Dear Mr Hitchens,
I write in connection with your request for information relating to the following;
Can you please supply details of the allegations made against the late Bishop George Bell, which were passed to you by the Church of England on January 2018, specifically what the allegations were, and where and when the alleged crime was said to have been committed.
As your enquiries are complete and the Bishop has been dead for 60 years, I can see no legal or procedural bar to releasing this information.
Section 1 of the Freedom of information Act 2000 (FOIA) places two duties on public authorities. Unless exemptions apply, the first duty at s1(1)(a) is to confirm or deny whether the information specified within a request is held. The second duty at s1(1)(b) is to disclose information that has been confirmed as being held. Where exemptions are relied upon Section 17 of the FOIA requires that we provide the applicant with a notice which: a) states that fact, b) specifies the exemption(s) in question and c) state (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemption applies.
The information that you have requested is held by Sussex Police. I can however confirm your request has now been considered and I am not obliged to supply the information you have requested
Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires Sussex Police, when refusing to provide such information (because the information is exempt) to provide you the applicant with a notice which:
(a) states that fact,
(b) specifies the exemption in question; and
(c) states (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemption applies.
The exemptions applicable to the information refused are;
Section 30 (1)(a)(b) – Investigations and proceedings conducted by a public authority–a qualified class-based exemption that requires consideration of the following Public Interest
Factors favouring Disclosure
Disclosing information relevant to this request would lead to a better informed public improving their knowledge and understanding of the investigatory process and may encourage individuals to provide intelligence in order to assist with investigations and reduce crime, which could assist with the apprehension and prosecution of offenders. As all police investigations are publicly funded, disclosing information that is held would provide transparency with regard to the allocation of force budgets. This in turn would highlight where police resources are being targeted and the public are entitled to know how public funds are spent, particularly in the current economic climate.
Factors against Disclosure
Disclosing information that is held would prejudice how investigations are carried out in the future. This would hinder the prevention and detection of crime and affect Sussex Police law enforcement capabilities. Confirmation would also undermine the partnership approach to investigations.
Police investigations are conducted with due regard to the confidentiality and privacy of victims, witnesses and suspects. Such investigations may also involve the use of policing tactics or techniques that, if widely known, would hinder the ability of the police service to prevent and detect crime. It is further recognised that the release of information, concerning current or closed investigations may compromise any subsequent partnership working..
For these reasons the police service will, in most cases, apply exemptions to prevent the release of information concerning investigations when requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The points above highlight the merits of refusing disclosure of the information pertinent to this request under FOI Act 2000. The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve.
As part of that policing purpose, various tactical tools may be used to gather information relating to high profile investigative activity.
On balance it is my opinion that the factors against disclosure outweigh those of disclosing the information sought under this Act
In accordance with Section 17(5) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, this letter acts as a Refusal Notice.
For your interest I have shown below on demand press releases which may be of interest to you..
The following On Demand statements were available to any media enquirers from the dates shown. We did not issue any proactive media Releases.
30 January 2018; On Tuesday 30 January we received information from the Church of England concerning the late Bishop George Bell. The information will be assessed in order to establish what further enquiries need to be made. We are not currently adding more than that in our statement except to clarify that the ‘independent investigation’ referred to in the Church of England statement on 31 January, is not a police investigation and we are not part of it.
7 March 2018; On Tuesday 30 January this year we received information from the Church of England concerning the late Bishop George Bell. The information has been assessed in order to establish what further enquiries need to be made. The assessment involves some enquiries which are being carried out before the matter can be drawn to a conclusion. This is being done thoroughly and sensitively, and as speedily as possible, but we have set no specific timescale for completion.
20 March 2018; On Tuesday 30 January this year we received information from the Church of England concerning an allegation made against the late Bishop George Bell. The information was assessed and a proportionate investigation has been carried out to clarify the circumstances. This was done thoroughly and sensitively, although of course further police investigation or action is not possible as Bishop Bell died 60 years ago. There are no current safeguarding issues. The investigation was completed in March 2018. The matter is now closed as far as Sussex Police are concerned and the Church of England have been informed of this. We are not releasing any other information about our investigation.
To: Peter Hitchens
Right of Appeal
Sussex Police provides you the right to request a re-examination of your case by the Force
Information officer under its internal review procedure by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you decide to request such a review and having followed Sussex Police’s full process you are still dissatisfied, then you have the right to direct your comments to the Information Commissioner who will give it consideration. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF or via http://www.ico.gov.uk/