The council which investigated why an FOI information was doctored – but didn’t tell the reporter who made the request

The front page of Monday's Liverpool Daily Post

The front page of Monday's Liverpool Daily Post

The Liverpool Daily Post on Monday devoted its front page to report on how Liverpool City Council actively doctored information which was the subject of a Freedom of Information request. It’s a story which began life in 2009.

The paper’s city editor, David Bartlett, first received a tip that it would be worth getting hold of a copy of the council’s register of hospitality, which allegedly included some juicy details about the hospitality enjoyed by senior council bosses from third party organisations.

That was in 2009. The information was collated and circulated. For some reason, it was then altered with certain items removed before sent to David as a formal response to his FOI.

This came to light when David got his hands on an internal investigation into why the register was tweaked – presumably someone inside the council must have blown the whistle on this – and it was that leak which led to Monday’s front page.

In his blog about the situation, David says he doesn’t believe ‘big ticket items’ were removed from the list. Indeed, when the council had a fresh look at the register in the light of David’s FOI request, they found some of the examples of hospitality to be inappropriate – in that they did little to benefit the city. The recipients of these were asked to pay the value of the hospitality to the mayoral charity. The internal report questioned this also.

David notes:

“Who knows why it happened, we will probably never know.

We will be referring the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office for consideration.

Although it happened on a previous watch the ICO could sanction the city council to send the message that public authorities need to be open and honest in their dealings, not just with the press but also the public.”

Liverpool City Council hardly has a fine track record when it comes to FOI. When I worked for the Liverpool Daily Post, the former city editor Larry Neild once presented the results of an FOI he’d been handed, which the council said they’d redacted parts of. What they’d actually redacted was everything bar the city council logo on seven pages. It has been pulled up by the Information Commissioner several times – including when it decided details of its contract with BT shouldn’t be released. The Information Commissioner disagreed.

What’s worrying about this case is that David only found out about an investigation prompted by his FOI via a leak. Surely, if the council launches an investigation into information released to someone under FOI, there should be a duty to tell the person who submitted the request?

As David said, the LDP has reported the city council to the Information Commissioner. Perhaps he’ll make that point.

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