Nazi freedom of information victory for People reporter

The Government has been rapped by Information Commissioner Richard
Thomas over the way it dealt with a request from the People newspaper
for details of Nazi war criminals.
People reporter David Brown tabled a series of questions to the Home Office
in January under the Freedom of Information Act seeking details of suspected Nazi war criminals living in the UK.
Brown’s investigation was prompted by the 60th anniversary commemorations
of the liberation of Auschwitz and VE day.
Under the FOI Act Government departments are
required to respond to requests within 20 days. But it took the Home
Office two months to refuse Brown’s request on the grounds that it
would take too long.
Then, in June, Home Office minister Andy Burnham
released the information in a parliamentary written answer when he
revealed that up to several hundred Nazi war criminals could still be
living in Britain.
The Information Commission has now acknowledged
that the Home Office acted in breach of the Act and warned that if it
continues to fail to comply with requests in time, it will take
enforcement action.
In response the Home Office has stated that
“procedures are now currently being enhanced across the organisation to
ensure the statutory deadlines are met”.
Brown said: “I am glad the Home Office is currently changing its
procedures for dealing with the implementation of the FOI Act because their
approach to my request was slapdash to put it mildly.
“Officials initially indicated they could help, then dragged their heels
and finally told me two months later they could not comply because it would
take them too long to dig out the relevant information. The whole thing was
an inconvenience to them and they just wanted it to go away. The attitude
was completely wrong.
“I find it staggering that information about suspected Nazi war criminals
living in Britain was so difficult for the Home Office to find and reveal.
“What was even more galling was that the relevant details finally came out
in a parliamentary answer and those dealing with my request did not even
have the courtesy to let me know this would be happening.
“In the light of my experience, I would recommend to journalists that if
they are having problems with Government departments then they will
probably have more luck accessing what they want by asking an MP to table a
question in the House than waiting for civil servants to respond under the
FOI Act.”
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