Information chiefs have warned a police force about its conduct after a local democracy reporter won a fight to reveal a scandal involving its staff.
A six-month investigation by Leigh Boobyer, left, who works for Gloucestershire Live under the BBC-funded scheme, has revealed at least two members of Gloucestershire Constabulary staff were disciplined for “inappropriately” selling part-worn police vehicle tyres online for personal financial gain.
The force subsequently failed to adhere to normal policy by publishing details of its internal investigation into the incident on its website – although it has “strongly denied a claim of covering up” the probe, according to Gloucestershire Live.
However, the constabulary has been admonished by the Information Commissioner’s Office over its failure to respond properly to Freedom of Information requests sent by Leigh in relation to his investigation into the matter.
The ICO expressed concern with the constabulary for failing to provide a response after 40 working days, and delaying the response a further 20 working days because a meeting to determine public interest factors had not been arranged.
Leigh told HTFP: “Last November I was approached by an anonymous source claiming there was a cover-up within Gloucestershire Constabulary. They leaked me a development review into the force’s fleet team, and said in an off-handed comment: ‘I think some of them sold tyres from police cars online’.
“The premise of the report led me to believe far more happened, but I was certain what I was given by the source was the smoke from the gun. Without hesitation I sent a Freedom of Information request to the constabulary asking for basic details such as whether an investigation into the sale of tyres did take place.
“I was met two months of delays, and it only came out in February after I threatened to go to the Information Commissioner’s Office. Then, after sending another FoI and waiting another 40 working days, the constabulary’s information disclosure team told me they needed another 20 working days because ‘a meeting hadn’t been set up’ to determine public interest factors.
“It was at this point I told the ICO about the situation, and within days it replied effectively backing me and warned the constabulary it had to respond to me by mid-May.”
He added: “I do believe the FoI team are over-stretched: they received 1,600 requests last year and the team is only a full-timer and a part-timer. But the lack of priority and sympathy to my response was enough reason to take further action, and I’m very pleased to be able to share my six month-long investigation with everyone.”
When asked by Leigh if the police staff disciplined still work in the fleet team or the constabulary, a spokesman said the misconduct outcomes arrived at “are spent”, meaning those involved served their punishment.
When asked what the disciplinary outcomes were, the FoI response said it exempted the information under the law as “given the small number of staff involved, would likely result in disclosing personal information”.
The force said it does not intend to provide any further details about its investigation, which was launched in 2015, and blamed an “administrative oversight” for failing to publish information about it.
A spokesman told Gloucestershire Live: “We can confirm a misconduct investigation was carried out in 2015. This was in relation to allegations about the inappropriate disposal of part worn vehicle tyres once they were no longer of use to the force.
“As a result of the investigation, disciplinary sanctions were issued to a number of police staff. Force policies were then amended and further guidance was issued on the disposal of tyres that are no longer of value to the constabulary.
“It should be noted that the misconduct outcomes arrived at are spent. For this reason and in order to meet our duty of care to our staff we do not intend to give any further information about the investigation.
“A development review of the fleet department was carried out in 2017. Since that time a new manager has been appointed and is working with the team to improve morale and wellbeing within the department.”