Informants - 906/12
Dated: 01 Nov 2012
Date of request: 18/11/2012
Date of response: 14/12/2012
Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')(FOIA)
Thank you for your email dated 18 November 2012 in which you made a request for access to certain information which may be held by Northumbria Police.
As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.
The information I would like to be provided with is set out below.
The amount of money paid to 'informants'/covert human intelligence sources in the past five years. Please can this be broken down into each year, e.g. 2011 £xxx, 2010, £xxx etc.
If possible, under the acts stipulations/exemptions, please could you break each year down with the payments to individuals. E.g. Person A £xxx, Person B £xxx, Person C £xxx etc.
We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.
I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police, however will not be disclosed as the following exemptions apply.
1. As the information you have requested at this point is accessible by other means I have not provided you with a copy of the information and will rely on Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. You should therefore consider this a refusal for this part your request.
I have provided an explanation to this exemption below.
Section 21 (1) - Information Accessible By Other Means
Information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant is exempt information.
Information regarding Informants payments is held by financial year, and this information has been asked on previous occasions and is in the public domain, and therefore freely available and accessible, via our Disclosure Log. FOI 811/12 is relevant for the period 2011/12 and FOI 319/11 for the previous 6 financial years. A link to the Disclosure Log is provided below.
2. The information requested at this point will not be disclosed and by withholding we rely on the following exemptions:
Section 40(2) - Personal Information
Section 30(2) - Investigations and Proceedings Conducted By Public Authorities
Section 38(1) - Health and Safety
Section 40(2) - This a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest in disclosure. That being said where Section 40(2) is engaged in order to make the exemption absolute there needs to be evidence that a data protection principle would be breached by disclosure. In this case it would not be fair to process information which could lead to the identification of an individual. Therefore the first principle of the Data Protection Act would be breached.
Section 30 of the Act states that information is exempt information if it has at any time been held for the purposes of any investigation. This exemption is a qualified and class based exemption and accordingly Northumbria Police does not need to carry out a harm test for this exemption, however the application of a public interest test is required and I have set this out below.
Section 38 is a qualified exemption and requires the application of a Harm and Public Interest Test which I have set out below.
Public Interest Test - Section 30
Factors Favouring Disclosure - Section 30
There is information within the public domain confirming that police use covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) to assist them with investigations and the effective delivery of law enforcement. Disclosure would enhance the public’s knowledge about how information relating to informants is used by Northumbria Police and how the intelligence received assists in day-to-day investigations and operations to assist the prevention and detection of crime; the apprehension and prosecution of offenders and the administration of justice. Disclosure would also assist in stopping any incorrect rumours or falsehoods relating to how the police store and manage how informants assist the police.
Factors Favouring Non-Disclosure - Section 30
Disclosure of the information requested could identify informant activity within a force area. Over a period of time if several disclosures were made, individuals could analyse the information and identify any sudden peaks or troughs in informant activity. This would hinder the prevention and detection of crime and also prejudice our ability to maintain confidential sources. Consequently, the force’s future law enforcement capabilities would be affected.
Harm Test - Section 38
The release of information down to such a low time level should give cause for concern. Information should not be disclosed if the release of that information may lead to the identification of an individual who then may be subject to any treatment which would endanger that person's health and safety or that of their friends, relatives and associates. The individual can be anyone, and the harm may be real or perceived.
Public Interest Test - Section 38
Factors Favouring Disclosure - Section 38
Disclosure would increase public awareness and debate of such issues. This could increase public confidence as disclosure could show that positive action is taken by the police when the safety of an individual is threatened.
Factors Favouring Non-Disclosure - Section 38
The disclosure of details requested, coupled with any information already known could lead to the identification of an individual. For example, if a criminal suspects someone has provided the force with information then they will become aware that there is intelligence available and this could therefore place that individual at risk. The slightest indication or evidence confirming their suspicions would be enough for them to justify taking unlawful action against those they ‘suspect’ have provided the police with intelligence. An informant provides the information solely on the grounds that it is completely confidential; disclosure of any kind, could adversely affect the reputation of an individual with dangerous consequences.
Release of this information may also adversely affect wider public safety if the criminal fraternity/less law abiding individuals are provided with a tactical advantage over Northumbria Police.
There is information within the public domain confirming that police use CHIS to assist them with investigations and the effective delivery of law enforcement. The Police Service is tasked with protecting the community we serve and solving crime and there is a public interest argument in ensuring we are open and transparent with regard to policing investigations and operations. There is no doubt that for the issues outlined above any disclosure relating to sensitive informant information would jeopardise those important roles.
As has been mentioned informants play a vital role in assisting the police, and is based very much on relationships built on trust and the expectation of complete confidentiality Northumbria Police would never disclose information which would compromise our tactics.
If disclosed, there could be the likelihood that the future law enforcement role of the force could be compromised and the safety of individuals and the public put at risk. It can not be justified that the public's interest would be served in releasing this specific information if either of these aspects were to be compromised in any way.
It is therefore our opinion that the balance lies in favour of non-disclosure of the information.
Additionally, Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that they hold any other information relevant to the whole of your request by virtue of the following exemptions:
Section 23(5) Information Supplied By, Or Concerning, Certain Security Bodies
Section 24(2) National Security
Section 30(3) Investigations And Proceedings Conducted By Public Authorities
Section 23 of the Act states: Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters. (5) The duty to confirm or deny does not arise if, or to the extent that, compliance with Section 1(1)(a) would involve the disclosure of any information (whether or not already recorded) which was directly or indirectly supplied to the public authority by, or relates to, any of the bodies specified in subsection (3).
