Rother Bother

It turns out that the strange reply I received from Rother wasn’t unique to me: numerous other people who had requested information from them received similar responses. It seems that Rother’s idiosyncratic responses about WhatDoTheyKnow.com being amateurish and demanding postal addresses from requestors has drawn lots of attention to them, helped, no doubt, by several posts about it on Martin Rosenbaum’s excellent Open Secrets blog on the BBC.

Intrigued by all this I explored Rother’s official site in a little more depth. The response I received was signed “Interim Solicitor” which might give the impression of someone who was perhaps merely providing holiday cover and working quickly through requests without proper FoI training. But the picture from the Council is slightly different. David Edwards, who is currently the Interim Solicitor, has been for numerous years the Council’s Legal Services Manager, and seems to have been involved in FoI practically since inception. In 2004 he made presentations to the Council’s monthly meeting on both Data Protection and Freedom of Information, and there was a proposal that Council policy should be that any request that is to be rejected first needs to be cleared by him.

In short, this is not a rookie out of his depth, and the refusals to provide information must be taken more seriously in light of that. As well as making a formal complaint about the response I received, I’ve made a couple of additional requests for new information arising out of my research:

I was going to request copies of the FoI and DP presentations to the Council, but I note that several other users of WhatDoTheyKnow have requested lots of other internal FoI docs, so I left that one until I see what comes back from those, so as not to double up, and only requested the DP one.

I also enquired as to whether the proposed policy of clearing all rejections through the Legal Services Manager was indeed implemented, and details of how many rejections there have been per year. I’m very curious as to whether these refusals are only being targetted at the “amateurish” WhatDoTheyKnow, or are part of a wider pattern of refusing to comply with FoI on what seem to be very spurious grounds.

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