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  • Sheep exemption gets the chop

    Posted on October 12th, 2009 admin No comments
    Can the pictures be any worse than this?

    Can the pictures be any worse than this?

    Back in March I wrote about a case involving Devon and Cornwall Police and a grisly and bizarre case of sheep murder on the moors.

    An applicant had asked for details of the investigation, including police photos of the dead sheep, but had been refused under S.30 (investigations). I wrote about the case [here] and the original decision notice from the Commissioner can be found [here].

    Well, the case was taken to tribunal by the applicant Mr Michael Freebury and the panel have decided that the photographs can be released.

    The S.30 case was put in the Tribunal by Louise Fenwick, the Freedom of Information Officer for Devon and Cornwall Police. She told the Tribunal that “she was cognisant that applications for disclosure of sensitive and confidential information relating to criminal investigations may be made by perpetrators and those directly involved with the crimes they seek disclosure on. Therefore as a general principle she would consider disclosure in unsolved crimes to be prejudicial except in very exceptional circumstances.”

    The decision notice went on to say: “Ms Fenwick further attested that, in her view, there would be prejudice flowing from disclosure as it would harm any investigation into the crime in particular and subsequent crimes. The disputed information, she claimed, showed the Constabulary’s modus operandi for the investigation of this crime and this would be the same for other crime and future complaints of ‘sheep deaths’.

    “She claimed that the manner in which the sheep met their death was not released into the public domain and that release of such information ‘could seriously jeopardise our ability to detect the offenders for this crime and also to detect any future crime’.”

    WesternThe key point in this Tribunal was the fact that the applicant was able to bring to the case details of a press cutting from the Western Daily Press, that had not been considered by the Information Commissioner when making the original decision.

    Some key passages from the article were reprinted in the Tribunal’s finding.

    These were:

    • “Six sheep were found with their necks broken and their eyes removed on land at Moortown near the edge of Dartmoor. Four of the their bodies were arranged in a regular square shape, another two were lying next to a pattern of stones.
    •  “Our understanding is that this place used to be some sort of meeting place for Pagans,” said a spokesman for the Devon and Cornwall police”.
    • The dead sheep, worth £600, were still warm when they were found by their owner………….. on Sunday morning.
    • There were the four sheep and then 10ft or 15ft away there were another two, which were laid next to three stones which had been arranged in a pattern” he said.
    • The stones looked like a kind of gateway, a similar thing that had been found in January”
    • In this case, the eyes were completely removed from the sheep, and there were no signs of the messy pecking that could attribute the loss to an attack by birds.
    • Police confirmed that the animals had their necks quickly broken and there were no indications of a prolonged struggle or suffering.
    • It is thought that at least two people would have to had to have [sic] been involved, given the sheer physical strength needed for the killing and arranging of the sheep.”

    The Tribunal considered this article as key to the case as they stated there was nothing in the police pictures of the dead sheep that had not already been noted in the article.

    Therefore it concluded that although the S.30 exemption was engaged the public interest argument was an equal balance between disclosure and non-disclosure. Because the public interest test had equal weight on both sides the law states the information should be disclosed.

    You can see a copy of the Tribunal’s findings [here] and an application for the release of the photographs [here].