Not necessarily a good one.
Way back in March (4 months if my grey matter still functions) I posed a few questions of the College of Policing under the Freedom of Information Act. You may remember that these were sparked off by the inclusion of a certain solicitor and a certain PCC on their National Undercover Policing Scrutiny Panel. The FOI gives them 20 days to respond, NOT 4 months!!
To be fair they wrote me a letter on 30th April and 1st of May which included
As there are 12 points to your request we need some time to gather this information. This process has been started but we have yet to gather all the answers for you.
We are dealing with your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act and I’m sorry for the delay in replying to you. It’s a complex request and it’s taking longer than anticipated to process.
Complex you say? We’ll let my reader decide on that one shall we? 12 points? Remember that number.
Part one of my request was
- Could you please provide me with copies of any advertisements that were published seeking volunteers to participate in this panel?
Their response was this;
- No Information held. I can advise you under s16 (Duty to Assist) that as the professional body for policing, the College is committed to promoting equality and allowing everyone to have a voice. Providing routes to enable victims and the public to give feedback on policing practice is an important aspect of our work.
- The College accepts and welcomes the need for challenge and we encourage it by inviting critics of policing to engage with those who work within the service and share their views with us.
So, no adverts were placed seeking volunteers, therefore the Panel Members seem to have been selected by the College.
Part 2 of my request was
- Could you please provide me with copies of any documents that outline/specify the desired qualities and/or qualifications for participants in this panel with particular reference to participants that are neither Police Officers nor former Police Officers.
The response from the College was
- The panel is the first time we have brought together a group of unpaid volunteers for this purpose. Those invited to join were identified for their experience, expertise or record of challenging policing practices. The make-up of the group continues to be shaped and those initially involved were asked as part of an informal process.
- I attach the documentation that we have located which are relevant to your request. Please note that some information has been removed under the following exemptions:
s23 Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters s40(2)(a)(b) and (3)(a)(i) Personal Information
- Your attention is therefore drawn to the enclosed refusal notice.
Part 3 went like this;
- Could you please provide me with copies of any minutes of any meetings where the selection of participants in this panel was discussed?
Part 4 followed;
- Could you please provide me with a copy of any policy that exists in relation to the vetting of participants in this panel?
A slightly more comprehensive response followed;
- No information held. However, under s16 (Duty to Assist), I can confirm that the Undercover Oversight Group held on Tuesday 1 July 2014, discussed the vetting required for access to certain materials and background information. There it was established that the Group may wish to discuss in future how the vetting rules are set, what it means in practice and for the scrutiny we wish to apply to this area of policing.
So, no Vetting as yet then.
Part Five (nearly there) was;
- Could you please inform me if ANY of the current panel members have any relevant operational experience in Undercover Policing?
And the Part Five Response was;
- The College of Policing neither confirms nor denies that it holds any of the information requested. To give a statement of reasons why neither confirming nor denying is appropriate in this case would itself involve the disclosure of exempt information, therefore, under s17(4), no explanation can be given.
And finally, Part 6 (NOT 12, just 6);
- I understand that the unpaid volunteers are not subject to the Code of Ethics, could you please supply me copies of any restrictions that they are subject to e.g. Rules & Regulations etc?
The College’s Response to this was;
- No information held. However, under s16 (Duty to Assist) I can advise you that our unpaid volunteers who support the work of the College (such as those on the National Undercover Scrutiny Panel), do not represent the College and are not bound by the Code of Ethics. However, the panel met in April and discussed (amongst other matters) the panel’s terms of reference with the view to considering the adoption of a ‘terms of membership’, which could draw on codes of conduct used by police forces for similar external advisory groups. Such terms would be published and could apply to any external scrutiny panels created in future.
So, they are ‘discussing’ Terms Of Membership but no enforcible Code of Conduct for their first year at least. Bearing in mind the subject matter I would suggest that, and a lack of Vetting, are simply not acceptable. I have no issue with the Police Officers on the Panel but the non-Police Members could have any number of issues in their backgrounds.
Complex? I don’t think so. 12 Elements? Definitely not.
Contained within the bundle of supporting papers they supplied was a little pearl. When you consider the number of F*** Off Tablets I have been given by numerous Police Forces whenever I ask a question based around RIPA, on 5th February the Panel met in a London Novotel hotel and were given a presentation on the application of RIPA by ‘a practitioner’. Maybe that bit should have been redacted and they forgot. Makes a slight nonsense of all my previous Refusals when Non-Police Panel members can sit in on a presentation.
Anyway, this request has been a first for me. It’s the first time that I have received a Disclosure, a Refusal and a Neither Confirm Nor Deny all in the same request.
As for the College, does it really take 4 months to get that out to me? Was it really complex? Was it really 12 elements?
Do I feel reassured? No. I see only lax procedures by the College i.e. no Vetting, no Code of Conduct or equivalent. A recipe for disaster.
What think you my reader?