Freedom of information requests: Unsolved murders in Yorkshire

In a departure from past practice, updates to requests made by Neil Wilby, under the Freedom of Information Act (‘FOIA’ or ‘The Act’), will, in future, be charted on this website.

Each request or group of requests will occupy a separate page. Previously, a combination of Twitter and the What Do They Know website was used.

Over time, they will form a very useful addition to the portfolio of articles, now extending to almost two hundred, and, hopefully, aid reader engagement and understanding of the work of an investigative journalist – and how some of the more in-depth stories are built.

FOIA requests to public authorities, according to Guidance issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office, should be treated neutrally:

‘We wish to emphasise at this point that the Freedom of Information Act is applicant and motive blind. A disclosure under FOIA, is a disclosure to the public [ie the world at large]. In dealing with a Freedom of Information request there is no provision for the public authority to look at from whom the application has come, the merits of the application or the purpose for which it is to be used.’

This, however, is not always how those same public authorities regard the position. Particularly, the policing bodies and police forces to whom many of the requests from this quarter are made. Apart from treating the statutory regulator with scarcely concealed disdain, they very much play the man, not the request.

Delay and obfuscation then becomes the order of the day as they try to work out if the requested disclosure will cause reputational harm. Oblivious to the concept that, potentially, even more damage is caused by ducking the issues.

On 6th September, 2021 three separate, but identical, requests were made to the three Yorkshire police forces. North Yorkshire Police (NYP), South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and West Yorkshire Police (WYP). All headed ‘Unsolved murders’.

Please disclose the following information by way of the Freedom of Information Act:

In the period 1st April 1996 until 31st March 2021, please disclose:

1. Number of murders recorded as taking place in West Yorkshire.

2. Number of those murders that are unsolved.

3. The operational codenames of the investigations into the unsolved murders.

The requests have a very specific purpose, which will become clear as the process unfolds.

The Act requires that a response be provided PROMPTLY, and in any event, within 20 working days. That is to say, in these cases, the backstop date is on or before 4th October, 2021.

Police forces are also subject to the College of Policing‘s Authorised Professional Practice (APP) on Freedom of Information (read in full here). This is given added significance by APP compliance being part of the College’s Code of Ethics and enshrine in law as the Code is embedded in section 39A of the Police Act, 1996.

Over the past ten years, in upwards of a hundred FOIA requests to eight different police forces, and five high profile policing bodies, it is apparent that many staff working in their information rights teams are either unaware of APP and the Code of Ethics, or do not embrace the need to comply.

Both NYP and WYP acknowledged the requests on the same day as they were submitted. SYP is yet to acknowledge which places them in breach of section 2.4 of APP.

Updates will be posted as and when further responses are received from any of the three police forces.

Page last updated: Friday 10th September, 2021 at 1040 hours

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Picture credit:  South Yorkshire Police

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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