Posted on February 7th, 2011 No comments
The row that centres on a Freedom of Information request around the free flights job perk offered to Sir Hugh Orde looks set to run and run.
To recap, the PSNI were forced to disclose – against Sir Hugh’s wishes – what sort of arrangement was in place to fund flights for his family.
This disclosure [link] reveals Sir Hugh had it written into his contract that members of his family were entitled to free flights paid for by the PSNI.
However, according to the documents released Sir Hugh, who successfully sued a newspaper over freebie flight allegations, agreed at some point during his tenure to repay 50% of the cost.
Of course the disclosure that his family were allowed free flights has sparked the obviously follow-up question of how much those flights had cost, and what exactly was the agreement within his contract of employment.
Sir Hugh, is now President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, an organisation which is expected to be admitted into the FoI regime in the not too distant future.
You can see my previous post on the topic here [link]. I can see this ending up at a Tribunal.
Posted on January 13th, 2011 No comments
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is an organisation which has volunteered itself to become a new recruit to FoI whenever the Act spreads its wings to cover more bodies.
At the head of ACPO sits the plain-speaking Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, who last year gave delegates at the ACPO Information Compliance Conference his views on Freedom of Information and its ramifications for forces in general.
To those who heard his speech it was probably fair to say that some journalists were not his favourite people.
Little did I know at the time that the marathon-running Sir Hugh has had a somewhat chequered relationship with both the press and the Freedom of Information Act.
Essentially this post is about an Information Commissioner’s decision notice relating to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) but to put it in context we need to appreciate some of the back story.
Before Sir Hugh’s lofty promotion to head up ACPO he was the top man at the PSNI and as such pocketed a salary of £180,000 and lived with his wife Lady Kathleen in a luxury £600,000 home.
As such he also claimed £75 for a wasp nest to be removed and £35.53p for a new window latch. Ironically he did pay for his own theft insurance, just in case he was burgled. This is all detailed in a Belfast Telegraph story [Perks of a Police Chief].
But what really got the press in Northern Ireland excited was the fact that Sir Hugh had a secret lover, who fell pregnant with his child, over the water in England. In articles he was quoted as saying his family were “supportive” of his affair.
This led to chit-chat about whether all his taxpayer-funded trips to England had been 100% necessary – or whether he was mixing pleasure with business so-to-speak.
Throw into this mix a damaging and false story in Sunday World that Sir Hugh used PSNI money to fly his son to the US to attend St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Sir Hugh sued for libel and the case was eventually settled with the policeman pocketing more than enough to buy a new pair of running shoes. [Police chief wins libel settlement].
With all that simmering away on the background somebody asked the PSNI if it had ever booked a flight on behalf of his son, even if his son eventually picked up the bill.
PSNI refused to either confirm or deny whether it held this information saying it was a breach of S.40(5) (personal information). Sir Hugh got involved because he himself told his force he did not want them to confirm or deny if it held the information. The applicant appealed the case and the Information Commissioner sided against Sir Hugh.
In the judgement he said: “It is the Commissioner’s view that, given that the request relates to information regarding the PSNI’s potential use of public resources to arrange travel arrangements on behalf of the former Chief Constable’s son, it was not reasonable for the former Chief Constable to expect the PSNI not to confirm or deny whether it held that information. Whilst acknowledging the expectations surrounding the right to a private family life, the Commissioner nevertheless considers that there is a significant expectation amongst the public regarding transparency about the use of public resources. In the Commissioner’s view it would have been reasonable to expect that the Chief Constable and his son would have recognised this fact and expected that the public authority to confirm or deny whether information was held in the circumstances.”
So PSNI were ordered to say if it held any such information and if it did to then go on to consider a further question which probed the details of what these flights might have been.
So when I hear Sir Hugh quoted about ACPO’s entrance into the FoI club saying: “Any organisation that operates as part of a key public service should be accountable and open to public scrutiny.” You can’t help but be a little cynical.
Clearly I may be more cynical than the next man but just how much of a FoI supporter is he when he has been shown to have incorrectly used the Act to try to shield himself and his family from the glare of public scrutiny.
Some people might have a lot of sympathy for him, saying he and his family had more than their fair share of public scrutiny. Others might say he brought it on himself.
Posted on September 11th, 2009 No comments
Surrey Police has been ordered to reveal details from a letter sent to it by a Chief Constable from a different force who had made comments about the way Surrey Police had investigated four controversial deaths at Deepcut Army Barracks.
The letter to Surrey’s Chief Constable had been sent by The Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, who had written to the public authority in the capacity of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on the Homicide Working Group.
Surrey claimed the letter was exempt from disclosure under S.30 (Investigations), S.36 (Prejudice to Public Affairs) and S.40 (Personal Information).
It would appear from the decision notice that the letter and another one sent by the same officer within two months of the first were critical of the way Surrey Police had carried out its investigation into the death of the four soldiers.
The Information Commissioner ruled that the S.30 exemption did not apply to the information at all.
A key part of this reasoning was that the letter was tangential to the actual inquiry – and NOT part of it. The decision notice said: “However, section 30(1)(a)(i) specifies information held for the purposes of a relevant investigation; it is not sufficient for information to merely relate to an investigation.”
Surrey Police’s arguments were undermined in this section as well by the fact that a report on the deaths had already been published which was entitled ‘Final Report’. The police attempted to argue the investigation was still open as inquests had recorded open verdicts on the deaths and so as no conclusion had been reached the inquiry was still a live affair.
In conclusion the Commissioner said the information has not at any time been held for the purposes of a relevant investigation and that the police had not put forward an explanation of why the exemption applied to the information. Therefore it was ruled S.30 did not apply and the public interest argument was not considered.
On the topic of S.36 the decision notice states the Surrey Chief Constable acted as the qualified person (QP) to claim the disclosure of the letter would inhibit “free and frank” discussions.
Here the Commissioner appears to be critical of the Chief Constable in that the time put in to assessing the case, and the evidence of this procedure are not shown. The Commissioner states: “That this opinion was sought on the same day as the refusal notice was issued calls into question how thorough a process was undertaken by the Chief Constable when forming his opinion. However, in the absence of evidence that the QP did not give an opinion, even if this opinion was cursory and provided at short notice, the Commissioner accepts that an opinion was given by the QP.”
It was accepted by the Commissioner that part of the S.36 exemption applied but it was ruled the public interest was in favour of disclosure.
The decision notice noted there had already been a number of investigations and reports into the deaths at Deepcut. But like the Commissioner’s ruling relating to CCTV pictures of the July 7 bombers the fact there was no public inquiry had been held helped to tip the scales over in favour of disclosure.
The decision notice reads: “First, the Government has stated that no full public inquiry into the Deepcut deaths will be held. Such an inquiry may well have had a significant reductive effect on the public interest in disclosure. In the absence of such an inquiry, the public interest in disclosure remains significant.
“Secondly, rightly or wrongly and despite the various investigations and reviews, the suspicion that the full facts and causes of the Deepcut deaths have not been disclosed remains. As previously noted, disclosure that would resolve this suspicion would be in the public interest.”
The Commissioner also threw out S.40 claims and has told Surrey Police to release the information concerned – albeit that at late date the scope of what was in the letter that directly related to the request was cut down.
Note: It is an interesting distinction between information held for the purposes of an inquiry and those held that relate to an inquiry. Does this mean that a post event inquiry into the competence of an investigation should be immune from S.30 protection?
UPDATE: 18.9.09: Surrey Police are not releasing the information and I have been informed intend taking the case to a Tribunal.