WILTSHIRE Police officers and staff have breached data protection laws 23 times in the last five years.

According to figures obtained by the Press Association under the Freedom of Information Act there were 2,031 breaches of the Data Protection Act across the 35 forces in England and Wales that responded between January 2009 and October 2013.

Breaches could include officers or staff accessing confidential and personal information or running unauthorised background checks and nationwide more than 100 staff were sacked and nearly 200 resigned as a result.

The Wiltshire force, the oldest constabulary in the country, ranked joint 10th of 35 for the lowest number of breaches, while neighbouring force Avon and Somerset Constabulary reported the highest number of incidents, 289.

A spokesman for Wiltshire Police was unable to confirm the disciplinary consequences of the breaches locally.

He said: “If an allegation of a breach in data protection occurs, the appropriate manager would firstly assess whether what had been done constituted a criminal offence and/or a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour (for police officers) or Police Staff Code of Conduct.

“They would then allocate it to an investigator, a Regulation 15 Notice (for officers) or letter from HR (for staff) would be served on the individual and suspension from post or from organisation would be considered.

“An investigation would be carried out and the individual would be interviewed. A report would then be provided to the head of Professional Standards (for a police officer) or the head of HR (for a member of staff). They would then conduct a final assessment and decide whether there is enough evidence for the case to be sent to CPS for consideration of prosecution. If not, then the assessment will look at whether there is enough evidence on the balance of probabilities for the individual to attend a misconduct meeting or hearing.”

Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: “It is very worrying to think that the personal data of victims of crime – who are often extremely vulnerable – might be being accessed and used inappropriately by people in a position of trust.

“Victims rightly expect that their privacy and the information they give will be respected when they report a crime.

“Victims must be able to trust the police so they have confidence to come forward and report crime in the first place.”