A great FOI story here from the Blackpool Gazette, which asked Lancashire Police for details of any prisoners who had absconded from their local jail.
It was more than just a speculative fishing trip – not that there’s anything wrong with those by the way – by the Gazette, as a quick search of Google News shows.
Highlights from the FOI included the fact 12 men had successfully escaped from the prison, and that one had managed to evade a return capture for 17 years.
Offences those who had escaped had committed included assault, firearms offences, drug dealing dealing and robbery. So serious then.
With this interest from the Blackpool Gazette, how did Lancashire Police ensure it made the most of the chance to galvanise public support behind getting these men back behind bars?
Er, well, it didn’t.
Lancashire Police today refused to comment further on the decision to withold the information, beyond the reason given in the initial response to The Gazette’s Freedom of Information (FOI) request. In it, the force said: “Although these individuals are unlawfully at large and in some cases personal details will have been released into the public domain, due to the time lapsed, especially for the older records, we feel disclosure would be unfair to these individuals.”
Reassuring for those on the run, less reassuring for the rest of us. Not only does Lancashire Police not feel the need to name those on the run, it didn’t feel the need to justify its decision when asked by the local paper either.
The Gazette also probed the use of media appeals to help catch those who had escaped – and it turns out it’s far from guaranteed the force would release details at the time of the escape either.
In its FOI response, Lancashire Police said: “Under the current management of absconded individuals, there will always be an appeal as a matter of course unless the offender is arrested before we get the opportunity to do so.
“It is important to note however that this will not have always been the procedure and therefore in the case of those who have been missing for several years a press appeal may not have been conducted.”
A force spokesman today added: “The police and other agencies follow numerous lines of enquiry to try and trace persons who abscond from lawful custody to return them to prison.
“A public appeal can be a valuable tool and is always an option open to the police but it has to be considered in terms of being relevant, proportionate and necessary by investigating officers.
“When a public appeal is used we are always grateful to both the media and the general public for their support.”
What’s lacking here, of course, is any sense that Lancashire Police feels a duty to keep the public informed as a matter of course when prisoners go missing, or a sense of duty to keep the public informed at all.
It seems that, as far as this police force is concerned, the public has a right to know only when a) it helps the police do their job or b) it isn’t unfair on prisoners who have escaped.
Which will no doubt do wonders for the confidence many have for their local constabulary…