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Information Commissioner response to complaint about Dorset Police

 

I find it difficult to find the right words to describe what has been produced by the ICO in relation to this complaint about Dorset Police. So I won’t try to, I will just get on with the facts, and summarise at the end.

In one short paragraph I will reveal the entire 10 page response to be nonsense. I will then go on to demonstrate that also, each and every one of the individual objections made in the document are also nonsense.

There is nothing, at all, whatsoever, anywhere, about the QUESTION that has been given as a reason not to answer it. Only the person who asked the question. Thus this entire 10 page document would have no relevance if I simply got someone else to ask the question. There isn’t even an unreasonable burden (31), although Dorset Police did try to use this as an excuse at some point. There is NOTHING that can be found as a reason as to why the question should not be answered – just as I have said all along.  Refusing to answer only because of the person who asked the question really is a PATHETIC excuse to try to avoid answering where the £2 million is going. 

It wouldn't matter if the person asking the question is the worst (and most irritating) criminal in the world, if the authority is behaving badly and avoiding embarrassing questions where the answers might indicate misuse of money or false accounting, and the ICO is actually assisting this cover up in total conflict with it's purpose and claimed aims, this is completely unacceptable.

So to the individual points:



 

Decision

On page 1-2, large amounts of information have been omitted. In fact, as I have already pointed out, the full history is that Dorset Police:

1. Ignored the original request (and refused to communicate about it) for 6 months or so until the ICO forced an answer out of them.

2. Then produced only top level costs which raised more questions than answers.

3. Claimed that it would take too long to find any information on detail (such as numbers of staff and duties, who pays who for the premises cost, etc), (which we now know was not true).

4. When it was pointed out to them that if it took any time whatsoever to find where these large amounts of money were going this was proof that they were completely out of control with it, they again went completely silent and refused to communicate about the request again.

5. When I complained about this, I received a letter stating that they would no longer respond to me on any foi requests.

6. And then, and only then, after all else failed including violating the foi process twice, a year after the original question was asked, they tried to avoid the issue by claiming the question was vexatious.

Why was the question not vexatious over a year before when first asked? Why did it only become vexatious when all other attempts to avoid answering it fail? Annette Brooke MP wants to know the answers as well, is she being vexatious? 

I now turn to the  5 questions used to determine if the request is vexatious, and comment on your points made under each, under the same numbers:

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  1. The background has nothing to do with the request. The request is an entirely simple one, the answers would already be available if Dorset Police were ethically, competently and carefully spending the money. There has been virtually no correspondence (correspndence is a 2 way process). I have asked many questions and pointed out many concerns. These have simply been totally ignored. This is the background. It has unfortunately, but not surprisingly, resulted in a deterioration in patience.“400 requests for information and several thousand emails” is a totally absurd and ridiculous exaggeration. This certainly would be obsessive and excessive, but in fact, every article I have emailed I have also put on my web site and there are just 100. Even if it’s twice as much, over 7 years, that’s on average about 1 a fortnight. And I very much doubt over that 7 years that there have been any more than 30 foi requests (although due to the slippery nature of the answers some questions have resulted in a number more to try to establish the answer obviously being requested). Is the remainder of what Dorset Police has provided to persuade the ICO to support it as distorted as this?

 

  1. I will continue to request information until the requests are properly answered. This is why it is going on and on, I am NOT getting proper answers.
  1. The point is not that “the matters have already been considered”. The point is exactly that the matters appear to have been considered BADLY and the Police are ignoring any attempts to discuss them or reveal simple information such as where all the money made goes. Yes, the “complainant”, and the many he represents, will NOT be happy until Dorset Police adopt a different approach. This is because they are making money, not saving life. And they are doing everything they possibly can to be secretive about it, and now, even the ICO is helping them. WHAT IS WRONG with answering the simple questions I have asked? “The evidence and arguments provided supported the Constabulary’s case that the requests were obsessive” – I’m sure it did. The Constabulary is giving the impression that it is extremely keen not to be exposed. Evidence and arguments perhaps like “several thousand emails” and “400 requests for information”?  
  1. “The commissioner is concerned with the effect that the request would have had on any reasonable public authority” – what about UNREASONABLE public authorities?? And again, it’s the REQUEST, not the person asking the request.
  1. If I was doing something wrong and wanting to keep it secret, I would quite likely consider someone trying to uncover it as “harassing”. I’m sure MPs felt harassed when questions were being asked about their expenses. A process that prevents authorities from being “harassed” in priority to looking at the facts will help those authorities to misbehave, again in conflict with the ICO’s mission. It is not possible to “harass” a competent and ethical person, there will be a good reason for everything they have done which they would be happy to reveal, EVEN IF what they did at the time may have been found to be wrong later.
  1. As above, if staff felt “upset and victimised” perhaps they should have responded more professionally earlier. The escalation is simply a result of them appearing to do bad things and then refusing to communicate about it. And indeed, any competent organisation DOES hold proper records concerning it’s finances. I do understand that if someone is performing badly, it may be upsetting for that person to be told it. But this is how it is in the real world, in fact it's worse, if you don't perform properly to delight the end customer, someone else will and you will be out of work. If I'm aware of a badly performing person / organisation, should I do nothing because to try to fix it might upset someone?
  1. Absolute nonsense. Staff have done everything possible to AVOID engaging positively. Apart from the few I’ve mentioned, such as Colin Searle (Chief Superintendent), I had a very constructive and friendly meeting with him, and after an hour, he felt so sure that what I had to say could contribute to road safety he wanted me to not only be present but actually take part in a DSRSP meeting. His suggestion was obviously subsequently refused and he has been completely silenced. I also had some good discussion with Adrian Whiting, who was then moved on elsewhere else. I politely introduced myself to his replacement, Mike Glanville, who completely ignored me. Pat Garrett once offered a meeting, I offered a list of points I wanted to discuss in advance and this was refused. THAT IS IT. The “accusatory tone” is a result of raising concern of bad practice and not receiving any explanation / denial, and as I say, it has only deteriorated due to the length of time this has been going on.

