Your 1st place for FoI News
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • Police “grass” secrecy goes up in smoke

    Posted on March 11th, 2009 admin No comments




    The Information Commissioner has ruled that Northumbria Police should disclose how much it paid informants, known in police-speak as “covert human intelligence sources” - for each of the last five years.

    Police forces around the country could now be forced to reveal how much they pay “grasses” for information when investigating crimes. 

    Top officers had opposed more openness saying that it could stop informants coming forward and it might also spark attacks on people suspected of being “grasses”.

    The matter was decided after an appeal under the Freedom of Information Act was ruled on by the Information Commissioner. He said the reasons put forward by the police to keep the data secret did “not carry significant weight”.

    The Commissioner said the force’s attempt to have the information remain under wraps has failed because S.38 (health and safety) was not engaged. He also said the public interest test was in favour of disclosure in relation to the argument that the information was covered by S.30 (investigations).

    Despite police forces turning down a string of requests for informants’ costs under the Freedom of Information Act for data about these payments have been uncovered in the past. The Commissioner made refererence to the fact that some of this information had already leaked out in the past when people, often journalists, used their rights under the Audit Commission Act to view police accounts. Last year a reporter uncovered the fact that the Metropolitan Police had paid £2,131,786 in rewards for information in a single year.

    Editor’s note: Although this topic has been something of a hot potato for journalists and the police it would appear the Commissioner was underwhelmed by the arguments on both sides. He stated that the public interest case for releasing the information were “not overwhelmingly strong” but that the case for refusal was even worse, describing it as “not carrying significant weight”. On the balance the pea outweighed the feather. Expect a flurry of requests from reporters wanting to know how much police cash has found its way into criminals pockets.

    Read the decision notice HERE.

  • Grubby journalism

    Posted on March 10th, 2009 admin No comments



    The controversial case of the sadly mcan-opener

    The controversial case of the sadly maligned can-opener

    The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against the Castle Point Echo in Essex after it published material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act “out of context”. (link)

    Last September, the Echo published a story headlined: “Island High St Hygiene Shock”, based on environmental health reports of four local restaurants.

     The story described what it called “shocking food hygiene failures” at the eateries on Canvey Island.

    But one, a fish and chip shop called Dave’s Plaice, said the piece had “a number of inaccuracies” that “severely affected the business”.

    The story said the restaurant had “a stash of dirty equipment”. In fact, the report only mentioned one dirty blade on a heavy can opener.

    The restaurant’s owner also said the report, described as the “latest food safety report”, was nine months old, and took place shortly after they took over.

    The Echo said that although the report’s date was not mentioned, it was, in fact, the latest available. 

    It did, however, offer to run a follow-up, a letter, or an apology, correcting the can opener point and making clear the inspection’s timing.

    But the restaurant’s owner refused the offer, demanding a front-page apology.

    The PCC, in upholding the complaint, said: “The commission was concerned that the newspaper had published strong and prominent criticisms of the complainant’s restaurant that could not be fully justified by the inspection report.

    “The article was misleading in its failure to make clear when the inspection took place (some nine months before publication) and in its overstatement of the severity of the alleged hygiene concerns.

    “In light of the possible damage that such reporting could have had on the complainant’s business, the newspaper should have taken much greater care to ensure the coverage was accurate.

    “The complaint also demonstrated the importance of not taking material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act out of context.

    “While the commission welcomed the eventual offer to apologise to the complainant, it felt that this was a significant breach of the code that could not be remedied with an apology.”

  • The new Big Cheese

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 admin No comments
    £140k - You'd look cheerful too

    £140k - You'd look cheerful too

    Christopher Graham, 59, the head of the Advertising Standards Agency, is set to be the next Information Commissioner later this year. FoI News gives you ten things you might not have known about Mr Graham.

    1. In December 1971 he became Britain’s youngest city councillor when he was elected for the Liberal Party in St Michael’s ward, in Liverpool.

