Freedom, Information, Power, Freedom

Last year I reported on a worrying case of criminality in Tywyn that saw flagpoles and the Welsh flags flying from them vandalised by what the Cambrian News described as “adults, local to the area”. Here’s a link to my post with the article itself on the right, click to enlarge.Tywyn Promenade
When, despite the perpetrators being caught red-handed, no prosecutions followed I decided to find out why, using a Freedom of Information request to North Wales Police. My request, dated September 10th, was worded thus:
On May 7th2011 your force arrested eight people in Tywyn, Gwynedd in connection with vandalism to flagpoles and the Welsh flags flying from them on Tywyn promenade. I enclose a copy of the report that appeared in the Cambrian News.
I wish to know:
A) The outcome of that investigation.
B) The disposal result for all the offenders.
C) If this crime was recorded as racially motivated; and if not, why not.

Finally, I wish to request a copy of the investigation report with personal information redacted.

A couple of days later I received a phone call from the North Wales Police Freedom of Information and Policy Unit asking if I’d accept the information by e-mail. I agreed, and on the 14th I received an e-mail acknowledging my FoI request and promising a response by October 10th.

When no response was received by the promised date I e-mailed the Unit asking if I was going to get a reply. I heard nothing in response so I reported North Wales Police to the Information Commissioner on October 12th. I e-mailed the Unit again on the 14th, and finally, on the 22nd, I sent a recorded delivery letter, asking why I’d had no response.

This prompted a reply mailed on October 24th containing a hand-written letter from the Freedom of Information Unit, telling me that the writer had tried to phone both my home and mobile numbers without success and enclosing copies of two e-mails sent me; one on October 2nd, the other on October 10th (in response to my e-mail of that day).

Now the remarkable thing is that I did not receive these e-mails, nor did I receive the phone calls. In case the e-mails had got trapped in my spam filter, I waded through the junk for those periods but was still unable to find them. Nor could I find any record of the phone calls. If I hadn’t answered my phones, why not leave a message? Remarkable. Four claimed attempts to contact me not one of which was successful. However, the copy of the e-mail allegedly sent on October 2nd did give a response, of sorts. It said:

“The Freedom of Information Act requires that responses cannot provide information which will breach the Data Protection Act 1998. The information that you have requested relates to a third party for example a person other than yourself (section 40(2)). Therefore, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, this letter acts as a Refusal Notice under section 17 (1) of the legislation.

I can however inform you that the incident been (sic) detected with two individuals receiving conditional cautions for Criminal Damage.

The incident was not logged as a hate crime. North Wales Police do not have a record of why not however; you may find the following link ‘What is a Hate Crime’ section of our website of assistance (gives link).”

I can only assume that the first part of the e-mail refers to my request for, ” . . . a copy of the investigation report with personal information redacted”. Though, quite honestly, I don’t know what the e-mail is trying to say; for Section 17 (1) makes no obvious reference to requesting information about unnamed third parties. (Here’s a link to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.) Then, despite the incident being witnessed, and eight people arrested for causing over £1,000 worth of damage, just two were cautioned, and only cautioned. And Gogplod claims to have no idea why the incident was not logged as a hate crime.

Thinking about it a few days later, it occurred to me that there was a possibility that the owner(s) of the poles and the flags had chosen not to proceed with the case. So on October 31st I wrote again to the Information Unit asking:

“Did the owner(s) of the damaged property request that you not proceed with the case, or did he / they decide to withdraw the charges, or not press charges? If so, did the owner(s) give any reason(s) for this decision?”

The reply was posted on November 6th and, basically, said the same as the earlier response – ‘Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 means we don’t have to give you this information . . . or at least that’s how we choose to interpret it. So sod off!’

Even if I didn’t go about the FoI the right way – maybe I could have worded it better – the fact remains that last year in a Welsh seaside resort a gang of yobs pulled down flagpoles and ripped up the Welsh flags flying from those poles. (They may even have destroyed the poles to get at the flags.) Despite there being witnesses to the offence, and despite the perpetrators being apprehended, they were not prosecuted. Why?

If the flags destroyed had been union jacks, then I guarantee that the Unionist and anti-Welsh elements to be found in the local lodges and ex-service groups, golf club and business associations, would have frothed and fumed before invoking the memory of our Glorious Dead and London 2012 to demand prosecutions – probably floggings and deportations. But Welsh flags obviously count for less; nobody in the clubhouse or the Legion is going to make a fuss over a flag they view with suspicion as the preferred banner of those with questionable loyalty to her Britannic Majesty.

Maybe this highlights a fundamental problem with modern Wales. We are trying to rebuild a country from the top down. In my reading of history I can’t recall this ever being done. Small nations achieve progress and independence by creating their own grass-roots organisations that grow and rival those of the State or the dominant group within the State, thus leading to political change. Here in Wales we seem happy with an Assembly in Cardiff while the country itself, at sub-national and local level, is still controlled by a viper’s nest of British, or even blatantly English, organisations.

This must change. There should be no room in twenty-first century Wales for organisations operating on a national, a regional, or a local level that are not unequivocally Welsh, and committed to serving the national interest. Otherwise devolution is just a sham. Welsh icing on what remains a cake made up of English ingredients.

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