In Decision Notice FS50139215, issued this week, the Commissioner has ordered the Met Police to disclose particular CCTV footage showing the movements of the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks on London on 7 July 2005.
The Met had argued that the footage was exempt from disclosure under sections 30(1)(a) (information held for the purposes of an investigation) and 38(1)(a) (health and safety) of FOIA.
The Commissioner accepted that the exemption in section 30(1)(a)(i) and (ii) of FOIA was engaged. However, he rejected arguments that such disclosure would render meaningful police investigation impossible and that, pending any trial, the CCTV footage should only be disclosed to the CPS, the Courts or other bodies involved in the investigative process.
The Commissioner’s comments on the public interest in full disclosure of any material relating to the 7/7 bombings are of particular interest. He noted, for example, that whilst there had already been widespread media coverage in relation to the bombings, “full disclosure in order to avoid any suspicion of ‘spin’ or ‘cover up’ will continue to be in the public interest regardless of the volume of related information that has previously been disclosed”. On similar lines, he observed that in circumstances in which the 7/7 attacks had been the subject of conspiracy theories, the fact that “disclosure would presumably support the official account of the time line and basic facts of the attacks and reduce any perceived lack of transparency about how this account was formed, along with removing any suspicion of ‘spin’ or ‘cover up’” was a valid public interest factor in favour of disclosure.
The Commissioner rejected the Met’s claim that the exemption under section 38(1)(a) of FOIA (health and safety) was engaged at all, emphasising that the arguments advanced by the Met on this point had lacked detail in relation to the specific CCTV footage in question. He also concluded that, whilst not cited by the Met, the personal data exemption in section 40(2) of FOIA was engaged in respect of footage from which individuals other than the perpetrators of the attacks could be identified. The Met must redact this information, such as by pixellation, before the footage is disclosed.
In other Decision Notices issued this week, the Commissioner has held that:
- Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester Universities and Kings College and University College, London must disclose information relating to primate research. A complainant had sought such information from a number of universities, including information as to the numbers and species of primates referred to in returns to the Home Office, and as to current research. The Commissioner held that the exemptions relied upon by the universities were not engaged (variously, sections 38 (health and safety), 40 (personal data) and 43 (commercial interests) of FOIA).
- The Department of Health must disclose civil servants’ submissions to Ministers in relation to proposed variations to consultants’ contracts as part of its ‘modernising medical careers’ initiative. Whilst the exemption in section 35(1)(a) (policy) of FOIA was engaged, the public interest in maintaining the exemption did not outweigh that in disclosure (FS50151464).
- In contrast, the FCO was entitled to refuse to confirm or deny whether it held particular information as to identification of a voice heard in the video showing the beheading of Ken Bigley in Iraq in 2004. The FCO successfully relied upon sections 23(5) (information supplied by or relating to the security services) and 24(2) (national security) of FOIA (FS50188323).