This is an absolute exemption and I am therefore not required to complete a public interest test.
Section 24 National security
(1) Information which does not fall within Section 23(1) is exempt information if exemption from Section 1(1)(b) is required for the purpose of safeguarding national security.
(2) The duty to confirm or deny does not arise if, or to the extent that, exemption from Section 1(1)(a) is required for the purpose of safeguarding national security.
The police service works in partnership with other agencies in order to combat issues such as terrorism and organised crime. As such, information may sometimes be provided by bodies listed at Section 23(3). In this case, I am unable to confirm or deny whether Northumbria Police hold any other information relevant to your request and Sections 23(5) and 24(2) are cited in conjunction to protect the involvement or non-involvement of bodies listed at Section 23(3).
Section 23(5) is an absolute exemption and as such no public interest test is required. Section 24(2) is a qualified exemption and as such there is a requirement to evidence any harm confirmation or denial that any other information is held as well as consider the public interest.
Section 30(3) is a class based and qualified and there is a requirement to consider the public interest to ensure neither confirming nor denying any other information is held is appropriate.
The above quoted total payments to informants does not include any payments made to informants where funding may have been supplied by exempt bodies.
Harm For Neither Confirming Nor Denying That Any Other Information Is Held - Section 24
Disclosure of informants data could impact on the recruitment and retention of CHIS in general, due to the perception of (rather than the actual) risk of identification. In an Information Tribunal case relating to the payments made to CHIS in Croydon (EA/2010/0006), it was accepted that this argument applied as much to CHIS providing intelligence in relation to national security concerns as to CHIS engaged in countering more traditional criminal threats. In this way, the disclosure of payment information would damage national security through discouraging current national security CHIS from cooperating with the police service in other geographical areas, or preventing the recruitment of national security CHIS in the future - regardless of whether the area in question actually currently runs CHIS reporting on serious crime, terrorist or other threats.
Public Interest Test - Section 24
Factors Favouring Confirming Or Denying That Any Other Information Is Held - Section 24
Confirmation or denial that any other information exists relevant to the request would lead to a better informed public and the public are entitled to know how public funds are spent. The information simply relates to national security and disclosure would not actually harm it.
Factors Against Confirming Or Denying That Any Other Information Is Held - Section 24
Other organisations outside the police service are also widely engaged in rewarding informants in a number of ways, and therefore by confirming or denying that any other information exists relevant to the request would harm the close relationship that exists with such organisations, where trust and confidence in this specific area has been built up in the exchange of information and financial assistance during the Criminal Justice process.
To confirm or deny whether Northumbria Police hold any additional information would allow inferences to be made about the nature and extent of national security related activities which may or may not take place in a given area. This could enable terrorist groups to take steps to avoid detection, and as such, confirmation or denial would be damaging to national security.
By confirming or denying any policing arrangements of this nature would render national security measures less effective. This would lead to the compromise of ongoing or future operations to protect the security or infra-structure of the UK and increase the risk of harm to the public.
Public Interest Test - Section 30
The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve. Confirming that information exists could promote public trust in providing transparency and demonstrating openness and accountability into how the investigation took place. It could also provide reassurance to the public that the police service tasks all reports of a crime seriously and conducts investigations appropriately. To confirm could allow the public to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the Police Service.
However, by its very nature information held relating to informants is sensitive in nature. Under FOI there is a requirement to comply with Section 1(1)(a) and confirm what information is held. In some cases it is that confirmation, or not, which could disclose facts harmful to informants. In some cases there mere existence can place individuals in grave danger. The only methodology which will provide the required degree of protection to those individuals is if the force takes advantage of its ability under FOI legislation to, when appropriate, not confirm or deny that the information requested, is or is not held. The Police Service will never disclose information which could identify investigative activity and therefore undermine their investigations. To do so would hinder the prevention or detection of crime.
The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve. The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police service will not divulge whether any other information is or is not held if to do so would place the safety of an individual at risk or undermine National Security. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and investigations, providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat from criminals, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in this highly sensitive area. As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced in matters of national security, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.
These points were agreed by the Information tribunal in the case of ICO v Metropolitan Police, EA/2010/2006, where the request was for informant spend at borough level. Although the information in this case was subject to substantive exemptions, the key public interest balancing point, was highly persuasive.
‘CHIS are given strong guarantees that their identities will be protected. In some instances, a prosecution may be stopped rather then risk the identity, or in some cases even the existence, of a CHIS being revealed. We accept the evidence of DI D as to the “paranoia” of those acting, or contemplating acting, as a CHIS and accept that they would view the disclosure of the disputed information as a breach of confidence that would significantly undermine their confidence in having their identities protected.’
It is therefore our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or not that information is held, is not made out.
This should not be taken as an inference that there is or is not any further information to that which has been disclosed to you in responding to this request.
The information we have supplied to you is likely to contain intellectual property rights of Northumbria Police. Your use of the information must be strictly in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) or such other applicable legislation. In particular, you must not re-use this information for any commercial purpose.
How to complain
If you are unhappy with our decision or do not consider that we have handled your request properly and we are unable to resolve this issue informally, you are entitled to make a formal complaint to us under our complaints procedure which can be found at: http://www.northumbria.police.uk/foi/disclosurelog/foicomprights.asp
If you are still unhappy after we have investigated your complaint and reported to you the outcome, you may complain directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office and request that they investigate to ascertain whether we have dealt with your request in accordance with the Act.