Surveilling Terror Suspects - 351/20

Date Responded 03 April 2020

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:

  1. The number of hours of overtime worked in the last three reporting years (whether that is financial, calendar or whatever other system you use) by police officers in your employ.
  2. The number of hours and estimated cost of those hours spent by your officers surveilling terror suspects who have been released from prison.
  3. The number of the above hours that have been overtime hours.

In Response:

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.


1  The number of hours of overtime worked is recorded in financial years as follows:

2016/17 – 250,923

2017/18 – 241,298

2018/19 – 209,292

2&3  Northumbria Police will neither confirm nor deny any information is held at these points and by doing so rely on the following exemptions:

Section 24 (2) -  ‘National security’

Section 31 (3) - ‘Law Enforcement’

Sections 24, and 31 are prejudice based qualified exemptions and there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in confirming or not that the information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test. 

Overall Harm in Confirming or Denying Information is Held:

Revealing information regarding officer surveillance of terrorists, would release information regarding the force’s activities in the area. To confirm officers in Northumbria Police have spent time on surveillance of terror suspects released from prison, or equally to state ‘No Information Held’ would highlight tactical and operational information. It would also help criminals or those with a criminal intent to build up a picture of where police resources are deployed in the fight against terrorism which would compromise ongoing operations and investigations, some of which may be covert. Conformation or denial of this information would also reveal which areas have recently released terror suspects into the community. This could result in community unrest and public disorder making it necessary for the police to detour resources away from other operations and investigations. The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built.  The Police Service has a clear responsibility to prevent crime and arrest those responsible for crime or those that plan to commit crime. By confirming whether or not any information is held relevant to this request could directly influence the effective delivery of operational law enforcement.

The threat from terrorism cannot be ignored and it is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable. The current UK threat level from international terrorism, based on intelligence, is Severe, which means that a terrorist attack is likely, see below link: -

In order to counter criminal and terrorist behaviour it is vital that the police have the ability to work together, to obtain intelligence within current legislative frameworks to assist in the investigative process to ensure the successful arrest and prosecution of offenders who commit or plan to commit acts of terrorism. 

To achieve this goal, it is vitally important that information sharing takes place between police officers, members of the public, police forces as well as other security law enforcement bodies within the United Kingdom and internationally if appropriate. This information sharing supports counter-terrorism measures in the fight to deprive terrorist networks of the ability to commit crime.

To confirm or deny whether information is held relevant to this case would be extremely useful to those involved in criminal activities and also terrorists as it would enable them to identify whether Police technics are being used in specific areas.

In addition, any disclosure no matter how generic, which may assist a criminal, terrorist or terrorist organisation will adversely affect public safety. 

The Police Service is committed to demonstrating proportionality and accountability regarding surveillance techniques to the appropriate authorities. However, if the Police Service were to either confirm or deny that information exists, other tactics will either be compromised or significantly weakened. If the Police Service denies information is held in one request but then exempts for another, requesters can determine the exempt answer is in fact a technique used in policing. The impact could undermine national security, any on-going investigations and any future investigations, as it would enable targeted individuals/groups to become surveillance aware. This would help subjects avoid detection, and inhibit the prevention and detection of crime.

Any information identifying the focus of policing activity could be used to the advantage of terrorists or criminal organisations. Information that undermines the operational integrity of these activities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on both national security and law enforcement.

Public Interest Test

Section 24 (2) National Security

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1) (a) confirming that information is held

The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and how resources are distributed within an area of policing. To confirm whether officers have deployed in surveillance of terrorists released from prison, would also give confidence that resources are being deployed to protect the public. In the current financial climate of cuts and with the call for transparency of public spending this would enable improved public debate and give reassurance to the public.

Factors against complying with Section 1(1) (a) confirming or denying that information is held

Security measures are put in place to protect the community we serve. As evidenced within the harm to confirm where terrorists are monitored would highlight to terrorists, and individuals intent on carrying out criminal activity, vulnerabilities within forces.

Taking into account the current security climate within the United Kingdom, no information (such as the citing of an exemption which confirms terrorists are monitored within a specific jurisdiction or conversely, stating no information is held), which may aid a terrorist should be disclosed. To what extent this information may aid a terrorist is unknown, but it is clear that it will have an impact on a force’s ability to monitor terrorist activity.

Irrespective of what information is or isn’t held, the public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection and the only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with what is placed into the public domain.

The cumulative effect of terrorists gathering information from various sources would be even more impactive when linked to other information gathered from various sources about terrorism. The more information disclosed over time will give a more detailed account of the tactical infrastructure of not only a force area but also the country as a whole.

Any incident that results from such a disclosure would, by default, affect National Security.

To confirm or deny whether the Force hold information would allow inferences to be made about the nature and extent of national security related activities which may or may not take place in a given area. This could enable a terrorist group(s) to take steps to avoid detection, and as such, confirmation or denial would be damaging to National Security.

By confirming or denying any policing arrangements of this nature would render national security measures less effective. This would lead to the compromise of ongoing or future operations to protect the security or infra-structure of the UK and increase the risk of harm to the public.

Section 31 (3) Law Enforcement

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1) (a) confirming that any other information is held

Confirming that any other information exists relating to terrorists would lead to a better informed public which may encourage individuals to provide intelligence in order to reduce offences.

Factors against complying with Section 1(1) (a) neither confirm nor denying that any other information is held

Confirmation or denial that information relating to the monitoring of terrorists is held in this case would suggest Northumbria Police take their responsibility to protect information dismissively and inappropriately. 

Balance Test

Northumbria Police has a duty of care to the community at large and public safety is of paramount importance.  If an FOI disclosure revealed information to the world that would undermine the security of the national infrastructure, offenders, including terrorist organisations, could use this to their advantage which would compromise public safety and more worryingly encourage offenders to carry out further crimes.

By its very nature, information relating to whether or not terrorists are surveyed within a specific force area undoubtedly undermines the effective delivery of operational law enforcement.  Under FOI there is a requirement to comply with Section 1(1) (a) and confirm what information is held.  In some cases it is that confirmation, or not, which could disclose facts harmful to members of the public, police officers, other law enforcement agencies and their employees.

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