24 October 2014

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Police took 98 days to answer newspaper’s FOI request

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.”

4 Comments

  1. kol kurtz, UK

    The Freedom of Information Act is for journalists with no contacts – discuss

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  2. copshopper, south of hadrians wall

    The political “fear of crime” mantra dominates police thinking; ie don’t tell the media about too much crime because it makes people nervous. To read some weeklies you’d think they covered crime-free zones.

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  3. 30 something hack

    Lets be honest the FOI act is a huge pain in the backside for many of these organisations – they don’t really want to be answering these enquiries if they can help it and in my experience it’s not uncommon for the 20 day limit to be exceeded.
    I have used FOIs occasionally in the past, but they are often quite time consuming and when you do get answers back they don’t always answer all your questions! So then more time is wasted with follow-up calls and e-mails, etc.
    I also hate following up other journalists FOIs – as sometimes newsdesks request. Then there is the likes of the Tax Payers’ Alliance which makes a living out of submitting politically motivated FOIs and press releasing journalists about them.
    I admit some good stories are to be had with FOIs, but like anything use it too much and it loses its impact. I yawn when I see some FOI-based stories and of course the public doesn’t get to see the ones that didn’t make it into print.
    As for NYP they and other police forces like to put a positive spin on the facts so it doesn’t surprise me that they might seek to drag their feet in this fashion if the end result is a story that might not present them in the best light.

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  4. Charlotte Peters Rock, Knutsford-Doncaster - points between

    Oh its much worse than that.

    South Yorkshire Police has been refusing to answer FOIA requests in respect of the killing of the old since my father, Ralph Winstanley was killed on their Doncaster patch more than seven and a half years ago.

    That force will not respond to say ‘why no Crime Number has ever been issued’, for what officially produced documents clearly show was a pre-meditated murder. (Yes they have been given copies)

    It will not say what investgiation it has ever made. It has certainly never taken any witness statements.

    But hey… its OK! Its way out of this impasse, is to refuse to deal with family members by placing them on its ‘least wanted’ list and calling such requests “vexatious”.

    As for the Information Commissioner and his office, I had heard that there was no more than ‘one man and his dog’ working there. Is that true?

    Is that why no local authority – polce force – health trust – etc – has any fear of acting the wrong side of the law in refusing to respond to legitimately made FOIA Requests?

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