Your 1st place for FoI News
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • Police chief’s Deepcut letter to be released

    Posted on September 11th, 2009 admin No comments
    Deepcut army barracks

    Deepcut army barracks

    Surrey Police has been ordered to reveal details from a letter sent to it by a Chief Constable from a different force who had made comments about the way Surrey Police had investigated four controversial deaths at Deepcut Army Barracks.

    The letter to Surrey’s Chief Constable had been sent by The Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, who had written to the public authority in the capacity of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on the Homicide Working Group.

    Surrey claimed the letter was exempt from disclosure under S.30 (Investigations), S.36 (Prejudice to Public Affairs) and S.40 (Personal Information).

    It would appear from the decision notice that the letter and another one sent by the same officer within two months of the first were critical of the way Surrey Police had carried out its investigation into the death of the four soldiers.

    The Information Commissioner ruled that the S.30 exemption did not apply to the information at all.

    A key part of this reasoning was that the letter was tangential to the actual inquiry – and NOT part of it. The decision notice said: “However, section 30(1)(a)(i) specifies information held for the purposes of a relevant investigation; it is not sufficient for information to merely relate to an investigation.”

    Surrey Police’s arguments were undermined in this section as well by the fact that a report on the deaths had already been published which was entitled ‘Final Report’. The police attempted to argue the investigation was still open as inquests had recorded open verdicts on the deaths and so as no conclusion had been reached the inquiry was still a live affair.

    In conclusion the Commissioner said the information has not at any time been held for the purposes of a relevant investigation and that the police had not put forward an explanation of why the exemption applied to the information. Therefore it was ruled S.30 did not apply and the public interest argument was not considered.

    On the topic of S.36 the decision notice states the Surrey Chief Constable acted as the qualified person (QP) to claim the disclosure of the letter would inhibit “free and frank” discussions.

    Here the Commissioner appears to be critical of the Chief Constable in that the time put in to assessing the case, and the evidence of this procedure are not shown. The Commissioner states: “That this opinion was sought on the same day as the refusal notice was issued calls into question how thorough a process was undertaken by the Chief Constable when forming his opinion. However, in the absence of evidence that the QP did not give an opinion, even if this opinion was cursory and provided at short notice, the Commissioner accepts that an opinion was given by the QP.”

    It was accepted by the Commissioner that part of the S.36 exemption applied but it was ruled the public interest was in favour of disclosure.

    The decision notice noted there had already been a number of investigations and reports into the deaths at Deepcut. But like the Commissioner’s ruling relating to CCTV pictures of the July 7 bombers the fact there was no public inquiry had been held helped to tip the scales over in favour of disclosure.

    The decision notice reads: “First, the Government has stated that no full public inquiry into the Deepcut deaths will be held. Such an inquiry may well have had a significant reductive effect on the public interest in disclosure. In the absence of such an inquiry, the public interest in disclosure remains significant.

    “Secondly, rightly or wrongly and despite the various investigations and reviews, the suspicion that the full facts and causes of the Deepcut deaths have not been disclosed remains. As previously noted, disclosure that would resolve this suspicion would be in the public interest.”

    The Commissioner also threw out S.40 claims and has told Surrey Police to release the information concerned – albeit that at late date the scope of what was in the letter that directly related to the request was cut down.

    The full decision notice can be viewed [here] and I have asked on WhatDoTheyKnow for the information [here].

    Note: It is an interesting distinction between information held for the purposes of an inquiry and those held that relate to an inquiry. Does this mean that a post event inquiry into the competence of an investigation should be immune from S.30 protection?

    UPDATE: 18.9.09: Surrey Police are not releasing the information and I have been informed intend taking the case to a Tribunal.

  • Councils on the ‘naughty step’

    Posted on September 11th, 2009 admin No comments

    Two councils have got into trouble with the Information Commissioner after losing data on children.

    Sandwell Council has signed an undertaking [link] after one of its employees lost an unencrypted memory stick that held details relating to four families where vulnerable children, who had either been taken into care or were the subject of child protection plans.

    The staff member had downloaded the details on to the stick so that they could do work from home but the device was lost on the journey.

