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Travel agent fined for taking clients

A TRAVEL agent who took what he thought were his own clients to his new
agency has been ordered to pay £2,600 or face a three-month jail sentence.

In what has been billed as a landmark case, Zbigniew Soltysik is the
first travel industry employee to have fallen foul of the Data Protection Act,
which prohibits employees taking databases from companies when they leave.

He pleaded guilty at Nottingham Crown Court to 26 counts of unauthorised
disclosure of personal data. Soltysik faces three months in prison if he misses
a payment.

The Information Commission, which brought the case, said the sentence
should serve as a warning to agents.

Its solicitor Mark Thorogood said: “The fine reflects how seriously the
court takes the matter and should be a lesson to anyone else who thinks about
doing this. Clearly, given Soltysik is bankrupt, the court is restricted to how
much it can realistically fine someone.”

However, Soltysik claimed he was “unlucky” and called for clearer
guidelines on what employees can and can’t do. “If a person works in an agency
for 10 years they build up their customer base. If they then work for another
agency and customers like them, is it illegal for the agent to ask them to come
with them?

“It is a very thin line and there is no right or wrong answer. I don’t
think it should even be considered a crime. It’s the client’s choice at the end
of the day.”

ABTA head of legal affairs Riccardo Nardi said this case was being used
as an example, and warned agents not to abuse mailing lists.

“If the Information Commission finds something like this, they want to
stamp on it. Abuse of a mailing list is obvious. It’s a very clear breach of
the act,” he said.

The court heard how Soltysik took the names and addresses of 574 clients
from agency Quality Travel in Grantham, Lincolnshire, where he worked from 2001
to 2002 before setting up his own company.

Quality Travel customers complained after receiving mailshots from
Soltysik at his new Nottingham agency New Style Travel. Spelling errors in
addresses on the books of Quality Travel matched those on advertising fliers
sent to potential New Style Travel clients.

Quality Travel directors first warned Soltysik in September last year
but on learning his fliers were still being distributed to some of its 8,000
clients, they complained to the commission.

Soltysik initially denied any wrong-doing but in court admitted he had
downloaded the alphabetical mailshot.

James Beck, representing Soltysik, said his client was trading in the
new firm at a loss. He said the case had a grave effect on his client, who
suffered a heart attack after proceedings started.

Judge Joan Butler QC said: “You took private information. You had no
right to access that data or to use it. It was a breach of your employer’s
trust and of the trust of those you contacted.”

Soltysik was fined £2,600 and must pay £1,000 towards the prosecution
costs.

After the case, Quality Travel chief executive James Hazelden added: “It
is very personal when you employ someone and they steal your client base. It is
a lesson for other people in the trade that this activity won’t be condoned.”

 

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