Sexual Grooming - 825/11
Dated: 07 Jun 2011
Date of request: 21/10/2011
Date of response: 14/11/2011
Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')(FOIA)
Thank you for your email dated 21 October 2011 in which you made a request for access to certain information which may be held by Northumbria Police.
As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.
In each of the last 3 years please state how many people were (a) charged and (b) cautioned by your force for sexual grooming (Home Office Offence code: 88A)?
Of these people how many of them used the internet in ANY way to contact/communicate with their victim?
Taking the subset of people who used the internet in some way could you please list the websites/forums that were used by these people to communicate?
NOTE: Please note that I am asking for a league table of websites/forum used by these people rather than specifically asking for the websites/forums in each individual case.
NOTE: If the time associated with answering question 2 and question 3 is so great that it will exceed the financial limit please reduce the scope of question 2 and question 3 to the first ten cases where a person was charged or cautioned, going back from the most recent.
We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.
Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Crime Department of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.
I have today decided to disclose the located information in part as follows.
As the information you have requested at this part of your request with regards to 2008 is accessible by other means I have not provided you with a copy of the information and will rely on Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. You should therefore consider this a refusal for this part of your request.
I have provided an explanation to this exemption below.
Section 21 (1) - Information accessible by other means
Information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant is exempt information.
Information at this part of your request has been disclosed to you previously, FOI 116/10 refers. If you require a copy of your previous request please let us know.
In total, in 2009, 12 people were charged with the offence of sexual grooming and 1 person was cautioned.
2010 (01/01/2010 – 31/12/2010)
In total, in 2010, 6 people were charged with the offence of sexual grooming and nobody was cautioned.
In light of your request to limit the enquiry to the most recent 10 offenders, this has been done and of the most recent 10 persons to have been charged with sexual grooming, 8 of them used the internet to communicate with their victim.
In addition to the above Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any further information in relation to this part of your request as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemption:
Section 23(5) Information Supplied by, or concerning, certain Security Bodies
Sections 23, is class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest test in this area.
Section 23 is engaged as the force is unable to confirm or deny that any information is held which originated, or relates to an exempt body, in this case the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency (CEOP). The engagement of this exemption is not an inference that further information is or is not held.
Information at this part of your request will not be disclosed and by withholding we rely on the following exemption:
Section 31 (1) (a) (b): Law Enforcement
It is assessed that this information could reveal the forces knowledge of grooming activities on the internet and specific sites that could be useful to organised crime groups and others. This may only be slightly harmful at an individual force level but given that the request has been sent to all other UK forces, the combined value of this information is much greater. The information for all forces will allow those so minded to construct an analysis of websites most likely to be investigated which could prompt people to use other sites for grooming activities. This makes detection of offences more difficult and also places children at risk if it is easier for offenders to commit these offences.
Public Interest Test
The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve and there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations to ensure investigations are conducted appropriately. It could be argued that it is in the public interest that people are made aware of the websites that sex offenders are using for grooming activities so that additional steps could be made to protect their children from those sites.
Disclosure could hinder the prevention or detection of crime as it would reveal to the criminal fraternity information which could be used to their advantage. It also provides lists of websites where this activity is taking place and those intent on committing such offences would find that information useful. Similarly, a full disclosure of all of the websites, for the timescales specified, would disclose information about ongoing investigations, this would undermine those investigations.
The public already have a wealth of knowledge about the dangers of unsupervised online activity via official government campaigns, the CEOP, and publicity by such groups as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). Also there is exposure by commercial companies who provide products to assist in this online protection. This would seem to negate somewhat the benefits of having knowledge of certain websites when the reality is that any website which allows interaction between people could possibly be used for this unlawful purpose. There is also the fact that any disclosure which makes policing the activities of online groomers more difficult, means that we are placing children at risk. This is not something the police service is prepared to do.
In addition to the above Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information in relation to your request for information relating to people charged or cautioned with committing an offence under Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act in each of the last three years, as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemptions:
Section 23(5) Information Supplied by, or concerning, certain Security Bodies
Section 30(3) Investigations
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Sections 23, is class based absolute exemptions and there is no requirement to consider the public interest test in this area.
Section 23 is engaged as the force is unable to confirm or deny that any information is held which originated, or relates to an exempt body, in this case the CEOP. The engagement of this exemption is not an inference that such information is or is not held.
Section 30 is also engaged as we are unable to confirm or deny that any other information does exist in relation to ongoing investigations.
Section 31 is engaged as confirmation or denial that additional information is held would disclose the full limit of our knowledge of websites/portals used to commit an offence. This in itself would prove useful information to person’s intent on committing these offences.
Harm in Confirming or Denying that the Information is held
Disclosures under the Freedom of Information Act are disclosures to the world, not just to the individual making the request. To confirm that any further information relating to suspects identified by internet use, potentially committing offences under Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act is held, even if that information was exempted, or to confirm no information is held, would provide intelligence to criminals about the status of police investigations and intelligence.
Public Interest Test
Section 30 and Section 31
Factors favouring Confirmation or Denial
The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve and there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations to ensure investigations are conducted appropriately. Knowledge of the full range of police information enables more accurate public debate and transparency.
Factors favouring maintaining Confirmation nor Denial
Modern-day policing is intelligence led and the Police Service share information with other law enforcement agencies as part of their intelligence gathering process. To confirm or not whether information is held would hinder the prevention and detection of crime and undermine the partnership approach to investigations and law enforcement. It would also enable criminals to ascertain areas of police activity, making it easier to commit crime and evade prosecution.
Irrespectively of whether information is or is not held, public safety and the ability to deliver effective law enforcement is of paramount importance to the Police Service. Confirmation or denial of whether information is held would undoubtedly compromise both law enforcement and even possibly the health of safety of individuals. Therefore, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming whether or not any other information is held by Northumbria Police is not made out. In other words the failure to confirm or deny whether other information exists causes more harm to our law enforcement capabilities then the public’s right to know if there is such information.
No inference can be taken from this refusal that the information you have requested does or does not exist.
The information we have supplied to you is likely to contain intellectual property rights of Northumbria Police. Your use of the information must be strictly in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) or such other applicable legislation. In particular, you must not re-use this information for any commercial purpose.
How to complain
If you are unhappy with our decision or do not consider that we have handled your request properly and we are unable to resolve this issue informally, you are entitled to make a formal complaint to us under our complaints procedure which can be found at: http://www.northumbria.police.uk/foi/disclosurelog/foicomprights.asp
If you are still unhappy after we have investigated your complaint and reported to you the outcome, you may complain directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office and request that they investigate to ascertain whether we have dealt with your request in accordance with the Act.