22 December 2014

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Ministers battle to silence regional daily over company takeover

A newspaper’s fight to reveal information about the takeover of York confectionery giant Rowntree by Nestle more than 20 years ago has been halted by the Government.

Last month The Press in York reported that, following a three-year legal battle, the Information Commissioner had ordered the cabinet office to release documentation relating to the 1988 takeover.

The decision followed a Freedom of Information request submitted by the paper for the release of five documents which it claimed should be disclosed in the public interest.

However the newspaper revealed this week that the Government has decided to appeal against the Commissioner’s ruling.

News editor Gavin Aitchison said: “The Information Commissioner has set out clear criteria for when the argument for disclosure of documents outweighs the case for them being kept secret.  We believe our application fits those criteria.

“Prime Minister David Cameron has already indicated support for the reduction of the 30-year-rule to a 20-year-rule, and we believe the ICO’s ruling on this matter was considered and sensible.

“The takeover of Rowntree’s was an enormous moment in York’s famous chocolate-making history and there is an inherent public interest for our readers in these files being released,” he added.

The Press first asked for Cabinet documents relating to the takeover in November 2008, but its request under the Freedom of Information Act was rejected, as was a subsequent appeal.

However in a landmark ruling last year, in a case relating to the Westlands affair in 1986 and the future of the UK helicopter industry, the ICO laid out certain conditions in which documents should be made public.

The Press resubmitted its original request in October 2010, citing the criteria from the Westlands case, but the Cabinet Office again rejected the request and a second appeal before the Commisioner ruled in the newspaper’s favour.

The takeover was hugely controversial at the time and the then Yorkshire Evening Press ran a ‘Hands off Rowntrees’ campaign at the time.

3 Comments

  1. P Stoff

    what on earth could be in these files if they’re trying so hard to keep them from prying eyes?

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  2. Observer

    P Stoff – I imagine similar revelations to those in the Hillsborough files they tried to keep under wraps. Strange how it’s all things that happened when the Tories were last in power.

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  3. richard meredith

    Freedom of information? what a joke. nothing less than a threat to
    national security should be with-held – and the spat over who bought a chocolate bar company 20-odd years ago hardly falls into that category. Do our ‘leaders’ know how foolish they look? Thank the Lord we still have a few good journos capable of asking awkward questions.

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