Dorset Police refuse FoI request for correspondence between them & Chris Loder MP on poisoned eagle

Last month, Dorset Police did the unthinkable and prematurely closed their investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle that was found dead on an undisclosed shooting estate in North Dorset in January 2022 (see here).

This was an astonishing decision for a number of reasons (e.g. see here), not least because prior to this incident, Dorset Police’s Rural & Wildlife Crime Team enjoyed a good reputation for it’s proactive stance in the investigation of raptor persecution crimes, and indeed the team had been preparing to conduct a multi-agency search of the estate where this dead eagle had been found, until the head honchos at Dorset Police decided to pull the plug.

It’s even more surprising when you learn what other police investigations into alleged wildlife crime have taken place on that unnamed estate – more on that soon.

Dorset Police’s decision to close the investigation came soon after an extraordinary outburst from local MP Chris Loder, who had argued on Twitter that Dorset ‘wasn’t the place for eagles’ and that Dorset Police should be focusing their resources on other types of criminality (see here) and not on suspected wildlife crime. And it wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark made in haste; he continued his tirade for sometime afterwards (e.g. see here). A quick look at Chris Loder’s Register of Interests on the Parliamentary website showed that his local Conservative party had received large donations from at least one shooting estate in North Dorset.

Unsurprisingly, there was widespread suspicion that Dorset Police’s decision to close the poisoned eagle investigation had been influenced by undue political interference so I submitted two Freedom of Information requests to find out if there was any evidence to support that suspicion. One FoI request was submitted to Dorset Police and the other to the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner.

Dorset Police have since attempted to fob me off with this idiotic response:

Obviously, I have requested a review of Dorset Police’s Refusal Notice. I don’t accept the likelihood that an MP might have written to any one of 2,500 Dorset Police employees about this poisoned eagle. That would include those employed as call handlers, personal safety trainers, crime analysts, enquiry officers, IT consultants, project managers, administrations staff, mechanics, accountants, lawyers, to name just a few.

It’s common sense that an MP interested in the investigation of a poisoned eagle would be more likely to have corresponded with senior officers responsible for the supervision of the Force’s Rural & Wildlife Crime Team, and that probably means a handful of officers, let’s say ten, max (and that’s being generous). So Dorset Police can probably strike 2,490 people from their search, leaving ten people to spend two minutes searching their inboxes, amounting to 20 minutes of total search time, well within the statutory 18 hours of search time permitted for a Freedom of Information request.

I’ve also pointed out to Dorset Police’s Freedom of Information Officer that MPs are not classed as public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act so advising me to submit an FoI to Chris Loder MP was non-sensical, although surely an FoI Officer would already know this?!

I’ll blog about the outcome of my review request in due course.

As mentioned above, I’d originally submitted two FoI requests. My second one was an identical request for information about correspondence between Chris Loder MP and the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Conservative David Sidwick.

Initially I received an automated response from the PCC office confirming receipt of my request. Then it all went quiet. I have since emailed two further times to highlight that their response is overdue (they’re allowed 20 working days). Yesterday I finally had a response, apologising for the delay and saying:

The response is just being pulled together and we will come back to you asap“.

I’ll blog about that response when it finally arrives.

UPDATE 21st April 2022: Chris Packham submits FoI requests to Dorset Police and the Crime Commissioner about poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 26th April 2022: The office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner: incompetent or something more sinister? (here)

UPDATE 29th April 2022: Email correspondence between Chris Loder MP and Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner re: poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 25th May 2022: Dorset Police and the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner in breach of Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to Chris Packham’s request for info on poisoned eagle (here)

UPDATE 26th May 2022: Further breach of Freedom of Information Act by Dorset Police re: poisoned eagle (here)

34 thoughts on “Dorset Police refuse FoI request for correspondence between them & Chris Loder MP on poisoned eagle”

  1. Limit your request to those police staff you think may have corresponded such as Chief Officers and WLOs and also narrow down the time period i.e. since Jan 2022. This will lessen their rationale for not replying and also show a willingness on your part to reduce bureaucracy.

    1. Thanks, Gordon. In my request for a review to Dorset Police I’ve pointed out that the search could be limited to those responsible for the supervision of the Rural & Wildlife Crime Team. My original FoI request was indeed restricted to correspondence between Chris Loder MP and Dorset Police from 1st January 2022 to date.

  2. Anyone else smell a rat. As Chris Loder MP is a public servant surely if a FOI request sent direct to him, he would have to provide his correspondence to Dorset Police.

  3. Any news on the Natalie Bennett action in the Lords? Pity that the journalists who picked this up initially appear to have lost interest.

    1. I have been chasing FOIs with my local council (unrelated) about a councillor’s correspondence.

      The FOI Act 2000 allows for refusal if the Authority estimates it would take more than 18 hours work as you say. Frustrating, but presumably to protect taxpayers from the high costs of excessive eg vexatious FOIs.

      WHAT THEN WORKED FOR ME: I put in further requests, each one reducing the time period of interest. It took a few weeks, but on my 3RD TRY, requesting the councillor’s emails in a defined TWO WEEK period, the council actioned this request.

      Having thereby established a period palatable to the council, I then put in further FOIs identical except asking for the NEXT 2 WEEKS etc. Took rather longer, but all got done.

