Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')
As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held at the time of a request, by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.
1. How many crimes were recorded under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, involving sexual exploitation, for each of the last 3 financial years?
2. How many of the crimes identified in Question 1, involved any potential victims recorded as being Romanian nationals, in each of the last 3 financial years?
3. How many of the crimes identified in Question 2 involved online adverts from Adult Services Websites? If necessary, please do a keyword search for the terms ‘Adult Services Website’, ‘ASW’, ‘Adultworks’ and ‘Vivastreet’. Please give a figure per year for each of the last 3 financial years.
4. Of the crimes identified in Question 2, how many involved potential Romanian victims recorded as being under the age of 18? Please give a figure per year for each of the last 3 financial years. In each year, if possible please provide the age of the youngest potential victim.
Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted within Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held, in part, by Northumbria Police.
I am able to disclose the located information to you as follows with the below noted.
• All modern slavery codes have been searched for. The following have then been included within this FOI:
- 036/08 UK national arrange or facilitate the travel of another person with a view to exploitation
- 036/11 Commit offence of kidnapping or false imprisonment with attention of arranging travel with view to exploitation
1. a. 72
2. a. 1
Northumbria Police shall neither confirm nor deny that any further information regarding this part of your request is held by virtue of the following exemptions.
S23(5) Information supplied by, or concerning, certain security bodies
S30(3) Investigations and Proceedings conducted by Public Authorities
S31(3) Law Enforcement
As Section 23 is a class based absolute exemption there is no requirement for Northumbria Police to evidence the harm or consider the public interest. However, Sections 30 and 31 are both qualified exemptions and as such there is a requirement to conduct a public interest test and as Section 30 is a prejudice based exemption we have to provide evidence of the harm in disclosure. I have set these out below and will start with the harm first.
Although it is acknowledged that there are investigations into modern slavery within the guise of sexual exploitation, the impact of confirming nor denying whether information relevant to this request, irrespective of what information is or is not held, would be inappropriate as it would reveal the intricacies of police investigations into such matters.
In addition to confirm or deny whether any information is held relating to victims exploited through the involvement of Adult services websites, has the potential of undermining the flow of information (intelligence) into the Police Service and other outside agencies relating to the methodology within these types of offences. Confirmation or denial would also undermine both ongoing investigations and the Authorised Professional Practice for Information Management. This could in turn lead to police officers having to be removed from their frontline duties in order to increase manpower on an investigation.
Finally, sexual exploitation is not only a national problem but a global one. In order to ensure the police delivers effective law enforcement we liaise with various other national agencies to provide suitable support. Not only would police investigations be compromised, but any enquiries or investigations that other agencies may be undertaking would also be compromised.
Public Interest Test Considerations
Factors favouring disclosure - Section 30
Confirming or denying whether information exists relevant to this request would lead to a better informed general public by identifying that the police robustly investigate allegations made against a public authority for such serious matters. This fact alone may encourage individuals to provide intelligence in order to assist with investigations and would also promote public trust in providing transparency and demonstrating openness and accountability into whether the police are currently focusing their investigations.
The public are also entitled to know how public funds are spent, particularly in the current economic climate.
The issue of Modern Slavery and sexual exploitation is a highly emotive subject area often attracting high profile media and public interest connotations. Confirmation or denial that any information exists could provide reassurance to the general public.
Factors against disclosure - Section 30
Modern-day policing is intelligence led and the police shares information with other law enforcement agencies as part of their investigative process. To confirm or not whether specific information is held about an ongoing investigation into sexual exploitation could hinder the prevention and detection of crime as well as undermine the partnership approach to investigations and law enforcement.
Should offenders take evasive action to avoid detection, police resources may well be diverted from frontline duties and other areas of policing in order to locate and apprehend these individuals. In addition, the safety of individuals and victims would be compromised.
Factors favouring disclosure - Section 31
It is recognised that there is a general public interest in the topic of Modern Slavery overall. The public interest favours disclosure of the requested information as it will allow the public to be better informed and brought into the discussion on law enforcement matters and preventative solutions.
Factors against disclosure - Section 31
Confirming whether or not information is held in this case would suggest that the police fail to take their responsibility to protect the safety of individuals seriously. Public safety is of paramount importance and if offenders are provided with specific detail of ongoing police and other law enforcement agency investigations, undoubtedly offenders could use this to their advantage. In addition, public safety would be compromised as it may encourage offenders to carry out further crimes.
The police rely on information being supplied by the public. Irrespective of what information is or is not held, by applying a substantive exemption(s) would indicate that information into sexual exploitation via online Adult services is held and may be actively under investigation. Such action would act as a deterrent any person who might otherwise provide intelligence to the force which would further undermine public safety, with repercussions that could hinder the prevention or detection of crime.
The points above highlight the merits of confirming or denying that information pertinent to this request exists. The Police Service relies heavily on the public providing information to assist in criminal investigations and has a duty to protect and defend vulnerable individuals. The public has an expectation that any information they provide will be treated with confidence and in line with the APP Information Management Module. Anything which places that confidence at risk, no matter how generic, would undermine any trust or confidence individuals have in the Police Service.
In addition, the effective delivery of operational law enforcement takes priority and is at the forefront of the police to ensure the prevention and detection of crime is carried out and the effective apprehension or prosecution of offenders is maintained. This includes ensuring our relationship with other law enforcement agencies runs smoothly in the joint approach to multi-agency investigations.
Therefore, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test for confirming, nor denying, that information is held is not made out.
No inference can be taken from this refusal that information does or does not exist.
3 & 4. Please note that we will not be supplying any information which may or may not be held in regards to these parts of your request, for the same reasons as outlined above at point 2, with the addition of the following exemption specific to point 4:
Section 40 (5) Personal Information
As this exemption is absolute and class-based there is no requirement to outline the harm that disclosure would cause or carry out the public interest test.