MPS report into death of Blair Peach

Matt Ashby made this Freedom of Information request to Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)

The request was refused by Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

From: Matt Ashby

16 July 2008

Dear Sir or Madam,

I would be grateful if you could supply me with a copy of the
report by the then Complaints Investigation Bureau, headed by
Commander John Cass, into the death of Blair Peach during the
disturbances in Southall on 23 April 1979.

Yours faithfully,

Matt Ashby

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Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)

18 July 2008

Dear Mr Ashby

Freedom of Information Request Reference No: 2008070005101
I write in connection with your request for information which was received
by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on 16/07/2008. I note you seek
access to the following information:

* I would be grateful if you could supply me with a copy of the report
by the then Complaints Investigation Bureau, headed by Commander John
Cass, into the death of Blair Peach during the disturbances in
Southall on 23 April 1979.

Your request will now be considered in accordance with the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 (the Act). You will receive a response within
the statutory timescale of 20 working days as defined by the Act,
subject to the information not being exempt or containing a reference
to a third party. In some circumstances the MPS may be unable to
achieve this deadline. If this is likely you will be informed and
given a revised time-scale at the earliest opportunity.

There may be a fee payable for the retrieval, collation and provision
of the information you request. If this is the case you will be
informed and the 20 working day timescale will be suspended until we
receive payment from you. If you choose not to make payment then your
request will remain unanswered.

Some requests may also require either full or partial transference to
another public authority in order to answer your query in the fullest
possible way. Again, you will be informed if this is the case.

Your attention is drawn to the attached sheet which details your right
of complaint.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest
in the MPS.

Should you have any further inquiries concerning this matter, please
email quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely

Policy & Support Team
COMPLAINT RIGHTS

Are you unhappy with how your request has been handled or do you think
the decision is incorrect?

You have the right to require the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to
review their decision.

Prior to lodging a formal complaint you are welcome and encouraged to
discuss the decision with the case officer that dealt with your
request.

Ask to have the decision looked at again –

The quickest and easiest way to have the decision looked at again is
to telephone the case officer that is nominated at the end of your
decision letter.

That person will be able to discuss the decision, explain any issues
and assist with any problems.

Complaint

If you are dissatisfied with the handling procedures or the decision
of the MPS made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act)
regarding access to information you can lodge a complaint with the MPS
to have the decision reviewed.

Complaints should be made in writing and addressed to:

FOI Complaint
Public Access Office
PO Box 57192
London
SW6 1SF

In all possible circumstances the MPS will aim to respond to your
complaint within three months.
The Information Commissioner

After lodging a complaint with the MPS if you are still dissatisfied
with the decision you may make application to the Information
Commissioner for a decision on whether the request for information has
been dealt with in accordance with the requirements of the Act.

For information on how to make application to the Information
Commissioner please visit their website at
www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk. Alternatively, phone or write to:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Phone: 01625 545 700

show quoted sections

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Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)

18 July 2008

Dear Mr Ashby

Freedom of Information Request Reference No: 2008070005101

I write in connection with your request for information which was received
by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on 16 July 2008. I note you seek
access to the following information:

* I would be grateful if you could supply me with a copy of the report
by the then Complaints Investigation Bureau, headed by Commander John
Cass, into the death of Blair Peach during the disturbances in
Southall on 23 April 1979.

Before I explain the decisions I have made in relation to your request, I
thought that it would be helpful to outline the parameters set out by the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) within which a request for
information can be answered.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 has created a statutory right of
access to information held by public authorities. A public authority in
receipt of a request must, if permitted, state under Section 1(1)(a) of
the Act, whether it holds the requested information and, if held, then
communicate that information to the applicant under Section 1(1)(b) of the
Act.

