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Murder Investigation - 1314/19

Date Responded 06 November 2019

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 am writing in order to request any police archive of report and investigation( including every statement) and possibly all court hearings until the final sentence that was recorded regarding to the 1989 Christmas eve murder of Penny Liang in one of Newcastle club.

In Response:

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

The information requested will not be disclosed and by withholding we rely on the following exemptions:

Section 40(2) Personal Information

Section 30 (1) Investigations

Section 38(1)(a) – Health and Safety


Section 40 (2) - Personal Information

Section 40 (2) is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest in disclosure.  That being said where Section 40(2) is engaged in order to make the exemption absolute there needs to be evidence that a data protection principle would be breached by disclosure.  In this case it would not be fair to process information which, we believe by providing all the information you have requested, could lead to the identification of an individual.  Therefore the first principle of the Data Protection Act would be breached.

Section 30(1)(a) - Investigations & Proceedings by Public Authorities

This 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.

Section 38 requires the harm and public interest to be considered prior to any disclosure being made.

These are set out below

Harm Test - Section 38

The release of the information requested would serve no policing purpose, other than curiosity, and would affect the wellbeing and mental health of family members and those involved in this tragic incident.  Information that may lead to the identification of an individual who then may be subject to any treatment which would endanger that person's health and safety or that of their friends, relatives and associates should be avoided.  The individual can be anyone, and the harm may be real or perceived.

For Disclosure:

Disclosure of information about how Northumbria Police conducts its functions could enhance the accountability of the Force and its individual officers in the performance of their respective duties.  There is a legitimate public interest in knowing that the Force investigated this case thoroughly and brought investigations to a satisfactory conclusion.  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:

It is the National Police Chiefs’ Councils (NPCC) (formerly ACPO which ceased in April 2015)) view that information relating to investigations will rarely be disclosed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  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.  The further the considerations favouring disclosure are from a tangible community benefit, the lighter the considerations will be.

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.

It is in the public interest that members of the public are not inhibited in any way from providing information to Northumbria Police.  The public need to retain confidence in the Force in order to allow us to gather information, ie statements from members of the pubic, 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 will contain sensitive information regarding this investigation including witness statements, which were 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.  This case was brought to a conclusion and there is no benefit in any of this information being made public.

Balancing Test

When considering applications under the Freedom of information Act, information should be disclosed unless the reasoned application of the exemptions and public interest considerations favours non-disclosure.  I have analysed the competing arguments and weighed up the community benefit and opportunity for debate that disclosure of this information may provide.  However, I consider that the release of information which relates to any finalised or ongoing investigations would have a huge impact on the ability of Northumbria police to conduct effective investigations in the future.  We must seek to protect our core policing function and not disclose information which could potentially undermine the whole criminal justice process. Investigations have been conducted appropriately and thoroughly and this case is now finalised and an arrest made.

I have carefully considered your request and I have decided that on balance it is in the public interest to withhold the requested information.  It is my view that provision of this information would not be beneficial to the community as a whole and it may deter members of the public from seeking police assistance or providing information in the future.  There is no public or policing benefit in the disclosure of the information requested.

We must also consider the impact disclosure would have on the family of Penny, and we would not want to add further to their distress by putting information back into the public domain regarding the death of their loved one.  We cannot justify the release of any information that would have an impact on the wellbeing of any individual/s, and we cannot see what benefit it would be to the wider public to publish the information requested.  Taking all the above points into consideration, it is therefore our opinion that the balance lies in favour of non-disclosure of the information requested and the applied exemptions are applied as appropriate. 

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, you should consider this as a refusal for your request.

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