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Stormont watchdog did not probe dumped SDLP election files

Medical files and election documents were found in the rubble of SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell's old health centre
Brendan Hughes

CONCERNS over confidential SDLP election documents found dumped at a building site were never investigated by the assembly standards watchdog, it has emerged.

In 2014 The Irish News revealed that files were found in the rubble of a demolished health centre owned by former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell.

The documents listed the names and addresses of voters in the South Belfast constituency alongside their perceived party political affiliation.

Sensitive medical files – including details of miscarriages – were also among the papers discovered by children when the old Belfast surgery was razed to make way for social housing.

At the time the SDLP was to write to Douglas Bain, the assembly standards commissioner, to "seek advice on whether any assembly standards have been compromised".

The party had confirmed that Dr McDonnell, who was then both MP and MLA for South Belfast, had also spoken with Mr Bain.

But nearly two years on it has emerged that no investigation was ever carried out as no formal complaint was made.

An assembly spokeswoman said: "The commissioner for standards, Douglas Bain, can confirm that no complaint was received in respect of the documents that were found."

It's understood the SDLP was informed that the commissioner could not give 'advice' ahead of any possible investigation, but no formal probe was subsequently requested.

The lack of investigation emerges just days after the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) confirmed it has concluded its probe and decided to take no action.

Privacy campaigners have expressed concern and urged the ICO to explain its decision.

Back in 2014 the north's assistant information commissioner Dr Ken McDonald had described the data breach as "one of the more serious incidents" in recent times.

The ICO said Dr McDonald was unavailable for further interview, but declined to explain why.

At the time Dr McDonnell, who retired from the practice in 2009, apologised "for any anxiety or upset that may be caused to former patients".

He said a confidential shredding company was quickly brought on site to remove the papers.

An SDLP spokeswoman said: "In August 2014 the then-chief whip of the SDLP, Pat Ramsey, informed the Assembly Commission for Standards that Dr Alasdair McDonnell had expressed sincere regret about the matter and made clear he would fully co-operate with any and all investigations carried out by Mr Bain's office, just as he had already personally assured the assistant information commissioner."

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