    2. He was a one-time wanna-be MP and while a councillor he stood for, but lost, two parliamentary elections.

    3. A history graduate, he joined the BBC as a trainee journalist in 1973.

    4. He was a TV current affairs producer, deputy editor of The Money Programme and managing editor of  BBC News programmes.

    5. He rose to become the Corporation’s secretary, head of internal complaints unit, working closely with Lord Birt.

    6. While director general of the ASA he banned a poster advertisement which featured a naked Sophie Dahl promoting Opium perfume. He said it was sexually suggestive and likely to cause “serious or widespread offence”. 


    Naked Sophie left the new man unamused

    Naked Sophie left the new man unamused


    7.Under his watch the ASA has had a number of run-ins with the budget airline Ryanair. In 2008 he referred the matter to the Office of Fair Trading saying:’It is very disappointing, but absolutely necessary, that we have had to take this course of action. The ASA has given Ryanair every opportunity to put its house in order and ensure that its advertising adheres to the codes. Instead, they have continued to mislead consumers and denigrate competitors.”

    8. Ryanair didn’t take the criticism lying down calling the ASA an “out of touch, clueless…irrelevant quango”.

    Does Ryanair fly to Wilmslow

    Does Ryanair fly to Wilmslow


    1. 9. Speaking of his proposed move away from the ASA he said: “Director general of the ASA is one of the best jobs in the world, but I’ve been doing it since April 2000. It’s time for somebody else to take things forward to the next level. Meanwhile, the information commissioner is so much at the centre of debates on information security, privacy, better government and the right to know that I am keen to take on this new challenge.”

    10. As Information Commissioner he is expected to be paid a salary of around  of £140,000.

  • Pay Off Principal set by Tribunal

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 admin No comments


    How much?

    How much?

    The Information Tribunal ruled in favour of maintaining the Section 40 exemption in relation to internal documents surrounding the acrimonious departure of a college principal, who left his job after two months with a £163,000 pay off.

    The Yorkshire Post brought the appeal to the Tribunal after the Information Commissioner had ruled against the newspaper, save for the fact that the College were ordered to disclose the amount of compensation paid to the former principal David Gates.

    A hearing was then staged in Bradford to determine if the 383-pages of documents relating to hearings staged prior to Mr Gates’ dismissal from the College should be disclosed to the paper. The Information Commissioner’s had ruled the material held by the College was subject to the Section 40 exemption.

    The paper argued the Commissioner’s decision to apply Section 40 had been wrong because it placed “too great an influence on protecting the rights of the highly paid individual who has been sacked as opposed to the rights of the public who have funded his position and placed great trust in him as a senior employee at the town’s largest educational establishment”.

    Mr Gates took up his position as the principal of the college in January 2006 and was suspended by the start of the autumn term. He eventually reached a confidential settlement with the College who issued a statement in which it said: “The reasons for the principal’s dismissal relate to his conduct and performance of his responsibilities, particularly in respect of his behaviour and relationships with senior individuals connected with the College and its Corporation.” None of the matters relating to his dismissal were of a criminal nature.

    A subsequent OFSTED report was critical of the College’s governing body for an inappropriate use of public funds in paying compensation to senior staff.

    The information at the centre of the argument was summarised as being details of the allegations made against Mr Gates and the details of disciplinary proceedings which followed from those allegations. There were also the compromise and termination agreements which contained the details of the financial package offered to Mr Gates.

    The paper put forward a number of arguments for the release of this information. These included the fact that an Employment Tribunal was anticipated which would put all parties on notice that there was the potential for the information to become public through that hearing.

    But the Tribunal ruled in favour of the Information Commissioner in that the information should be subject to a Section 40 exemption.

    In its ruling it stated: “There is a recognised expectation that the internal disciplinary matters of an individual will be in private. Even among senior members of staff there would still be a high expectation of privacy between an employee and his employer in respect of disciplinary matters.”

