Arron Banks’ Brexit campaign group ‘could face fines over data breaches’

The Brexit campaign group founded by businessman Arron Banks has been warned it faces thousands of pounds in fines for data protection breaches, it has been reported.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found Leave.EU staff used the personal data of customers of an insurance company owned by Mr Banks to unlawfully send them political marketing material, according to a leaked report.

The company, Eldon Insurance Services Ltd, and Leave.EU have been informed they face fines totalling £135,000, according to the BuzzFeed News website.

The details emerged as the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, was due to present the ICO’s findings to MPs at a hearing of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday.

Arron Banks
Arron Banks

Ahead of the hearing, Leave.EU hit out at the ICO, accusing it of acting “in collusion” with the committee and its chairman Damian Collins to discredit Brexit.

Eldon Insurance said that it had only received the “notice of intent” from the ICO at 4pm on Monday and would be making representations concerning its findings.

According to the leaked extract, in one incident in September 2015 a Leave.EU newsletter was sent to more than 319,000 email addresses on Eldon’s customer database.

Leave.EU told the ICO it was the result of an error in the email distribution system which it reported, but the ICO said it had no record of any such incident being reported to it.

The ICO also found Leave.EU sent emails to its subscribers promoting Eldon, which trades as GoSkippy.

More than a million emails were said to have been sent between February and July 2017 which included the company’s banner and a discount offer for Leave.EU supporters.

It followed an email sent in August 2016 to 49,000 addresses on the Leave.EU database announcing a sponsorship deal with GoSkippy.

The report states: “We have concerns about the overall management of the data within the company (Eldon), particularly about the arrangements for sharing personal data handled by the company and its associates.

“We have evidence to show that customers’ personal data, in the form of email addresses, held by Eldon was accessed by staff working for Leave.EU and was used to unlawfully send political marketing messages.”

The finding comes after it was announced that the National Crime Agency had opened an investigation into Mr Banks for “suspected criminal offences” over £8 million in campaign funding during the referendum.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham and deputy James Dipple-Johnstone will be speaking to @CommonsCMS tomorrow at 10:30am. You'll be able to watch live via:

— ICO (@ICOnews) November 5, 2018

Leave.EU spokesman Andy Wigmore said: “We are surprised as yet again it seems the ICO has also clearly been in collusion with Damian Collins and his committee to showboat an accusation and fine that we were only told about initially by BuzzFeed at 11pm last night.

“Clearly due process is lost on these regulators – it’s just another attempt by Collins and his corrupt, biased fake news committee to attack Arron Banks and Brexit.

“We will be requesting all correspondence under FOI from Collins to see what collusion (there was) between his committee and the ICO.

“We note it’s just a notice of intent and we had the right to reply which had now effectively been sabotaged by Collins and the collusion of the ICO – clearly to discredit us and Brexit.”

Eldon said in a statement: “The notice of intent relates to solely to marketing banners that were placed on communications sent by Leave.EU to their members/subscribers, who had given their consent to receive communications from Leave.EU.

“It should be noted that the ICO makes it clear in the notice of intent that they do not consider Eldon to have deliberately committed any contravention of the relevant regulations.

“Whilst the notice of intent admits that no complaints were received from anyone that received the Leave.EU communications, which included the Eldon banners, it ignores the positive feedback that was received from some of those individuals in relation to the Eldon banners.

“The notice of intent is not a final notice and we will be exercising our right to make representations to the ICO in relation to the content of and the decisions that the ICO intend to make in the notice of intent.”