Disclosure Details

Evelyn Foster Case - 465/12

Dated: 07 Jun 2011

Date of request:   30/05/2012

Date of response:   29/06/2012

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')(FOIA)

Thank you for your email dated 30 May 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.

You asked: 

Copies of all the files relating to the Evelyn Foster Case.

"I am enquiring whether any police files survive in the case of Evelyn Foster, who  died as a result of a blaze in her taxi cab, on the moors south of Otterburn in  January 1931. 
 
Evelyn Foster claimed that she had been attacked  and set alight by a male passenger, but there was no suspect, and  relatively little evidence to support Evelyn's story.   Evelyn was  unmarried and had no children. Her immediate family are now deceased (two  sisters, one brother) there were no children involved in the case, even as  incidental witnesses, and given the timescale, it is unlikely in the extreme  that any adult witnesses are still living. There is of course no question of  anyone being brought to trial and thus no potential compromise of any future  investigation. There was an allegation by Evelyn of sexual assault, but this was  not supported by the post mortem (a full post mortem report appears in the  Coroner's Inquest file, which is now open to public view under the 75 year rule,  and which I have read in full.)
 
Under the circumstances, if Northumbria police have  retained any papers relating to the case, there does not appear to be any  compelling reason why they could not be made available to a serious  researcher.
 
I am a professional author with an interest in  crime - I write both novels and also non-fiction, into which category this  project would fall. My non-fiction is meticulously researched, with the subject  approached seriously, the text supported by full notes and references, and  focussing not only on the unsolved cases (my particular period of interest is  the first half of the twentieth century) but on putting them into their  socio-historical context. My books to date have been well received and I  understand that one of them is now quoted in a university course on the history  of crime and policing. I am currently finishing a book on the Hubert  Chevis murder scheduled for publication in 2013, for which I have received  terrific support from Surrey police, who allowed me full access to the files  they still hold on the case (also 1931). I am researching the Evelyn Foster  case for my next non-fiction book following on from  that."

In response:

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.

Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Crime Department of Northumbria Police.  I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police, however will not be disclosed and by withholding we rely on the following exemption.

Section 30(1) Investigations and Proceeding Conducted by Public Authorities

This section has no associated Explanatory Notes
(1) Information held by a public authority is exempt information if it has at any time been held by the authority for the purposes of -
(a) any investigation which the public authority has a duty to conduct with a view to it being ascertained -
(i) whether a person should be charged with an offence, or
(ii) whether a person charged with an offence is guilty of it,
(b) any investigation which is conducted by the authority and in the circumstances may lead to a decision by the authority to institute criminal proceedings which the authority has power to conduct, or
(c) any criminal proceedings which the authority has power to conduct. is a class based qualified exemption which means that the public interest needs to be considered and articulated to the applicant.  I have set this out below.

Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption which means that the public interest needs to be considered and articulated to the applicant.  I have set this out below.

Public Interest Considerations

Factors Favouring Disclosure:

Disclosure of information about how Northumbria Police conducts its functions could enhance the accountability of the Force and its individual officers in the performance of their respective duties.  Disclosure would enhance the public’s knowledge about how information relating to the case was used by Northumbria Police and how the intelligence received assisted in the open investigation.

This was a high profile case and has been the subject of historical articles.  Disclosure would serve to stop incorrect rumour and or falsehoods relating to the case.

Factors Favouring Non-disclosure:

It is the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) view that information relating to investigations will rarely be disclosed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  Whilst such information may be released in order to serve a core policing purpose (ie, to protect life and property and/or assist in prevention and detection of crime and/or in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders), it will only be disclosed if there are strong public interest considerations favouring disclosure.  The further the considerations favouring disclosure are from a tangible community benefit, the lighter the considerations will be.  Such disclosure could undermine any ongoing and future investigations and potentially cause damage to the criminal justice process.

This case remains unsolved and it has been confirmed that it is classed as open by the Force.  Disclosure of the information requested could identify intelligence required for the investigation of the crime within the Northumbria Police force area.  This would hinder the potential detection of the crime and consequently, the force’s law enforcement capabilities would be affected.

Policing is intelligence led, where members of the public provide information to the police, a degree of confidence is expected.  It would not be appropriate to release information into the public domain that relates to an open investigation.  Intelligence has been provided to the Force in recent years and the case was re-visited at that time.  Disclosure of open crime files such as this could effectively dissuade members of the public from providing information to the force if they believed that such information is likely to be released into the public domain.  It is in the public interest that members of the public are not inhibited in any way from providing information to Northumbria Police.  The public need to retain confidence in the Force in order to allow us to gather information and perform our public service function.

Balance Test

The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve and there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations to ensure investigations are conducted appropriately.

When considering applications under the Freedom of information Act, information should be disclosed unless the reasoned application of the exemptions and public interest considerations favours non-disclosure.  I have analysed the competing arguments and weighed up the community benefit and opportunity for debate that disclosure of this information may provide.

We must seek to protect our core policing function and not disclose information which could potentially undermine the criminal justice process.  Disclosure could actually adversely affect an investigation that remains open.  As has been confirmed, this case remains open and has been reconsidered in recent years following receipt of further information from a member of the public.  Further input from the public must not be discouraged and release of information into the public domain on this matter would have an adverse effect on such sources of information.

Any response that has the potential to undermine open investigations would obviously not be in the best interest of the public.

Please note that what interests the public, is not necessarily in the public interest.

This case file has been subject to a previous Freedom of Information request and I have carefully considered this request and I have decided that on balance it is in the public interest to continue to withhold the requested information.  It is my view that provision of this information would not be beneficial to the community as a whole and could actually impede what is an open investigation.

You should consider this to be a refusal notice under Section 17 of the Act for your request.

When responding to your request, guidance from the Information Commissioner on Section 30 of the Act has been given full consideration. I have attached a link to the guidance for your information.

http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/guidance_index/freedom_of_information_and_environmental_information.aspx#advice

You may be interested to know that Northumbria Police routinely publish information that has been disclosed by Northumbria Police in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 via the Disclosure Log.  The aim of the Disclosure Log is to promote openness and transparency by voluntarily placing information into the public arena.

Whilst it is not possible to publish all responses we will endeavour to publish those where we feel that the information disclosed is in the public interest.  The Disclosure Log will be updated once responses have been sent to the requester.  I have provided the relevant link below:-

http://www.northumbria.police.uk/foi/disclosurelog/index.asp

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.

Downloads

FOI Complaint Rights Procedure_tcm4-28029