    It contained information relating to four families and was not password protected. The stick included details of why the reasons the children were under the care of the council’s children protection team.

     At Wigan Council the Chief Executive Joyce Redfearn has also had to sign an undertaking [link] after a laptop computer containing details on nearly all the children in the authority was stolen.

    The laptop, which was password protected, was stolen from a locked office. But the details of 43,000 children had been downloaded on to the machine in breach of the Council’s policy.

  • £3m cost of BBC’s FoI team

    Posted on September 11th, 2009 admin No comments

    I have reprinted below an article that appeared in the Guardian. I have to say that personally I feel no sympathy for the BBC as most of this money appears to be spent hiding behind its ‘artistic’ derogation. If they were more open then perhaps they would ultimately get fewer questions. Also if the do the maths it appears the entire BBC FoI team could be funded every year from about seven weeks of Jonathan Ross’ salary. If you read further down I think that I may be the anonymous journalist in the Top 10 of people making FoI requests to the Beeb. I say ‘name and shame’ me.


    The demands of complying with the Freedom of Information Act have cost the BBC more than £3m since the act was introduced in 2005, according to figures obtained through an FOI request by the Guardian.

    FoI requests to the BBC have risen since 2005, from 971 in the first year to 1,141 to the end of July this year. The act has led to a number of newspaper revelations, including disclosures about the salaries and expenses of senior BBC executives, which the corporation published in June, partly because of the large number of requests on the subject and the cost of processing them.

    The questions have include a breakdown of the number of English presenters appearing in the BBC’s Scottish programmes or the number of times a wheelchair user has appeared on the BBC show Bargain Hunt in the last 18 months.

    In 2008/9, staff costs for the BBC’s Information Policy and Compliance team –whose main job is to supply the public with information under the Act – were £614,000 with a further £22,000 for costs including accommodation and telephony and £42,000 legal costs.

    This compares with a total of £648,000 total costs for 2007/8 and £655,000 for 2006/7. In 2005/6 the costs were £683,000 while 2004/5 the cost was £495,000. This means that in total the cost of the IPC has been £3.16m since 2004/5.

    The BBC has insisted that the IPC team “have other responsibilities” which include overseeing the BBC’s policies on data protection.

    However, according to a senior BBC source the bulk of the IPC’s work is taken up with meeting the demands of the Act.

    “The vast majority of IPC work is taken up with FoI and they mainly collate the information,” said the source.

    “These costs also don’t cover all the work of the individual departments, some of whom have people working all the time collating information. Sometimes there are stacks and stacks of paper that have to go out to requestees which is very time consuming.”

    An unnamed Times journalist has topped the list of the most overall requests with a Mail on Sunday journalist being the second most regular requester of information under the Act which was introduced by Tony Blair’s government with the intention of opening up public bodies to wider public scrutiny.

    Other requesters in the top 10 include a freelance journalist, members of the public and a Sunday Times journalist in seventh place and a Sun journalist in 10th place. The BBC has declined to name the individuals concerned.

    Questions asked of the BBC include supplying “correspondence relating to the estate of Lawrence Olivier and the Olivier Awards” and the number of Scottish, English and ethnic presenters who appear on Scottish TV and radio and the number of English, Scottish and ethnic presenters are there on English TV and radio. One question also asked how many times a wheelchair user had appeared in Bargain Hunt.

    “We are happy to comply with FOI but it could be argued that this time and money could be spent on programmes,” added the source.

    However the act has seen a number of newspaper revelations that may not otherwise have appeared.

    These include the disclosures about the salaries of senior BBC staff and their expenses which the Corporation revealed in bulk earlier this summer due to the large number of requests on the subject.

    Revelations included the hiring of a Cessna jet by director general Mark Thompson to make an emergency return from holiday in 2004 and his purchase of a £99.99 bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée champagne as an 80th birthday present for Bruce Forsyth in February last year.

    The BBC has also promised to publish the expenses of Thompson and the other eight members of the BBC executive board, as well as the corporation’s non-executive directors, every six months in order to cut the staff time and money spent on dealing with FOI requests.