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Woman photographed urinating on Trump estate loses data protection case

6 April 2017

A woman who relieved herself while crossing the Menie Estate golf course in Aberdeenshire, owned by Trump International, and who was photographed by an estate employee while doing so and then charged by police, has lost a court case based on the Data Protection Act in which she sought damages for distress.

Sheriff Donald Corke at Edinburgh Sheriff Court held that Carol Beyts had failed to establish her case where she did not found on breach of any of the data protection principles but only on the company's failure to register as a data controller under s 17 of the Act, and this failure had not caused any of the distress she had suffered.

Ms Beyts and a friend had been crossing the golf course using the public right of access when she felt the need to urinate. She thought she had found a private place to do so, but had been watched by employees of the estate who knew her as a protester, and one of them photographed her from a distance of about 230m. The company then made a complaint to the police, who three days laterm at 10pm, charged her under s 47 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. The sheriff found that she was distressed by these circumstances and the concern caused to her about family members.

The company argued that the photo was taken with a view to prosecution of an offender. Sheriff Corke described that argument as "unattractive", but said he did not have to decide the point as no breach of the data protection principles was pled. However he found that "It was lawful and in accordance with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code... for the pursuer to urinate where she did."

He added: "The pursuer should not have been photographed. I have to emphasise that officious bystanders taking pictures of females urinating in the countryside put themselves at very real risk of prosecution, whether for a public order offence or voyeurism."

On the merits the sheriff concluded: "The penalty for breach of s 17 is prosecution under s 21 of the 1998 Act. It follows that the pursuer has not suffered any distress 'by reason of' the contravention by the defenders of their admitted breach of the registration requirement. That is a matter between the defenders and the registration and prosecution authorities. There is no causal connection between the lack of registration and the distress that I accept the pursuer has suffered."

Had he found for the pursuer, he would have assessed compensation for distress at £750. He made an award of £300 expenses to the defenders as a small claim.

Click here to view the sheriff's judgment.


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