Harassment problem leads to FOI strangeness

Today we have a strange story about a department that appears to think that it has a duty not to release information under FOI if it makes people angry.

It all starts in January 2009 the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) appointed an expert by the name of Graham Badman to conduct a review of elective home education in England. It probably goes without saying that this is an issue far from our concerns, and an issue that mySociety has no views on – what makes us interested is the process that followed.

Shortly after the publication of the report, Elaine Walton, a user of mySociety’s freedom of information website WhatDoTheyKnow.com requested copies of communications between the Department for Children, Schools and Families and Nektus Ltd. the company through which it appears Mr Badman was paid for his work.

According to email replies to Ms Walton, the DCSF located two relevant invoices which show how much money was paid, but refused to disclose them.  Strangely, though, they were not refused on grounds of commercial confidentiality, but rather on something more unusual. Here are the exemptions they cited:

  • Section 40 – Personal Information
  • Section 38 – Health and safety

Health and Safety? A little investigation reveals more.

When Ms Walton appealed against this decision, an internal review was carried out within the DSCF.  The internal review’s findings stated that Mr Badman was likely become a victim of harassment if certain personal details were made public, hence a health and safety concern, and hence no publication of these invoices. Fair enough – nobody would be in favour of revealing private, sensitive information that would endanger anyone’s life or family, especially in the presence of a known threat.  But take a look at this:

“That the Department had initially been drafting a response that included the release of invoices with only personal data redacted. But before the draft was complete it was apparent that there was a campaign of harassment and vilification against Graham Badman and other individuals/organisations that had contributed to the Report. In the light of this, at the weekly review meeting of FOI cases, it was considered that the balance of public interest might have shifted towards withholding.”

What is very curious here is the admission that the department had been thinking of releasing the invoices with personal data hidden (ie no home address, bank details etc).  But then because of a campaign of harassment, it was decided that they wouldn’t publish anything at all. So not just no personal information, but no dates, no amounts of money, nothing.

What is so unease-making about this FOI decision is that it appears to be saying that departments may conceal information on how much public money has been spent on something because releasing that information will make some angry people even angrier. Surely this can’t be right – if it were every budget would be conducted in complete secrecy. We would encourage the Information Commissioner’s Office to take a look.


  1. Surely such an argument is only sustainable if there are actual police reports of such incidents of harassment? Pretty amazing, I hope this will be challenged and closed off as an avenue of refusal.

  2. The villification of Badman, surely not. Gasp, horror. No mention of the villification of Home educators at all.
    Weak minded people these modern politicians, how would they ever cope with ‘Spitting Image’.

    The DCSF reply is just a cop out because they couldn’t reply to many FOI requests asking for PROOF of their accusations. Mine is still not properly answered 4 months later.

  3. Ronnie Somerville

    It was , the last time I looked, the right of every citizen to satirise public servants; in the tradition of Cruikshank and Hogarth. If it isn’t, Private Eye should be told.

    Mr. Badman was jocular in front of the big boys of the select committee. Has he been showing a petted lip rather than a stiff upper one to the DCSF? I rather think so. Perhaps he should be reminded of Oscar’s dictum, “There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

    Please pursue the DCSF.

  4. FOI is supposed to be applicant blind and requests can be made by any person or company in the whole world. So unless they think every person and every company in the whole world would harass this person or pass the information to someone who would if they received the information then I don’t see how they can rely on the exemption.

  5. It may not be relevant but I’m curious why Mr Badman was paid via his own company rather than direct when he was carrying out what seems to have been a personal assignment.

  6. Strangeness indeed. The health & safety front applies if there are serious concerns that an individual will be significantly harrassed or worse.

  7. Andrew Partridge is now refusing all my Fois due to me asking so many and commenting on others Fois. This information should have been included in the report in the first place.

    They can delay to answer a request made in july but I am the one being vexatious!

  8. Mr Badman being the Ex- Childrens director of Kent County Council, who have been totally honest and truthfully in their replies NOT and covered up the fact that a guardian who works in the family courts in Kent also previously worked for them.

  9. After reading the letter (linked above in the comments) I was surprised that they have made someone, spend time (on a salary) to collect all the comments of a FOI requester as well as examine all the requests they have made, then correlate this data into their reply.

    I might be tempted to make a new FOI request, something along the lines of…

    What was the cost involved in making the following reply: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/21994/response/55614/attach/2/Document.pdf to an earlier FOI request?

    Secondly, the data that was collected in the reply, has this been kept on a database, and for what purpose, who has access to this database, and how long will this personal data be retained?