On 4th March I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), Conservative David Sidwick, in relation to Dorset Police’s investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle that had been found dead on a shooting estate in January 2022 (see here).
I asked for copies of all correspondence relating to this matter between the PCC and (a) Dorset Police and (b) Chris Loder MP. You’ll recall that Mr Loder was the Conservative MP who took to Twitter to attack Dorset Police’s Rural, Wildlife & Heritage Crime team’s investigation into the poisoned eagle (see here and here).
By law (the Freedom of Information Act), the PCC’s office had to respond within 20 working days (by 1st April 2022) to either (a) provide the information I’d requested, (b) ask for an extension of a further 20 working days to send their response, or (c) refuse my request (and explain the legal grounds for that refusal).
I asked for this information because David Sidwick had previously described Chris Loder MP as his ‘good chum’ in February 2020:
The FoI response from the PCC’s office did not arrive by 1st April. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed it would arrive shortly afterwards.
On 7th April 2022 I wrote to the PCC’s office again, to remind them their FoI response was overdue. I just received an automated response.
On 11th April 2022 I wrote again, and again I received another automated response.
On 13th April 2022 I did receive an actual response from someone in the PPC’s office, apologising for the delay and saying:
“The response is just being pulled together and we will come back to you asap“.
That was two weeks ago and I haven’t heard anything more. It must be a massive file. Or something.
It’s been 53 days (35 working days) since I submitted my original FoI request. I know that there has definitely been communication between the PCC David Sidwick and Chris Loder MP about this issue because Mr Sidwick tweeted about it in February:
In this tweet, David Sidwick is clearly supportive of Dorset Police’s investigation into the poisoned eagle, despite his ‘good chum’ Chris Loder MP going ballistic on Twitter about ‘wasting police resources’.
A few weeks later, the police investigation was prematurely shut down, the Force’s award-winning wildlife crime officer was off on extended sick leave and is reported to have been told if/when she returns she’ll no longer be the wildlife crime lead, and the Force dropped the word ‘wildlife’ from the title of its Rural Crime team with a counter-intuitive explanation that simply doesn’t add up (i.e. “to reflect the broader work we are undertaking“). Surely if you’re increasing the scope of your work you add words to the title, not remove them?
So what went on in those few weeks between a live investigation supported by the PCC, to a complete shut-down of the case?
And why is the office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner, David Sidwick, unlawfully delaying providing me with a response to my FoI request?
It could be incompetence. But it’s looking increasingly like something else, especially when Dorset Police refused my FoI request with the most ludicrous fob-off (here).
Today I emailed the PCC’s office, again, and asked them to respond to my FoI without further delay.