An innocent campaigner arrested after downloading and tweeting documents he says he found in a Google search, says the experience was “horrendous”.
Police suspected Robert Hutchinson had breached the Computer Misuse Act by downloading board meeting minutes and other documents he found online.
Mr Hutchinson says the Leathermarket Community Benefit Society (CBS) documents were publicly accessible. After an investigation, police found no offences had been committed.
Leathermarket CBS is a community-led housing partnership, whose purpose is to provide council homes for local residents.
It is proposing to build new council homes on an outdoor sports court at the Elim Estate in Bermondsey. South London.
Mr Hutchinson, who says he has the support of the majority of residents, opposes the development.
He says he discovered board meeting minutes and other Leathermarket CBS documents online in February, using a Google search of the open web, and downloaded them.
None of the documents had any marking to suggest that they were confidential, nor were they protected by a password, he says.
He believed they were the type of material an organisation like Leathermarket CBS would and should publish.
A screengrab taken by Mr Hutchinson and shared with The Register appears to show Leathermarket minutes appearing in Google results.
Mr Hutchinson saw no issue downloading what he regarded as public documents, but the CBS disagrees.
Leathermarket said in a statement that the documents “were stored on a password protected page on the CBS website for directors”.
It added: “When it came to the CBS’s attention that confidential information had been accessed and subsequently shared via Twitter, the CBS reported the data breach to the police – who requested a full log of visitor access to the website before deciding whether or not to progress.”
On 10 June, Mr Hutchinson was arrested.
It was “horrendous to have four police officers turn up at your door at 08:30 in the morning”, he told the BBC.
“What got me through it was that I knew what had happened and there was no way I had committed a crime.”
He was taken to Walworth police station, where he was held for four to five hours and questioned.
“They wanted to know had I entered a password, they wanted to know had anyone else given me a password, they wanted to know had I used any password-breaking software, and they wanted to know had I used any password prediction software.
“So of course to all of that I was able to answer ‘no’.”
The police also took Mr Hutchinson’s laptop and phone, which they held for about four weeks.
Finally, early in July, police told him “there was no case to answer”.
He says an officer told him the documents had been in the public domain.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said it was alleged that Mr Hutchinson, “had accessed the secure area of a website linked to a housing association between the 17 and 24 February 2021 and had published documents from the website on social media”.
“Following a review of all available evidence, it was determined no offences had been committed and no further action was taken.”
Mr Hutchinson told local paper Southwark News, which broke the story, that he has suffered considerable reputational damage as a consequence of the arrest.
And he says he has written to Leathermarket CBS seeking more information about what happened.
“I’ve had no explanation or apology from them,” he said.