A regional daily discovered that its local police force was in breach of freedom of information laws after it took five times the required time to respond to three requests.
The Press, York, found that North Yorkshire Police were failing to answer more than half of the FoI requests that they receive in the required time of 20 days.
News editor Gavin Aitchison had submitted three requests on 27 May which took 89, 94 and 98 working days for the force to respond to – after which the information was withheld.
After becoming frustrated with the amount of time it took the police to respond, he probed further and discovered that over the past six months the force had exceeded the 20-day limit in 56pc of the 229 requests it dealt with.
Said Gavin: “All of these requests were relatively straight-forward and I was amazed it could take so long for them to be dealt with. We are all very skilled at The Press in how we use the FOIA, and had never before encountered such persistent delay.
“I was keen to know whether this indicated a wider trend, so we asked for some statistics going back six months and, sure enough, they suggest a persistent problem.
“Just as frustrating was the lack of response was the lack of communication from the force, despite them being legally obliged by the Act to provide reasonable advice and assistance’.”
Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information told The Press that the Information Commissioner’s office monitors the performance of any authority that fails to deal with at least 85pc of requests in 20 days. If that performance has not improved over three months formal enforcement action may follow.
He said it was likely that North Yorkshire Police would be hearing from the commission in the future.
Added Gavin: “The Freedom of Information Act is an invaluable resource for the media and the public more generally, but it does rely upon compliance by public authorities. It will be interesting to see whether the information commissioner’s office pursues the matter, as Maurice Frankel suggests.”
NYP currently has 177 requests which are work in progress of which 70 are within their 20 days.
Simon Dennis, North Yorkshire Police’s director of legal and compliance services told the paper that the force gets hundreds of requests per year.
He said: “We find that journalists and others understand that it isn’t always possible to answer every request on time. We get very few complaints or formal appeals about the way we handle requests.”