I would like to request a list of unsolved murders within the force area since January 1970, or from the most recent available date after January 1970, including all or as many as available of the following:
1) Total number of unsolved murders;
2) Name of victim where known
3) Age of victim where known
4) Gender of victim where known
5) Date of death where known
6) Cause of death where known
We can confirm that the information is held by West Midlands Police. However, while the majority 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. This letter serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) for the cause of death in each instance.
Please find attached our response (3171_attachment_01.pdf).
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 cause of death. The cause of death is exempt by virtue of Section 30 (1) (a) (b) (investigations).
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. Please find this below.
Harm for Section 30 (1) (a) (b)
All unsolved murders are subject to regular review and reinvestigation by either Force Review team or Homicide Teams. Releasing the cause of death would interfere with the investigations as it would allow individuals to analyse the evidence held and identify the focus of the police investigation. This would enable the offenders involved to gauge the level of police knowledge, what the police lines of enquiry are and would provide an insight into the investigation. This would hinder future Investigations and any further court cases.
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 these 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
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. 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 details of these crimes could jeopardise future investigations.
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 release information that may be of assistance to offenders or 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.
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 these investigations 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 there is a strong public interest in protecting the integrity of these investigations and safeguarding the safety of the public and future police operations.
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. 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 the public interest test favours withholding the information. West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could compromise the future law enforcement role of the force.