Complaint to Information Commissioner over fake document as C&RT blames junior member of staff

February 2018 - The Canal & River Trust has finally replied to a complaint regarding its handling of a Freedom of Information request - and denial is the name of the game. That has now led to a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner by The Floater's Allan Richards, who made the original Freedom of Information request. He explains what is happening.

I have now told the Commissioner: “That by removing the East Midlands Action Plan from C&RT's website and then providing me with a false document in response to part 1 of my request both C&RT and its Strategy, Impact & Engagement Director (Heather Clarke) have breached section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act.

I have also complained that “C&RT failed to provide me with the East Midlands Action Plan as part of its review process.” I have emailed Andy Glyde, the Trust’s Governance, Assurance & Risk Manager (copied to Richard Parry, Allan Leighton, Heather Clarke) offering to withdraw the complaint if they provide me with the document requested.
My original complaint to C&RT said that ‘By removing the East Midlands Action Plan from your website and then providing me with a false document in response to part 1 of this request both C&RT and its Strategy, Impact & Engagement Director (Heather Clarke) could face charges under Section 77 [of the Freedom of Information Act 2000].’ It asks the Trust what action it intends to take.

From their response it seems C&RT is now trying to shift the blame from a director to a junior member of staff.

Despite the seriousness of the allegation, C&RT ignored a request that a director or trustee be appointed to investigate. Instead, Andy Glyde, the Trust’s Governance, Assurance & Risk Manager stated that he would investigate and provide a response within 40 working days. This led to a reminder from the Information Commissioner that authorities were expected to respond within 20 days rather than 40. Mr Glyde still took almost 40 days to respond ...

After checking that a copy of the East Midlands Action Plan had not been downloaded from C&RT’s website, Mr Glyde went quiet for several weeks. He finally responded: ‘There has not been a breach of section 77 as there has not been an attempt to alter, deface, block, erase, destroy or conceal any record with the intention of preventing the disclosure of all, or any part, of the information to which you are entitled.’

Andy Glyde: "I can find no case to answer here"

He continued: ‘Regarding the alleged deliberate removal of the documents from our website. I have worked with our web team to review the changes made to the most relevant parts of the website, focussing on the period from 5 November 2017 to 22 November 2017 (based on your statement as to when you could and could not locate the East Midlands document). That review has not indicated any changes, creations or deletions of the document to which you refer. In the absence of any further evidence to the contrary, I can find no case to answer here.’

This is a very strange response to the complaint when you bear in mind that C&RT had already admitted publishing its original Action Plan for East Midlands in 2014.

Indeed, having been asked for a copy of the East Midlands plan which could no longer be found on its website, the trust replied: “On pages 26 and 27 of the Strategic Waterway Plan for the East Midlands, which is available at the following link, there are 8 objectives which are split into 19 priorities and all the action plans lead from here. The East Midlands Waterway Partnership spent 2013 writing the strategic plan and action plan which were subsequently published in 2014. Therefore, 2014/2015 was the first year the East Midlands had an action plan. Please see this original action plan attached entitled ‘Original Action Plan and Progress 2014-2015’.

It is rather obvious from the above that C&RT accept the action plan was published in 2014 but has been removed. That is why it provided a document purporting to be the removed document.

However, the document was not the original action plan, as requested. Indeed, according to its metadata (hidden data contained within the file) it was created by Heather Clarke on 30/11/2017 at 15:21 some three years after C&RT say they published the original plan. Even more damning - it is also unlike action plans provided in response to other requests.

Andy Glyde now concedes that a ‘false document’ was provided but claims it was created by an Information Officer Assistant, Frazer Halcrow, rather than director, Heather Clarke. He also claims that Mr Halcrow acted alone, despite Heather Clarke's name in the metadata.

Breach of Section 77 is a criminal offence for which a public authority or individual, on summary conviction, can be fined an amount not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale. In 2015, level 5 was increased from £5,000 to an unlimited amount.

Photos: (1st) The false East Midlands plan provided by C&RT, which metadata showed to be a more recent creation, (2nd) The metadata that shows the document is a recent creation and indicates Heather Clarke as the creator, (3rd) Heather Clarke - Andy Glyde exonerates her of creating the false document, (4th & 5th, 6th) A real action plan - looking very different from the fake one, (6th) Andy Glyde: "I can find no case to answer here".

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