Please provide a list of murders which have occurred within the past one whole year – from 12 May 2022 to 12 May 2023, with the following details:
- The name and date of birth of the deceased (or age)
- The nearest Town or City where the incident happened
- A brief circumstance of the murder/MO (The victim was stabbed to death/The victim received gunshot wounds). If the cause of death is unknown, please provide a brief circumstance of how the deceased may have been found.
I can confirm that this information is held. However, while the majority of this information is attached (800A_23_attachment.pdf), I am withholding any further information by virtue of the following exemptions:
Section 30 – Investigations and proceedings conducted by the public authority
Section 38 – Health and safety
These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:
In line with the above, I am required to complete a Prejudice (Harm) Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure. Please find this as follows:
A disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is a disclosure to the public [i.e. the world at large]. In dealing with a Freedom of Information request there is no provision for the public authority to look at from whom the application has come, the merits of the application or the purpose for which it is to be used. This means that when considering an exemption with an associated prejudice test, that test should focus on the consequences of disclosing the information to the wider public. Therefore, the key question we must consider is whether there is a real and significant chance that a member of the wider public will use the information in a way that would prejudice the interests protected by the exemption.
The information you have requested relates in some cases to investigations which have not yet reached court, thus 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.
Additionally, by definition, the families and friends of the victims have suffered a traumatic bereavement, and for many of them this will have had a significant negative impact on their emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. Uncoordinated release of information through a FOIA request regarding victims of murder, is very likely to add to the level of trauma already being experienced by the families and friends of the victims.
Public Interest Test
Section 30 – Factors that favour disclosure:
Murder is a high-profile crime that generates a great deal of media interest, thus a strategy with investigating these type of crimes is to engage with the public in order to trace witnesses and progress lines of enquiry. Release of the withheld information may prompt individuals to come forward with information pertaining to these cases.
Section 30 – Factors that favour non-disclosure:
Some of these crimes are still being investigated and details may not yet have been released. Releasing the known facts in an investigation may allow criminals to construct an alibi or destroy relevant evidence. It would not be in the public interest to release information that may assist offenders to evade justice.
Section 38 – Factors that favour disclosure:
Release of this information could lead to better informed public awareness and debate.
Section 38 – Factors that favour non-disclosure:
A summary of key findings from a 2019 study by the Victim Support National Homicide Service ‘Living with loss: Long-term needs of family members bereaved through homicide’ included the following comments:
“The long-term impact of the incident on co-victims was profound and extensive affecting several aspects of life. These range from emotions and behaviour change to a significant change in care responsibilities or home life.
For instance, participants who took part in this research reported that due to the impact of the incident they have changed their place of living or work. Many reported becoming guardians to victims’ children. While some of the effects changed over the time others endured and are expected to remain a part of bereaved family members’ lives forever. For example, although the sadness receded over time anxiety and feelings of fear persist. Many participants reported that they will grieve for the rest of their life. Moreover, the majority of bereaved family members reported a change in their feelings and behaviour towards other people. They trust people less and become more isolated. The research also highlights triggers at different points that affected their recovery. For some the emotional and psychological impact of the crime could worsen and come into force at certain moments such as birthdays, holidays or anniversaries of victims’ death and at key points in the criminal justice process. These were seen to affect recovery long term, as they bring back negative emotions consistently every year…”
The public have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the information that West Midlands Police holds about them, or their family and this expectation applies as much to those who are living as to those who are deceased. The findings above show the huge impact that tragic bereavements can have on a co-victims health and wellbeing and uncoordinated release of this information into the public domain (i.e. under the FOIA), is very likely to negatively impact the physical or mental health of individuals and/or endanger the safety of individuals.
For a public interest test, factors that favour disclosure need to be measured against factors that favour non-disclosure. ‘Public interest’ however, 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.
I recognise the importance of police forces being open and transparent as this can help to build trust and confidence between the public and the police. This in turn can lead to better engagement between both parties, providing us with the vital cooperation we need from the public in dealing with and solving crime.
However, although the positive factor of openness and transparency is noted, this needs to be weighed against the substantial negative factors that release of the information would also have.
Firstly, 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 these processes and consequently 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 further grief to the families and friends concerned. Releasing this information into the public domain at this time is likely to result in additional media stories, 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. Although we have no control over the media’s reporting of incidents, with regard to information that we publish ourselves on our own website, this is posted when considered necessary for the investigation and/or public awareness and then removed.
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.
Therefore, having considered the arguments for and against disclosure, it is my opinion that the balance in the public interest test favours non-disclosure. West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could compromise an investigation and the law enforcement role of the force, and would be likely to endanger the physical health, mental health or safety of any individual.