Rates: Scientology legal advice

William Thackeray made this Freedom of Information request to Westminster City Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

Westminster City Council did not have the information requested.

William Thackeray

Dear Sir or Madam,

Please provide a copy of the legal advice which led to Westmister Council charging business rates at a reduced rate to Church of Scientology Religious Education College Inc, a US corporation.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

Westminster City Council

Confirmation of Freedom Of Information Request

Thank you for your request for information.

Your request details have now been recorded and will be passed on to the
appropriate Divisional Records Officer for action.

This Freedom Of Information Request was based on the following
information:

Name: William Thackeray
Address: see email address
Email: [FOI #7670 email]
Telephone:
Request Details: Please provide a copy of the legal advice which led to
Westmister Council charging business rates at a reduced rate to Church of
Scientology Religious Education College Inc, a US corporation.

FOI Reference Number: 3401
Target Completion Date: 04/03/2009

Please do not reply to this email.
This is an automatic response to your request, and replies to this message
will not be actioned.

If you need to contact Westminster City Council regarding your request,
please contact:

mailto:[Westminster City Council request email]
Tel:020 7641 3921

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Black, Phil, Westminster City Council

Mr Thackeray

Thank you for your request I can confirm that your request for information
will not be met on this occasion.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 this letter acts as
a Refusal Notice.

The exemption applied is Section 42, information in respect of which a
claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal
proceedings.

This exemption applies because the information you have requested is still
relevant and the information was obtained to provide the Council with
legal advice which would not be divulged during any legal proceeding. It
is also not in the public interest to overturn the confidentiality that
exists between client and solicitor in this instance.

I apologise that your request will not be met but if you have any further
information needs in the future then please contact me.

You have the right of appeal against the decision. If you wish to appeal
please set out in writing your grounds of appeal and send to:

You have the right of appeal against this decision. If you wish to appeal
please set out in writing your grounds of appeal and send to:

Contracts Performance Team
16^th Floor
64 Victoria Street
London
SW1E 6QP

Should you still be dissatisfied with the outcome of any appeal you have
the right to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner, pursuant to
section 50 of the FOIA. The contact details are:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Telephone: 01625-545-700
[1]www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

Yours sincerely

Phil Black
Deputy Contracts Performance Manager

Phil Black
Deputy Contracts Performance Manager
Finance and Resources Department
Westminster City Council
Contracts Performance Team
City Hall, 16th Floor
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP
TEL: 0207 641 2678
FAX: 0207 641 3458

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References

Visible links
1. http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk/

William Thackeray

Dear Sir or Madam,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Westminster City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Rates: Scientology legal advice'.

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

My reasons for requesting an internal review are:

I understand the exemption for legal professional privilege, and I
agree with your application of that exemption to this case.

However, it is in the public interest for the public to know the
reasons why the Council has made this decision on taxation.

I therefore request that the legal reasons behind this decision be
released in a summary, paraphrased or redacted form which will not
inhibit the free and frank exchange of views between the Council and
its legal advisors in the future.

There is a particular public interest in this case, in that Church
of Scientology Religious Education College (CoSREC) Incorporated
has been denied UK charitable status by the Charities Commission,
and there is a possibility that the registered charities which
CoSREC supports are in fact 'sham charities' controlled by CoSREC
itself.

This is the reason why I am interested in knowing, and I believe
that there is a stong public interest in the public being able to
find out, whether CoSREC's support of certain specific charities
was a major factor in this decision by the Council.

If CoSREC's support of certain charities was a major factor in this
decision, and if those charities are in fact 'sham charities' under
the control of CoSREC itself, then there is a possibility that
fraud has been committed by employees of CoSREC and charity
trustees against the Council, the Charities Commission, and the taxpayer.

There is therefore a strong public interest in this information
being released.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

FOI, Westminster City Council

Dear Mr Thackeray

Thank you for your request for an internal review. In line with our
corporate policy on reviews we aim to respond to you as soon as
possible, and in any event no later than Thursday 19th March 2009.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine Preston
Corporate FOI Team
Information Services
Westminster City Council
18th Floor
City Hall
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP
Tel: 020 7641 3332
Fax: 020 7641 2872
Email: [Westminster City Council request email]

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William Thackeray

Dear Catherine,

Just a heads-up that your time limit for the internal review has now expired. If I don't hear from you within the next few days, I'll be passing this one to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Yours sincerely,
William.

