Metropolitan Police: 'Vexatious' rejection of Press Gazette FoI was prompted by ACPO guidance

The Metropolitan Police has revealed that its decision to reject a "vexatious" Press Gazette Freedom of Information request was prompted by guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The Met has been widely condemned for its FoI response, rejecting questions about its use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to spy on journalists.

In its reasoning, the Met said that because Press Gazette has asked six similar FoIs in six months, it is being "vexatious", "annoying" and "disruptive" (quoting from the legislation).

Press Gazette will be appealing the decision to the Information Commissioner, after being encouraged to do so by the National Union of Journalists and many others within the industry.

Following publication of the Press Gazette story about this latest Met Police FoI refusal, the force press emailed the following statement: "The information request was declined following central guidance issued by ACPO FOI central referall [sic] unit."

On request, the press office confirmed the statement "is in relation to your FOI request".

In November it emerged that ACPO had scuppered Press Gazette FoI requests for information about police use of RIPA by issuing guidance on how requests could be rejected.

After an FoI was sent to all forces in September requesting information about the number of times journalists' phone records have been accessed under RIPA, ACPO told forces that it should be able to reject on cost grounds, set at £450 per request. But it said that if forces could afford to answer it, they should reject citing grounds including as the interests of "national security". Subsequently, this request, and others, was rejected by all forces.

According to general ACPO FoI guidance, when rejecting under section 14 (1) (vexatious requests) a police force should consider whether complying with the request would “impose a significant burden”, whether it is “fair to regard the request as obsessive” and whether the request is “harassing the authority or causing distress to staff”. Forces should also consider whether the request is “designed to cause disruption or annoyance” and whether it lacks “any serious purpose of value”.

The guidance is below, and can be read in full here.

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