Partial C&RT climb-down on vexatious claim?

July 2018 - When C&RT demanded The Floater stopped asking it difficult questions back in May it is fair to say we didn’t exactly do as the charity demanded. Allan Richards gives an update on the struggle to get the Trust to honour its legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000​

Anyone coming late to this story should know that The Floater published details of C&RT’s attempts to refuse formal Freedom of Information requests by insisting that they are vexatious , and it is probably best to click on this link to bring yourself up to date. (Stop asking us questions demands C&RT)

Firstly, thanks for the support that the majority of boaters and some boating groups have shown me. Secondly, thanks to Peter Underwood, The Floater’s editor for his support and also to Narrowboatworld’s editor, Tom Crossley (Narrowboatworld article).

No thanks, however go to one particular boater, who just a few hours after meeting with C&RT’s chief executive posted a link to a request on a waterways forum titled ‘Vexatious Requests to CRT under Freedom of Information Act?’. He subsequently failed to say if the post was prompted by his meeting with Richard Parry or just a co-incidence.

Now for the update. One request, which C&RT claims is vexatious asks for -

1. The minutes of the Board of Trustees Meeting held on 22 March in York.

2. The unpublished papers from the Board of Trustees Meeting held on 25 January in Coventry.

3. A copy of minute 18/007 (which appears to have been inadvertently left out of published minutes).

4. Copies of any report or presentation made by Jon Horsfall, Matthew Symonds or any other person in connection with minute 18/007. This includes both reports and presentations made during Board meetings, prior to Board meetings or subsequent to Board meetings.

In asking C&RT to review its decision not to provide this information on May 22, it was pointed out that the Freedom of Information Act requires C&RT to pro-actively publish certain types of information including how decisions are made.

The last two paragraphs of the request for review read -

’I would ask the reviewing manager to explain why it considers this request to be vexatious when it relates to errors and omissions in information that C&RT is committed to pro-actively publish under its publication scheme.

I would also ask the reviewing manager to ensure C&RT honors its commitment to pro-actively publish this information and provides me with the relevant links when it has done so.’

This argument appears to have led to a partial climbdown with C&RT having now provided part of the information initially refused.

However, the reviewing manager, who has not been named by C&RT, has only provided the information in parts one and two of the request. Whilst this, in itself, is a tacit admission that C&RT were wrong to refuse the request as vexatious, they are still withholding the information requested in parts 3 and 4!

The information, minus parts 3 and 4, can be found via the following two links -

The unpublished papers from the Board of Trustees Meeting held on 25 January in Coventry.

The minutes of the Board of Trustees Meeting held on 22 March in York.

Worse still, the Information Commissioner requires authorities to respond formally within 20 working days to both information requests and any subsequent request to review. The sad fact is that the Trust has failed on both. Whilst its its initial refusal response was only a day or two late, it has still not responded formally to the complaint and request for review made on 22 May.

Here are a couple of responses by Melissa Ashdown-Hoff, Information Officer – Legal and Governance Services following reminders that C&RT had failed to respond within the Information Commissioners time scales -

’2 July 2018 - ... I will contact the reviewing officer and see when the review will be completed and I will let you know as soon as possible the likely response date.

9 July 2018 - I am sorry for the delay you are continuing to experience in receiving a response to your request for an internal review of my response to your requests for information. I will find out what is happening and do my best to let you know when you can expect to receive a response.’

So, some seven weeks after a complaint and request for review was made, C&RT’s reviewing officer has failed to respond. Usually, C&RT appoints Andy Glyde, Governance, Assurance & Risk Manager to this role. However, the reviewing officer may be any senior manager or director. A week ago it was suggested that, if the unnamed reviewing manager is unable/unwilling to provide a response, then C&RT might wish to appoint a different reviewing manager who is prepared to actually commit to a timescale and explain the delay.

Why is it that C&RT have refused an information request as vexatious, subsequently provided some of the information but continue to withhold other information and now fail to respond to a complaint and request for review?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Another conundrum is C&RT’s demand in its initial response ‘I [Melissa Ashdown-Hoff] am aware that you have posted on line the details of officer’s names and photos of 3 Trust employees without their consent and made allegations that offences have been committed under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act. I would ask that you remove these photos immediately as I believe that posting these photos without the consent of the individuals is an invasion of the officer’s privacy. Posting the details online along with the content of the article caused unwarranted harassment and distress to employees of the Trust.’

On 24 May, C&RT were asked in relation to a second request if they were referring to 'C&RT blames junior member of staff twice more over fake document'. Seven weeks later, they have not responded to this request for clarification. They have also not responded to a request for review the refusal to provide information either ...

C&RT’s vexatious and harassment accusations are simply without foundation, it would appear. Could it be that not a single senior manager or director can be found who is prepared to take responsibility and apologise?

Photos: (1st) Another apology, (2nd) Still seven weeks and no action, (3rd) "I do apologise", (4th) Did Chief Executive Richard Parry have a role in the 'vexatious' allegations?.

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