In the last 5 years, how many times have Cabinet Office officials lied in an FOI Response?

Dudley Jones made this Freedom of Information request to Cabinet Office This request has been closed to new correspondence. Contact us if you think it should be reopened.

The request was refused by Cabinet Office.

Dear Cabinet Office,
In the last 5 years, how many times have Cabinet Office officials lied in an FOI Response?

In his FOI Response (FOI Ref: FOI2021/22717) of 21 December 2021, a Cabinet Office official states that:

‘I can also confirm that no complaints received by the Cabinet Office in the last 5 years addressed to the Parliamentary Commissioner have been sent to the Treasury Solicitor’

The official was clearly lying. He must have checked the records and seen the email sent by the Cabinet Office to the Treasury Solicitor on the 21 September 2021 which means it was a deliberate lie.. To verify this claim, the email is reproduced below. The Cabinet Office provided me with the email in their FOI Response 2021/24437 in a form that couldn’t be edited. They obviously didn’t think an 81 year-old man would have the IT expertise to convert it into an editable form.

It might be helpful if I quoted the whole paragraph from which the above quote comes (with annotations in square brackets added for clarity):
-
‘Regarding your complaint addressed to the Parliamentary Commissioner dated 8 September 2021, as you are aware Theresa May forwarded this email to the Cabinet Office on the 10 September’. [this is my complaint about the Treasury Solicitor addressed to the Parliamentary Commissioner that was illegally diverted by my local MP, Theresa May, and sent to the Cabinet Office who then illegally passed it on directly to the Treasury Solicitor, as well as the GLD – see email from the Cabinet Office below]. ‘Whilst Freedom of Information are not transferred between departments [of course they’re not, this is a deliberate distraction] complaints can be, as it is the responsibility of each government department to handle complaints relating to their department. [This is a devious attempt by a morally bankrupt Cabinet Office to justify their illegal behaviour]. 'I can also confirm that NO COMPLAINTS RECEIVED BY THE CABINET OFFICE IN THE LAST 5 YEARS ADDRESSED TO THE PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSIONER HAVE BEEN SENT TO THE TREASURY SOLICITOR.’

The Cabinet Office 24 September 2021 email to the Treasury Solicitor below proves this is a LIE.

The CO has told a lie in an FOI Response on at least one occasion. How many more times have they done this in the last 5 years?

If the cost of retrieving the information to fulfil this request would exceed the £600 limit, please reduce the scope of the request to 4 years. If it would still exceed cost limit reduce to three. Still too much reduce to 2 years.

8/01/2022, 11 51 eCase Email Viewer - eCase

eCase Email Viewer

¢ Download Email

Request for Transfer - Due: 24th September, Ref: MC2021/18284
From [email address]

To [email address]

CC mc2021/18284/[email address]
@governmentlegal.gov.uk

Sent 21-SEP-2021 12:03:18

Attachments
181 Rt Hon Theresa May constituent’s letter
85.5KB

Dear Colleagues,

Please see the attached correspondence, which has been received by the Cabinet Office (CO). However, we believe that the subject area falls within the responsibilities of your government department. We understand the AGO have already been in touch regarding this case and have confirmed that you will respond. We are sending over as a formality- grateful if you could please confirm your acceptance.
Subject: Treasury Solicitor's handling of complaint
Please could you reply within 3 working days, as per Cabinet Office guidance, as to whether you accept or reject the case. When replying, please use 'Reply All' to ensure your response is uploaded onto our correspondence management system.

Do please contact me if you require any further information.

Kind regards,

Please ensure that you handle any personal data within this case in accordance with the Cabinet Office's published Privacy Notice:
https:/lwww.gov.uk/governmentlP-,ub/icationsln.rivacy.=. notice-tor-corresn.ondence-received-by_-the-cabinet-offlce

¢ Download Email
https://cabinetoffice.ecase.co uk/ecdirecVfox/ecase/CA_EMAiL_VIEWER_DIRECT_ENTRY?P_GUID=CC93B454CB7534F8E0530B201EACDA77

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Our ref: FOI2022/13241

Dear Dudley Jones,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 29th
August. Your request is being handled under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 ('the Act').

The Act requires that a response must be given promptly, and in any event
within 20 working days. We will therefore aim to reply at the latest by
26th September.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

I know the Cabinet Office has lied in a FOI Response on at least one occasion in the last 5 years. In my above FOI Request, I provided a copy of a Cabinet Office email sent on the 24 September 2021 to the TREASURY SOLICITOR.

