Following the ICO’s ruling (ref FS50621936.), I’d like to request I be provided with the following:
1) Emails to or from Head of News (6 emails – 11 pages)
2) The Investigating Officers report (54 pages)
We can confirm that the requested information is held by West Midlands Police. However, while some of the 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 two documents [13044_head_of_news_emails_redacted and 13044_report_redacted]. This letter serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) for the parts of the documents that have not been released.
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 redacted parts of Part of 13044_head_of_news_emails_redacted
49 pages of 13044_report_redacted
The information is exempt by virtue of the following exemptions
Section 31 (1) (a) (b) (Law enforcement)
Section 40 (2) (Personal Data)
Section 31 (1) (g) (Law enforcement)
Section 40 (2) (Personal Data)
These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:
In line with the above, I am required to complete a Prejudice Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure. As the reasons that Section 31 has been applied to each document are different there are two different PITs for that exemption included below.
Section 40 (2) (13044_head_of_news_emails_redacted and 13044_report_redacted)
Section 40 (2) allows for personal data to be withheld where release would breach the third party’s data protection rights. The requested information contains the statements and other biographical data concerning named individuals. It is therefore their personal data.
In this case I believe it would be unfair to place this information into the public domain.
The information relates to allegations of unprofessional behaviour. For the person who has been accused making all of the investigative material public would place detailed allegations regarding behaviour into the public domain. This would be distressing and would amount to unfair publicity regarding this case. Those accused of misconduct would expect to have the matter investigated properly and for information to be treated accordingly within the accepted rules. It would be reasonable for them to expect that any disclosure would be dealt with according to accepted procedures and no differently to any other disclosure of this type.
It would be equally distressing for the witnesses to have their detailed statements and private details placed into the public domain. Any person who reports these types of issues, or gives statements regarding them, would expect that information provided by them will only be used for appropriate purposes – that is the investigation of the facts and circumstances of any alleged misconduct. It is reasonable that any person giving a statement in this case would expect that that the confidentiality of any information they gave will be maintained, particularly given the sensitive nature of these allegations.
It is acknowledged that there is a general public interest in transparency and that there is a legitimate public interest in the issue of the professional behaviour of police officers. Mr Jones was a senior officer for West Midlands Police who was dismissed.
Clearly where information relates to information in a professional sense, rather than in a personal sense, then expectations of privacy are reduced. In this context relevant information regarding this case has already been released by West Midlands Police and is contained in this response. This material satisfies this public interest without unnecessarily impinging on the rights of all of the individuals concerned. Nothing in the withheld material suggests any impropriety or lack of integrity concerning the investigation and the matter has been externally evaluated in an Employment Tribunal.
Section 31 (1) (g) (13044_report_redacted)
The withheld information contains witness statements and other personal information provided by West Midlands Police employees. Releasing this material into the public domain would undermine the ability of WMP PSD to undertake such interviews and gather information in the future. It is clear that (given the nature of the information) the reasonable expectation of those involved would be that this information would not be made public. To do so would make people reluctant to share it in future.
To allow a situation to occur whereby details of statements are routinely disclosed would create a barrier to openness of those giving these statements, or for people to report what they feel to be misconduct. This would severely prejudice the ability of the police service (or any other relevant body) to carry out these investigations. This in turn would affect the efficient and effective conduct of the police service.
Considerations for disclosure
Disclosing information about these investigations would provide a greater transparency in the investigating process and professional standards within the force. 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 details of an investigation would help to assure the public that this matter has been investigated appropriately.
Considerations against disclosure
Anyone reporting misconduct must be confident that WMP 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 WMP would never provide information that would breach confidentiality.
There is an inherently strong public interest in public authorities carrying out these types of investigations. This ensures misconduct is identified and dealt with appropriately and that the necessary checks and balances are in place to safeguard public funds and resources. To allow the effectiveness of these investigations to be reduced, as described in the harm above, is not in the public interest.
The information contains witness statements and other personal information provided by West Midlands Police employees. Releasing this material into the public domain would undermine the ability of WMP PSD to undertake such interviews and gather this information in the future. It is clear that (given the nature of the information) the reasonable expectation of those involved would be that this information would not be made public. To do so would make people reluctant to share it in future.
There are appeals processes built into the PSD system which can be exercised by those involved should they disagree with the findings. This case has in fact been subject to external scrutiny at an Employment Tribunal. These mechanisms reduce the public benefit in releasing detailed investigative material into the public domain. There are already mechanisms for external scrutiny of these investigations which do not necessitate the publication into the public domain of personal data.
Having considered the arguments for and against the public interest test favours release of material which does not directly impact on any on-going or future investigations and this has been released. However for the other material the greater public interest is served in maintaining the integrity of the justice process, and this in turn favours maintaining the exemption in relation to the withheld material.
Section 31 (1) (a) (b) (13044_head_of_news_emails_redacted)
The police non-emergency number 101 is the number for people to call when they want to contact their local police in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
If direct-dial numbers were introduced it is likely to adversely affect the efficiency and effectiveness of WMP and there is a danger that there could be some delay to the appropriate police response. In most circumstances calls are best dealt with centrally by staff who are trained in recognising emergencies and who know who the best person to deal with the call is. In addition, while many police stations are not open all day, the central switchboard is staffed 24 hours a day.
Issues favouring disclosure:
If anyone wanted to contact Detective Chief Superintendent Chilton they would be able to phone her directly without first having to phone 101.
Issues favouring non-disclosure:
The 101 number is in place to ensure that calls are dealt with appropriately. Even if people believe that Detective Chief Superintendent Chilton is the most appropriate person to deal with their query, this may not necessarily be the case. There is therefore increased possibility of misplaced calls, a delay to calls being appropriately dealt with and inefficient use of resources
There is a possibility that the direct dial number could be flooded with phone calls preventing Detective Chief Superintendent from being contacted.
The release of the information requested would be likely to affect the effective operation of WMP if it were in the public domain. We recognise that release of this information may assist in those members of the public who wish to contact Detective Chief Superintendent Chilton directly. However it is unlikely that a member of the public would need to and, if they did have a need to, they would be provided with a direct dial number.
Staff on the switchboard have access to a frequently asked questions database and can often resolve straightforward enquiries at this first point of contact. This represents a more efficient way of answering these queries, both for the public and West Midlands Police.
Clear lines of communication between the public and the police are a key element in effective policing. There is clear evidence that the introduction of the new single number has improved WMP’s ability to receive and answer calls from the public effectively. If the direct dial numbers were in the public domain it is likely that there would be an increase in misdirected and unanswered calls.
On balance the need for the police to effectively carry out operations and communicate effectively with the public must take precedence over the desire of some people to use direct dial numbers. This means that in this case at this time it would not be in the public interest to release this information.