COMPLAINT re 3-month delay in answering 12 FOI Questions on 19 March
Note: This e-mail is NOT confidential
On 21 April you wrote and told me that the Home Office were unable to answer my 12 questions about Madeleine McCann in the normal 20-day period required under the Freedom of Information Act, because you needed more time to consider whether answering any or all of these 12 questions was or was not 'in the public interest' (see your e-mail below).
You told me that you anticipated you would be able to reply by 19 May. That would have made it 40 days since making my request, not the normal maximum, 20.
I was concerned about the continuing delay and wrote to you as follows on 27 May:
|Dear Mr Lister,|
Thank you for the letter below and your attachment.
Please note that you spelt 'Madeleine' incorrectly in your letter and headnote, please note the correct spelling for future reference.
Allowing for weekends and Bank Holidays, I make it either 45 or 46 working days since you recveived my Freedom of Information Act request. This is 25 or 25 working days, or 5 weeks, beyond the legal deadline for responding to a FOI request.
The answers to the questions I asked could easily have been supplied within days as all the information was known to the Home Secretary and his staff.
As I said in my original letter on 19 March, the Madeleine McCann case is of huge public interest, not least because the McCanns themselves and their team of public relations advisers led by former Head of the government's Media Monitoring Unit Clarence Mitchell have made it so.
There is huge public interest in finding out the truth about what really happened to Madeleine McCann and therefore also in the issue of whether the Home Office is currently taking appropriate steps to ensure that the continuing investigations into her disappearance will be led by those who are fully independent and will fearlessly go where the evidence leads. I might also add that both members of the Coalition Government - Conservative and Liberal Democrat - have heavily emphasised the words 'openness' and 'transparency' in their manifestos and pre- and post-election statements.
I therefore conclude that 45 or 46 days is a wholly unacceptable delay in supplying the answers to my questions and I find the attempt to delay your answer still further to 18 June totally unacceptable. That would make it a delay of 60 days in supplying answers to straightforward factual questions about one of the most important and publicly-discussed cases in the last decade.
Please let me have the answers to my questions straightaway.
On 27 May I received this 'Out-of-Office Auto Reply' from you:
"I am out of the office, returning on Tuesday 8th June 2010. Your email will not be read. I will endeavour to reply to your email at the earliest opportunity on my return. If your enquiry is urgent, please contact my colleagues in the Information Access Team or email email@example.com".
I immediately responded by sending the following e-mail to the Information Access Team as suggested:
Dear Information Access Team,
I have received this from Ian Lister's e-mail address:
I am out of the office, returning on Tuesday 8th June 2010. Your email will not be read. I will endeavour to reply to your email at the earliest opportunity on my return.
If your enquiry is urgent, please contact my colleagues in the Information Access Team or email firstname.lastname@example.org
I confirm that this matter is urgent as you are now 5 weeks past the maximum period allowed for replying to an FOI Act request.
I require an immediate answer to the 12 questions I asked back on 19 March, a copy of which you have.
Please respond ASAP.
Tel: 01279 635789
Neither you nor they has replied to that e-mail.
Today is 17 June, and another 4 weeks have gone by. It is now 64 weekdays since I made my request. If I deduct Good Friday, Easter Monday and the two Bank Holidays, it is still 60 working days since I asked 12 questions which (a) were very straightforward factual questions and (b) were manifestly in the public interest, since the McCanns, their public relations advisers, members of the government and of course the media have made this the most well-known case of a missing child ever.
I am very concerned about the continuing delay in answering my questions. Could you please now tell me if you are in a position to answer any or all of them.
I also have the following additional, new questions:
1. Since 19 March 2010, has any government minister in the Home Office or civil servant met with the McCanns, or any of their public relations advisers or leagl advisers?
2. If so, please give the dates and whether the meetings were with ministers or civil servants.
3. If so, please state the reason for the meetings and sttae whether minutes were kept.
4. Has legal advice from counsel been taken by the Home Office about whether or not the Home Office should answer any or all of the 12 questions I asked three months ago on 19 March.
I look forward to hearing from you without delay.
This was the origimal letter to the Home Office Freedom of Information Act Section including the 12 Questions:
From: Anthony Bennett 66 Chippingfield
Tel: 01279 635789 HARLOW
e-mail: email@example.com Essex
Home Office Friday 19 March 2010
Head of Freedom of Information Act Section
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street
By e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
And by hard copy
re: Questions to the Home Office Freedom of Information Act Section - Involvement by the Home Office with the McCanns regarding a possible review or re-investigation into the disappearahce of Madeleine McCann
During the past two weeks, several newspapers have referred to the following matters in relation to the Madeleine McCann case:
a) one or more meetings between Home Secretary Alan Johnson and the McCanns
b) several meetings between the McCanns and staff of the Home Office
c) the commencement of a ‘scoping exercise’ to evaluate what form any review or re-investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance may take
d) the appointment of the Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Mr Jim Gamble, to advise the Home Office as to which police force should carry out any review or re-investigation
e) the reported decision by Jim Gamble and the Home Office to appoint West Yorkshire Police to carry out a review or re-investigation.
It is evident that there remains huge public interest in and beyond the U.K. in what really happened to Madeleine McCann, which was described as recently as 19 February by the McCanns’ chief public relations adviser, Mr Clarence Mitchell, as ‘a complete mystery. The clear public interest will therefore be served by your section providing full answers as soon as possible to the following questions under the Freedom of Information Act. We would add that the answers to these questions must be readily available to officials and so the cost of providing them should be minimal. Here are the questions:
1. On what date or dates has the Home Secretary Alan Johnson had meetings with one or both of the McCanns?
2. Who else was present at these meetings: in particular, was any lawyer or othert adviser for the McCanns present?
3. On what dates did meetings take place between one or both of the McCanns and staff of the Home Office?
4. Please identify all the staff who met with the McCanns and again identify whether the McCanns had legal or other representatives with them.
5. On what date did the McCanns first approach the Home Office asking for a review or re-investigation by a British police force into Madeleine’s disappearance?
6. Is the Home Office carrying out what the Daily Telegraph called ‘a scoping exercise’ to evaluate what form any review or re-investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance may take’ and, if so, on what date did that scooping exercise
7. Why, according to the press, was Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Mr Jim Gamble, given the role of advising the Home Office as to which police force should carry out any review or re-investigation?
8. On what date did the Home Secretary ask Mr Gamble to perform this role?
9. On what date did Mr Gamble make his recommendation?
10. Did he, as reported, recommend West Yorkshire Police to carry out a review or re-investigation?
11. Has West Yorkshire Police, as reported, been asked to carry out a review or re-investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann?
12. If so, what is the brief or remit that the Home Office has given to West Yorkshire Police?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Tony Bennett .
--- On Wed, 21/4/10, FOI Responses
From: FOI Responses
Subject: Home Office FoI request CR14428
Date: Wednesday, 21 April, 2010, 16:24
Please see the attached letter concerning your Freedom of Information Act request.
Information Access Consultant
Information Access Team
Tel: 020 7035 6065
Post: Ground Floor, Seacole Building, Home Office, Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
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