Sunday, 18 September 2011

How to handle a scandal - Metpro: the Barnet emails - Part One

Shy but naughty: data protection, burlesque style, here in Broken Barnet

Did you have a nice weekend? Good. Me? Not really: tedious, in fact. More jam disaster. Although it has kind of set, now, thanks for asking. Did a bit of ironing, got bored, turned pile upside down, threw bottom third away: much easier. Usual routine.

Oh: and in between trying to pretend to be the domestic goddess I am, let's face it, never going to be, I read my way through fifty word attachments, containing hundreds of emails, now disclosed in answer to a FOI request in regard to Barnet Council's handling of the MetPro scandal - remember MetPro? Hmm. Just when the London Borough of Broken Barnet hoped it was all going to die away: oh look, more fun ...

Friday's post 'MetPro and Barnet Council: the longest FOI response in the history of Broken Barnet' gave details of FOI requests made by Mr P, a Barnet resident who like Mrs Angry had been present in the public gallery at the infamous Barnet budget meeting on March 1st. This was the event at which the heavyhanded deployment of the blackshirted pseudo-military private security staff had angered many residents who had wanted to watch the meeting, but were physically obstructed from entering the half empty gallery. It later emerged that MetPro had been secretly filming residents, an admission freely made to Mr P by Kevin Sharkey, a self professed 'senior officer' of the security company, who also openly boasted of 'monitoring' the activities of myself and fellow Barnet bloggers.

Mr P was appalled by what had happened and in early April submitted two sets of Freedom of Information requests to Barnet Council in regard to different aspects of the MetPro issue. These requests should have been responded to within the statutory time limit of twenty working days. The responses were given only on the 16th September, the same date as the reply sent to the request made in early May by Mr David Howard, as published here in the last post on Saturday. There may well be other delayed responses sent out on Friday, and if so, I hope that these will also be reported to the Information Commissioner.

Even after an incredible five month refusal to comply with FOI regulations, Barnet would not fully answer Mr P's requests. An awkward question on the total number of complaints received in regard to MetPro was rejected because it was too difficult - and the officer they would have to use would be too expensive. (Really? Is Dep CEO and super model Andrew Travers, who doesn't get out of bed for less than £1,000 a day, doing a spot of overtime? Wonder what he charges to -no, stop there Mrs Angry.)

Details on the legal advice received on the MetPro issue was withheld on grounds similar to the refusal of Barnet's external auditor, Grant Thorntons,when asked by Andrew Dismore to hold a public interest inquiry into the matter: ah, no, can't do that because it would not be in the public interest. Why? Because it would undermine public confidence in a public body. Ah, of course.

And apparently it was judged by Barnet to be against the public interest to reveal the legal advice given by itself to itself, or possibly from elsewhere, we simply do not know. Why? Er, because the stronger public interest lies in keeping things secret, we are told, rather than in observing the need for 'openness and transparency'. This is Broken Barnet, after all.

Fifty attachments were sent to Mr P in response to his request for all emails to and from any member of Barnet's staff in relation to any FOI request regarding MetPro. Note that these emails are only to do with FOIs, and not any other aspect which related to what was to become an issue of hugely embarrassing proportions.

Interesting that the number sent to Mr P comes to a neat number of fifty. Very tidy, and reminiscent of wishes expressed in one of the emails to 'tying a bow' around the matter. Strangely, one or two of the more interesting emails which clearly ask for specific information appear not to have received replies, which is unfortunate.

Most significant in the way in which this information in the emails is supplied is the mind-numbingly repetitive use of redacted names, in glaring red - [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] -used throughout to protect the maidenly virtue of officers and other individuals.

But how extraordinary, ladies and gentlemen: although anonymity is given to council officers, even those who held direct responsibility for the continued use of this illegally operating company, and touching consideration given to preserving the modesty of MetPro managers, the one individual who is named in this set of emails is - no, go on, guess -me.

There, look: on attachment number 23. Not only has my identity been given to Mr P, a third party, but as FOI responses are in the public domain, it has been published to the whole world.

The reason given to Mr P for redacting the name of council officers, councillors, leaders, MetPro employees etc is:

"Subject to the two exceptions discussed below I have redacted the names of all individuals referred to in the emails. These redactions are based on the exemption in section 40(2) of the FOIA, which applies to third-party personal data when disclosure would breach the ‘data protection principles’ in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). In my view council officers and other individuals would not reasonably expect their identities to be published in these circumstances. As such doing so would breach the first data protection principle, which requires all uses of personal data by the council to be ‘fair and lawful’."

By their own admission, therefore, Barnet have yet again, only days after the previous finding on my behalf by the ICO, ignored the FOIA exemptions in my case, and breached the Data Protection Act by disclosing my personal data.

Thank you very much.

Note to Chief Executive, and the Director of Corporate Governance: stand by your desks and expect an email from Mrs Angry. Best not to lose this one.

The officer answering Mr P's response, and note that Mrs Angry does not name you, as she feels sorry for you, probably misplaced sympathy, but there you go - adds to his explanation of redactions:
"I have left in the names of senior officers, as I do not consider it would be a breach of the DPA to disclose their identities in these circumstances."

Er: no - you have NOT left in the names of senior officers, Mr You Know Who, in fact you have redacted them in almost every possible case, except in one or two cleverly sanctioned emails where as we will see, the Chief Executive gives a Pontius Pilate performance, and is therefore able to float above the MetPro mire, all shiny and clean. A marvellous piece of engineering, Mr L: hats off.

Oh, yes, Mr Jeff Lustig, Director of Corporate Governance, is named in emails, or some of them, and if it were not for Mrs Angry's dyed in the wool cynicism and mistrust, though grudging admiration of the master strategist's wily ways, she might even commend him for his honesty.

Stop there, Mrs Angry: you are clearly in need of strong coffee.

More to follow.

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