You can have the info but not under FoI

By Sarah Lagan

A
journalist claims an NHS Trust told him that all future press inquiries
would have to be submitted under the Freedom of Information Act –
unless he withdrew a request made under the new legislation.

Taunton Times news editor Stephen Weatherill said he was given the
ultimatum by a press officer at Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust after he
made an FoI request asking how much it had spent on Christmas parties.

Weatherill
claims a Trust press office told him that if he withdrew his FoI
request and resubmitted it as a normal press inquiry he would be given
the information. But he also alleged that he was told if he proceeded
with the FoI submission, in future any inquiry for information would
have to be made as an official FoI request.

Weatherill said: “I
wasn’t prepared to back down once he gave me the ultimatum and my
editor Debbie (Rundle) backed me on that. The advice I got from the
Information Commissioner’s Office and the Newspaper Society was there
had not been a breach of the Act, but they were astounded at what had
happened.”

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom
of Information, said: “I am speechless and amazed to hear how the Trust
has threatened this paper. They can’t refuse him information because he
wants to use the Act. They have a complete lack of grasp of the
legislation.”

The Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust said it was answering the Taunton Times’

request
and had a “good relationship” with the paper. It did not comment on the
allegations made by Weatherill. Representatives of the Trust and the
newspaper are meeting on Monday.

Trust chief executive Nick
Chapman told Press Gazette : “We need to understand what information
the local media want out of us, what the story is and what angle. If we
have a series of fishing expeditions that are not explained to us by
the media then it interrupts our normal relationship.”

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