The right of access to information is not without exception and is subject
to a number of exemptions which are designed to enable public authorities
to withhold information that is unsuitable for release. Importantly the
Act is designed to place information into the public domain, that is, once
access to information is granted to one person under the Act, it is then
considered public information and must be communicated to any individual
should a request be received.
I have considered your request for information within the provisions set
out by the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In relation to my first duty
under the Act, which is to state whether the requested information is held
by the MPS, I can confirm that I have located the report of the then
Commander John Cass concerning the death of Clement Blair Peach on 24
April 1979.
In relation to my second duty under the Act, which is to provide the
information located to you, I have considered your request and have found
that I am not required by statute to release the information requested. In
accordance with Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, this
email serves as a Refusal Notice.
REASON FOR DECISION
Section 17 of the Act provides:

(1) A public authority which, in relation to any request for information,
is to any extent relying on a claim that any provision in part II relating
to the duty to confirm or deny is relevant to the request or on a claim
that information is exempt information must, within the time for complying
with section 1(1), give the applicant a notice which-

(a) states the fact,
(b) specifies the exemption in question, and
(c) states (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemption
applies.

In considering the report of Commander John Cass for release under the
Act, I have found that a number of exemptions apply to information
contained within the report.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, there are two types of
exemption that can be applied to information considered unsuitable for
public release. These exemptions are referred to as absolute exemptions
and qualified exemptions.

When an absolute exemption is applied to information, a public authority
is not required to consider whether release of that information is in the
'public interest'.

When a qualified exemption is applied to information, a public authority
must establish whether the 'public interest' lies in disclosing or
withholding the requested information. The public interest is determined
by conducting a 'Public Interest Test' (PIT).

Both absolute and qualified exemptions can be further divided into
class-based or prejudice-based exemptions.

Class-based exemptions are those in which it is assumed the disclosure of
information would result in harm. There is therefore no requirement to
demonstrate what that harm may be.

Prejudiced-based exemptions are those where firstly, it is necessary to
establish the nature of the prejudice/harm that may result from disclosure
and secondly, if prejudice/harm is not certain, to determine the
likelihood of it occurring.

Having examined the report of Commander John Cass, I have found that the
following exemptions apply to information contained within the report.
Section 44 (1)(a) - Information covered by Prohibitions on Disclosure:
Absolute Exemption/Class Based
Under Section 44 (1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Public
Authorities are able to withhold information where its release is
prohibited by or under any enactment. In the case of this request, I have
found that the public release of the report concerning the death of
Clement Blair Peach, would be in breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights
Act 1998 (HRA). All public authorities in the United Kingdom have an
obligation to act in a way that is compatible with this Act.

The HRA is designed to protect the rights and freedoms that belong to all
individuals. Article 8(1) of the HRA guarantees the right to respect for
private and family life, home and correspondence and provides that there
shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this
right except such as in accordance with law. This would include where a
public authority is required to act in the interests of national security,
public safety or the economic well-being of the country. This would also
include where action is necessary to prevent crime or disorder, to protect
health or morals or to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
In the case of a request for information regarding a deceased person,
under Article 8(1), it is important to assess where the disclosure of
information would affect a living person. It must then be assessed whether
a public authority's action in disclosing that information would
constitute an unjustified interference with the rights contained in
Article 8(1).
I have considered the report of Commander John Cass for release in
accordance with the rights provided by Article 8(1) of the HRA and have
found that release would affect the immediate family and relatives of
Clement Blair Peach, owing to the circumstances of the death and the
information contained within the report. In assessing whether disclosure
would constitute an unjustified interference of the right to a private and
family life, I have considered the likely effect of release on members of
Clement Blair Peach's family. Having examined this, I have found that
whilst it would not be possible nor indeed proper for me to attempt to
quantify the distress that release may cause, it would be expected that
the release of sensitive details concerning this investigation would cause
distress to the family.
The MPS has a duty of care to the family of Clement Blair Peach and cannot
act in a manner that could cause distress where there is either a legal
restriction and/or a reasonable justification for not doing so. In the
case of this request, having considered the likelihood of causing
distress, I have found, under Article 8(1) of the HRA, that there is a
statutory bar to disclosure.
In order to complete a balanced assessment as to the applicability of
Article 8(1) of the HRA, a public authority is also required to consider
where, in any particular instance, Article 8(2) would provide for
disclosure. I have accordingly considered where release would serve the
"freedoms of others" as outlined in Article 8(2) of the HRA. I have also
considered whether disclosure would be proportionate in relation to any
harm that may be caused.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Clement Blair Peach have
attracted considerable public and media attention. A number of allegations
regarding police action have also been made. There is accordingly a clear
public interest in providing the general public with the known facts
surrounding this incident. This interest must be balanced against the
rights and freedoms that exist under Article 8(1) to respect for private
and family life. Having examined this, I consider the right to respect for
private and family life, to outweigh the public benefit in providing the
report of Commander Cass to the general public. I arrive at this
conclusion having taken into account the time that has elapsed since the
death of Mr Peach and the fact that the circumstances surrounding his
death are well known to the public.