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Complaint submitted to ICO 30 March 2009:

Hi,

Two problems:

1)

Original request refused, WCC claims legal privilege. I argue that the information could be released in summary or redacted form.

I also make a public interest argument, as outlined in my email to WCC dated 5 March.

2)

I have asked for an internal review, but WCC has failed to undertake one within their own time limit.

For full details, including all correspondence, please see:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ra...

Thank you for your help with this matter.

Yours Sincerely,

William Thackeray.

Black, Phil, Westminster City Council

Mr Thackeray

Thank you for your e-mail dated 5 March 2009. Please accept my apologies
for the delay in my response.

Your original FOI request asked for a copy of the Council's legal advice

I note that in your email dated 5 March that you agree with the Council's
application of the legal professional privilege exemption in relation to
your original FOI request. However, I also note that your latest email is
now revising your original FOI request.

Based on your revised request, the City Council can provide the following
summary information:

The statutory requirements for mandatory relief are prescribed by section
43 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988:

* The premises must be occupied by a charity or by trustees on behalf
of a charity; and
* The premises must be used wholly or mainly used for charitable
purposes.

The Council in reaching a decision under section 43 is not exercising a
discretion. It is applying legislation to decide whether as a matter of
law a particular charity is entitled to a compulsory relief.

An organisation does not have to be registered with the Charity Commission
to qualify as a charity. An organisation can be considered as charitable
if it meets one or more of the heads of charity.

The Mandatory Relief application in question related to a property at 42
Leinster Gardens, W2. It was submitted by the occupier of the property
"Church of Scientology Religious Education College Inc". No other
organisation was a part of the application.

After consideration of Counsel advice, and the information provided by the
NNDRpayer in support of their application, it was determined that the
organisation met the criteria for Mandatory Relief to be granted.

Many thanks

Phil Black
Deputy Contracts Performance Manager
Finance and Resources Department
Westminster City Council
Contracts Performance Team
City Hall, 16th Floor
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP
TEL: 0207 641 2678
FAX: 0207 641 3458

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William Thackeray

Thank you, Phil.

Could you please explain what you mean by the following terms:

1) 'heads of charity'

2) 'NNDRpayer'

Thank you for your time and attention on this matter.

Yours Sincerely,

William Thackeray.

William Thackeray

Still awaiting your response on this.

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

DN issued 4 November 2009, ICO ref FS50241934

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Whoops - sorry, wrong case. ignore.

William Thackeray

Dear Phil,

Still awaiting your response on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

Black, Phil, Westminster City Council

Mr Thackeray

I'm sorry I thought we had concluded this request. Can you remind me
what you believe is outstanding and I will of course try and respond.

Thanks

Phil Black
Deputy Contracts Performance Manager
Finance and Resources Department
Westminster City Council
Contracts Performance Team
City Hall, 16th Floor
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP
TEL: 0207 641 2678
FAX: 0207 641 3458

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William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Sent to ICO:

"Internal review done but information not released.

The public interest is in favour of disclosure: COSREC Inc has been involved in numerous criminal activities over many decades. Much evidence, including criminal convictions, is available on this point.
For example, both COSREC Inc (as a corporate body) and its employees were recently found guilty of fraud in the Paris Criminal Court, and fined £545,000.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/wo...
This introduces a reasonable suspicion of misrepresentation or unlawful behaviour on the part of COSREC, which is a factor in favour of disclosure.

For full details of this FOI request, see:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ra...

Many thanks."

William Thackeray

Hi Phil,

I'd like to refer you to my previous email, in which I asked you to explain what you meant by:

1) 'heads of charity'

2) 'NNDRpayer'

Many thanks.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray.

Black, Phil, Westminster City Council

Mr Thackeray

My apologies for not clarifying these two points. I have detailed their meaning below.

Heads of Charity refers to four principals that were defined in case law and are used to help define whether and organisation can be considered as charitable. The four heads are:
§ for the relief of poverty;
§ for the advancement of religion;
§ for the advancement of education; and
§ for other purposes beneficial to the community, but not falling under any of the preceding heads.

NNDR payer is simply the individual or organisation that are responsible for payment of the Business rate/NNDR bill.

I trust this is satisfactory but should you require any additional information please do not hesitate to contact me.

