related to Smash Edo, with the rest related to separate demonstrations he had attended. However, all 66 entries were held on the police’s Extremism Database. The entries documented his name, date of birth, address and, in some instances, descriptions of his appearance. In one entry, a photograph of him was also included.

After Mr Catt became aware of these entries, he requested that the police delete them. The Association of Chief Police Officers (now the NPCC) refused this request and failed to give any reasons for the refusal.

Mr Catt decided to have the ACPO’s decision judicially reviewed and claimed a breach of his human right to privacy.

Picture of a desk in a police office covered in papers and files. There is a PC screen on the desk with a persons file open showing their pictures and fingerprints.

The Law around data retention

The Human Rights Act 1998 sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms everyone is afforded. Mr Catt claimed a breach of his right to privacy under Article 8.

Article 8 states that everyone has the right to respect private and family life. It also states that public authorities, including the police, should not interfere with these, except in the interests of national security and for disorder or crime.

Given that Mr Catt’s demonstrations were consistently peaceful, the retention and classification of the 66 entries as extremists appears unjustified.

The Supreme Court’s ruling

After Mr Catt’s initial subject access request in 2010, the case was brought before the Supreme Court in 2015. In this case, R (Catt) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, it became clear that the police had obtained and retained substantial data, including personal information, from his attendance at protests.

His date of birth, home address, written description and even a photograph taken of him during a protest were all in the police’s possession. Some records the police had retained had been deleted before the Supreme Court hearing, but a number remained in the extremism database.

The Supreme Court briefly recognised that while the retention had interfered with Mr Catt’s right to respect his private and family life, they found that ultimately, the collection and retention were in accordance with the law.

Lord Sumption, the presiding judge, found that the police’s data collection was lawful under the Data Protection Act 1998, the Statutory Code of Practice on the Management of Police Information, and Police Common Law as all the information were accessible public documents, they were lawful.

Lord Sumption then concluded that there was “in no sense intimate or sensitive data”, and that it was retained for “proper policing purposes”.

An image of somone touching coloured file separators with the top tab saying 'criminal records' on a red background.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling

Through the UK-EU agreement, you can escalate and appeal a Supreme Court judgement surrounding your human rights to the European Court of Human Rights. Mr Catt did just that.

The European Court of Human Rights reviewed the case and the law, and their findings were threefold.

  1. The European Court acknowledged the social necessity of data retention, particularly with Smash EDO’s involvement in violent and potentially criminal activities.

However, they also recognised that the continued retention had become disproportionate in this specific case, as there was no longer a need for it.

  1. The policy on retention was disproportionate as the entries and information on Mr Catt could be stored indefinitely.
  2. The information stored against Mr Catt was sensitive data as his political opinion was being retained. This would have meant a higher level of protection was needed and raised further concerns about his right to privacy.

The European Court, therefore, supported Mr Catts’s claim against the UK and held that there had been an unlawful interference with his human rights under section 8.

HNK Solicitors can help with your unlawful retention of data claim

If you have suffered from unlawful data retention by the police after you have been arrested and released with no charge or conviction, HNK Solicitors can help you with your claim. As seen in this case, unlawful data retention claims are disputed and can often escalate legally. With help from a solicitor, we can help you launch a civil claim against the police force responsible and gather evidence to support your case.

We have a team of expert solicitors who specialise in claims against the police and data protection claims. We can take on claims on a no-win, no-fee basis, so you don’t have to pay a penny upfront for us to manage your claim. Our team even offer free consultations where we can discuss the details of your case and advise you on the next steps.

To start your claim, you can get in touch with us via our online contact form, email us at, or call us on 0151 668 0809.

Share article


Latest News

No Win No Fee, Free Consultation

Please fill out the form below to get started with your claim

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Terms & Conditions
Skip to content