Place of Worship Offences (6358_16 )

Request

This refers to the calendar years 2013, 2014 and 2015.

1. How many sexual offences have been reported in the last three years where the location was a `place of worship?

Please could you run a search on the following key words as locations where sexual offences were reported religious dwelling / place of worship / church / monastery / mosque / chapel / temple / synagogue /oratory /cathedral, / gurdwara / shrine.

I would be grateful if you could add any other search terms you think would be relevant.

Please also break down by the type of sexual offence.

I would like this information for the last three calendar years.

If possible, for the calendar year 2015, I would like a breakdown by the type of religious dwelling. E.g. mosque, church, etc.

RESPONSE

We can confirm that the information is held by West Midlands Police. However, while the majority of the information is enclosed in this email I am afraid that I am not required by statute to release all of the information requested.
This letter serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act)

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 location details of any on-going investigations the information is exempt by virtue of the following exemptions

Section 30 (1) (a) Investigations and Proceedings Conducted by Public Authority.

These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:

https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/information-management/freedom-of-information/#freedom-of-information-exemptions

SECTION 30 (1) (a)

Harm

In this case to provide details of an investigation would allow anyone involved – including the offenders – to ascertain the level of police knowledge of the incident.

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 on-going or subsequent court proceedings could be jeopardised where release of information regarding an individual was identified.

Considerations that favour disclosure

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.

It is in the public interest that the West Midlands Police demonstrate that those committing offences are prosecuted

Considerations that favour non disclosure

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, for the reasons outlined above, releasing any information in relation to on going investigations could jeopardise future police operations and compromise the future prevention and detection of crime.

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.

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.

Balancing Test

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 issue of transparency is 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 future law enforcement activities.

Although providing 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 some of the requested information.

West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could reveal personal information or could compromise the future law enforcement role of the force.

Attachments

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