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Metropolitan Police FOIA - inflexible data systems

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Our amended FOIA request (attached below) to the Metropolitan Police about the number of applications and authorisations, arrests and charges, under sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 has again been rejected, on the grounds that even this cut down request, would still take more than 18 hours to comply with, just like our original FOIA request.

Following a phone conversation with the Metropolitan Police records people, the reasons that even this amended request would, apparently take so long, is interesting, and has implications for any FOIA requests to the Metropolitan Police for any crime statistics.

Apparently in order to determine how many arrests or charges there have been over a specific time period, for a specific offence, under any legislation, the Metropolitan Police would need to "look in over 100 places" on their computer systems.

Details of the actual reasons for an Arrest, or the details of any actual Charges, are, apparently, stored in free text fields on their computer systems, and so this information is not easily automatically cross-referenced - no Google search engine for the Metropolitan Police records, by the looks of things !

There does not appear to be a centralised criminal charge booking system, each Borough within the Metropolitan Police does its own.

We have been advised that sending an FOIA request to each Borough, would be interpreted as a "campaign" and the "vexatious requests" Exemption from the FOIA would then apply.

Our only hope of getting what should be the relatively simple information, on what appears to be less than a dozen arrests and/or charges under sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crimes and Police Act 2005, wouild be to submit the request to Westminster Borough Division (most of the Designated Area around Parliament Square) , and then, perhaps a month later to Lambeth Borough which covers the London Eye etc, on the south/east bank of the Thames.

Similarly, our "simple" request for the number of Written Applications for Permission to Demonstrate, and the number of Authorisations by the Commissioner (with ot without attached Conditions), is not handled by a single desk at, say, the Public Order Operational Command Unit, but by each of the Borough Operational Command Units (BOCU). The badly draughted SOCPA legislation allows for Applications to "the Commissioner for Police of the Metropolis", to be sent by recorded delivery postal mail, or to be handed in at any Police Station in the Metropolis.

Therfore again, any search of their records, London wide, involves each of the BOCU, all 34 of them, plus Applications sent to the New Scotland Yard HQ. Even if it only takes about half an hour to deal with an FOIA request at each BOCU, then the "18 hour" limit is almost certain to be breached.

Given the billions of pounds spent on the Metropolitan Police's IT systems over the years, and the insatiable demand for crime statistics by the Home Office, it does seem extraordinary, that the system should be so fragmented, and that a free text search engine has not been installed.

The Metropolitan Police have rejected our FOIA request, regarding the notifications and authorisations, arrrests and charges under the controversial new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area arounf Parliament Square, Whitehall , the London Eye etc. because they estimate that it would take too long.

OK, we will try again with fewer questions, using the hard to find online form:

We have had a reply from the Home Office to our Freedom of Information Act request about the new procedures for restricting demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliamnent Square, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

Since we asked 16 specific questions, we have repeated these alongside the answers in the email letter below.

Bear in mind that this FOIA request was submitted before the signing of the Statutory Instrument on the 8th June outlining the Designated Area, and before the Map was published last week:

Astonishing ! We have a next working day reply to a FOIA request from the Home Office ! Ok it is not a "substantive reply", and they are not going to reply fully within the statutory 20 working days, but it is still a pleasant surprise, given their past record.

As we guessed, they are invoking the Section 22 Future Publication exemption, but at least the Home Office are having to think about the questions raised in our FOIA request about the new guidance, rules and regulations which cover protests of demonstrations in and around Parliament Square.

The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was passed into law back on April 7th 2005, so why the Home Office have not published an initial set of rules and the extent of the Designated Area is a mystery,

Since they are applying the "public interest test"

"we will not be able to offer a substantive reply within 20 working days of 2 June, the date of your email. We are however treating your request as a matter of urgency and now aim to respond by 22 July."

It really is a mystery as to why the extent of the Designated Area and the new rules have not already been published.

What possible reason for a delay could there be ?

Even if they only apply the Order initially to the Parliament Square pavement itself, in order to harass the controversial lone "peace camp" demonstrator Brian Haw, whose 4 year vigil seems to have been the cause of this legislation in the first place, they could always extend the Designated Area later.

The Home Office has so far been quite Sir Humphrey Appleby like in their reponses to our Freedom of Information Act requests. This is not in the spirit of open government which the Department for Constitutional Affairs has been claiming.

Nevertheless, we are giving the Home Office another chance to live up to its mission statement with a FOIA request which might just concentrate their minds on the dubious legislation slipped through as a portmanteau Bill setting up the Serious Organised Crime Agency, but which also places potentially massive restrictions on any peaceful democratic protest around the Houses of Parliament in London, and a sizeable area around it, up to "one kilometre from the nearest point in Parliament Square".

This could encompass Buckingham Palace to the West, Waterloo Station on the other side of the River Thames to the East, Whitehall, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square etc. to the North and the National Gallery and the headquarters of the main political parties to the South.

Although charged with enforcing the law, the Metropolitan Police Service is as much in the dark as the rest of us, as the Home Office has not published any guidance, or attempted to consult the public about these new powers.

The only possible reason for not disclosing the information set out below, would be that the Home Office are just about to publish the extent of the Designated Area, something which they must have had in mind when the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act was rubberstamped back on April 7th.

What have they been dithering about ?

About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

Email Contact

Please feel free to email us your views about this website or news about the issues it tries to comment on:

email: blog @spy[dot]org[dot]uk

Here is our PGP public encryption key or download it via a PGP Keyserver. - FOIA request submission and publication website from

Campaign Buttons

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

NO2ID - opposition to the Home Office's Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID - opposition to the Home Office's Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond

Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Amnesty International 's campaign

Yes, Minister

Yes, Minister Series 1, Episode 1, "Open Government" First airtime BBC: 25 February 1980

"Bernard Woolley: "Well, yes, Sir...I mean, it [open government] is the Minister's policy after all."
Sir Arnold: "My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government."

FOIA Links

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Office of the Information Commissioner,
who is meant to regulate the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish Information Commissioner,
who similarly regulates the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002

Information Tribunal - deals with appeals against decisions by the Information Commissioners.

Freedom of Information pages - Department for Constitutional Affairs

Friends of the Earth FOIA Request Generator and links to contact details for Central Government Departments and their Publication Schemes

UK Government Information Asset Register - in theory, this should point you to the correct Government documents, but in practice...well see for yourself.

Access all Information is also logging some FOIA requests - prototype FOIA request submission, tracking and publication website

Blog Links

Spy Blog

UK Freedom of Information Act Blog - started by Steve Wood, now handed over to Katherine Gundersen

Your Right To Know - Heather Brooke

Informaticopia - Rod Ward

Open Secrets - a blog about freedom of information by BBC journalist Martin Rosenbaum

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

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