I looked at this copy a few days ago and realised that the name of the person to whom the email was sent (the Treasury Solicitor) was missing. The email that was provided by Nasreen Ayoob, a Cabinet Office SAR official on the 20 July 2022 was in a form that made editing/copying and pasting incredibly difficult. This is quite deliberate - the Cabinet Office wants to avoid transparency and accountability at all costs. However, I have employed a top IT consultant who has succeeded in providing an exact copy of the text. The CO might want to check with SAR manager Steve Jones on this - he has done everything possible to evade providing me with a full SAR and 9 months after submitting my SAR, I am still waiting for him to ensure that missing documents are supplied to me.

Here's the 24 September email with the Treasury Solicitor named as the person to whom the email was sent:

Request for Transfer - Due: 24th September, Ref: MC2021/18284

From [email address]

To [email address]

CC mc2021/18284/[email address]
@governmentlegal.gov.uk

Sent 21-SEP-2021 12:03:18

Attachments
181 Rt Hon Theresa May constituent’s letter
85.5KB

Dear Colleagues,

Please see the attached correspondence, which has been received by the Cabinet Office (CO). However, we believe that the subject area falls within the responsibilities of your government department. We understand the AGO have already been in touch regarding this case and have confirmed that you will respond. We are sending over as a formality- grateful if you could please confirm your acceptance.

Subject: Treasury Solicitor's handling of complaint

Please could you reply within 3 working days, as per Cabinet Office guidance, as to whether you accept or reject the case. When replying, please use 'Reply All' to ensure your response is uploaded onto our correspondence management system.

Do please contact me if you require any further information'. [24 Sep 2021 email]

I'm sure this is not the only lie the Cabinet Office and their Clearing House unit have told in responding to FOI Requests.

Yours faithfully,

Dudley Jones

Dear Cabinet Office,

Correction to above letter - the Treasury Solicitor is named as the person to whom the email is sent but it seems to be impossible to get this to copy - the CO IT jobsworths are very clever. My last try

¢ Download Email

Request for Transfer - Due: 24th September, Ref: MC2021/18284
From

To thetreasurysolicitor

CC mc2021/18284/[email address]
@governmentlegal.gov.uk

Sent 21-SEP-2021 12:03:18

Attachments
181 Rt Hon Theresa May constituent’s letter
85.5KB

Dear Colleagues,

Please see the attached correspondence, which has been received by the Cabinet Office (CO). However, we believe that the subject area falls within the responsibilities of your government department. We understand the AGO have already been in touch regarding this case and have confirmed that you will respond. We are sending over as a formality- grateful if you could please confirm your acceptance.
Subject: Treasury Solicitor's handling of complaint
Please could you reply within 3 working days, as per Cabinet Office guidance, as to whether you accept or reject the case. When replying, please use 'Reply All' to ensure your response is uploaded onto our correspondence management system.

Do please contact me if you require any further information.

Kind regards,

Yours faithfully,

Dudley Jones

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear Dudley Jones,

Please find attached our response to your recent Freedom of Information
request (reference FOI2022/13241).

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Cabinet Office's handling of my FOI request 'In the last 5 years, how many times have Cabinet Office officials lied in an FOI Response?'.

Dear Cabinet Office

Your refusal to respond to my FOI Request seems to be based on 2 objections:
The first is that you find my language offensive, the second is that it “lacks any serious purpose.”

Let me address the first objection. I apologise if you found my language too direct and it caused you offence and distress. Being 82, I am of that generation that was used to ‘plain speaking’. Old habits die hard, I’m afraid, and I’m genuinely sorry. Could I therefore attempt to make amends and rephrase my Request:
‘In the last 5 years, how many times have Cabinet Office officials stated something in an FOI Response that they knew was untrue?’

Should you regard ‘untrue’ as offensive, I would be happy to substitute ‘false’.

I’m assuming you concede that I have supplied the proof that false information was provided in a FOI Response? The CO email addressed to the Treasury Solicitor that I eventually succeeded in copying and pasting into my Request establishes beyond any possible doubt that the information provided in your initial FOI Response was false, and it’s difficult to imagine any circumstances in which the official responding was unaware of that. They had only to look at the relevant email correspondence between Theresa May, the Cabinet Office, the AGO, and finally the GLD and Treasury Solicitor over a period of a single month (September 2021) to respond to my Request by providing the truthful information. This is not to say, of course, that false information has not been provided by the CO on a number of other occasions – ascertaining this was the serious purpose of my FOI Request.

