Date Responded 29 March 2022

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. Has Northumbria Police interacted or engaged with any faith communities, organisations or denominations in relation to preaching and teaching in situations where the subject matter may potentially engage the criminal law?
  2. If such engagement or interaction has happened, what was the outcome?
  3. If no such engagement or interaction has taken place, is there any intention on the part of Northumbria Police to progress such matters?
  4. Does the Northumbria Police have specific policy or recommended best practice in dealing with issues where religion or faith may be perceived to intersect with the criminal law?
  5. What is the threshold used by operational and investigating officers in determining whether or not a verbal exchange ought to be classified as a hate crime rather than the exercise of free speech?
  6. What training do officers and staff receive in navigating the territory covered by human rights, religion and criminal justice?

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.

 

1-3. We can neither confirm nor deny that information at these points is held and by doing so rely on the following exemption.

 

Section 31 (3) – Law Enforcement

 

Section 31 is a prejudice based qualified exemption and there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in confirming or nor that the information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.  I have set these out below. 

 

Evidence of Harm in Confirming or Denying that Information is held - S31

 

A core function of policing is to prevent crime and protect the public.  A great deal of the delivery of this function is at individual Force level where local needs are many and varied, and often rely on partnership working and support to communities and local organisations.

 

The impact of confirming or denying whether Northumbria Police has taken action, or engaged with any faith communities, organisations or denominations over criminality (potential or otherwise) risks undermining the flow of information (intelligence) received from members of the public into the Police Service about matters which require police involvement.

 

Although the questions submitted for this request appear fairly generic, confirmation or denial that any information is held would undermine the confidentiality expected by a person who reports to the police any concerns about the promotion of extreme religious views.  Likewise, confirmation or denial that any information is held risks damaging the relationship Northumbria Police has with those local faith communities and religious organisations which may only serve to undermine partnership working developed to build safer communities and benefit society.

 

Furthermore, the College of Policing APP for Information Management Module is a national standard adhered to by all police forces across England and Wales.  Police information refers to all information obtained, recorded or processed for a policing purpose and includes information which is processed (known as data, including personal data) and information which has been subject to a process of evaluation, known as intelligence.

 

Public Interest Test

 

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) – confirming other information is held - S31

Openness and transparency with regard to police engagement with local faith communities, and religious organisations provides a better awareness to the community at large which could result in further information ‘intelligence’ being submitted to Northumbria Police.

 

Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) – neither confirming nor denying that information is held - S31

In this case a confirmation or denial that information is held may infer that Northumbria Police take their responsibility to deliver effective law enforcement flippantly, without due regard towards members of the public who have reported alleged criminality where police intervention may, or may not, have occurred.  Such an action risks undermining confidence overall, thus hindering the prevention and detection of crime and the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

 

Additionally Northumbria Police will neither confirm nor deny any further information is held an by doing so we rely on the following exemptions:

Section 31 (3) - Law Enforcement

Section 30 (3) - Investigations

Section 23(5) - Information supplied by, or concerning, certain security bodies

Section 24 (2) - National Security

 

Section 23 is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest test in this area.  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 nor that the information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.  Section 30(3) is a class based and qualified exemption and there is a requirement to consider the public interest to ensure neither confirming nor denying any other information is held, is appropriate.  I have set these out below.

 

Evidence of Harm in Confirming or Denying that Information is held – S24 and S31

 

There is a recognised view that extremist preachers and groups intend to spread extremist views which can lead people into terrorism, while at the same time being careful not to contravene existing laws on incitement to violence or glorifying terrorism.

 

Some organisations and religious institutions may be targeted and infiltrated by extremist groups or individuals.  When they are, it can be hard for those institutions to take direct action to remove extremists from their midst.

 

The international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable.  The UK faces serious and sustained threat from violent extremists and this threat is greater in scale and ambition than any of the terrorist threats in the past.  Since 2006, the UK Government has published the threat level, based upon current intelligence.  The current security level for England and Wales is SUBSTANTIAL; please see information available via the following link: https://www.mi5.gov.uk/threat-levels.

