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  • 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.

  • 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.