Police chiefs get FOI spirit

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Time to check down the back of the sofa for the police ICT strategy. First the Home Office said it didn't have the plans. That was after the home secretary announced them. Now police chiefs can't find them either - and after they said they had them.

Lord Wasserman, the strategy's architect, must have been on some other planet when he concocted it. And the home secretary must have been making it up as she went along when she announced the plans to the summer conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers in July.

Police chiefs meanwhile appear clueless. ACPO had a look for Wasserman's strategy under the Freedom of Information Act, even though the association is still waiting officially to be brought under FOI powers. It would do this "in the spirit of the legislation", it told Computer Weekly.

It really got into the spirit of the Act. It fobbed us off.

Computer Weekly asked for a copy of the letter by which Lord Wasserman's proposals where communicated to ACPO. Their publication is nine months overdue but that hasn't stopped Wasserman discussing them at industry conferences and home secretary Theresa May making policy announcements from them.

Ailsa Beaton, Metropolitan Police IT director, told police chiefs at an ACPO Cabinet meeting in May that she would put a letter from Wasserman about it on the ACPO intranet.

"Miss Beaton advised Members that Lord Gordon Wasserman's letter regarding the future of
police IT had been published on the ACPO intranet," said the meeting minutes.

In July ACPO said, after consulting officials, that it would not release the document. Now it says it is changing the official record because the letter doesn't exist at all.

"The minutes of the ACPO Cabinet are incorrect and as such ACPO are not in receipt of any such letter. We are in the process of having the minutes changed to reflect this," ACPO said in answer to Computer Weekly's request for the document under FOI.

But there was a letter about Wasserman's ICT strategy.

Speaking last month, ACPO press office said the letter to which Beaton referred did exist, it just wasn't written by Wasserman. It was written about Wasserman, or his ICT strategy.

Jim Barker McCardle, Essex police chief and former senior responsible owner for the Police National Database, wrote the letter. He wrote the letter on behalf of Wasserman, said an NPIA spokeswoman.

McCardle happens to be one of two people on the NPIA board with responsibility for the future of police ICT, the brief being led by Wasserman. The ACPO lead on the same brief is Beaton herself. Beaton, recently outed in Private Eye as a former partner of PA Consulting, is being appointed with Wasserman to the management board of the NPIA once it's privatized.

Both the Home Office and ACPO have refused now to release Wasserman's advice, both claiming in one way or another it didn't exist.

The government meanwhile proceeds with Wasserman's dubious plan to privatize police ICT, unhindered by scrutiny.

That is the spirit of FOI: follow the letter of the law pedantically into any convenient cul-de-sac one can find to justify refusing the release of public information.

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