I will not dwell on the defence offered by the CO for diverting a letter addressed to the Parliamentary Commissioner (and beginning ‘Dear Parliamentary Commissioner, I wish to complain about the Treasury Solicitor)’ to the Treasury Solicitor herself. To justify your action on the grounds that you were sending it to the GLD because the ‘subject matter of the letter pertained to that department’ is beneath contempt, and I have been advised by a family friend who is a QC that this defence would never stand up in court.

Turning to your description of my Request as ‘lacking any serious purpose’. This is very worrying. Do you really think a question about the number of times a Government Department has provided false information in a Freedom of Information Response is a matter that lacks ‘serious purpose’?

Do you think that providing information in a Freedom of Information Response that you know to be false is not a matter of serious concern? Would you not agree that providing information in a FOI Response that you know to be untrue undermines the democratic foundations of our society? Doesn’t it represent an abuse of the freedom of Information Act, and since the Act has the status of law would constitute unlawful behaviour.

Is the Cabinet Office not pledged to uphold and defend the FOIA? Given Judge Hughes’ recent condemnation of the CO’s Clearing House unit’s abuse of the FOIA and the fine of £500,000 imposed on the CO for their breach of people’s Data Privacy rights, one would have expected you would be doubly keen to demonstrate your commitment to the Act. The CO is, after all, the office closest to the Prime Minister (who – at this time – was Boris Johnson) and the Prime Minister’s office.

And would you not agree that if you can’t rely on a Cabinet Office FOI Response to provide information that is true, then the rule of law is also undermined?

I hate to disagree with you but I think this is a matter of very serious concern.

It is for these reasons that I ask you to reconsider your refusal to respond to my FOI Request on the grounds that it is ‘vexatious’ and ‘lacks any serious concern’. As I said before, this is just one occasion where you have provided false information, an occasion where I have provided proof of your providing false information. My Request was designed to establish on how many other occasions this has happened. I recognise the retrieval of this information may place time pressures on CO staff which may exceed the £600 time cost limit – if that is the case, I am happy to reduce the scope of my Request to 4, or 3, or even 2 years.

I look forward to a constructive response to my request for an internal review.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/i...

Yours faithfully,

Dudley Jones

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear Dudley Jones,

Please find attached our response to your request for an Internal Review
(reference IR2022/14438).

Yours sincerely,

FOI Team

Dear Cabinet Office,

This is a cynical, shabby, and dishonest internal review.

Significantly, this response from an un-named Cabinet Official accepts the fact that on the 21 December 2021 the Cabinet Office deliberately LIED in their FOI response.

Faced with the CO’s 24 September 2021 email addressed to ‘thetreasurysolicitor’ he could hardly deny it. Unsurprisingly, like the official who initially responded to my Request – he chooses to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. I should explain to any investigative journalist reading this that the CO had previously denied illegally diverting my letter of complaint about the Treasury Solicitor to the…Treasury Solicitor!

What makes this worser is that over a period of 15 days, the Cabinet Office had been collaborating with the Attorney General’s Office about how they could escape serious legal consequences for their actions: illegally diverting a letter is a crime.

There’s a flurry of furtive emails between the Cabinet Office and the AGO during the 10-24 September 2021. They knew that in forwarding my letter to the TS they were trying to obstruct the course of justice and protect the TS, Susannah McGibbon.

This was at a time when Suella Braverman was Attorney General and she’s again in the news for breaching the law. McGibbon was delighted to receive my email.

She immediately set about attempting to pervert the course of justice. Usurping the Ombudsman’s role, she replies to my letter, dismisses my complaint, and returns it to Theresa May, my MP saying it’s 'up to her whether she chooses to forward it to the Ombudsman.' If May did that, the Treasury Solicitor was confident a compliant PHSO Ombudsman would reject it. The Ombudsman dutifully obliged.

This is not the only time the Cabinet Office has lied in an FOI Response. I’ve been told this by a whistle-blower working in the CO. For the last year, this whistle-blower has kept me informed about such things as the Treasury Solicitor’s breaching of her own GLD ‘Complaints Procedures and Policies’ - and about private communications between the Cabinet Office and Rob Behrens, the PHSO Ombudsman. I’m sure it was simply a coincidence: as soon as my complaint was dismissed, Rob Behrens’ contract as Ombudsman was extended by the Cabinet Office for a further 2 years. And, my source says, a knighthood will soon follow.

