Please could you provide me with the full list of the 168 court exhibits that were used in the investigation into the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974 and held by West Midlands Police.
I would also like you to identify the 35 items that have been disposed on that list. The 35 items were, according to Chief Constable Chris Sims, disposed of at some point in the 1980’s.
Please find attached a redacted version of the list.
Please note where a surname appears in the exhibit list it relates to the following full name
McIlkenny- Noel Richard
Hunter- Robert Gerrard
Hill- Patrick Joseph
Walker- John Francis
Callaghan- Hugh Daniel
Also note that Exhibit 99 relates to debris recovered from Hagley Road (referred to as ‘the third bomb’).
REASONS FOR DECISION
It is felt that in this case that the information not provided is exempt by virtue of Section 30 (1) (a) (b) with the addition of Section 38 (1) (a) and Section 40 (2) (a) and (b).
When citing Section 40(2), there is a requirement to consider whether disclosure would breach one of the Data Protection Principles, and in this case the first principle of fairness would be breached. In these circumstances Section 40(2) is classed as absolute and there is no requirement to consider the public interest.
In line with the other exemptions, I am required to complete a Prejudice Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure. Please find this PIT below.
Harm for Section 38 (1) (a)
This information contains information about deceased persons the release of which may have a negative impact on the mental health of the family or friends of the deceased and other people involved.
Factors favouring release
This information could assist individuals in gaining an understanding of the investigations and provide the public with an insight as to how these proceedings were conducted.
Factors against release
The families involved have a right to grieve for the loss of their family member without interference. Inappropriate release of the information into the public domain could have a detrimental effect on their mental well being.
The public has a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the information that West Midlands Police holds about them or their family. This expectation applies as much to those who are alive as to those who are dead.
Harm for Section 30 (1) (a) (b)
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.
Factors favouring release
The police service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve and there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations, including investigations. Disclosure would increase accountability by providing the public with an understanding that public funds are being used appropriately and that investigations are conducted properly.
Factors against release
Releasing the full exhibits list and indicating those exhibits that have not been located would interfere with those investigations especially as they are still open and could possibly be progressed further. This would allow individuals to analyse the evidence held or not held and identify the focus of the police investigation, enabling the criminals involved to gauge whether their activity had been detected, what the police lines of enquiry are and an insight into the investigation. This may cause them to destroy new evidence, if this information was released back into the public domain. This would hinder future Investigations and any further court cases.
In terms of the Freedom of Information Act 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.
For a public interest test, issues that favour release need to be measured against issues that favour non-disclosure. Therefore, in considering the public interest in relation to Section 30(1) I have balanced the factors in relation to transparency and accountability against the public interest in maintaining the integrity of this investigation and any impact of release on future investigations.
The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, the prevention and detection of crime and protecting the public. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively investigating the case there is a strong public interest in safeguarding the safety of the public and police operations.
There is a genuine and essential link between public interest that the police are investigating this crime appropriately and to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for the crime. It is important to note that, even where information has been released in open court this is not necessarily deemed to be release into the public domain and further release of such information would be detrimental to the efforts of police to establish whether people are, or have been involved in this crime.
Although the issue of awareness is noted, on balance it is considered that the public interest in disclosing data regarding the deceased is outweighed by the possible detrimental effects of the bereaved families’ mental well-being.
The disclosure of all of this information into the public domain, and the likelihood of it being reported in the media, is such that it would cause significant distress to the families of those referred to in the material.
We acknowledge public interest is high, but at this time, details (even historic ones) about this investigation would provide too great a detail into any future proceedings and cause significant distress to the families of those deceased, therefore the public interest favours withholding this information.