We’ve lodged a formal complaint with the Government Office of the South East (GOSE) for breach of privacy over its proven habit of leaking our Freedom of Information requests to Imperial College. This is just one instance of many in which we have discovered that everyday requests to local authorities and, on this occasion, a government department are being routinely copied to Imperial, which is effectively a potential private developer with no right to receive them.
To our certain knowledge, Imperial’s senior managers have received copies of both FoI requests and private e-mails from save-wye, passed on instantly by some of the key players in this saga. The most egregious instance until now was Kent County Council’s craven offering of our FoI request to it last February, which resulted in Imperial demanding the witholding of key documents on Wye which KCC had been ready to release.
But the leak of a report by the Bell Pottinger firm of lobbyists, working on behalf of Imperial, which we ran here on Friday proves once and for all that private FoI requests to public bodies are being shared around with Imperial as a matter of course.
In a report to Imperial, Bell Pottinger, which was being paid £10,000 a month by the college for its services at the time, reported a meeting with unnamed GOSE officials and went on to crow that they ‘were sceptical of the impact of negative coverage in the local press and of the effectiveness of the Save Wye Group. GOSE had received a Freedom of Information request from the Save Wye group but had not been concerned by it as they genuinely had no information to provide’.
In accordance with the Data Protection Act, we have a legal duty to protect any information we collect from you. We will only use your information for the purpose as described and we do not pass on your details to any other government department or third party unless you have given us permission to do so.
Had GOSE been intent on delivering up to us material which somehow originated from Imperial we might — just — have been persuaded that they needed to talk to the Brooks Wilson army, though only with our prior permission. But instead they told us nothing then went on to boast of the fact to the very developers who may one day seek their backing for the Wye Project. This seems to us entirely improper and we have laid a formal complaint about this action and demanded a full explanation of what was revealed, when, by whom and to whom. We will let you know what transpires.
In the meantime we should note that Kent County Council is also under fire for breach of the Freedom of Information Act, this time from its own members. The county’s Lib Dems have gone public with a series of instances in which the council has breached the act by failing to provide key documents, including cabinet items, in time for opposition members to scrutinise them. We’d like to say we’re surprised but frankly we’re not. Mind you, we do wonder when Kent’s Lib Dems will find their voices on Wye Park, a subject they have largely ignored since the story broke.