Freedom of Information request to Greater Manchester Police – Operation Cayman

On 6th August, 2021, the following request was made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA or FOI or the Act). It followed publication, elsewhere on this website, of an article about a knife crime initiative launched by Greater Manchester Police‘s Q Division in Oldham and backed by one of the town’s MPs, Jim McMahon (read more here):

That story needed fleshing out with some further, basic details and this FOIA request, as many made by Neil Wilby often are, was the first in a two, or possibly three, stage process.

“Please disclose the following information by way of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000.

Operation Cayman

1. Name/rank of Gold Commander

2. Name/rank of Senior Investigating Officer

3. Date of first entry in policy book/log

4. Number of arrests made by Operation Cayman team up to and including 6th August, 2021.

5. Number of suspects charged by the Operation Cayman team up to and including 6th August, 2021″.

The Act requires that a response be provided PROMPTLY and, in any event, within 20 working days. That is to say, in the case of this request, the backstop date was on or before 4th September, 2021, after taking account of the late summer Bank Holiday.

GMP did not even acknowledge the request within the 20 working day limit. They have, regrettably, an appalling recording of non-compliance and treat the statutory regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office. A recent example is another request made by Neil Wilby regarding another Oldham policing operation, codenamed Hexagon, that can be followed here. It is no exaggeration to say that a straightforward, plainly expressed disclosure request, that places no undue burden on a police force, has devolved into a seriously ugly war of attrition.

On 7th September, 2021 an application for an internal review of the Operation Cayman FOI request, a qualified right under section 45 of the Act, was submitted to GMP in these terms:

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Greater Manchester Police’s handling of my FOI request ‘Operation Cayman’.

The Grounds of Complaint are that GMP has, deliberately in my respectful submission, breached sections 10 and 17 of the Act”.

A link to the full history of the FOI request and all correspondence was provided to GMP in an effort to assist them in either answering either the disclosure request ot the internal review request, or both.

Two days later, against all expectations, the information request was answered in full by GMP. Although the tagging of the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, the Nation Police Chiefs Council and the Independent Office for Police Conduct in a Twitter post may well have speeded up matters.

This is the GMP response which answered all the questions within the disclosure request:

“Following receipt of your request searches were conducted within Greater Manchester Police to locate information relevant to your request. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Greater Manchester Police.

Results of Searches

1. Superintendent 06741 Colette Rose.
2. Detective Inspector 16049 Kenny Blain.
3. Wednesday 10th March 2021
4. 10 arrests
5. No suspects have been charged

Should you have any further inquiries concerning this matter, please write or contact me, on [redacted] telephone number quoting the reference number above, GSA/2821/21”.

The internal review request was not mentioned, but to save any further administrative burden on GMP it has now been withdrawn.

The article ‘MP backs knife crime purge‘ article, posted elsewhere on this website, was updated accordingly, following receipt of that data from GMP.

A simple, supplementary information access request was made to GMP on 9th September, 2021 in these terms:

“Of the 10 nominals arrested how many have been (i) released under investigation (ii) bailed or (iii) had their case file marked ‘no further action’ or ‘case closed’ or words with similar meaning or effect”.

Again, surprisingly quickly, a response was provided by GMP. This was their decision not to disclose that information:

“Results of Searches

“Following receipt of your request searches were conducted within Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to locate information relevant to your request. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by GMP but I am not obliged to provide it as an exemption applies.

“Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires GMP, when refusing to provide such information (because the information is exempt) to provide you the applicant with a notice which: (a) states that fact, (b) specifies the exemption in question and (c) states (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemption applies.
The exemption that applies is Section 30(1)(2)(a) – Investigations and Proceedings. Conducted by Public Authorities.

“Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption; there is a requirement to carry out a public interest test, which can be seen below.

“Factors Favouring Disclosure
To disclose the exempt information, into the public domain, would show GMP’s
accountability, and satisfy the public, that investigations into such incidents are being
conducted correctly. It would also show GMP’s use of public funds investigating incidents of this nature.

“Factors Favouring Non-Disclosure

“Conversely to the factors in favour of disclosure, to publicly release information from an investigation that remains open may seriously undermine GMP’s ability to complete the investigation to a full and correct conclusion.

It would also have an impact on the future law enforcement capabilities of GMP, as it would disclose policing investigative techniques, thus hindering any future prevention or detection of crime.

“Balancing Test

“When balancing the public interest test GMP has to consider whether the information should be released into the public domain, therefore arguments need to be weighed against each other. The most persuasive reason for disclosing the information would be the fact that disclosure would encourage transparency. This needs to be weighed against the strongest reason for non-disclosure, which in this case is the impact on GMP’s ability to complete investigations to a full and correct conclusion. Therefore, having considered all the factors for and against disclosure it is the decision at this time to maintain the above exemption and withhold the information from disclosure”.

That gave rise to another internal review request, submitted to GMP on 24th September, 2021. Short and to the point:

“The ground of complaint is that the public interest test is not only unlawful – it is a collection of assertions with neither reasoning nor evidence supporting them – it is so bereft of common sense that it simply boggles the mind that this could have come from the second largest police force in England”.

That internal review request was ignored completely by GMP and a complaint was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on 23rd October, 2021.

This page will be updated as and when the next response is received from either GMP or the ICO.

More widely, Greater Manchester Police is, of course, still in Special Measures’, ordered by the Home Office in December, 2020. It is a force in almost complete disarray. Disclosure breaches are not confined to the Freedom of Information Act, either: Data subject access requests are taking months and years to process rather than days and weeks. Disregarding obligations under Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act, as well as Civil and Tribunal Procedure Rules is also deeply embedded in the force’s disclosure DNA. Judge-led public scrutiny, such as the Grainger Inquiry which reported in July 2019, also do not merit appropriate and lawful attention.

A third extant FOIA request, made to GMP on 18th July, 2021, and linked to that inquiry, has also seen them be prepared to break the law, rather than disclose very basic information that should be very readily retrievable (read here).

Insiders say matters have worsened since the arrival of new chief constable, Stephen Watson, and morale, efficiency and effectiveness of the force is at an all time low.

Page last updated: Saturday 23rd October, 2021 at 1030 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: GMP

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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