Unsolved Murders (4754_14)

Request / Response

The total number of murders recorded as unsolved between 1945 and 2011

  • There are 110 murders recorded as unsolved between 1945 and 2011

The date each one is recorded (which is likely to be the date the body was found)

The name, age and gender of victims, where held

DECISION UNDER THE TERMS OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

We can confirm that information is held by West Midlands Police. However, while the majority of 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 names of the victims that are not already in the public domain.

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 withheld information. The information is exempt by virtue of the following exemptions

Section 30 (1) (a) (b) (Investigations)
Section 38 (1) (a) (b) (Health and safety)

These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:

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

In line with the above, I am required to complete a Prejudice Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure.

Harm

The information you have requested relates to investigations which have not yet reached court, ongoing police investigations may be compromised where the level of information disclosed contributes to the identification of an individual and an offender manages to avoid detection.
The Freedom of Information Act is applicant blind, which means that if we were to accede to the request, we would be obliged to make this information available to everyone. However 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.

Public Interest Test

Section 30 (1) (a) (b)
Issues that favour disclosure
The force and its officers are accountable to the public for their actions in respect of any investigations they undertake and any subsequent action that is taken. Release of information may raise awareness of these particular crimes and therefore ensure that the public are reassured that West Midlands Police are investigating appropriately.

Release of this information may raise general levels of awareness about issues that may affect the community, such as – in this case – murders.

Issues that favour non-disclosure
These crimes are still being investigated. It would not be in the public interest to release information that may assist offenders to evade justice. Releasing the known facts in an investigation may allow criminals to construct an alibi or destroy relevant evidence.

The right to a fair trial is of paramount importance and any unwarranted disclosure which could enhance media attention prior to any proceedings could compromise an individual’s right to a fair trial.

Section 38 (1) (a) (b)
Issues that favour disclosure
Release of information may indicate to the relatives of the deceased, and the wider community, that these crimes are being investigated appropriately.

Issues that favour non-disclosure
The family have a right to grieve for the loss of their loved ones 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 living as to those who are deceased.

Conclusion

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.

Although the issues of accountability and awareness are noted, on balance it is considered that the public interest in disclosing these data is outweighed by the potential consequences to proper legal proceedings, and the impact of such a release on the bereaved families.

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 for the information gathered to be considered appropriately throughout the judicial process.

In addition, release of this information would undoubtedly cause additional grief to the families concerned. Release of this information into the public domain at this time is likely to result in an additional media story and with an unwarranted focus on the details of the death of the individuals concerned. It is not in the public interest to cause additional distress to the family.

The document ‘In the Aftermath’, produced by Victim Support, states that dealing with the press is an important source of stress for those people who have been bereaved by homicide. Intrusive behaviour by journalists is a common complaint of the families of murder victims. There is evidence that media coverage – especially years after the event – can act as reminders and triggering events, that can disrupt the bereavement process.

Although details of certain murders can be made widely available for the purpose of gathering new information or to inform the public, this is done under strictly controlled circumstances, with proper consultation with the families involved.

Having considered the arguments for and against the release of the information requested, the balance in the public interest test favours non-disclosure. West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could cause distress to individuals or that could compromise the future law enforcement role of the force.

As recommended as good practice by the Information Commissioner’s Office a version of this response may be published on the West Midlands Police website.

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