How many people living in Coventry have gone missing since 1 January 1980 to 1 June 2012, and subsequently never been found. I would like to know the total number of people who have gone missing during those dates, the date they disappeared, the missing person’s name, age and where they went missing from.
We can confirm that information is held by West Midlands Police. However, while the majority of the requested information is attached to this email I am afraid that I am not required by statute to release all of the information requested. Please find attached a partial response to your request. This letter serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) for the personal details of missing persons whose information is not currently in the public domain.
REASONS FOR DECISION
The Freedom of Information Act places two responsibilities on public authorities, the first of which is to confirm what information it holds and secondly to then disclose that information, unless exemptions apply.
In this case, this letter represents a Refusal Notice for the personal details of missing persons whose information is not currently in the public domain.
These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:
Section 40 (2) is an absolute and class based exemption if to release the information exists would breach the third party’s data protection rights. In this case to release this personal information would not constitute fair processing of the data and therefore would breach the first of the principles within the Data Protection Act 1998. As this exemption is class based I am not required to identify the harm in disclosure and in this instance I believe that the right to privacy outweighs any public interest in release.
With respect of Section 30(1)(a)(b), I am required to undertake a public interest test.
Release of information through the Freedom of Information Act removes any of the legal strictures and assumptions of confidentiality associated with the due legal process. As a consequence any ongoing investigation or subsequent court proceedings could be jeopardised where release of information regarding an individual was identified.
Considerations that favour release
Disclosing information about investigations would provide a greater transparency in the investigating process and the actions of a public authority. It is clear that there is a public interest in public authorities operating in as transparent a manner as possible, as this should ensure they operate effectively and efficiently. Providing information surrounding an investigation could help to ensure that authorities do not overlook issues which they should investigate or that they have good reasons for not investigating.
There is a clear interest in ensuring that public authorities are acting in the best interests of the public and ensure the safety of the people it serves and protects. There is a duty to investigate each credible report and any criminal offence which may have been committed or related to their disappearance.
Public awareness and debate
There is valid public interest in whether law enforcement agencies are making the best use of resources available to them. Disclosing information pertaining to unsolved cases may aid in the investigative process and result in unknown information being disclosed.
Considerations that favour none release
Fair Treatment of an Individual
The interest of the public is best served by the non-disclosure of information which adversely affects the reputation or interests of an individual.
The public must be confident that West Midlands Police are committed to ensuring that information provided by them will only be used for appropriate purposes and that the confidentiality of any information given will be maintained. Therefore they should be assured that West Midlands Police would provide information that would breach confidentiality.
Where current or future law enforcement role of the force may be compromised by the release of information, then this is unlikely to be in the interest of the public. In this case providing detailed information regarding an investigation could jeopardise future police operations and compromise the future prevention and detection of crime.
Efficient and Effective Conduct of the Service
There is an inherently strong public interest in public authorities carrying out investigations to prevent and detect crime. This ensures that offenders are brought to justice and that the necessary checks and balances are in place to safeguard public funds and resources. To allow the effectiveness of investigations to be reduced, as described in the harm above, is not in the public interest. West Midlands Police need to be allowed to carry out investigations effectively away from public scrutiny until such times as the details need to be made public, otherwise it will be difficult for accurate, thorough and objective investigations to be carried out.
It would not be in the public interest to put information into the public domain that could prevent an individual from being brought to justice. The right to a fair trial is of paramount importance and any disclosure which could enhance media attention prior to any proceedings could compromise an individual’s right to a fair trial under the Human Rights Act.
For a public interest test, issues that favour release need to be measured against issues that favour non-disclosure. The public interest is not what interests the public, or a particular individual, but what will be the greater good, if released, to the community as a whole.
The issues of transparency and awareness are noted. However, on balance it is considered that the public interest in providing the information is outweighed by the potential impact release would have on individual’s privacy and on future law enforcement activities.
Although provision of the information might provide a greater transparency in the investigating process, there are already a number of checks and balances on authorities to assess whether investigations are conducted appropriately. There are legal processes in place to ensure that all parties are given access to all the appropriate information at the time of any trial and subsequently through court records. In addition if a person feels that they have been treated inappropriately by the police there are clear processes in place to ensure that matters are investigated thoroughly and appropriately. Releasing information outside of such a schedule could undermine the smooth running of these processes and would impact on future judicial proceedings. Therefore the wider public interest lies in protecting the ability of the public authority to conduct an effective investigation and consider the outcome.
Having considered the arguments for and against, the public interest test favours withholding the personal details of those missing persons whose information is not currently in the public domain.
West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could reveal personal information or could compromise the future law enforcement role of the force.