I know from my own experience this is not the first time the CO has lied in an FOI Response. They’ve previously defended their illegal diversion of my letter to the Treasury Solicitor on the grounds that this action was justified. How was it justified?

Because the CO purported to believe that ‘since the subject matter of the complaint fell within the responsibility of [her] government department, they would be the department best qualified to deal with it.’ These were the grounds on which the CO claims it was justified in diverting my letter of complaint about the Treasury Solicitor to her department, the Government Legal Department.

This was, of course, a lie. Nobody at the Cabinet Office, or the AGO’s Office believed this was true. They knew it was a cynical dissimulation. If a Cabinet Office official stood up in a Court of Law, and said they genuinely believed this was why they were justified in sending a letter addressed to the Ombudsman to the person being complained about, the judge would hold them in contempt of court.

But - as the CO whistle-blower has informed me – there are other occasions where the CO has lied in a FOI Response.

What is of almost greater concern, however, is the CO’s claim that this FOI Request lacked ‘any serious purpose’. This demonstrates the Cabinet Office is a serious threat to the rule of law and the fulfilment of justice in this country. They are acting as if they are above the law, and unaccountable.

The only caveat I would make is that this response may come from rogue officials. I respect Jeremy Quin, the new Cabinet Office Minister. I’m sure if this was brought to his attention, he’d want to repudiate this corrupt behaviour by junior officials. A few weeks ago, I wrote a confidential letter to the CO Minister. Curiously, though sent registered post, I was informed it hadn’t arrived. When I write to the new Minister, I will ensure that doesn’t happen again, and he is made aware of what some officials (and his ‘gate-keeper) are keeping from him.

To claim a Request that seeks to know how many times the CO has deliberately lied in the last 3 years has ‘no serious purpose’ represents a breath-taking disregard for the law, and an abdication of responsibility.
Here is an opportunity for the CO to demonstrate it was turning over a new leaf, that – as Department closest to the Prime Minister – it was going to follow the example of Rishi Sunac and act ‘with integrity’. It could have clearly signalled this by acknowledging past untruths in its FOI Responses.

I’m sure this would be generally welcomed because over the last 3 years (roughly coinciding with the time Boris Johnson was Prime Minister) the Cabinet Office has been involved in a number of scandals. Several of these have been related to its abuse of the FOIA.

During this period, the Cabinet Office has acquired an unenviable reputation as the department most willing to break the law. This is not a vexatious slur. Consider the facts. The following aren’t allegations by me, they are proven examples of the Cabinet Office’s lawbreaking and/or abuse of the FOIA:

1.The Cabinet Office’s little-known ‘Clearing House Unit was found guilty by Judge Hughes in June 2021 of a ‘profound lack of transparency’ and of obfuscation, evasion, and prevarication in the way it had advised government department s to respond to FOI Requests. For a long time, very few people knew about the ‘activities’ of this unit. It was a well-kept secret. David Davis, MP, echoed the judge’s condemnation. For 3 years, the CO fought Leigh Day lawyers and the OpenDemocracy Campaign Group who exposed their illicit activities in a legal battle. The CO’s employment of GLD lawyers obviously led to huge legal fees, fees for a case they ultimately lost.

But in an FOI Response, they refused to tell me what the cost of the legal fees was: they said it was another ‘vexatious’ request. That bill was ultimately paid for not by the CO but by the taxpayer. Presumably, this was another Request lacking ‘any serious purpose’.

Also, let’s suppose I had submitted an FOI Request at an earlier stage, asking whether the CO used a Clearing House unit to advise on FOI Requests, and they had responded by denying the existence of any such unit. Would exposing that lie have been ‘vexatious’, would it have lacked ‘any serious purpose’?

What’s alarming is that when the CO illegally diverted my letter on 24 September 2021, they were acting in collaboration with the Attorney General’s Office. At that time the Attorney General was Suella Braverman! Given current revelations about her behaviour as Home Secretary, she would probably have approved this illegal collaboration between the CO and the AGO to divert my letter to the Ombudsman. A few days ago, the Daily Mail said an investigation was recently launched by the ‘Government Security Group’, a little-publicised ‘unit’ within the Cabinet Office, into allegations that Suella Braverman had been responsible for a leak involving national security. How many more ‘little-known units’ are there in the Cabinet Office?