      I hope this helps

  4. This is typical of what I believe to be the expression of hegemony at work behind the public facade of cooperation, not specifically alinged with police investigations. I feel it is particularly viral where, though legislation and society have moved on, some of the powers from the late medieval times persists by a form of a nod and a wink culture. Very difficult to prove but background whispers would attest to it’s malign presence in most areas where power is concentrated especially in lightly populated rural areas where various forms of control over residents remain. It’s presence corrodes and corrupts all the way from the bottom to the top touching many on it’s journey.
    Good luck, Ruth, and thanks for making the huge efforts that you do.

  5. I’d be tempted to submit 2,500 separate requests in respect of each ‘individual currently in Force’.

  6. Is it not possible to track down the officer who was leading the team who is now on sick leave? I’m sure she would know what has been going on.
    The other impediment of course from what I remember of life in the force was the masonic influence. The funny hand shake and the nod and wink. Unless that’s changed.
    I would be ashamed to be a member of Dorset Constabulary right now.

  7. The force’s IT people can search everyone’s inboxes on their e-mail server. To suggest that everyone has to do this individually is quite absurd.

  8. As someone who has processed FOI requests regularly I can tell you that 18 hours is a hell of a long time to work with, digital information can be collated in a matter of seconds……the unreasonable time exemption is a loophole and a con for those who either don’t want to process the request because they can’t be bothered or worse still for more sinister reasons. If they cannot fulfill the request as is, they are required to provide details of how the request can be resubmitted in a way that they are able to provide the relevant information requested within the reasonable time window…….can I suggest a simple search for the MP’s name will instantly provide the lion’s share of what is sought or is that beyond the wit of Dorset police.

  9. One that rationale, FOI requests would never apply to any organisations with large numbers of staff. Ridiculous obfuscation.

  10. ‘There is no central record (which) we can search to identify correspondence from an individual’ — sounds a bit odd to me, an odd way to run a business.

  11. Having been blocked by Scott Chilton and Stewart Gates for asking polite questions about fox hunting police bias it is no surprise to me that they are giving you the run around.
    I submitted several questions to Dorset police in relation to the WTE investigation: why was the investigation dropped, who authorised that etc. etc. Their deadline for a response has expired. I chivvied but still no response.
    A friend of mine said some Dorset police officers are liars. Another friend said there is a high number who are free masons. I couldn’t possibly comment!

  12. Even if this FIO request was answered, it may be difficult to establish the content of any private telephone conversations between Mr Loder and members of Dorset Police, especially if those conversations were made between private telephone numbers.
    Another option might be to seek information from Dorset Police as to the rationale of cancelling the planned searches and terminating the investigation?
    Attached to any police investigation, should be a case progression plan, in which the investigator outlines the actions to progress an investigation and the reasons behind those actions. It would be normal for the investigating officer’s supervisor to conduct a case progression management review and add notes to the investigation log.
    This is to ensure any police investigation meets the minimum investigative standards, and that there is transparency about the enquiries undertaken by the police, so that the investigation is conducted in an open and honest way without bias.
    So any decision to cancel the planned searches and close the investigation should be included in this plan and the investigation log.
    This should be a written record, which can quickly and easily be retrieved from data stored about the incident.
    Perhaps its worth considering submitting another FOI request asking for details of the investigation log into the death of the sea eagles, and a redacted version of the case progression plan? (This is something which has to be disclosed to the defence in any court case, often referred to as “unused material”. So it would be very unusual if Dorset Police claim such information doesn’t exist)

  13. It doesn’t say much for the forensic abilities of Dorset Police that they can’t locate the evidence required to answer a simple straightforward question.

  14. ‘Marsh Harriers looked up the valley by Wildeve’s. A cream-coloured courser had used to visit this hill, a bird so rare that not more than a dozen have ever been seen in England; but a barbarian rested neither night nor day till he had shot the African truant, and after that event cream-coloured coursers thought fit to enter Egdon no more.’

    From ‘The Return of the Native’ by Dorset-born author Thomas Hardy, first published in 1878.

    It would appear that there is something of a tradition of not welcoming new arrivals in the county.

  15. Dear RP UK, The obstructive behaviour of Dorset police stinks obviously. The quality and detail of your posts is impressive, they inspire me to help in any way I can. That said, would it not be possible for you to ask all the people who receive your mail to write or email protests to bodies concerned? It’s great getting your detailed mail but we as supporters aren’t asked to actually do anything practice to help? Yours faithfullyDavid Kennedy

    1. Thank you, David.

      Quite often and when it’s appropriate, blog readers are asked to take action and this has proven fruitful on many occasions. However, I think it’s wise to pick those battles carefully because otherwise they lose impact. The best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to keep spreading the word amongst family, friends and colleagues. There’s still a huge section of the public that don’t have any idea that this illegal persecution still goes on, and when they do learn about it they’re horrified and often motivated to join in with campaigning activities. Those are the people we all need to reach. Thank for your interest and support.

  16. Ruth your tenacity, insight and analytical abilities are awesome – there couldn’t be anyone better for running RPUK.

    [Ed: Thanks, Les, your continued support is much appreciated!]

  17. My posting 15/4 at 8:25pm shows how, if seeking emails somewhere in a defined time window, to get around the “18 hours’ work” loophole. If the authority says finding it in the stated window is too much work, it follows (logically: specifically on grounds of “continuity”) that there MUST exist a smaller time window of less than 18 hours work.

    One’s task becomes to find a time window that the authority deems less than 18 hours work. They must be able to do this, given they saw fit to reject one’s earlier request, so this compels them to use that same method.

    The FOI Officer has certain statutory reasons available to reject an FOI, the authority cannot invent others, even if it makes some Freemasons uncomfortable. I hope as taxpayers we can all see some merit in this reason for rejection.

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