 

The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police will not divulge whether information is or is not held if to do so would place the safety of an individual at risk or undermine national security.  Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing and providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by terrorism, or disruption due to extremism, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in the highly sensitive areas of which they work.

 

Modern-day policing is intelligence led, and intelligence changes on a day-by-day basis.

 

Confirming or denying whether any other information is held relevant to the request would show where policing interest has or has not occurred in any specific area which would enable those engaged in criminal activity to identify the focus of policing targets.  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

 

Factors favouring confirmation or denial - S24

Confirmation or denial that any other information exists relevant to the request would lead to a better informed public.  The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent especially with regards to safeguarding national security.

 

Factors against confirmation or denial - S24

Other organisations outside the Police Service may, or may not, have an active interest in the subject matter of the question above.  By confirming or denying that any other information exists relevant to the request would harm the close relationship that exists between Northumbria Police and other organisations.  To confirm or deny whether the force hold any other information relevant to the request 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 would enable terrorists or organised criminal groups to take steps to counter intelligence, 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 infrastructure of the UK and increase the risk of harm to the public.

 

Factors favouring confirmation or denial - S30

There is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and providing assurance that Northumbria Police is appropriately and effectively dealing with crime.  This is particularly pertinent in high profile situations where there is a high degree of media speculation.  Confirming or denying whether any information is held would allow the public to make informed decisions about these matters.

 

Factors against confirmation or denial - S30

Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and providing assurance that Northumbria Police is appropriately and effectively dealing with crime, there is a strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of police investigations and operations and in maintaining confidence in the Police Service.  Confirmation or denial that any other information is held relevant to the request would undermine any investigative process and compromise the integrity of any operations.

 

Factors favouring confirmation or denial - S31

By confirming or denying whether any other information is held in respect this request would allow the public to see where public funds are being spent.  Better public awareness may reduce crime or lead to more information from the public as they would be more observant in reporting suspicious activity.

 

Factors against confirmation or denial - S31

By confirming or denying whether information is held in respect this request law enforcement tactics would be compromised which would hinder the prevention and detection of crime.  This would result in more risk to the public and consequently require the use of more police resources.

 

Balance Test

 

There may be occasions when complying with the duty to confirm or deny under section 1(1)(a) would in itself disclose sensitive or potentially damaging information that falls under an exemption.  In these circumstances, the Act allows a public authority to respond by refusing to confirm or deny whether it holds the requested information.

 

The decision to issue a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ response is not affected by whether we do or do not hold the information but relates to the consequences of confirming or denying the information is held.

 

4. No information held.  There is no specific policy or force guidance.

 

5. As the information you have requested at this point is accessible by other means I have not provided you with a copy of the information and will rely on Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  You should therefore consider this a refusal for your request.

 

I have provided an explanation to this exemption below.

 

Section 21 (1) - Information accessible by other means

 

Information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant is exempt information.

 

In order to assist we have provided the relevant link - Court of Appeal hate crime guidance ruling | College of Policing.

 

6. A number of training packages have been designed and delivered to officers, staff and volunteers over the last 18 months on Hate Crime, Unconscious Bias and Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (which has included content on religion).  These packages are also delivered as part of the Policing Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF) to all new student officers.

 

As part of Investigative Skills (Crime Training), we cover Human Rights within our courses as well as the various types of Bias’s and how they impact on Investigations.  We also look at areas of inclusion when talking about safeguarding of Witness/ Victims and Suspects and the referral agencies available if required.

 

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) has also been delivered on the criminal justice aspects of investigations and continues to be delivered throughout the Force.

 

If you decide to write an article / use the enclosed data we would ask you to take into consideration the factors highlighted in this document so as to not mislead members of the public or official bodies, or misrepresent the relevance of the whole or any part of this disclosed material.

 

Due to the different methods of recording information across 43 forces, a specific response from one constabulary should not be seen as an indication of what information could be supplied (within cost) by another.  Systems used for recording these figures are not generic, nor are the procedures used locally in capturing the data.  For this reason responses between forces may differ, and should not be used for comparative purposes.

 

The information we have supplied to you is likely to contain intellectual property rights of Northumbria Police . Your use of the information must be strictly in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) or such other applicable legislation.  In particular, you must not re-use this information for any commercial purpose.

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