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Investigation - tissue samples - 17/18

Date Responded 16 January 2018

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:

Can I request the following information. 

The outcome of two complaints made by families after tissue samples from their relatives were found at South Tyneside District Hospital following an audit in 2015. 

Can you send me a copy of any apologies or correspondence sent by the force to the families following the investigation. 

In Response:

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention. 

I can confirm that the information you have requested is held in part by Northumbria Police.  

We can confirm that we investigated two complaints and a letter supplying an update and the outcome was sent out to the two families concerned.  

However, we shall not provide any copies of such correspondence and we will rely on the following exemptions. 

S30(1) Investigations and Proceedings conducted by Public Authorities

S38(1) Health & Safety

S40(5) Personal Information 

Section 40. This a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest in disclosure.  

Sections 30 and 38 are class based absolute exemptions and consideration of the public interest must be given as to whether neither confirming nor denying the information exists is the appropriate response. 

Section 30 

Factors favouring disclosure

There is a strong public interest in knowing how the police service investigates such matters.  This would ensure the public that appropriate steps would be taken to ensure that the public is confident in the police service ability to achieve this.  Furthermore, if it is felt that the police is not appropriately taking steps to protect the public, the disclosure of this information would enable an informed discussion on the matter. 

Factors favouring non-disclosure

The disclosure of the correspondence is directly related to a very sensitive subject matter.  Whilst such information may be released in order to serve a core policing purpose, 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 public need to retain confidence in the Force in order to allow us to gather information and perform our public service function.  This would not be so if the information you are seeking was released into the public domain.  The information you are seeking contains sensitive information which was provided on the understanding of privacy.  We would not disclose information that would deter individuals in the future from assisting the police with their investigations. 

Section 38 

Factors favouring disclosure

Disclosure would increase public awareness and debate of such issues.  This could increase public confidence as disclosure could show that positive action was taken by the police and justice administered. 

Factors favouring non-disclosure

To release the information requested would bring unnecessary distress to family members and friends  and may have an adverse impact on their mental health.  It would not be appropriate to add further to their distress by putting the information you have requested into the public domain.  This would undoubtedly have an impact on their wellbeing and would cause unwarranted distress and mental anguish.  Additionally as such disclosure under the Act is as disclosure to the world, there is a danger that this information could affect any number of individuals. 

Balancing Test

Members of the public play a vital role in assisting the police and is based very much on relationships built on trust and the expectation of complete confidentiality and Northumbria Police would never disclose information which would compromise those individuals. If disclosed, there could be the likelihood that the future investigations could be compromised and the safety of individuals and the public put at risk.  It cannot be justified that the public's interest would be served in releasing this specific information if either of these aspects were to be compromised in any way. 

Although there is a public interest in knowing how the police investigated this matter, to disclose this information would undermine that process. The sensitivity around these cases however, cannot be underestimated and should be observed at all times.  The police service has a duty to protect and the disclosure of this information would certainly have an effect on the police service’s ability to do so.   

The reasoning set out above should not be ignored and the impact it would have on those individuals should also not be ignored.  Family and friends of the deceased have experienced enough trauma and are no doubt trying to get on with their lives.  To have this brought back into the public domain for no policing purpose should be avoided.  I can therefore see no reason why this information should be considered for release into the public domain.  There is no doubt that for the issues outlined above any disclosure relating to this case should not be made.  

It is therefore our opinion that the balance lies in favour of non-disclosure of the information and it is therefore felt that the decision to exempt the information outweighs the public interest. 

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