Full text of RBC letter:
Dear Mr Swaine
Freedom of Information Act - Request for Information
Thank you for your e-mails of 25th, 30th and 31st May 2007.
You have requested the following information under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000:
Copies of e-mails sent by Martin Salter or sent on his behalf by Ann Morgan to Senior Council Officers.
You subsequently clarified that this request covered e-mails sent over the past two financial years, to include Trish Haines, Anita Cacchioli, Kevin Holyer, Chris Smith, Steve Ward, David Elworthy, Bruce Tindall and Sally Swift.
I enclose herewith a schedule of e-mails sent from Martin Salter’s office. Please note that in future we will consider a general request for information of this nature vexatious. We shall require any future request for information to be of specific nature relating to specific information.
Please also note that the attached scheduled only lists e-mails that have been retained by officers. The Information Commissioner has advised all public authorities that they should only retain information for as long as they need to keep it, and should establish clear rules on retention and destruction. In this light the Council considers it good practice to delete e-mails regularly, and as a consequence some of the officers that you have listed had not retained any e-mails from Mr Salter.
If you are unhappy with this response to your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act then you may ask for an internal review under the Council’s complaints procedure. This request should be made in writing to Mr C Brooks, Head of Legal Services, at Reading Borough Council.
If you request such a review, and are not content with its outcome, you then have a right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:
Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.
Thank you for your response to my request under the Freedom of Information Act.
I take exception to you saying that you are classifying further requests from me on this matter as “vexatious” when you quite clearly have not complied with my original request. Dates, titles and subjects do not constitute “copies” of emails.
I would like to know on what grounds you would consider such a further request “vexatious” when, as you are no doubt aware, Mr. Salter has made much public show of his attempts to restrict access to MPs information under the Freedom of Information Act. The question was always “why?” when his cited reason of “personal data” disclosure was and has always been covered by the Data Protection Act. It was brought to my attention that one possible reason was that Mr. Salter was keen to have emails between himself and certain council officers kept private. I am in no position to comment on these allegations without seeing such emails, but to me it is a perfectly legitimate thing to investigate.
From the Information Commissioners web site:
“At the same time, the Commissioner emphasises that authorities should not conclude that a request is vexatious or repeated unless there are sound grounds for such a decision. An authority may well need to defend its decision.”
Which one of the following do you believe a further request from me would come under?
• clearly does not have any serious purpose or value;
• is designed to cause disruption or annoyance;
• has the effect of harassing the public authority; or
• can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable.
I am not prepared to outline the exact subject matter or department to a council employee, including yourself, as to be specific in my request would be a breach of the trust of my informant as no doubt a council witch hunt would be instigated to trace the ‘leak’ if a specific department or subject could be identified. I also know that a previous request under the Freedom of Information Act for emails from a councillor to senior officers was upheld as a valid request.
You [RBC] are now telling employees to delete all emails from RBC systems to avoid having to release them under the Act. I hope you are aware that deleting emails from a user’s exchange mailbox does not delete it from the system or any archives taken and could constitute contempt of the act. It is a relatively simple process to restore “deleted” emails from archives which I know that your IT department can do and I suspect your new Email Archiving System will mean it will become even easier. You also no doubt know that it is also a criminal offence to delete data after it has been requested.
I am not sure given your response and the note I’ve seen sent to all council employees to consider deleting emails because of the FOI Act that asking for an internal review from an organisation which is busily deleting the information I am after will mean that I will get anywhere. However, I guess I will have no choice but to go through the official process before I can complain to the Information Commissioner. I shall be taking advice before doing so.