Phil Black
Deputy Contracts Performance Manager
Finance and Resources Department
Westminster City Council
Contracts Performance Team
City Hall, 16th Floor
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP
TEL: 0207 641 2678
FAX: 0207 641 3458

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William Thackeray

Many thanks, Phil.

Which of the Heads of Charity applied in this case?

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

Hinckley, Martin, Westminster City Council

Benefiicial to the Community

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William Thackeray

Dear Martin,

Beneficial to the community in what way?

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray

Also: at the time this decision was made, was the CoL aware that the Charity Commissioners had declared[1] in their 1999 decision that CoSREC Inc did not meet any of the four Heads of Charity?

If so, what additional information was provided to CoL which caused it to arrive at a conclusion differing from that of the Charity Commissioners?

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

[1] http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/Lib...

Tim Helm left an annotation ()

You might need to submit a new request asking that last question... because it looks like they're trying to fob you off.

"benefiicial (sic) to the community"... what a pathetic reply.

It might be worth asking for any internal discussions (email trails) or documents relating to their determination that the activities would be 'beneficial to the community'.

It's fascinating, keep it up.

Black, Phil, Westminster City Council

Mr Thackeray

As previously explained, the City Council has not retained the paperwork in relation to the Mandatory Application. However I can advise you that the applicant provided a list of work relating to the Beneficial to the Community criteria.

Whilst I do not currently have access to the full list of activities, I can recall that a significant element of the work was related to their drugs related projects.

I am sorry that I am unable to provide more information but I do hope that this answers your question.

Many thanks

Phil Black
Deputy Contracts Performance Manager
Finance and Resources Department
Westminster City Council
Contracts Performance Team
City Hall, 16th Floor
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP
TEL: 0207 641 2678
FAX: 0207 641 3458

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William Thackeray

Dear Phil,

Many thanks for your reply to my email of 10th December.

Scientology activities purporting to be drug rehabilitation would likely not be carried out by CoSREC Inc itself, but by a registered charity under the control of CoSREC, named Narconon.

The Home Office describes Narconon's programme as: "not meet[ing] the minimum standard for drug treatment delivery."

The primary purpose of Narconon appears to be the recruitment of new customers for CoSREC Inc at a vulnerable moment in their lives.

So I'd like to refine my FOI query (please feel free to treat this as a new enquiry for FOI purposes):

1) Please release all information including internal correspondence (including emails, memos, minutes etc) relating to this application for mandatory relief and to CoSREC's claims that its activities are 'beneficial to the community'.

2) At the time this decision was made, was the CoL aware that the Charity Commissioners had declared in their 1999 decision that CoSREC Inc did not meet any of the four Heads of Charity?

3) If so, what additional information was provided to CoL which caused it to arrive at a conclusion differing from that of the Charity Commissioners?

4) Did WCC attempt to verify the claims of community benefit made by CoSREC? If not, why not?

Many thanks for your help with this matter.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Thanks Tim.

You might also be interested in my parallel query to the City of London Corporation, re the same info in respect of the Scientology HQ in Blackfriars.

CoL have rejected the request on grounds of legal privilege, the ICO have upheld their rejection (decision notice FS50241934), and I've appealed to the Information Tribunal (case EA/2009/0095) with a public interest argument.

Re this request to WCC, I'm waiting for the ICO to review it. If they uphold WCC's decision then I'll see if I can merge this case with EA/2009/0095 for appeal to the tribunal.

BTW if you can think of alternative approaches to this info in respect of either WCC or the CoL then do go right ahead. It helps the public interest argument if we can show that there is significant public concern about this matter.

FOI, Westminster City Council

Dear Mr Thackeray

Thank you for your email regarding this FOI request. Unfortunately, this
request has come through to Westminster City Council and we do not hold
any information regarding decisions taken by CoL.

If you would like me to transfer this request to CoL on your behalf,
please let me know.

Yours sincerely

Catherine Preston
Knowledge and Information Management Team
Information Services
Westminster City Council
101 Orchardson Street
London
NW8 8EA
Tel: 020 7641 3332
Fax: 020 7641 2872
Email: [Westminster City Council request email]

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William Thackeray

Oh, I'm sorry Catherine, my mistake.

I'd like to ask WCC the same question, so please could you please substitute WCC for CoL in my query.

Many thanks,
William.