    When the Tribunal went on to consider the confidential compromise agreement it stated: “Even in the public sector compromise agreements may be expected to be accorded a degree of privacy as long as there is no evidence of wrongdoing or criminal activity present. There is no such evidence in this case.”

    Editor’s note: This decision is important as the strength of the Section 40 exemption has typically been seen to diminish the further up the corporate ladder the person who the information relates to. In this case the most senior person in the town’s biggest college is still seen to be protected by the exemption despite the fact a total of £300,000 was paid out by the college on his compensation, wages and legal costs – for just two terms of employment. The financial details of his severance package were deemed to be releasable but the internal documents on why he was fired stay private. Had he been sacked because of a criminal matter it is possible the decision would not have been the same, however, other exemptions would then probably come into play.

    Read the decision notice HERE

  • Giv Us a Job…

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 admin No comments


    Destined for the shredder?

    Destined for the shredder?

    A recent decision by the Information Commissioner could have personnel departments sharpening their shredders.


    The ruling means that unsuccessful job applicants have a right to see limited details from the CVs of the other candidates for the job.

     The issue was raised by the complainant, who worked for Leicester City Council, and applied for two internal vacancies, unsuccessfully.

    The applicant then asked for information relating to the recruitment process, including copies of the application forms submitted by the other applicants, suitably redacted as necessary.

    Officials at the Council refused the request for the application forms, on the grounds that the Section 40(2) exemption applied.

    The Commissioner decided that the exemption at section 40(2) applied in respect of some of the application form information, but that it did not justify withholding all the information.

    He considered that some information about the other applicants’ experience and qualifications could be provided in an anonymised form, without breaching their rights under the Data Protection Act.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • MPs moaning about FoI…..again….

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 admin No comments

    house-of-commonsMinisters are releasing answers to Freedom of Information requests that they refuse to give MPs who have tabled parliamentary questions, an Essex MP has claimed.

    Bernard Jenkin, Tory MP for North Essex, told the House of Commons the Health Department would not give him data about the performance of his local ambulance service - but they would give it to journalists if they made an FOI request.

    During exchanges on coming parliamentary business, Mr Jenkin said he had been attempting to get information about the ambulance service in his constituency.

    He said: “This used to be information given in parliamentary answers which is now denied to us since the regionalisation of the ambulance service.

    “My local newspaper, the Colchester Evening Gazette, has subsequently been told that if they put down an FOI request, they will get that information.”

    Mr Jenkin added: “Given that the Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson) is constitutionally responsible for the conduct of the health service, shouldn’t he be providing the information for parliamentary answers which my local newspaper seems able to get through the FOI Act?”

    Commons Leader Harriet Harman Harman said: “We can’t have a situation where FOI requests get answered but people who are elected to this House, for the purpose of holding Government ministers to account, don’t get answers to their questions.

    “That is absolutely the wrong way round.”

    She urged Mr Jenkin to meet Deputy Commons Leader Chris Bryant to discuss the matter further.

  • Lord leaping on Beeb’s Strictly phone secret

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 admin No comments

    A Liberal Democrat peer has accused the BBC of “Mugabe-like” tactics in the way it has thwarted his Freedom of Information attempts to uncover the voting controversy of Strictly Come Dancing’s semi-final.

    But his efforts at using the Freedom of Information to shed more light on the mystery have been refused by the BCC and he has now compared the Corporation’s tactics to those of Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe.

    The semi-final saw three, rather than two, couples progress to the final and Lord Tyler, the former North Cornwall MP, wants to find out exactly how many votes were cast for each competitor. 

    1,2,3,3. Oh start again...1,2......

    1,2,3,3. Oh start again...1,2......



    The BBC claims the voting figures are not information that can be released under FoI legislation. 

    Lord Tyler said: “These are standards of transparency more resonant of Zimbabwe than of a democratic country with effective freedom of information rules.  Even Mugabe eventually had to release voting figures once the election was over.”

