Osman warnings - 123/17
Dated: 01 Mar 2017
Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')
Thank you for your e mail dated 1 February 2017 in which you made a request for access to certain information which may be held by Northumbria Police.
As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held at the time of a request, by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.
1. Since 2012, how many "threat to life" notices (or Osman notices) did Northumbria Police issue?
2. Of those notices how many were issued because the threat originated either directly or indirectly from a foreign government?
We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.
Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Crime Department of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.
I am able to disclose the located information to you as follows.
With regards to point 1 for the time period 2012 - 2014.
As the information you have requested is accessible by other means I have not provided you with a copy of the information and will rely on Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. You should therefore consider this a refusal for your request.
I have provided an explanation to this exemption below.
Section 21 (1) - Information accessible by other means
Information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant is exempt information.
This information is freely available via the Disclose Log on the Northumbria Police website. FOIs 318/13, 162/14 and 321/15 refer and the link to the Log is below.
With regards to the years 2015 & 2016:
2015 - 16 notices issued
2016 - 10 notices issued
Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that any information is held relevant to your request as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemptions:
Section 23(5) Information supplied by or concerning, certain Security Bodies
Section 24(2) National Security
Section 27(4) International Relations
Section 30(3) Investigations
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Section 38(2) Health and Safety
Section 40(5) Personal Information
Section 23 and 40 are class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to articulate the harm or consider the public interest to ensure neither confirming nor denying that information exists is the correct response.
Sections 27 and 30 are class based qualified exemptions and consideration of the public interest must be given as to whether neither confirming nor denying the information exists is the appropriate response.
With Sections, 24, 31 and 38 being prejudice based qualified exemptions there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in confirming or not whether information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.
Harm in complying with Section 1(1)(a) – to confirm or not whether information is held
It is publicly acknowledged that Threat to Life warning notices are issued when there is intelligence to suggest an individual’s life is in danger, but there is not enough evidence to justify the police arresting the suspected murderer, see below link:
Disclosure of Threat to Life Warning data at this low level becomes more meaningful and there is a risk of the persons involved being identified. While this is unlikely to happen amongst the general population, those involved in the types of criminality likely to result in the issue of such a warning may be able to draw a significant conclusion from the information.
The impact of confirming or denying whether information is held at the level requested, i.e. states within the notice that the threat originated from a foreign government, would provide intelligence to the criminal fraternity which would aid in the location and/or identity of persons under threat of death. Such an action has the potential to undermine the flow of information (intelligence) received from members of the public into the Police Service.
The College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice for Investigations is a public facing document and provides guidance on the key roles and principles on the process of criminal investigation. It includes guidance for both reactive and proactive investigations, from volume crime to major crime, see below link:
It clearly states within this APP that when managing risk areas decisions are made relating to victims, witnesses, the general public, etc., as in this case ensuring the safety of individuals that are subject to TTL notices. Although the questions submitted for this request are purely statistical, confirmation or denial to the world that information is held would undermine the confidentiality expected by a victim, witness and the general public.
The threat from terrorism cannot be ignored. It is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable. The current UK threat level from international terrorism, based on intelligence, is assessed as of 14th February 2017, as Severe, which means that a terrorist attack is highly likely, see below link:
In order to counter criminal and terrorist behaviour it is vital that the police have the ability to work together, where necessary covertly, to assist in the investigative process to ensure the successful arrest and prosecution of offenders who commit or plan to commit acts of terrorism.
To achieve this goal, it is vitally important that information sharing takes place between police officers, members of the public, police forces as well as other security law enforcement bodies within the United Kingdom. This information sharing supports counter-terrorism measures in the fight to deprive terrorist networks of this ability to commit crime.
Northumbria Police has a duty of care to vulnerable individuals and their family members. Any disclosure, no matter how generic, which may assist a terrorist or terrorist organisation, will adversely affect public safety. In this case it would enable terrorists to become aware of whether any threat to life notices have been issued to individuals where the threat originated from a foreign government.
Public Interest Consideration
Section 27 – International Relations
Factors favouring confirming that information is held
Irrespective of what information may or may not be held, confirming information is held would provide openness and transparency by highlighting that Northumbria Police is proactively engaging with other law enforcement agencies both at home and abroad as part of global investigative activity.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a)
The importance of building and maintaining goodwill within international relations cannot be underestimated. By confirming that Northumbria Police has received communications from foreign governments which relates to Threat to Life Warning Notices to the world under FOI, would undermine the relationship and trust built up between police forces, other international and home agencies, as well as foreign governments.