This exemption is both absolute and class based. When this exemption is
applied, it is accepted that harm would result from disclosure.
Accordingly, there is no requirement to consider whether release of
information is in the public interest or demonstrate what harm would
result from disclosure.
Section 40 (2) & (3) - Personal Information: Absolute Exemption/Class
Based
Under Section 40(2) and (3) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Public
Authorities are able to withhold information where its release would
identify any living individual and would breach the principles of the Data
Protection Act 1998. I have applied this exemption in that the report of
Commander Cass would, if released, lead to the public identification of
persons named within the report, namely witnesses, suspects and other
persons connected to the investigation into the death of Clement Blair
Peach.

Under principle one of the Data Protection Act 1998, personal data must be
processed by an organisation fairly and lawfully by a data controller,
which in this case is the MPS. To release records that would identify
those persons that were connected to this investigation would be unfair,
as there would be no reasonable expectation of behalf of those persons,
that their personal information would be released publicly. I have also
found that no agreement exists between the MPS and these persons, to
release information that would lead to their identification. Release
would, therefore, be in breach of their right to the fair processing of
their personal information under the Data Protection Act 1998.

This exemption is both absolute and class based. When this exemption is
applied, it is accepted that harm would result from disclosure.
Accordingly, there is no requirement to consider whether release of
information is in the public interest or demonstrate what harm would
result from disclosure.

Section 30 (1)(a) - Investigations and Proceedings conducted by Public
Authorities: Qualified Exemptions/Class Based
Under Section 30(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Public
Authorities are able to withhold information if it has, at any time, been
held by the authority for the purposes of any investigation with a view to
it being ascertained whether a person should be charged with an offence.
I have applied this exemption in that the requested report was written to
document the findings of the investigation into the death of Clement Blair
Peach. In applying this exemption, I have taken into account the fact that
no person has been convicted in connection with this death and that where
a suspicious death has occurred, that investigation could be re-opened at
any stage following review or receipt of new information. Whilst I accept
that the likelihood of this investigation being re-opened is unlikely,
this cannot be ruled out by the MPS. There are in fact, a number of high
profile cold case reviews that have resulted in charges being brought
against persons, most recently being the re-investigation and charging of
suspects in connection with a murder that occurred over 21 years ago. To
disclose information that concerns this investigation could accordingly,
be of risk to any future investigation and/or proceedings and would
undermine the rights of the family of the deceased to justice should any
future prosecution fail.

This exemption is both qualified and class based. I am therefore required
to consider whether the public interest lies in disclosing or withholding
the requested information. I have accordingly conducted a PIT to determine
whether release of the requested report is in the public interest. This
exemption is also class based. I am accordingly not required to
demonstrate what harm would result from disclosure.
Public Interest Considerations Favouring Disclosure

Accountability
The MPS is a public authority and should be held to account for its
actions and the conduct of its employees. The public release of the report
prepared by Commander John Cass concerning the death of Clement Blair
Peach, would reinforce the MPS commitment as an open and transparent
organisation. Release of this report would also demonstrate that the
specific allegations made regarding the conduct of MPS officers leading up
to the death of Mr Peach, have been fully investigated by the MPS.
Public Awareness/Debate
There has been considerable public and media interest, speculation and
debate about the circumstances surrounding the death of Clement Blair
Peach and the report of Commander John Cass, which has, to date, not been
made available to the general public. Owing to the speculation surrounding
this investigation, there is a strong public interest in making accurate
information available to the public that would inform and enhance the
accuracy of public debate.

