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Watchdog finds failing by police on paper’s FoI request

 A dispute between a regional daily and police over a Freedom of Information request has led to a watchdog finding a failure by the force.

York daily The Press contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office about how North Yorkshire Police had handled a request by the paper.

News editor Gavin Aitchison requested information from the force about guidance issued to police staff on using a database, after the paper reported last August how thousands of people who had never been suspected of a crime had their details on there.

But police officials withheld some information about its database systems, citing cost grounds.

An investigation by the Information Commissioner has now found the force acted properly on some points but wrongly on others.

Case officer Susan Hughes said police were entitled to withhold some of the information requested and were correct in merging some requests into one.

But she said the force breached the Freedom of Information Act in failing to respond to a request by The Press for proof that answering its questions would have been too expensive.

In a letter to the newspaper, Ms Hughes wrote: “NYP’s handling of your requests was not as straightforward as it could have been, which resulted in a lack of clarity and understanding.”

In a letter to the police, The Press had cited an earlier decision by the Information Commissioner, which said it was ‘good practice’ for public bodies to provide a costs breakdown when refusing requests on these grounds.

And Ms Hughes said if the force had followed this advice, the dispute could have been concluded sooner.

Christine Scaife, disclosure law manager at the force, has written to The Press confirming that no evidence existed of a costs assessment having been carried out before the force refused to release the information.

But evidence has now been provided to Ms Hughes showing that disclosing the information requested would have taken too long and been too expensive – so the force was entitled to withhold some of the information as it did.