On 18th July, 2021 an access request was made to Greater Manchester Police (GMP), by journalist Neil Wilby, in these terms:
‘Please disclose the following information by way of the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA or the Act]:
“As at the past three force years ending 31st March, 2019, 2020 and 2021 how many licenced and authorised firearms officers (handguns and carbines as opposed to Tasers) were identified as:
“(I) Male (ii) Female (iii) Other genders or unidentified.
“Whilst requests under the Act should be applicant and motive blind, it may assist GMP to know that the instant request is not made for journalistic purposes. It is to aid a student colleague with a dissertation associated with a Master’s degree.
“In those circumstances, I would be grateful if this request could be finalised at the earliest convenient moment”.
The student mentioned is, in fact, Gail Hadfield Grainger, whose partner, Anthony Grainger, was shot by the same police force in March, 2012 whilst sat unarmed in a car in a supermarket car park in Culcheth, Cheshire. A public inquiry was held into the shooting in 2017, chaired by His Honour Judge Thomas Teague QC, and the report that followed, published in July 2019, had devastating consequences for GMP.
During the inquiry, leading counsel for the Grainger family, Leslie Thomas QC, described the force, during submissions as ‘Rotten to the core’, particularly in relation to epic disclosure failings. Few, if any would argue with that contention. Except, perhaps, the present chief constable, Stephen Watson, who strongly asserts that corruption doesn’t exist in any UK police force, let alone GMP.
HHJ Teague QC, for his part, was elevated the the post of Chief Coroner for England and Wales in December, 2020.
As is almost invariably the case with GMP, the information request that is the subject of the present article was not even acknowledged with the requisite period.
The Act requires that a substantive 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.
APP requires a force to immediately, or very soon thereafter, acknowledge a request and provide a date by which they expect the request to be finalised.
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.
GMP is the absolute prime example of that: Laws apply to others, not to them. For their part, the College of Policing show studious disinterest in police forces riding roughshod over both APP and the Code of Ethics. They are there, essentially, for show and nothing else.
On 24th August, 2021 this complaint was sent to GMP:
“Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.
Yet again, GMP has breached section 10 and 17 of the Freedom of Information Act.
A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available at the below weblink [which was provided to GMP]”.
Just two days later, the beleaguered police force was, apparently, stung into action:
“I apologise for the delay in responding to your FOI Request.
“I can advise that your request is being processed and I am currently awaiting for a response from the relevant unit within GMP.
“As soon as I receive a response I will be in touch
“Thank you and Kind Regards
Information Compliance and Records Management Unit Information Services Branch – Business Operations Greater Manchester Police c/o Openshaw Complex, Lawton Street, Manchester M11 2NS”.
But the pain of the conscience prick soon passed, and this communication was sent to them on 10th September, 2021:
“Over two weeks has elapsed since your last communication.
“The disclosure sought is very simple indeed.
“In the circumstances, can you please draw this request, and the grotesque failures of the officers in the relevant unit to comply with the law, to the attention of the chief constable, Stephen Watson, as a matter of urgency?
“Having made a number of public promises that change and improvement is on the way in GMP, it would seem to most of the general public in the region that matters have actually got significantly worse since his arrival at the end of May.
“In the meantime, a weblink to this WhatDoTheyKnow page will be broadcast every day on social media until such times as the requested disclosure is produced. I trust that, in these desperate circumstances, you will agree that such action is fair, reasonable and proportionate?”
That message was met by silence. It is unclear whether Chief Constable Watson was contacted by his Information Compliance Unit, or not. The working hypothesis is that he wasn’t. But a complaint to the Greater Manchester Mayor will bring clarity on that point and serve the additional purpose of shining a brighter light on the continued failings of a police force over which Andy Burnham, has political oversight. Although the evidence that he has actually ever done so is notably skinny in its detail.
On 17th September, 2021 GMP were put on notice of further escalation of the matter by way of a complaint to the statutory regulator. Albeit a grotesquely ineffective one, particularly when allowing errant police forces to routinely break the law with impunity.
“A section 50 complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office is in the course of preparation. It will be submitted on Monday morning (20th September)”.
That drew no response, either.
So, an information request, with a disclosed and meritorious purpose, that would take an officer in the relevant business area around 15 minutes to assemble the required facts and figures, is still unanswered 63 days later – and has, already, spawned three complaints and wasted a growing number of hours trying to persuade a law enforcement agency to comply with the wishes of Parliament.
Leslie Thomas QC was right back then and he would be right again now: GMP is rotten to its core. Worse still, it has a chief constable, as the last two did (Peter Fahy and Ian Hopkins), who pretends it isn’t.
On 22nd September, 2021 a substantive response and an apology was received from GMP:
This is the information that was disclosed:
Other genders or unidentified
That provision of that information took GMP 66 days and an inordinate, disproportionate amount of effort, including the writing of this article, and numerous posts on social media, to bludgeon and humiliate them into responding.
But the last discharge has yet to be fired on this request as it will, unsurprisingly, spawn a complaint against the, as yet, unidentified firearms commander whom, it seems, has set out to deliberately thwart the disclosure and vex, annoy and harass both an accredited journalist and a Masters degree law student.
Page last updated at 1135hrs on Wednesday 22nd September, 2021
Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.
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, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.