Actions of Public Officials
The requested report is the product of a highly publicised inquiry that
centres around the actions of the police officers that were present at the
political demonstration in Southall on the 23 April 1979. Where the
actions of public officials have been examined, there is a sizeable public
interest in making the details of those findings public.
Public Participation
The Police Service is committed to building closer relationships with the
communities it polices, of which an important part is to share information
of public interest. The release of the requested report would demonstrate
that the MPS has an open relationship with the general public and is
prepared to engage it in matters of public interest.

Public Confidence
The general public expect the highest standards of professionalism in the
delivery of policing services by the MPS. Release of the report authored
by Commander Cass would show that the MPS is prepared to conduct thorough
investigations into its staff where any allegation of misconduct is made,
improving public confidence in the MPS.

Public Interest Considerations Favouring Non-Disclosure

Investigations
The requested report is a detailed examination of the circumstances
surrounding the death of Clement Clair Peach. The report examines police
lines of enquiry, police intelligence, suspects and witnesses. The release
of the requested report would place into the public domain, details of the
investigation that would be prejudicial to any future investigation and/or
proceedings with regard to this death.

Efficient and Effective Conduct of the MPS
During the course of any investigation, enquires are made to secure
evidence that may lead to a conviction. These enquires are made throughout
the investigation and are based upon proven investigative methods as well
as the judgement and experience of the officers involved in the
investigation. Whilst many investigative methods have changed since the
report of Commander Cass, the general principles employed at the time of
this investigation remain present in current police investigations. The
public release of the investigative methods employed during the course of
this investigation could be prejudicial to the ability of the Police
Service to conduct future investigations into serious crime.

Information Provided in Confidence
During the course of this investigation, information was provided by a
number of parties in order to assist the police in their enquiries. Much
of this information was provided in confidence and upon the understanding
that its use was to be restricted to the police investigation. There would
be no reasonable expectation on behalf of those that have provided
information to the police, that this information would be released
publicly for a purpose unconnected to police work. Release of this
information would accordingly, be in breach of the confidence associated
with its provision and would be unfair to those parties that have provided
it.
Flow of Information to the Service
The Police Service is reliant upon the provision of information from the
general public to effectively investigate whether a crime has taken place.
This exchange of information is made upon the basis that the information
received by the Police Service is confidential and restricted to a
policing purpose. The public release of information provided in confidence
by the general public would inhibit the ability of the Police Service to
obtain information in connection with future investigations, as those that
provide information may not approve of its public release.
Fair Treatment of Individuals
The investigation into Clement Blair Peach's death was a highly publicised
investigation that has already caused considerable distress to the family
of the deceased. It would be unfair to release information that would
cause further distress to them. It would also be unfair to those parties
connected to this investigation, to release information that may lead to
further speculation about their involvement in the death of Clement Blair
Peach.

Fair Treatment of the Family of Clement Blair Peach
No person to date, has been convicted in connection with the death of
Clement Blair Peach. The Police Service has a moral obligation to the
family of Mr Peach to ensure that no action is taken that would, or would
be likely to, jeopardise any future investigation into this death.
EVALUATION
You have requested that I disclose the report prepared by Commander John
Cass concerning the death of Clement Blair Peach. In response to your
request, I have confirmed under Section 1(a) of the Act that the requested
report is held by the MPS and have, in relation to my requirement under
Section 1(b) of the Act to provide this report to you, refused release in
accordance with Section 17 of the Act.
In refusing your request, I have cited a number of exemptions that
prohibit the release of the report. I have applied Section 44 of the Act
as I have found that the public release of this report would breach the
right of the Blair Peach family to a private and family life under Article
8(1) of the HRA. This is because the release of sensitive details
concerning the death of Mr Peach without reasonable cause (for example,
where release would assist the investigation) would be likely to cause
unnecessary distress.
The requested report contains the names of witnesses, suspects and other
persons connected to the investigation into the death of Clement Blair
Peach. I have considered this information for release and have found that
release would be unfair, as there would be no reasonable expectation on
behalf of those persons connected to this investigation, that their
personal information would be released publicly. I have accordingly
withheld the personal information contained within the report under
Section 40 of the Act.
In considering what effect release of the report would have, I have, in
accordance with Section 30 of the Act, conducted a PIT to determine
whether release is in the public interest. Having identified and
considered the factors relevant to the public interest, I have felt it
important to attribute particular importance to holding public authorities
to public account for their actions and those of their staff. This has
been central when considering your request, owing to the allegations made
regarding police conduct in connection with Mr Peach's death. I have also
carefully considered the importance of providing the general public with
the known facts regarding this incident owing to the nature of the
allegations made against police, and the importance of demonstrating to
the public that the circumstances surrounding the death of Clement Blair
Peach, have been fully investigated.

