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All views expressed in the article and
correspondence written by me are my own.
Included in the appendices are copies of
correspondence which was sent or received by
me by way of electronic mail and, in some
cases, additional paper copies by registered
All original copies are retained by me.
So, what has
the 'old fart' got to say this time?
to the Maddie Case the term "Freedom of
Expression" has been getting an extensive
airing in recent weeks (November/December
2009), not least, to my mind, the McCann's
seemingly distorted perspective thereof,
but, putting that to one side, I was asked a
while ago to write something on a sightly
different, though related, venture – some
might think 'adventure' – using the UK
Freedom of Information Act.
While the story as written here is fairly
short (for those who may be familiar with my
previous epistles) volume is made up in
spades with the appendices which arose
during the nearly 500 days that passed
during the venture.
I have not included all the documents that
went back and forth between the various
agencies and myself during that period,
limiting this tale to only those that still
give me reason to pause and consider their
content. The initial summary shows
'hyper-links' to attachments.
I have also removed certain of my personal
particulars, and reduced the names of the
persons in the other agencies to initials
because – even though they are all well
known in the FOI public arena (and I have
confirmed that) - I have not sought their
specific permission to disclose the
identities in public.
"How to tell a story: Begin at the
beginning, … "
began back on 11 August 2008 when I
submitted an FOI request to the UK Home
Office entitled "Freedom of Information
Request: Press reporting gag in the case of
Madeleine Beth McCann.".
Some might recall the various FOIA templates
that I posted on the 3A forum around that
date, and this was one of them. Those people
might also recall the seemingly interminable
wait for an intelligible response between
August and December as opposed to the
monthly "Please Wait until the 'Public
Interest Test' is completed."
On 28 January 2009 I received, as did many
other people, the eventual response.
On 31 January, I submitted a request for an
Over the ensuing five calendar months there
were promises to deliver the report of the
Internal Review, followed by corresponding
failures to execute those promises,
prompting me, on 2 July 2009, to submit a
formal complaint to the Information
Commissioner's Office (ICO).
Interspersed with a little more information
some additional prompting from me, by 20
October 2009 the ICO had managed to elicit
yet more promises for the delivery of the
the first versions of which came to light on
23 and 30 October 2009.
Although aghast at
what I read in those missives I withheld my
views at that time, not wishing to
jeopardise the tenuous link with the Home
Office. The following week, however, yet
again having received none of the promised
responses from them, when I received the ICO
communication of 5 November 2009
in which, while not compromising their
independence, the ICO appeared to be
unimpressed with handling of the entire
matter by the Home Office agents, my
response (7 November 2009) was unequivocal.
I admit it. I had finally come to the point
of losing my composure.
continue until you reach the end, ..."
Said reaction on my part appeared to shake
the tree, with confirmation from the ICO
that yet another date had been given to them
by the Home Office, and this time, finally,
on 27 November 2009 I received the Home
that I had fully expected to receive back in
So, why do I not stop here? Have I not
received the answer that I expected? As
regards my expectation, I was not surprised
by the final response because I have always
held the belief that any limitations in
media reporting would be due to owner/editor
edict within the media operation concerned.
The question posed to the Home Office was to
test that belief.
As to the receipt of information, the simple
answer is "Yes", but I have, in fact,
received quite a bit more information than
expected and this, when coupled with some
additional factors in hindsight, prompts
some further thought.
At the outset this was a fairly simple
question, which may or may not have had some
minor relevance in the Public Interest Test,
but certainly it was one that should have
been put to bed in a secure manner (unlike
Ocean Club Apartment 5A) so that the
'adults' in the Home Office could go off to
'wine and dine' (and maybe take in a
blue-film or two) on the more pressing
matter of the impending MPs 'Tapas Bar'
revelations later publicised via the Daily
Instead of settling this trivial matter
quickly and quietly, in the same way as the
dozen-or-so other FOI requests I had
submitted to various agencies had been
settled, it was allowed to become 'abducted'
for some reason, or in some way, and that –
he says, donning his conspiracy hat for a
moment – is perplexing in itself.
Was this 'abduction' of the original
question – like in Praia da Luz – a result
of sheer stupidity on someone's part?
Possible but unlikely, in my view.
Did the excessively flowery wording (verbose
legalistic character, if you wish) of the
original request cause certain panties to
pad or knickers to knot, perhaps? Again, I
Was it simply a lack of attention during the
period of movement of ministers (McNutty and
Jackboot Jacqui being the most
well-publicised), along with the likely
preparations being made in readiness for the
Expenses' backlash? A distinct possibility,
I feel, and something that might have
affected many other requests for information
during that same period.
Conversely, had the close-shave that had
arisen from the 'FCO diplomatic e-mail'
revelations that had gone all the way to the
Tribunal via the ICO caused all remaining
unanswered requests to be vetted multiple
times over? Another distinct possibility, I
Or, worst case (conspiracy-alert), was at
least part of the delay, not to mention the
eventual rationale provided by the Home
Office on 30 October 2009, intended to
convey that there was, indeed, some 'fire'
emitting 'smoke' with respect to the failure
of UK authorities to communicate information
to the Portuguese authorities?
If such a thing were intended, and the
'fire' was barely containable within the
ambit of the original request – that is, had
the request been worded in a slightly
different way then the existence of the
'fire' would have to have been fully
revealed – then that certainly would be food
for further thought.
So, what was
behind the 'defined' question?
As I intimated in my diatribe of 7 November
2009, just how did a supposedly highly-
intelligent and literate bunch of
media-savvy political careerists manage to
convert a question about a "Press reporting
gag" on the British media into a question
about "any restrictions that might have been
placed on the sharing of information with
the Portuguese authorities following a
formal request for Mutual Legal Assistance
(MLA) from them."
Re-reading the documents I could venture a
few ideas, but they would be little more
than mere points of semantics and
Alternatively, I could let enough time pass
to avoid being labelled 'vexatious' and pose
this question to the people concerned, but,
really, in the context of the case, I feel
the point is already moot and, anyway, I do
not think that I could wait another 480 days
for an answer.
ATTACHMENTS BELOW THEY ARE ALSO LINKED TO
NUMBERS 1 to 11 ABOVE