Sex Offenders (4729_14)

Request / Response

1. a) Providing a snapshot at today’s date (November 14, 2013) or about that date if more convenient for your systems, how many children aged 17 and under are registered on the Violent and Sex Offenders Register (VISOR)?

= 28 (as at 07 March 2014)

1. b) How many of these VISOR registered children are registered sex
offenders (RSOs)?

= 28 (as at 07 March 2014)

2. How many of the VISOR registered children are currently recorded as
being taught in mainstream schools?

West Midlands Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds information pertinent to this part of your request as the duty in Section 1(1) (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemptions:

Section 44(2) Prohibitions on Disclosure
Section 40(5) Personal Information
Section 30(3) Investigations
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Section 38(2) Health and Safety

These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:

http://www.west-midlands.police.uk/docs/advice-centre/foi/exemptions.pdf

Section 44 is a class based absolute exemption which means there is no requirement to identify the harm or consider the public interest in disclosure.

Section 40 subsections (1) and (2) is a class based exemption, however Section 40(5) is not, as it is not listed in the schedule of absolute exemptions in Section 2(2).  However, when citing Section 40(5), 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, therefore in these circumstances Section 40(5) is classed as absolute and there is no requirement to consider the public interest.

Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption and consideration of the public interest must be given as to whether neither confirming nor denying the information exists is the appropriate response.

With Sections 31 and 38 being prejudice based qualified exemptions there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in confirming or not that the information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.

Overall harm in Confirming or Denying that Information is held for Question 2
Any release under the Freedom of Information Act is a disclosure to the world, not just to the individual making the request.  To confirm or not that a child registered on ViSOR attends a mainstream school could lead to the identification or even misidentification of an individual and has the potential to provoke unrest within the community resulting in vigilante type behaviour.
This in turn could potentially lead to a registered sexual offender going ‘underground’ as happened following the unrest within the Paulsgrove community which resulted in a mini riot following the ‘naming and shaming’ of a sex offender in a national newspaper.  Although details of this incident are published on the internet to reprocess this information would be unfair to the individual concerned and would be a clear breach of the Data Protection Act.
Tragically earlier this year a father was driven to suicide having been falsely named as a sex offender.  His address and photograph were also published, see below links:
http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2013/05/23/dad-driven-to-suicide-by-facebook-trolls-over-false-paedophile-claims-steven-rudderham/
http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/Dad-s-suicide-Facebook-slur/story-19065914-detail/story.html
The Police Service has a duty of care to offenders living in the community as well as victims.  As identified above to confirm or not whether children registered on VISOR currently attend a mainstream school, has the potential to result in a child being targeted by members of the community which potentially could result in serious injury or death.
This is evidenced with the case of Gordon Boon, a registered sex offender, who was killed whilst on licence from prison.  An individual was charged and convicted of killing Mr Boon.
As stated above the duty of care covers victims of sexual offenders too.  Their safety would also be compromised if a registered sexual offender took evasive action by moving locations, no longer fulfilling their requirements to register with the local police and ultimately going on to commit further offences.

Public Interest Test

Section 30 – Investigations
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held
Confirming or denying that information exists pertinent to question 2 would lead to a better informed public demonstrating that West Midlands Police Public Protection Unit monitor individuals registered on ViSOR proactively to assist investigations and reduce crime.  Confirmation or denial would highlight where police resources are being targeted and the public are entitled to know how public funds are spent, particularly in the current economic climate.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) – neither confirming nor denying that information is held
Confirmation or denial that information is held in this case would suggest that West Midlands Police take their responsibility to appropriately handle, manage and monitor these children to assist with criminal investigations flippantly and dismissively resulting in the force’s future law enforcement capabilities being affected.

Section 31 – Law Enforcement
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held
Confirmation that information exists relevant to this request would lead to a better informed public which may encourage individuals to provide intelligence in order to reduce further sexual offences being committed.

Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) neither confirming nor denying that information is held
West Midlands Police, and the Police Service generally, gather intelligence in order to direct police activity through a planned and systemic business process.  Any disclosure of information which would compromise law enforcement would lead to more crime being committed.  Further, as more offences are committed police resources would be affected as officers are taken from the frontline and directed into ongoing investigative operations, some of which may be covert.
As detailed within the harm, disclosure of the information would also undermine the partnership approach to law enforcement, in this case the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements which are run in liaison with the Police Service, Prison Service and Probation Service which focuses on monitoring individuals registered on ViSOR to stop them reoffending, as well as the investigative process in order to stop them reoffending.

Section 38 – Health and Safety
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held
To confirm information captured by question 2(a) would lead to a better informed public awareness and debate, and would also identify how public funds are being spent with regard to the safety of individuals.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) neither confirming nor denying that information is held
Any information, no matter how generic, which would assist individuals in their offending behaviour, would undoubtedly be a risk to the safety of the generic public.  In addition, confirmation or denying of information which is designed to safeguard the public is also likely to lead to a loss of confidence in West Midlands Police ability to protect the wellbeing of the community.

Balancing Test
The points above highlight the merits for and against confirming or denying that information exists with regard to question 2.  The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve.  As part of that policing purpose, information is gathered which can be highly sensitive relating to a category of individuals who commit sexual offences.
Confirmation that information is held would undoubtedly provide a greater openness and transparency to the community at large with regard to children registered on ViSOR.  However we must also remember that the Police Service, including West Midlands Police, complies with the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements which are a set of arrangements to manage the risk posed by the most serious sexual and violent offenders (MAPPA eligible offenders) under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  A report is published annually to demonstrate accountability to members of the public for the work undertaken by the Police, Probation and Prison Service and to reassure the community that this work is being done well.
In addition, we also need to take into account the victims of crime.  Public safety is of paramount importance and any information which would place individuals at risk, no matter how generic, is not in the public interest.  The effective delivery of operational law enforcement is crucial to ensure West Midlands Police target offending behaviour.

Therefore, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test for confirming nor denying that information is held is not made out.

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