In considering whether to disclose the requested report, I have evaluated
the damage that release would be likely to cause. I have carefully
considered the effect that the public release of information held in
connection with this investigation would have on any future investigation
and/or proceedings regarding this death and the effect that the release of
information provided in confidence, would have on the ability of the MPS
to obtain information in connection with future investigations. I have
attached considerable weight to this as one of the primary roles of any
Police Service is to detect crime and to apprehend and prosecute
offenders. I have also examined the right to privacy of those persons
connected to this inquiry and crucially, the importance of protecting the
family of Mr Peach from any further distress that may be caused by the
release of this report.
In considering any request for information, the balance between all
opposing interests must be found. In view of the duty of care that the MPS
has to the family of the deceased and the fact that release would not
serve to further the investigation but would rather satisfy the general
interest of the public, I have found release not to be in the public
interest. It must also be considered that whilst the inquest into Mr
Peach's death returned a verdict of misadventure, it is possible that this
investigation could be re-opened following review or receipt of new
information. Whilst I accept that the likelihood of a re-investigation
into this death is unlikely, this cannot be ruled out by the MPS. It would
accordingly be improper of the MPS to disclose any information that may
serve to jeopardise any future investigation and/or proceedings connected
to this death.

Having carefully considered your request, I have found that the public
interest is most clearly served by ensuring that information is withheld
where it is likely to cause distress to any person. I have also found that
information should be withheld where its release could jeopardise any
future investigation or proceedings connected to this death. Having
considered and weighed up the competing interests raised by your request,
I regret therefore, that I am unable to provide the requested report to
you under these exemptions.

COMPLAINT RIGHTS

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in
the MPS.

If you are dissatisfied with this response please read the attached paper
entitled Complaint Rights which explains how to make a complaint.

Should you have any further inquiries concerning this matter, please
contact me on 0207 230 5204 or at the address at the top of this letter,
quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely

Damion Baird
Information Manager
Directorate of Professional Standards

COMPLAINT RIGHTS

Are you unhappy with how your request has been handled or do you think the
decision is incorrect?

You have the right to require the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to
review their decision.

Prior to lodging a formal complaint you are welcome and encouraged to
discuss the decision with the case officer that dealt with your request.

Ask to have the decision looked at again -

The quickest and easiest way to have the decision looked at again is to
telephone the case officer that is nominated at the end of your decision
letter.

That person will be able to discuss the decision, explain any issues and
assist with any problems.

Complaint

If you are dissatisfied with the handling procedures or the decision of
the MPS made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) regarding
access to information you can lodge a complaint with the MPS to have the
decision reviewed.

Complaints should be made in writing and addressed to:

FOI Complaint
Public Access Office
PO Box 57192
London
SW6 1SF

In all possible circumstances the MPS will aim to respond to your
complaint within three months.

The Information Commissioner

After lodging a complaint with the MPS if you are still dissatisfied with
the decision you may make application to the Information Commissioner for
a decision on whether the request for information has been dealt with in
accordance with the requirements of the Act.