  1. I think the “properly overdue” comment was in respect of the information I was expecting to get from the first request. However, having had no response for 6 months, and then a further missed deadline with no communication, I feel the complaint about FOI staff was justified.

  1. I expect I would have been more tolerant of the second missed deadline if I had not previously chased a request for a period of 6 months without even a reply

  1. Then the staff member needs to say it, not ignore it. These complaints,  criticisms and requests could, if I am right, save life and improve public support of the police. This would be highly productive.
  1. As I have mentioned, the “burden” described in paragraph 20 is complete nonsense. Also if there is any burden whatsoever to detailing (for example) the staff / salaries / duties relating to the £500,000 claimed for delivering courses, then that “burden” needs to be undertaken anyway – how on earth can DRS be spending half a £million on staff for courses and not know how many they are and what they are doing? Ridiculous. While the answers are deliberately vague, more questions will be needed. Why does DRS / DP not publish all of this anyway? Why are they trying to hide it? Would it look bad?

  1. The commissioner needs to understand that a public authority should be fully in control of financial spend of public money, and if it is unable to detail it without significant “burden” then the authority has failed, not the person asking to see the detail.
  1. The Constabulary has been told over and over and over again that the purpose and value of this is to properly explain it’s practices, or if it is unwilling to do this because the detail would reveal the wrong motivations (money) then it should change it’s motivations (saving life), or be honest that it is in fact using road safety as an excuse to make money. Then there will be nothing to argue about. If the best solution results, i.e. focus on saving life, then killed and injured counts will reduce. I can not think of a better purpose or value.

36. There’s nothing wrong with a campaign, or encouraging people to join it, if the evidence presented indicates that there is something that seriously needs to be improved – which it does.

 

37. There were very many very angry people about the Speed on Green, many of whom wanted to take action, and I have provided evidence of this, some of the comments I received. I have no problem offering to act as a focal point for coordinating action.

 

38. “The constabulary provided sufficiently strong evidence to prove the intention behind the complainant’s requests”. WHAT? What intention did it prove and how?

 

39. “the Constabulary has demonstrated that the complainant’s request was vexatious”.  Nonsense. It has tried (and failed) to demonstrate that the COMPLAINANT is vexatious, but it most certainly hasn’t even tried to demonstrate that the REQUEST is vexatious. As I have demonstrated, not a single one of the many points made by the ICO stands up. The request may certainly be troubling to Dorset Police, that is because they are being found out. This is not an excuse to allow them to avoid answering simple questions.
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My points in summary:

My tone is indeed fairly vigorous now, this is because it has escalated over many years while Dorset Police, Dorset Road Safe, and even Dorset Councils, have done their best to ignore these important issues, EVEN INCLUDING A DEATH RESULTING FROM THEM. This can not go on.

Also, I am not alone at all in my opinions about this. Just google any online article about speed cameras, Dorset Road Safe, No Excuse, etc where readers add comments and you will see my conclusions (based on a vast amount of evidence) are widely supported. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE is that I’m standing up and trying to do something about it. There always was a massive can of worms, the only thing that is different about me is that I’m the one who happened to stumble across it and open it.

In this case the ICO have most certainly NOT been independent or impartial. In fact, this looks like something of a joint effort between the ICO and Dorset Police. The ICO has operated in total conflict with it’s mission: “The ICO’s mission is to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.”

Obviously all I have to do to get the answers is to get someone else to ask them which would be easy to do. But I am so astonished now also by the ICO's failures and the weakness of it's response I will of course move on to appeal. But I would like first to give the ICO the opportunity to actually deal with this properly. I will wait for a few days to see if there is any interest in this.