UPDATE – Somerset County Council up to no good. The ICO – Useless, Ruthless, Toothless

2nd September 2013

It’s taken me a while to put this up on the blog, but here’s a response to a complaint I lodged in May 2013 with the Information Commissioner’s Office:

PROTECT

 21 June 2013

Case Reference Number FS50496625

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your correspondence dated 7 May in which you make a complaint that Somerset County Council has committed a criminal offence under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Firstly we can confirm that we have received your complaint and that it has been assigned the above case reference number. However we would like apologise for the delay in contacting your about your complaint.

Based on the information you have provided your complaint has been passed to our Criminal Investigations Team. However at the present time our Criminal Investigations Team is dealing with large volumes of work which has meant that they have been unable to deal with incoming correspondence as promptly as we would like. While we are dealing with our such outstanding work as quickly as we can we do appreciate that you may be disappointed by this delay.

As soon as your complaint has been reviewed by the Criminal Investigations Team we will be in contact with you. Until then if we can be of any further assistance please contact our Helpline on 0303 123 1113 quoting your case reference number. You may also find some useful information on our website at www.ico.org.uk.

Yours sincerely,

Trevor Craig

Sent on behalf of
Damian Moran
Criminal Investigations Team Manager
____________________________________________________________________

It looks like the ICO are currently extremely busy with investigating criminal complaints, so it may be some time before they investigate this and arrive at a conclusion.

This case refers to what I believe were some fibs that were told by Somerset County Council back in May 2013.

here’s the email trail behind it all:

From: Peter Grogan [mailto:PTGrogan@somerset.gov.uk]
Sent: 07 May 2013 16:41
To: PAUL C
Cc: Jon Bazley

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your email, I hold the position that SCC have not breached aforementioned regulations

I will await communication from the Information Commissioner’s Office

Regards

Peter Grogan

Information Governance Manager

New Tel  –

Mobile  –


From: Paul C
Sent: 07 May 2013 16:29
To: Peter Grogan
Cc: Jon Bazley
Subject: RE: Freedom of Information – compromise agreements

Dear Mr Grogan,

The following tweet originating from Somerset County Council appears to deliberately misrepresent the situation – by summarising the problem as “a typo”:

https://twitter.com/SomersetCouncil/status/331774778262315009

As stated by yourself below, there were three separate parts to the letter that required changing in order to fall in line with the earlier 2011 response.  This is hardly a “typo”.

In fact, in my opinion you have breached Section 77, Regulation 19 (Deliberately altering, defacing, blocking, erasing, destroying or concealing a record which is subject to a request, with the intention of preventing the disclosure of information to which the applicant would otherwise be entitled.)

I am notifying you of my intention to contact the Information Commissioner’s Office in order to get further advice and take this to the next stage.

Please acknowledge receipt of this email,

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

From: Peter Grogan [mailto:PTGrogan@somerset.gov.uk]
Sent: 07 May 2013 15:02
To: PAUL C
Cc: Jon Bazley
Subject: RE: Freedom of Information – compromise agreements

Dear Mr Cardin

I have done some investigation and the explanation is as follows

The response to the FOI raised this February 2343690 the key sentence should have read

Firstly, I can confirm that we do hold this information and are unable to disclose it to you.

Rather than

“Firstly, I can confirm that we do not hold this information and are unable to disclose it to you.”

The typographical error of leaving in the word “not” clearly changes the meaning of the entire response

The second statement should have read

“In response to your questions I can confirm that the Council has from time to time entered into “compromise agreements”, but does not keep a summary log of these.”

Rather than

“In response to your questions I can confirm that the Council has from time to time entered into “compromise agreements”, but does not keep individual records of these.”

The response should have gone on to explain that, as in your Internal Review of March 2011 (attached), that the reason for non-disclosure is that to retrieve the time taken to recover the information requested, from over 80 senior managers, would exceed “the appropriate limit” as defined in the FOI Act and associated fees regulations.