For information on how to make application to the Information Commissioner
please visit their website at www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk.
Alternatively, phone or write to:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Phone: 01625 545 700

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From: Matt Ashby

19 July 2008

Dear Mr Baird,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my FOI request. I understand the
reasons for your rejection of my request but I intend to seek a
review on the following points, and would like to put them to you
initially so that if they can be dealt with quickly then I can
avoid any lengthy review or complaint processes.

Can you please confirm that you have considered the following
factors, which would seem to be relevant but which are not
mentioned in your reply?

1. Any prosecution or re-opening of this investigation is now
extremely unlikely. This was confirmed by the Minister of State at
the Home Office in denying a request in 1999 from Blair Peach's
family for a public enquiry. As such it is virtually impossible
that any prosecution could commence now, and so there is no useful
purpose to be served in preventing disclosure for this reason.

2. Blair Peach's family, in particular his partner Celia Stubbs,
have consistently campaigned for a public enquiry into his death.
They are therefore very unlikely to do anything other than welcome
the public release of this report, since they have campaigned for
it to be released. Have you contacted any member of Blair Peach's
family to ask them if they would object to disclosure, or if they
would be distressed by such disclosure?

3. Any parts of the report which mentioned the names of specific
living people - which are protected by the Data Protection Act -
could be redacted. For example, each person could be given a
designating letter (e.g. 'PC A', 'witness Q'), which would preserve
their anonymity while ensuring that the redacted report was
coherent.

4. Any part of the report which revealed confidential policing
techniques (i.e. those techniques about which details are not
publicly available in books or on the internet) could also be
redacted.

5. Information which was provided to the police in confidence could
also be redacted. However, since the investigation was conducted in
the knowledge that it may lead to a prosecution, I would anticipate
that the amount of information that was provided on such a basis
would be small and that most information would have been provided
on the basis that it may be disclosed to the public. Witness
statements, for example, would have been given on the understanding
that their contents may be disclosed in court and subsequently
disclosed to the public (either to members of the public present in
court, or through court reporting in the press).

If, after considering these points, you still consider that the
information should be withheld, I intend to seek an internal
review. In order to assist me in doing so, I would be grateful if
you could confirm whether you intend to rely on all the exemptions
above or whether you consider that only some of them now apply. For
example, if you no longer wish to rely on the exemption under
section 30(1)(a), please let me know.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Ashby

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Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)

7 August 2008

Dear Mr Ashby,

Freedom of Information Request Reference No: 2008070005101

Thank you for your email and your questions regarding my response to your
request for information.

In relation to your first point, I had considered and addressed this point
in my response to your request. Please note the paragraph below that I
quote from my response to you.

"Whilst I accept that the likelihood of this investigation being re-opened
is unlikely, this cannot be ruled out by the MPS. There are in fact, a
number of high profile cold case reviews that have resulted in charges
being brought against persons, most recently being the re-investigation
and charging of suspects in connection with a murder that occurred over 21
years ago."

In response to your second point, I have acknowledged in my response to
you that "it would not be possible nor indeed proper for me to attempt to
quantify the distress that release may cause". I have gone on to explain
that I anticipated that release of "sensitive details concerning this
investigation would cause distress". In relation to your point regarding
any contact I have had with the family of Mr Blair Peach, it would not be
proper of me to confirm whether I, or any member of the Metropolitan
Police Service, has had any contact with the family of Mr Blair Peach.

In relation to your third and fourth points, I accept that names and other
details that would identify named persons could be redacted under the Act.
I also accept that information concerning confidential policing techniques
could also be reacted.

In response to your fifth point, I accept that information provided to
police in confidence could be redacted. I also accept that witness
statements would have been provided to the police in the knowledge that
they may be relied upon at a subsequent prosecution. However, I do not
accept that those that provided information in confidence or by way of
witness statement, would expect the information they provided for a police
investigation, to made available to the general public for a purpose other
than to further that police investigation.

Having considered the points you have raised, I can confirm that I intend
to rely upon all exemptions cited in my response to your request for
information. Should you wish to pursue your appeal, please write to me or
direct to the MPS Public Access Office.

Yours sincerely

Damion Baird
Information Manager
Directorate of Professional Standards

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