Stephen Paul Rice - 126/11
Dated: 11 Mar 2011
Date of request: 12/02/2011
Date of response: 11/03/2011
Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')
Thank you for your email dated 12 February 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.
I wish to make an application under the Freedom of Information Act. My application relates to a media release issued by Northumbria Police on February 10, 2011, concerning Stephen Paul Rice. The release was as follows:
Northumbria Police is appealing for help in tracing a man who they believe can help with their enquiries into an assault which took place on Tuesday January 18 at an address in Newcastle.
He is Stephen Paul Rice, 44, who is known to have connections in the Newcastle and Durham areas. Anyone who sees him is asked to contact police immediately.
Anyone knowing his whereabouts is asked to call the police on 03456 043 043 ext 69191 or the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Calls may be made anonymously and will be treated in the strictest of confidence.
I understand that Stephen Paul Rice has a lengthy list of convictions, including one of manslaughter, after he shot a man dead in a bar in Newcastle.
My questions are as follows:
Why did the media release not make mention of his conviction for manslaughter ?
What is the situation regarding the current possible risk posed by Rice to the public ? That is to say, do Northumbria Police consider him to be a danger to the public if approached ? If so, why was this not mentioned in the media release ?
What are the details of the "assault at an address in Newcastle" ? By this, I mean:
a) Where did the assault take place ?
b) How serious was the assault (i.e. how badly-injured was the victim) ?
c) Were any weapons believed to have been used or present at the scene ?
Were any details of the January 18 assault made public to the media prior to this release ?
b) If not, why not ?
Anticipating a vague or negative response to this request, can I state in advance that I believe there is a strong public interest argument in determining why the police failed to mention this mans background in the release, state whether he was dangerous or not or give further details of the "assault" for which he is being sought.
When I have made such requests in the past, I have often received either no answers to the questions or only vague references to general policies. Can I please request not only answers to the questions but also any relevant correspondence or paperwork ?
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 Corporate Communications Department of Northumbria Police.
The release and the wording of it was issued following careful consideration of a number of issues including the wishes of the victim.
1. This was not mentioned to the media advisor before the appeal was issued.
2. Guidance was offered to any journalists who contacted the media office - "It's not believed he poses a risk to members of the public".
3b). Guidance was offered - "The victim received hospital treatment for serious cuts and bruises and is now recovering".
4a). No details of the January 18 assault were made public prior to the media release.
3a) c) and 4b). We shall not be disclosing the information you have requested in these parts of your request, and in doing so we will rely on the following exemptions:-
Section 30 (1) - Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities
Information held by a public authority is exempt information if it has been held by the authority for the purposes of:
a. Any investigation which the public authority has a duty to conduct with a view to it being ascertained;
(i) Whether a person should be charged with an offence, or
(ii) Whether a person charged with an offence is guilty of it
b. Any investigation which is conducted by the authority and in the circumstances may lead to a decision by the authority to institute criminal proceedings which the authority has the power to conduct, or
c. Any criminal proceedings which the authority has the power to conduct
2. Information held by public authority is exempt information if:
a. It was obtained or recorded by the authority for the purposes of its functions relating to:
(i) Investigations falling within subsection (1) (a) or (b)
Section 38 (1) - Health and Safety
Information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to:
a. Endanger the physical or mental health of any individual or
b. Endanger the safety of any individual
Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption and requires the application of a public interest test. Section 38 is a prejudiced based qualified exemption and therefore requires evidence of harm and a public interest test. I have set these out below.
Information should not be disclosed if the release of that information 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. The individual can be anyone, a victim of crime or offender, and the harm may be real or perceived.
Information regarding the location of the incident, the weapons (if any) used and why details of the assault were not released sooner could cause further incidents to occur. Assessment of the situation concluded that that there was a definite fear that individuals could come to real harm if the location of the incident was released into the public domain.
Public Interest Test under Section 30 and Section 38:
Factors Favouring Disclosure:
Public Awareness and Debate
Disclosure of information about issues of concern can assist individuals to make informed decisions on issues that are relevant to them. 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 offences.
When information disclosed relates directly to the efficiency and effectiveness of the force or its officers. The purpose of the Act is to make public authorities more accountable and this factor, therefore, may be applied to a wide range of scenarios from how an individual or the force fulfils their role or function, to policy decisions that have been taken in relation to investigations.
Factors Against Disclosure:
It is the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) 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 (ie, 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.
Human Rights, Morals and Ethics
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 the obligations placed on an authority under the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly the right to life, fair trial and privacy. The HRA will also be relevant to non offenders who are either bullied or assaulted because of misidentification as a result of these disclosures.
Efficient and Effective Conduct of the Service
The current or future law enforcement function of the Police Service would be undermined or compromised by release of the requested information. Disclosure would prejudice future effective investigations and would cause damage to the service and the community.
Flow of Information to the Service
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 and perform our public service function.
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. 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. At this point the views and rights of the victims outweigh what may be of public interest. Please note that it has been established that the disclosure of information particularly where section 30 is engaged, need only be for a tangible community benefit and the public interest is not defined by matters that the public would simply find interesting. Information released under FOIA, where exemptions apply, will only be done where there is a tangible community benefit which is more powerful than the harm that could be done. This does not apply in this case.
In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, you should consider this a refusal for these specific parts of your request.
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.
Data Protection and Disclosure Advisor
Direct Dial: 01661 868347