The Scottish Executive has been told it must release a secret document containing details of possible radioactive contamination of drinking water after a two-year challenge from the Sunday Herald.
The Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion last week ruled that the Executive had breached the Scottish Freedom of Information Act and gave it 45 days to hand over the nine-page document, entitled ‘Release of radionuclides in drinking water systems”.
The Executive argued that to release the file ‘might prejudice the security of any nuclear site or nuclear material’and applied for it to be kept secret under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
It had previously refused the application on the grounds that relations within the United Kingdom could be damaged, under section 28 of the Act, and that national security could be compromised, under section 31.
Dunion ruled that the Executive had not backed up its claims and said the file contains ‘innocuous exchanges’with UK officials. Responding to the Executive’s claims of a terrorist threat he said: ‘After considering the nature and content of the information being withheld I found that not only are these highly worrying claims overstated, in fact it is not possible to find any justification for them at all.’
Sunday Herald environment editor Rob Edwards first applied for its release in December 2005 and said in this week’s paper that the Dunion’s decision was a ‘damning indictment of the official secrecy that persists in the Scottish Civil Service”.
He told Press Gazette: ‘When I first applied for it they quoted a whole series of provisions in the FoI Act [not to disclose]â€¦ But when I appealed to the Information Commissioner it was then they came up with the terrorism justification. It really looks like they are looking for any excuse not to reveal information which Dunion says is entirely innocuous.
‘I have to say it doesn’t surprise me. They are clinging on to old habits of official secrecy – they are not releasing information which the commissioner called innocuous for spurious reasons.
‘It’s not surprising, but rather sad. It doesn’t apply to the whole Executive, but it is my judgement that there are still civil servants who don’t see why the public should have right of access to things they have written.’
Edwards, who also writes for the New Scientist, has submitted many successful FoI requests and lists them all at www.robedwards.com.
A spokeswoman for the Executive said: ‘It would be premature to comment at this stage.”