Veritau Report II

Tim Thorne made this Freedom of Information request to North Yorkshire County Council

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

The request was refused by North Yorkshire County Council.

Dear North Yorkshire County Council,

I read with interest the minutes of a couple of Executive meetings of NYCC. Two statements from a Mr Tariq Mahmood piqued my interest. Various allegations of poor behaviour and possible criminal wrongdoing by Officers of NYCC were made.

The Executive agreed that Veritau, a company owned by NYCC, would undertake an impartial investigation of the allegations arising from Mr Tariq Mahmood's statement on behalf of NYCC.

I would like a copy of the Veritau report please.

Please note this request is identical to one made nearly a year ago. NYCC stated on 15th July 2013 that 'the Council does not yet have a date for the completion of this matter'. I trust the time elapsed was sufficient to complete the investigation.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...

Yours faithfully,
Tim Thorne

Dear North Yorkshire County Council,

Regarding the Trading Standards matter, please could the Council disclose if any current or former members of staff have been reported to North Yorkshire Police with regard to this matter.

If the Council does hold information pertaining to this request, please disclose the job title of those members or former members of staff.

Please could the Council disclose if any current or former members of staff have been arrested by North Yorkshire Police with regard to this matter.

If the Council does hold information pertaining to this request, please disclose the job title of those members or former members of staff.

Yours faithfully,
Tim Thorne

Data Management Officer, North Yorkshire County Council

Dear Mr Thorne

Thank you for your request for information, of which we acknowledge receipt.

Your request has been passed to the appropriate officer to provide a response as soon as possible, and in any event within 20 working days, as required by the relevant legislation.

Kind regards

Paul Atkinson, for

Data Management Officer
North Yorkshire County Council
01609 533219 [email address]

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Data Management Officer, North Yorkshire County Council

Dear Mr Thorne

Thank you for your request for information, of which we acknowledge receipt.

Your request has been passed to the appropriate officer to provide a response as soon as possible, and in any event within 20 working days, as required by the relevant legislation.

Kind regards

Paul Atkinson, for

Data Management Officer
North Yorkshire County Council
01609 533219 [email address]

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Data Management Officer, North Yorkshire County Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Thorne

 

Thank you for your two Freedom of Information requests asking for details
regarding any potential criminal investigations being undertaken by North
Yorkshire Police and a copy of a report that deals with an investigation
into specific allegations.

Firstly it may be helpful if the parameters are outlined as set out by the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) within which a request for
information can be answered.

The Act creates a statutory right of access to information held by public
authorities. A public authority in receipt of a request must, if
permitted, confirm if the requested information is held by that public
authority and if so, then communicate that information to the applicant.

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 not suitable 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.  

 

THE DECISION

Having considered the relevant information requested by you within your
two requests, it is considered that the Council is not required to release
the information requested. The information you have requested is
considered to be exempt information for the reasons set out below.

This response serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Act.

 

REASONS FOR THE DECISION

 

The Council has carefully considered your requests and believe that the
information is exempt under the FOI Act under a number of exemptions
namely:

 

1.    Section 31 – law enforcement

2.    Section 36 – Prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs

3.    Section 40 – personal information

4.    Section 42 – legal professional privilege.

 

Dealing with each exemption in turn:

 

1.    Section 31 – Law Enforcement

 

Section 31(1) of the Freedom of Information Act provides an exemption to
disclose information for the purposes of law enforcement. You have
requested information in relation to a potential criminal investigation
and a report investigating the allegations into the same matter.

 

Section 31 is subject to a ‘Public Interest Test’. This means that having
decided that the exemption applies; the local authority must decide if it
is more in the public interest to uphold the exemption or to release the
information.

 

The arguments in favour of releasing information regarding potential
investigations are:

 

    1.    The Act presupposes that disclosure of information generally is
to be regarded as being in the public interests and provides a presumption
of openness and transparency to all matters of the Council.

    2.    There will be public interest in matters that are under
investigation and the public may have a genuine interest in
this matter.             

 

The arguments against releasing the information are:

 

    1.    To publicise information about investigations could prejudice
existing or future investigations into these matters.

    2.    Disclosing the information would reveal operational procedures
and investigative methods which could harm future investigations.

