An employee of Whitchurch Town Council was fined nearly £2,000 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) for deliberately deleting a public record with the intent to prevent its disclosure to a citizen.
A town clerk of Whitchurch Town Council, Nicola Young, was convicted under Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for intentionally blocking records to prevent disclosure. One of Young's key responsibilities as a town clerk was to handle Freedom of Information requests for the council.
One such request came from an individual, who wanted to get a copy of the audio recording of a Council Meeting as he believed that the elements of the written minutes of the meeting were fabricated. The requester was then informed that the audio file was deleted according to council policy.
After a complaint lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), it was identified that following the FOI request, Young initially denied the availability of the audio file and then deleted the recording a few days later.
After pleading guilty to blocking records with the intention of preventing disclosure, Young was convicted by the Crewe Magistrates’ court last Wednesday. Under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Court fined her £400 and also ordered her to pay costs of £1,493 and a victim surcharge of £40.
Fabrication of public information a grave crime, says ICO
Section 77 of the FOIA states a person “is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.”
“This case is about the public’s right to know, and we will not hesitate to take action to protect people’s right to access the information they are entitled to. This case emphasises the critical importance of transparency for public authorities in the way they carry out their business,” said Mike Shaw, Group Manager in Enforcement at the ICO.
“People should have trust and confidence that they can access public information without the danger of it being doctored, fabricated or corrupted in any way,” he added.
This is not the first instance where town councils or employees have been fined for committing data security offenses. A couple of years ago, Basildon Council was fined £150,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office for disclosing sensitive personal information of a traveller family in a planning application.