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Cancer doctor wins ground-breaking data protection claim

Related Member(s):
Guy Vassall-Adams QC, Emma Foubister
Related Practice Area(s):
Media and Information Law

A leading cancer doctor has won a ground-breaking data protection claim made against a lobbyist for the asbestos industry who had tried to get him struck off by the General Medical Council. In Rudd v Bridle [2019] EWHC 893 (QB), Warby J held that information provided to the claimant under his subject access request was inadequate, rejected the Defendant’s entitlement to rely on three claimed exemptions and ordered him to provide the claimant with significant further information.

The claimant is a consultant physician who specialises in respiratory medicine and is one of the country’s leading experts on asbestos-related cancers such as mesothelioma. He brought a claim pursuant to the Data Protection Act 1998, s 7 against John Bridle, who has spent his career working in the asbestos industry and runs a website called Asbestos Watchdog, which promotes the industry’s interests.

Mr Bridle had made a complaint to the General Medical Council alleging that Dr Rudd had falsified the risks to health associated with chrysotile or white asbestos in his expert reports to the courts. The GMC rejected the complaint as not meeting the standard for investigation, which decision was upheld on review following a challenge by Mr Bridle. Mr Bridle also made unfounded allegations to MPs and communicated with unnamed allies in the asbestos industry about ways to discredit Dr Rudd.

The claimant sought further information to find out more about Mr Bridle’s activities and which individuals or companies were behind the complaint. Mr Bridle contended that his heavily indebted company J&S Bridle Limited was the data controller, not himself personally and sought to rely on the journalism, regulatory activity and legal professional privilege exemptions.

Warby J found that Mr Bridle, rather than his company, was the data controller as Mr Bridle had been engaged in a personal campaign to discredit Dr Rudd. He found that significant parts of Mr Bridle’s evidence had been dishonest or disingenuous. The judgment gives important guidance on the correct approach to assessing whether information contained in a document is a claimant’s personal data and how to balance a claimant’s right of access to his personal data against the rights of unnamed third parties. The Court found that none of the exemptions applied and the judgment is the first to consider the scope of the Regulatory Activity exemption.

Mr Bridle was ordered to comply with s 7 of the 1998 Act by providing further information including descriptions of recipients of personal data, the identities of persons who had been communicating with Mr Bridle about Dr Rudd and any information as to the sources of the personal data.

Guy Vassall-Adams QC and Emma Foubister were instructed by Harminder Bains at Leigh Day on behalf of the claimant.

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