Spice Chemical Elements - 737/21

Date Responded 14 June 2021

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.

You asked:

I wish to find out details of the chemical elements within so-called 'Spice' that has been linked to three deaths in Newcastle.

Please see the BBC report via the link below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-56977150

In Response:

This information will not be disclosed and by withholding we rely on the following exemption:

S30(1)(a) – Investigations

Section 30(1) states that information is exempt information if it has at any time been held for the purposes of any investigation. This exemption is a qualified and class based exemption and accordingly Northumbria Police does not need to carry out a harm test for this exemption. As section 30 is a qualified exemption the application of a public interest test is required and I have set this out below.

Public Interest Test

For Disclosure:
Disclosure would adhere to the basic principle of being open and transparent and would allow for a more accurate public debate. There is a legitimate public interest in knowing that the Force investigates cases thoroughly and brings investigations to satisfactory conclusions. The community at large may benefit from disclosure as this may encourage accurate and informed public debate. It would also correct rumour and speculation and provide confidence in the Force's ability to investigate any alleged offences.

Against Disclosure:
S30(1) of the Act applies if the information requested has been held by a public authority at any time for the purposes of any investigation with a view to it being ascertained whether a person should be charged with an offence, or whether a person charged with an offence is guilty of it. Whilst such information may be released in order to serve a core policing purpose (ie, to protect life and property and/or assist in prevention and detection of crime and/or in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders), it will only be disclosed if there are strong public interest considerations favouring disclosure. Northumbria Police has a duty to ensure all investigations are dealt with fairly and equally and that those investigations are not compromised by the disclosure of any information that could prejudice those proceedings.

Balancing Test

The Police Service is tasked with enforcing the law and protecting the community we serve and there is a public interest argument in ensuring we are open and transparent with regard to policing investigations. The ability of Northumbria Police to conduct such enquiries is crucial to the principles of prevention and detection of crime. From the issues outline above any disclosure relating to any ongoing investigation could compromise those investigations. At present, with the investigation ongoing and yet to be finalised in Court, the argument in favour of withholding the information is apparent It is therefore our opinion that the balance lies in favour of non-disclosure of the information at this time.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, you should consider this as a refusal for your request.
In addition to the above – if Section 30 had not been wholly applicable other exemptions would have been applied to withhold. If the question was again asked in the future (post prosecution), s31(1) Law Enforcement would be applied to withhold as it would be counterintuitive to place information into the public domain regarding the chemical makeup of a clearly harmful and very potent illegal substance.

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