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. The number of missing persons cases currently open.
2. What that number of cases was in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
3. For the cases that are currently open, I’d like to know how many relate to males, how many to females and how many to under-18s
For questions 1-3, please provide the answers in an Excel spreadsheet with headings as follows:
‘Number of missing person cases current’ ‘2018’ ‘2017’ ‘2016’ ‘2015’ ‘Current cases: male’ ‘Current cases: female’ ‘Current cases: under-18’
I’d also like to know the three longest-running, unsolved and still open missing persons cases on your files.
For each of those three cases, I’d like:
4. The person’s identity, nationality, description, age, occupation and whether homeless
5. Where they were last sighted
6. When they went missing and in what circumstances
7. Status of the investigation currently, including when police last took action in relation to it and the nature of that action
8. Copies or details of any public appeals made, if available and disclosure of the number of appeals issued in relation to the case
9. Any images released to the public linked to the person concerned, or if not released, any images that the force would be willing to disclose in the hope they can help to trace the individual
We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.
Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with both the Corporate Development and Communications Departments A of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.
I am able to disclose the located information to you as follows.
2. The number of open cases in each of the previous stated years is not held. The status of cases are updated as soon as the person is found, which may not be in the same year. We do not hold figures for those ‘open’ each year.
With regards to points 4-9.
This information will not be provided and by withholding we rely on the following exemptions. There have been no proactive appeals made regarding these 3 specific cases and therefore the following exemptions are applicable:
Section 40(2) Personal Information
Section 40 - This is an absolute exemption and therefore a Public Interest Test is not relevant. However, for clarity, I will explain my rationale for engaging this exemption.
Section 40(2) provides that information is exempt if it is the personal data of someone other than the applicant and disclosure would breach any of the data protection principles. The term ‘personal data’ means data that relates to a living individual who can be identified. This may take an obvious form of ‘personal’ such as a name but can also include information from which a person can be identified. As you are specifically asking for names and ages disclosure in this instance, would infringe the first Data Protection Principle, in that it would be both unlawful and unfair.
Public Interest Test – Section 30
Factors Favouring Disclosure - Section 30
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 missing person 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.
Factors Favouring Non-Disclosure - Section 30
Whilst such information may be released in order to serve a core policing purpose (i.e. 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. It is important that any investigation is conducted with regard to confidentiality and privacy. The public interest would not be served if a disclosure breaches those obligations placed on an authority.
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 investigations. The ability of Northumbria Police to conduct such investigations appropriately is vital. None of the details you have requested regarding the three longest-running, unsolved and still open missing persons cases have been proactively released, nor have any appeals or images been released or circulated previously for whatever reason. We would not want to undermine any ongoing investigation by releasing information into the public domain.
From the issues outlined above for any disclosure relating to these points it is therefore our opinion that the balance lies in favour of non-disclosure of the information requested.
In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, you should consider this as a refusal for these parts of your request.