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A Freedom of Expression foray: By Albert Moisiu Dec 2009


Albym's analysis court appeal



I grant permission to Jo Morais and/or Pamalam to publish this article on their respective Internet sites, unedited save for possible website formatting, either in whole or in part, as a complete PDF file, formatted web content, or in any other way they deem fit.
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 mail.
All original copies are retained by me.

Albert Moisiu
December 2009

So, what has the 'old fart' got to say this time?

With respect 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, "

The journey 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.". [1]

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 Internal Review.

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
[5],and some additional prompting from me, by 20 October 2009 the ICO had managed to elicit yet more promises for the delivery of the Internal Review [6], the first versions of which came to light on 23 and 30 October 2009. [7]

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
[8] 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. [9]

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 [10] 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 Office response [11] that I had fully expected to receive back in September 2008.

" then stop."

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 Telegraph.

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 think not.

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 feel.

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 supposition.

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.

Albert Moisiu
December 2009



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