Disclosure Details

Human Tissue - 70/12

Dated: 07 Jun 2011

Date of request: 16/01/2012

Date of response: 14/02/2012

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

Thank you for your email dated 16 January 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: 

Please provide a breakdown of all instances where police have informed people of the discovery of organs belonging to deceased relatives which have been found in hospitals.
These instances have happened when hospitals have retained human organs after a post-mortem without the permission of relatives (not including organ donation). Where organs are subsequently found in storage in hospitals, police have informed relatives of this.
Please provide an excel spreadsheet listing each instance where police have informed people of a situation like this. For each one, please state (1) the date that police contacted relatives/friends; (2) the age of the deceased person, if known. (2) the length of time the organ(s) had been retained by the hospital, if known.
I would like this information dating back as long as possible and up until the present day.
If it is not possible to provide all of the information requested, please nevertheless provide as much of it as is possible.

In response:

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

The information requested above will not be disclosed and by withholding we rely on the following exemption.

Section 22(1) - Information Intended for Future Publication

Section 22 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

Factors favouring disclosure:

Disclosure would provide updated statistics, demonstrating continued and ongoing awareness and monitoring of such activity.

Public Awareness
The disclosure of such statistics would enhance public knowledge of the subject, by providing current information that may better inform public debate.

Factors favouring non disclosure:

To respond to this request, the information would need to be located, retrieved and collated.  To gather the information, prior to the requirement to do so for the intended publication, will involve a disproportionate use of resources, particularly at this time of economic concerns.

All police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are currently undertaking an audit to establish the number of cases where tissue has been retained and the reason for their retention.

Once the audit is complete forces will know what is still held and in approved cases some families will be individually contacted to advise them of this and determine how each item will be dealt with.  This will be done on a case by case basis.  This will obviously be an emotional and sensitive process for the families concerned.  It is important that the audit is complete in its entirety to ensure forces are aware of all facts when speaking to relatives.

It is felt that it would be inappropriate to release to the world any details in advance of completing the audit and advising relatives.  The level of control around the audit and subsequent processes would be severely compromised.  Anxiety levels amongst many families are likely to be raised and they are also likely to contact forces in an endeavour to ascertain whether any of the human tissue body parts retained are their loved ones.

In many cases police forces will not be able to confirm this without further searches which will take additional time inevitably placing more anxiety and stress on the families.

Additionally other groups will need to be advised of the outcome of the audit prior to any publication, such as the coroner, hospitals or laboratories.

All of the work that has been undertaken as part of the audit would have been done so at the expense of the public purse.  In the current economic climate it would not be in the public interest to release information to the world under FOI which would cause more work and place an additional burden on police resources.

The most important thing to focus on in this instance is the families of the deceased individuals.  The European Convention on Human Rights – Article 8 – provides the right to respect for private and family life.  Everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life, their home and correspondence.  It would be unfair to release this information prior to them being spoken to by the authorities involved and would most certainly not be considered to be in the public interest.

Balance Test

It is acknowledged that both accountability and public awareness are enhanced by the disclosure of this type of information.  However, this will be achieved through the publication of the intended report.  The Freedom of Information Act legally allows members of the public to request any information held by a public authority and in order to supply requested information, resources are allocated to locate and retrieve it.

Section 21 and, in this case Section 22, exemptions were specifically laid down by parliament to benefit those authorities who proactively publish information.  To constantly produce new and up to date elements of currently published or information intended for future publication in an attempt to satisfy an additional need outside an intended schedule would render these exemptions less effective and remove the benefits of proactive publication.

There needs to be a real and valid reason which identifies a tangible benefit to the public from disclosure of information.  In this case a decision has been made to disclose information when fully collated and accurate.  The additional cost to organisations to deal with the request at this time would not be in the public interest.

It is for this reason that the public interest favours maintaining this schedule of publication.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 you should consider this to be a refusal notice under section 17 of the Act for your 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.


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