I’m not suggesting there was anything illicit in the way the Government Security Group acted. They are not like the Clearing House unit which seemed to function like an ‘imperium in imperio’. In August this year, the Cabinet Office had to finally accede to the huge tide of condemnation of its Clearing House unit and disband it.

2. As was widely reported in the newspapers, the Cabinet Office was fined £500,000 in December 2021 for yet another breach of the FOI Act. This one involved a Data Privacy breach. The guardian of the FOIA, the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) fined the CO after they published the postal addresses of the 2020 New Year Honours recipients. Unlike the Clearing House unit’s “activities” this had nothing to do with corruption, this was sheer incompetence. And, once again, the taxpayer was left to pick up an enormous bill.

3. Connor Burns, currently the subject of sexual harassment allegations, was forced to stand down from his post as Minister of State for Trade, having been appointed only a month earlier. Prior to his appointment, he had been vetted and approved by the Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics team.

The record of the CO’s Propriety and Ethics team is as bad as the CO’s Clearing House unit. Before Burns, there was the embarrassing affair of Chris Pincher who was forced to resign over serious allegations of ‘sexual misconduct’. This came to light after a Freedom of Information Request from the ‘Byline Intelligence Team’ requested the Cabinet Office share all advice from its Proprietary and Ethics Team (PET) in relation to the prospective appointment of Pincher as Deputy Chief Whip.

In its FOI Response, the Cabinet Office said it “does not hold this information”. As the Byline Intelligence Team comment: “the lack of records suggest that Pincher’s suitability was not examined before he was appointed to the senior Government role earlier this year.”

However, this “contradicts Downing Street assurances given in early July – mere days before Johnson reluctantly resigned – which stated that the Cabinet Office’s Proprietary and Ethics Team HAD vetted Pincher but chose NOT to block his appointment to Deputy Chief Whip” based on “unsubstantiated rumour”!

Why didn’t the CO refuse to answer this FOI Request on the grounds that it was ‘vexatious’ and served ‘no serious purpose’? Because they were dealing with ‘Byline Times’, a highly respected campaign group. They dare not evade and lie. They could not brush them aside in the way they did me, a member of the public – someone with no power, no platform, no wealth. They could treat my FOI Request with contempt and get away it. Just as – in ‘collaboration’ with Suella Braverman’s AGO – they could illegally conspire to protect the Treasury Solicitor and divert my letter. I have no power; they have enormous power.

A government source has told me that any mention of the CO’s Proprietary and Ethics Team (PET) provokes hilarious laughter in other government departments. How apt that Helen McNamara, former ‘Director General for Proprietary and Ethics Team’ at the Cabinet Office should be one of the first to be issued with ‘a Partygate’ fine for “attending a lockdown-busting karaoke bash”… in the CABINET OFFICE.

Can I invite the Cabinet Office to turn over a new leaf, acknowledge past ‘mistakes’ and reconsider their cynical Internal Review. Of course, they regarded my FOI Request was ‘vexatious’: it exposed them potentially to huge embarrassment, and severe criticism but it should have been answered, and to dismiss it as ‘serving no serious purpose’ is beyond belief.

Yours faithfully,

Dudley Jones

FOI Team Mailbox, Cabinet Office

Dear Dudley Jones,
Thank you for expressing your concerns with the handling of the response
to your Internal Review. You have the right to apply directly to the
Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can
be contacted at:
Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Yours sincerely,
FOI Team 

show quoted sections

Dear un-named Cabinet Office official,

Thank you for your 2 November email. Frankly, I have no intention of wasting any more time and energy on this rogue department. I have proved Cabinet Office officials lied in an FOI Response and provided convincing evidence that this is not the only time you have lied in FOI Responses. You've already been condemned by the ICO once, why bother them again?

A government source has made me aware your tentacles stretch as far as the PHSO Ombudsman. As Della Reynolds makes clear in her book 'What's the point of the [PHSO] Ombudsman', the Cabinet Office is the PHSO's Paymaster. Immediately after dismissing my complaint about Susannah McGibbon, the Treasury Solicitor, the Cabinet Office extended Rob Behrens' contract for a further 2 years. I proved she'd attempted to pervert the course of justice but the Ombudsman's efforts in ignoring all the evidence of her guilt and handing her a 'whitewash' acquittal, ensured her attempt was successful.

Who knows how much further the Cabinet Office's tentacles extend? And how is it that the Treasury Solicitor, and her Government Legal Department haven't threatened me with libel action? Not a peep. How strange. Maybe they dare not?

Yours sincerely,

Dudley Jones