On 2 June 2023 I sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Metropolitan Police, London’s police force. I asked:
“Could you tell me when the police stopped using the word “negroid” in its racial identification codes? Please can you supply me with documentation supporting this?”
To give the Met’s FOI department some context, I wrote, as part of my request:
The Post Office was using the term “negroid” in its IC codes in 2008: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/970116/response/2316334/attach/3/FOI2023%2000205%20Information%20Redacted.pdf?cookie_passthrough=1
[Subsequent to my 2nd June request we discovered the Post Office was using the term “negroid” in its investigation guidance in 2011 – as Nick Read told me in this interview – and it was still in internal circulation in 2016 – as the Post Office Inquiry discovered (see the pdf transcript at the bottom of this webpage – p102)]
In 2007 the police authority published a briefing paper which demonstrated the term had been dropped by 2007: http://policeauthority.org/metropolitan/publications/briefings/2007/0703/index.html
A Guardian article dated 14 June 1978 stated the term “negroid” was in use in Met Police IC codes at that time: https://www.theguardian.com/century/1970-1979/Story/0,6051,106880,00.html
I explained I just wanted to work out when the Met stopped using the term so I could compare it with the Post Office.
The same day, I received a generic acknowledgment from the Met to my request, giving me a reference: 01/FOI/23/030762
Every public organisation is expected to respond to an FOI request within 20 working days. The Post Office regularly struggles with this, but at least comes up with an excuse. For instance, I made one request on 12 November 2021. On 20 December 2021, I got this:
“As explained in our letter of 29 November, our view is that your request falls within the scope of the qualified exemption under section 42 FOIA. In that letter, we explained that we required an extension of time to provide a response and would aim to respond to you by 31 December 2021. While we have endeavoured to progress your request as far as possible, we consider that a longer extension is now required. We consider that a further extension of time is consistent with the FOIA Code of Practice which states that extensions to the initial 20 working days to provide a response to any request are permitted “until such time as is reasonable in the circumstances”. You will appreciate that the previous extension fell within the Christmas holiday period. In the circumstances, we consider that a further extension would be appropriate and will therefore aim to respond to you by 31 January 2022.”
The Met, however, did no such thing. It did not prevaricate, or play for time. It simply ignored my request.
On 6 July I wrote:
Unless I’ve missed it, you’ve taken more than 20 working days to make a substantial response to my FOI request below.
Please let me know why this has happened and when I can expect to get a response to my question.
Silence. On 13 July, I wrote:
“Please may I have a response to my email below.
Silence. On 17 July, I wrote:
“Please may I have an update on the status of my FOI request below and an acknowledgment that I have sent this request. My previous two emails (also below) have not even been acknowledged.
Silence. On 27 July, I wrote:
“I am a freelance journalist.
I don’t seem to have received a reply or an acknowledgment to my emails below since I initially made the FOI request referenced above on 2 June.
After a conversation with the ICO am cc-ing the generic casework email address I was helpfully given.
Please could you immediately acknowledge this email AND within the next 3 working days (ie by the end of Tuesday):
– provide me with a substantive response to my initial query
– explain why you have not replied to my last three emails
– explain why you have not replied within 20 working days of my initial request
– tell me when I can expect to get a substantive response to my original request.
If I don’t receive a satisfactory response by the end of play on Tuesday I will make a formal complaint to the ICO.
If I have missed any correspondence, please accept my apologies and send it again as I can’t find anything in my inbox or spam folders.
Silence. On 1 August, I wrote to the Information Commissioners Office, cc-ing the Met Police and stating:
“For reasons I don’t fully understand, I have not received a response to any of my emails to the met FOI office (see below), beyond the response to my initial email on 2 June assigning me a reference number.
It is of course possible that my subsequent emails are not reaching the MPS Data Office, or that their emails are not reaching me.
Notwithstanding the possibility of some kind of innocent communication error, I would like to initiate a formal complaint against the MPS based on the apparent failure of their “data office” to substantively respond to my initial FOI request and my multiple communications since.
Please advise me as to how you would like me to proceed.”
The ICO gave the Met 10 working days to respond. Silence.
Today (29 August 2023) I received an adjudication from the Information Commissioner. It was addressed to me and the “Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis”. It said:
- The Commissioner’s decision is that the public authority has breached section 10(1) of FOIA in that it failed to provide a valid response to the request within the statutory time frame of 20 working days
- The Commissioner requires the public authority to take the following step to ensure compliance with the legislation.
- The public authority must provide a substantive response to the request in accordance with its obligations under FOIA.
- The public authority must take this step within 35 calendar days of the date of this decision notice. Failure to comply may result in the Commissioner making written certification of this fact to the High Court pursuant to section 54 of FOIA and may be dealt with as a contempt of court.
The clock is ticking. And I am very happy to take this to the High Court if I can get some help from m’learned friends.
I wonder if the Met Police is sitting on information about its racial identification codes that it really, really does not want to make public. Or perhaps mine and the ICO’s emails have been inadvertently overlooked.