Child Abuse (2293/15)
Can you confirm how many suspects are you investigating linked to Operation Hydrant announcement 3 weeks ago about historical child abuse and will you name the police operations you are currently dealing with concerning child abuse and it’s remit for each operation.
West Midlands Police have 55 operations linked to Operation Hydrant.
Further information regarding Operation Hydrant is available here:
West Midlands Police will neither confirm nor deny that we hold any other requested information. This letter serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act).
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 West Midlands Police will neither confirm nor deny the existence of any other relevant data by virtue of
Section 30(3) – Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities
Section 31(3) – Law enforcement
Section 40 (5) – Personal data
Section 30 (3) is a class based qualified exemption and consideration must be given as to whether there is a public interest in neither confirming or denying the information exists is the appropriate response.
Sections 31 (3) is a prejudice based qualified exemption and there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in confirming or denying that the information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.
Section 40 (5) is an absolute and class based exemption if to confirm or deny that the information exists would breach the third party’s data protection rights. In this case to confirm or deny the existence of personal information would not constitute fair processing of the data and therefore would breach the first of the principles within the Data Protection Act 1998. As this exemption is class based I am not required to identify the harm in disclosure and in this instance I believe that the right to privacy outweighs any public interest in release.
These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:
Please find following detailed reasoning on the application of these exemptions.
Any disclosure under FOIA is a disclosure to the world at large, and confirming or denying the
existence of an investigation could potentially risk identifying specific incidents and victims. Victims should be assured that their safety is of paramount concern and that WMP would not put information out into the public domain that may lead to harm. We would not want to reveal intelligence to offenders which would enable them to change their method of operation to avoid detection.
Releasing information provided by the public, collected during the course of an investigation should always be handled sensitively. West Midlands Police (WMP) wants to encourage the public to be open and truthful without fear that information they provide will be released into the public domain.
The Freedom of Information Act makes it a legal requirement that an authority has to not only provide information, unless it is exempt, but to also confirm whether or not that information is held, unless to do so would in itself provide exempt information. In this case to confirm or deny that any further information is held would provide confirmation of the existence, or otherwise, of an investigation.
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 on-going or subsequent court proceedings could be jeopardised where release of information regarding an individual was identified.
Considerations that favour confirmation or denial – Section 30
Disclosing information about investigations would provide a greater transparency in the investigating process and the actions of a public authority. 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. Confirming the existence of an investigation could help to ensure that authorities do not overlook issues which they should investigate or that they have good reasons for not investigating.
There is a clear public interest in ensuring that public authorities do not act outside their authority by investigating matters which fall outside their remit. By making certain that public authorities confirm or deny whether information is held in relation to investigations, this should provide the necessary safeguards and satisfy the public interest in this matter.
Considerations against confirmation or denial – Section 30
Where a current investigation may be compromised by the release of information, it is unlikely to be in the interest of the public. Confirming the existence of specific intelligence (or not) in the public domain may alert offenders to our knowledge of their activities.
If an offender was identified by any release of information it may jeopardise court proceedings and compromise the future prevention and detection of crime.
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 and that the confidentiality of any information given will be maintained. Therefore they should be assured that West Midlands Police would never confirm or deny the existence or otherwise of information that would breach confidentiality.
Considerations that favour confirmation or denial – Section 31
The information may provide better awareness of historical sex abuse which may in turn lead to a reduction in crime as the public can take steps to protect themselves and their families. Better awareness may lead to more information being provided by the public as they would be more conscious of suspicious activities.
Considerations against confirmation or denial – Section 31
Factors against confirming or denying whether any other information is held for Section 31
By confirming or denying whether information is held would compromise law enforcement tactics which would hinder the prevention or detection of crime. This would impact on police resources, more crime would then be committed and individuals placed at risk.
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.
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.
The issues of transparency and awareness are noted. However, on balance it is considered that the public interest in confirming or denying whether the information exists is outweighed by the potential impact release would have on individual’s privacy and on future law enforcement activities.
Although confirmation of whether or not the requested information is held by the public authority might provide a greater transparency in the investigating process, there are already a number of checks and balances on authorities to assess whether investigations are conducted appropriately. 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. In addition if a person feels that they have been treated inappropriately by the police there are clear processes in place to ensure that matters are investigated thoroughly and appropriately.
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 for and against, the public interest test favours maintaining the exclusion of the duty to confirm or deny whether the information exists. West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could reveal personal information or could compromise the future law enforcement role of the force.
There is an inherently strong public interest in authorities carrying out investigations to prevent and detect crime. Therefore, on balance, it is considered that the public interest in providing the information is outweighed by the potential impact release would have on victims, the community and future law enforcement activities.
Therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or denying whether any information is held regarding is not made out.
In addition to the above response West Midlands Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information relevant to this request with respect to CEOP, as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemption:
Section 23 (5) is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest in this case. Confirming or denying the existence of whether any other information is held would contravene the constrictions laid out within Section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in that this stipulates a generic bar on disclosure of any information supplied by, or concerning, certain organisations including CEOP.
No inference can be taken from this refusal that the other information you have requested does or does not exist.