Heather Brooke on FoI: 'Everything is stacked against getting to the facts legally'

Freelance journalist Heather Brooke has published a book chronicling her Freedom of Information Act battles, which most famously include her legal challenge which prompted MPs to publish details of their expenses.

The legal challenge brought by Brooke, Ben Leapman and Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas prompted MPs to publish the redacted copies of their expenses. But much of the more embarrassing details, such as the practice of ‘flipping’ second and first homes to maximise income, was only revealed thanks to the Daily Telegraph’s purchase of a copyof the full unredacted expenses claim documents.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday Brooke says: “The Telegraph did a phenomenal job presenting the data, and I don’t begrudge them anything, even if they did take away my scoop…”

She adds: “Only when all the major revelations had been published did the Commons finally let the public see the data but then they did it in such a cack-handed way, blacking out all the scandalous claims, that expenses became a story all over again.

“Parliamentarians certainly know how to do bad public relations. Too many excuses are made to keep information hidden and too often these excuses are accepted as legitimate solely because they come from the mouths of powerful people.

“Politicians often claim secrecy is necessary for good governance or national security.

“Often they have confused their own interests with what is in the public interest. Everything about the law is stacked against those seeking to get facts legitimately.

“This is absurd. It simply cannot be made so difficult to expose corruption. The fact is I did not actually get the information I originally sought through the law, and that’s tragic because it shows that, in the UK, legal means do not work.

“It is the people who give public servants their power and so it must be the people to whom they are accountable, directly and forthrightly – with no middlemen.”

The Silent State is published by William Heinneman on 1 April.

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