    3.    In order to carry out full investigations, employees should be
able to give information to an investigator without fear of having that
information put into the public domain.

 

The ‘public interest’ is not the same as what interests the public. In
carrying out a public interest test, it is necessary to consider the
greater good or benefit to the community as a whole if the information is
released or not. The right to know must be balanced against the need to
carry out full investigations and to serve the best interests of the
public.  The purpose of Section 31 is to protect information which could
undermine the work of law enforcement agencies.  Clearly providing
information to the public at large regarding a potential criminal
investigation could harm any existing or future investigations.

 

Overall it is considered that the public interest in having information
about potential criminal investigations freely available is outweighed by
the need to protect potential law enforcement investigations.

 

2.    Section 36 – qualified person’s opinion

 

Exemption from disclosure is claimed in accordance with Section 36 (2)(b)
(i) and (ii) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as it is considered
that disclosure of information contained within the document would inhibit
the free and frank provision of confidential advice requested and provided
by officers, or would be likely to inhibit the free and frank exchange of
views between officers of the Authority.  It is important that where
processes of this nature are being conducted that those involved are able
to freely exchange views and explore the issues involved without being
inhibited in those discussions.

 

It is also considered that parts of the report would be exempt from
disclosure in accordance with Section 36(2)(c) as disclosure of this
information would otherwise prejudice, or be likely to prejudice the
effective conduct of public affairs.  In order to ensure effective
delivery and provision of County Council services, County Council Officers
must be afforded the opportunity for confidential internal discussions so
that service provision can be discussed for the purposes of review or
improvement, where necessary.

 

Transparency in the conduct of public affairs is very important and is
acknowledged.  However this must be considered against the view that that
disclosure would prejudice effective conduct of public affairs; and be
likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of confidential advice and
free and frank exchange of views given by officers of the Authority, to
facilitate the effective provision  and, where possible, improvement of
delivery of the County Council’s services.   

 

This consideration outweighs the public interest in disclosure.  Should
the status of the information change in time, and should further requests
be made, the position should be reassessed at that stage.

 

3.    Section 40 – personal information

 

In addition, Section 40 of the FOI Act provides that any information is
exempt information if the disclosure of that information to a member of
the public would contravene any of the data protection principles.

 

The requested report contains personal information which would be exempt
information under section 40 (2) as disclosure would contravene the
principles of the Data Protection Act 1998. The DPA defines 'personal
data' as that which relates to a living individual. Investigations into
the conduct of individuals therefore contains personal data. The Council
considers that disclosure of this information would breach the first
principle of the DPA which required that personal data be processed fairly
and lawfully, and fulfil one of the schedule 2 conditions for processing.

In addition the redaction of the names and sensitive data from the report
could still mean that individuals could potentially be identified, and
consequently we consider that such disclosure would breach the first
principle of the DPA.

 

The information covered by this section of the FOI Act is subject to an
absolute exemption.

 

4.    Section 42 – legal professional privilege.

 

The report also contains legal advice and we are not obligated to provide
information subject to legal professional privilege (section 42(1) of the
Act).

 

The information has been communicated between lawyers and clients and this
information cannot be disclosed because the confidential relationship
between lawyer and client is protected. 

 

There is a general public interest in Councils being accountable for the
quality of their decision making and ensuring that decisions are being
considered on the basis of good quality legal advice.  However it is also
recognised that there is a strong public interest in the Council being
able to communicate freely with its legal advisors and provide and receive
legal advice in confidence. It is the nature of legal advice that it sets
out various arguments for and against and it is necessary for such advice
to be given in confidence so effective decision making can be undertaken.
Without such comprehensive advice being available, the quality of
decisions and investigations would be reduced which would not be in the
public interest and breach the confidentiality status of the legal advice.

 

Therefore on balance, the public interest is better served by withholding
the information under Section 42.

 

CONCLUSION

 

The County Council, as always, is mindful of its obligations under the
Freedom of Information Act and will release information unless there is a
valid reason to withhold it.

 

In this case however there are a number of grounds for refusing your two
requests which are detailed above.

 

If you are not happy with this response, I attach a copy of the appeals
procedure for your information.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Louise Jackson

Senior Information Governance Officer

Tel: 01609 798233

 

 

 

 

 

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