    Millions of people called in to vote in the semi-final but the programme’s producers decided not to eliminate any of the couples at that stage.  The BBC received more than 1,400 complaints from viewers and was forced to offer refunds. 

    Lord Tyler said: “Licence payers’ cash has been spent in the millions on Strictly Come Dancing and the programme’s production has turned from fiasco to farce.

    “The very least people now deserve is to see exactly how many votes were cast for each couple. 

    “The BBC seem to think that we are all fools, with this pathetic excuse for secrecy.

    “Even if these data cannot be released while a particular series is being screened, there can be no sense in concealing them once the contest is over.” 

    Lord Tyler said the prime-time BBC show threw a spotlight on Britain’s “first-past-the-post” Parliamentary electoral system, in which the winner can poll less than half the total vote.

    The Liberal Democrats have been long-time supporters of electoral reform and adopting a system of proportional representation. The show was eventually won by Holby City actor Tom Chambers.

    Responding to Lord Tyler’s request for information, Richard Curwen, head of legal, business affairs and brand management in the entertainment, events and comedy department of the BBC, wrote: “It is not the type of information we would provide voluntarily as we want to protect the programme participants from any potential impact of individual voting levels being made available.”

     Mr Curwen said that under the Freedom of Information Act the BBC is only obliged to provide information held for purposes “other than those of journalism, art or literature”.

     Commenting on the BBC’s response, Lord Tyler said: “The Information Commissioner has apparently ruled before that voting figures relate to journalism, art or literature.  I think there are serious questions about the validity of that judgment.

    “However, the BBC should in any event publish the information voluntarily as a matter of legitimate public interest.

     “Instead, the bureaucracy is showing itself up as outrageously arrogant and devious.”

     Lord Tyler has now appealed his case to the Information Commissioner and to the BBC Trust.



  • The Oldest Swinger in Town

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 admin No comments
    The subject of delays within the Information Commissioner’s Office have been a hot topic in recent years. Some believe that the ICO is deliberately being underfunded in an attempt to neuter the power of the Freedom of Information Act.
      Many requesters and public authorities complain that the slow rate at which decisions are issued only aggravates the problem as practitioners are left in limbo not knowing what the Commissioner’s view is on important subjects. FoI News put in its own request to the Information Commissioner to find out which appeal had been sitting on his desk for the longest period of time. 

    …….On January 12, 2005, less than two weeks after the Act came into force somebody wrote to West Yorkshire Police asking for the numbers of illegal firearms the force had seized in the last five years. The requester also asked: “Could I have copies of any reports prepared by, or received by West Yorkshire Police on the issue of gun crime or gun-related crime in the region or which include substantial reference to those issues over the same time period.”

    The police provided the requester with a table showing the numbers of weapons it had confiscated and this was sent through on February 1, 2005. However, there was a clash over the second part of the request relating to the reports held by the police. It refused to hand them over citing four exemptions: Section 30 (Criminal Investigations), Section 31 (Law Enforcement), Section 38 (Health and Safety) and Section 41 (Information Provided in Confidence).

    An appeal was lodged by the applicant which was considered by the police force where the refusal decision was upheld. This appeal decision was communicated to the applicant on April 12, 2005.

     The applicant then e-mailed an appeal to the Information Commissioner on April 29, 2005 and staff at the ICO logged it officially on May 14, 2005. What has happened to the appeal over the last three years and nine months is something of a mystery.

    In a letter of October 2008 the ICO says: “By way of additional information, I have been advised that the case is currently waiting for the decision notice that has been prepared by the FoI case officer to be ‘signed off’ by a senior member of staff.” The ICO didn’t reveal the name of the applicant – exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2) of the Act.

    West Yorkshire Police said it did not want to comment on the matter but confirmed it was still awaiting a decision and the matter had not been resolved informally.

    Rest assured when a decision is forth-coming we will let you know about it and which complaint has replaced it as the ICO’s dust-gathering champion.