I will ensure the requester receives a corrected response to clear up any misunderstanding

Regards

Peter Grogan

Information Governance Manager

New Tel  –

Mobile  –


From: PAUL C
Sent: 07 May 2013 13:44
To: Peter Grogan
Cc: Jon Bazley
Subject: Freedom of Information – compromise agreements

Dear Mr Grogan,

Please follow this link to two separate FoI requests for compromise agreement totals:

https://twitter.com/Wirral_In_It/status/331146666063314946

Here, you’ll find two further links which point to conflicting information emerging from Somerset Council.  Please could you tell me which one is true?  i.e. the information IS held, or the information ISN’T held?

I don’t believe, even given the dates of each request, that it can be both,

best regards,

Paul Cardin

ORIGINAL COMPLAINT TO ICO

From: Paul C
Sent: 07 May 2013 16:59
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: Breach of Section 77 Regulation 19 FOIA

Dear Information Commissioner,

Please find a complaint form attached and an email exchange containing links and further details.

In my opinion, Somerset County Council have breached Section 77, Regulation 19 (Deliberately altering, defacing, blocking, erasing, destroying or concealing a record which is subject to a request, with the intention of preventing the disclosure of information to which the applicant would otherwise be entitled.)

Relevant website links:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/total_annual_figures_for_comprom_253#followup

http://www.somerset.gov.uk/irj/go/km/docs/CouncilDocuments/SCC/Documents/Resources/FOI/2013Feb/Res-13Feb-2343690.pdf

I’d be very grateful if you could acknowledge and feed into your case management system,

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

11th September 2013

Useless, ruthless and toothless.

Here at long last is the result of manager Damian Moran’s “review”:

From: Damian Moran
Sent: 11 September 2013 09:15
To: Paul C
Cc: casework
Subject: ICO Response – S77 complaint [Ref. FS50496625]

Dear Mr Cardin,

I am the Criminal Investigations Manager for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and your complaint has been referred to me for review.

Firstly, I apologise for the delay in responding and thank you for your patience.

As you are aware, under section 77 of the FOIA it is an offence for anyone to alter, deface, block, erase, destroy or conceal any information held by the public authority with the intention of preventing the disclosure of that information, where the authority has received a request for this information, and the applicant would have been entitled to be provided with that information under the FOIA.

In terms of us commencing any prosecution of a public authority for such an offence there is a six month time limit on this from the time when the offence was committed. Therefore, should any section 77 offence have been committed in relation to the response from 2011 then this would be well outside the timescale under which we would be able to pursue a prosecution.

We note that other than the links to two separate responses and a brief correspondence with the council which you have sent to us you do not provide any further evidence in support of your accusation of an offence. After looking at the responses from the council under these links we note that while there are differences between them, these alone are not sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation as other alternatives are possible.

For example, in relation to the council holding recorded information on compromise agreements it is possible that given the responses are two years apart that their records management may have changed considerably during this time. It is also feasible that correspondence could contain one or more typing errors or sentences that are unclear.

We note from the council’s response to you on 7 May that they intend to ensure the “requester” receives a corrected response to clear up any misunderstanding. However they go on to state that they would still not be providing the “requester” with the information on the grounds that to do so would exceed “the appropriate limit” as defined in the FOIA and associated fees regulations. Indeed this is the same grounds given for not providing you with such information in 2011.

In regard to an offence this can only occur where the requester would have been entitled to receive the information under the FOIA. The grounds for refusing both requests is one of those set out in the FOIA and it is not unfeasible that if records are kept as stated that the appropriate limit could well be exceeded.

Therefore, from the information provided there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation and this matter is now closed.

Regards,

Damian Moran  

Criminal Investigations Team Manager

Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.

 www.ico.org.uk

It only remains for me to comment…

Somerset Council must be extremely relieved to know there are bureaucrats, cemented in place at the ICO, ready to list a large number of alternative explanations for any staggering inconsistencies in the information they send out to unsuspecting members of the public.

Great work chaps.

When you’ve grown some teeth, let me know.  Meanwhile, keep suckling on mummy government’s bloated and ££bounteous  mammaries.

About Wirral In It Together

Campaigner for open government. Wants senior public servants to be honest and courageous. It IS possible!
This entry was posted in FoI Requests, General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s