Westminster City Council

Confirmation of Freedom Of Information Request

Thank you for your request for information.

Your request details have now been recorded and will be passed on to the
appropriate Divisional Records Officer for action.

This Freedom Of Information Request was based on the following
information:

Name: William Thackeray
Address: see email address
Email: [FOI #7670 email]
Telephone:
Request Details: 1) Please release all information including internal
correspondence (including emails, memos, minutes etc) relating to this
application for mandatory relief and to CoSREC's claims that its
activities are 'beneficial to the community'.

2) At the time this decision was made, was WCC aware that the Charity
Commissioners had declared in their 1999 decision that CoSREC Inc did not
meet any of the four Heads of Charity?

3) If so, what additional information was provided to WCC which caused it
to arrive at a conclusion differing from that of the
Charity Commissioners?

4) Did WCC attempt to verify the claims of community benefit made by
CoSREC? If not, why not?

FOI Reference Number: 4787
Target Completion Date: 25/01/2010

Please do not reply to this email.
This is an automatic response to your request, and replies to this message
will not be actioned.

If you need to contact Westminster City Council regarding your request,
please contact:

mailto:[Westminster City Council request email]
Tel:020 7641 3921

show quoted sections

William Thackeray

Dear Westminster City Council,

I believe the legal deadline for your response to this FOI query has now expired.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray

Dear Westminster City Council,

My mistake - your response to this FOI request was not overdue on the date of my previous email (15 Jan), but it is now 5 days overdue.

I await your timely response.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray

Dear Westminster City Council,

Awaiting your response on this matter.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray

Dear Westminster City Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Westminster City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Rates: Scientology legal advice'.

My reason for requesting an internal review is:

No substantive response received to my FOI query dated 30 December. The deadline set out by law for WCC's response has now expired.

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

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray

Dear Westminster City Council,

Awaiting your reply to my internal review request.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Referred to ICO:

No substantive response to FOI request dated 30 December. No response to internal review request.

Full details: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ra...

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

From the ICO to WCC:

20th February 2010

Case Reference Number FS50295016

Dear Sir/Madam,

Complaint from Mr William Thackeray

The Information Commissioner has received a complaint from Mr Thackeray stating that no response has been sent to an information request submitted to your organisation on 30 December 2009, which you have said was received and assigned reference 7670. The original correspondence can be found at the foot of http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ra...

Any public authority in receipt of such a request is under a duty to respond within 20 working days of receipt. As it is the case that you have not responded but acknowledged receipt of the request, we would ask that you now respond within 10 working days of receipt of this letter. We should be grateful if you could also provide a copy of your response to this office.

You should state whether or not the information is held in a recorded form. If it is held, you should either provide the information or issue a refusal notice in accordance with the requirements of section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act or regulation 14 of the Environmental Information Regulations as appropriate. You can find more information on refusal notices contained in the guidance issued by the Commissioner which is available at:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/l...

http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/l...

Finally you should be aware that the Information Commissioner often receives requests for copies of the letters we send and receive when dealing with casework. Not only are we obliged to deal with these in accordance with the access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the FoIA), it is in the public interest that we are open, transparent and accountable for the work that we do.

However, whilst we want to disclose as much information as we reasonably can, there will be occasions where full disclosure would be wrong. It is also important that the disclosures we make do not undermine the confidence and trust in the Commissioner of those who correspond with him.

When you reply to this letter, I would be grateful if you would indicate whether any of the information you provide in connection with this matter is confidential, or for any other reason should not be disclosed to anyone who requests it. I should make clear that simply preferring that the information is withheld may not be enough to prevent disclosure. You should have a good reason why this information should not be disclosed to anyone else and explain this to us clearly and fully.

For further advice on how to deal with freedom of information requests, please visit our website at www.ico.gov.uk or call our helpline on 0303 123 1113.

When contacting us about this matter, please quote the case reference number from the top of this letter.

Yours faithfully,

Jenny Sanders
FoI Case Reception Unit
Information Commissioner’s Office

Black, Phil, Westminster City Council

1 Attachment

<<Thackery Feb 2010.doc>>
Please find attached the response to your request for information.

Phil Black
Deputy Contracts Performance Manager
Finance and Resources Department
Westminster City Council
Contracts Performance Team
City Hall, 16th Floor
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP
TEL: 0207 641 2678
FAX: 0207 641 3458

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