Factors favouring confirming that information is held
Confirming or denying whether information exists relevant to this request would lead to a better informed general public by identifying that Northumbria Police robustly investigate allegations of an individual’s safety being compromised, particularly where an individual is subject of a threat to their life. This fact alone may encourage individuals to provide intelligence in order to assist with investigations and would also promote public trust in providing transparency and demonstrating openness and accountability into where the police are currently focusing their investigations.
The public are also entitled to know how public funds are spent, particularly in the current economic climate.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a)
Modern-day policing is intelligence led and Northumbria Police share information with other law enforcement agencies as part of their investigation process. To confirm or not whether individuals are subject of a Threat to Life notice where the threat originated from a foreign government could hinder the prevention and detection of crime as well as undermine the partnership approach to investigations and law enforcement.
By its very nature, information that may or may not be held, which relates to TTL notices and whether an organisation is contained within it as the threat is sensitive in nature. Under FOI there is a requirement to comply with Section 1(1)(a) and confirm what information is held. In some cases it is that confirmation, or not, which could disclose facts harmful to the criminal fraternity. In some cases their mere existence can place individuals in grave danger. The only methodology which will provide the required degree of protection to those individuals is if the force takes advantage of its ability under FOI legislation to, where appropriate, neither confirm nor deny that the information requested is or is not held. The Police Service will never disclose information which could identify investigative activity and therefore undermine Threat to Life Notices. This would undermine the partnership approach to investigations.
Factors favour complying with Section 1(1)(a) – confirming information is held
By confirming or denying whether Threat to Life Notices which state that a foreign government is the originator of the threat to an individual would lead to better public awareness identifying that the force undertakes all avenues to ensure the safety of individuals. This fact may lead to more information (intelligence) being submitted from the public which may culminate in a reduction of crime.
Factors favouring non-compliance with Section 1(1)(a)
The Police Service will not confirm whether or not it holds Threat to Life notices which relates to a specific individual with foreign government as the threat. To do so would disclose information to the detriment of law enforcement as evidenced within the harm.
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a)
Confirming which information is held relevant to this request would provide public awareness into the actions taken by Northumbria Police to ensure the safety of individuals whose life is in danger. This would improve public debate and highlight how public funds are spent for this type of policing.
Section 38 – Factors favouring non-compliance with Section 1(1)(a)
Any information, no matter how generic, which would assist offenders with their criminal behaviour would undoubtedly be a risk to the safety of the public at large and would lead to a loss of confidence in Northumbria Police ability to protect the community.
Public Interest Considerations
Section 24(2) National Security
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held
The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and resources distributed within an area of policing, particularly with regard to how the police investigate terrorist atrocities. To confirm whether information exists in this case would enable the general public to hold Northumbria Police to account in relation to how they deal with threats to life notices and investigations into offences which undermines National Security.
In addition confirmation or denial may improve public debate and would assist the public to take steps to protect themselves.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming or denying that information is held
Taking into account the current security climate within the United Kingdom, no information which may aid a terrorist should be disclosed. To what extent this information may aid a terrorist is unknown, but it is clear that it will have an impact on a force’s ability to monitor terrorist activity.
Irrespective of what information is or isn’t held, the public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection and the only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with what is placed into the public domain.
The cumulative effect of terrorists gathering information from various sources would be even more impactive when linked to information gathered from various sources. The more information disclosed over time will provide a more detailed account of the tactical infrastructure of not only a force area but also the country as a whole.
Any incident that results from such a disclosure would by default affect National Security.
Other organisations outside the Police Service are also widely engaged in targeting terrorism, see below links:
Therefore by confirming or denying that information exists relevant to this request would harm the close relationship that exists with such organisations, where trust and confidence in this specific area has been built up.
The points above highlight the merits for and against confirming or denying that information exists relevant to this request. The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve. As part of that policing purpose, various actions are taken to ensure the safety of individuals who may be subject to threats to their life. The Police Service will not divulge whether information is or isn’t held if to do so would place the safety of an individual at risk or undermine National Security. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations, providing assurance that Northumbria Police appropriate and effectively monitor any threats to individuals from criminals, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of policing operations. As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced in matters of National Security, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.
In addition any disclosure by Northumbria Police that places the safety of an individual at risk, no matter how generic, would undermine any trust or confidence individuals have in us. Therefore, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test favours neither confirming nor denying that information exists.
No inference can be drawn from this refusal that any information is or isn’t held.
Due to the different methods of recording information across 43 forces, a specific response from one constabulary should not be seen as an indication of what information could be supplied (within cost) by another. Systems used for recording these figures are not generic, nor are the procedures used locally in capturing the data. For this reason responses between forces may differ, and should not be used for comparative purposes.
The information we have supplied to you is likely to contain intellectual property rights of Northumbria Police. Your use of the information must be strictly in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) or such other applicable legislation. In particular, you must not re-use this information for any commercial purpose.