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Council employee fined for illegally deleted audio file

19 March 2020

A council employee has been fined £400 for an offence under the Freedom of Information (FOI) regulations.

Nicola Young, town clerk of Whitchurch Town Council, was convicted under Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of deliberately obstructing records with the intent to prevent disclosure.

As part of her responsibilities as town clerk, Young was entrusted with the role of ‘proper officer’ whose responsibility it is to handle FOI requests to the council.

One such request was submitted by an individual who asked for a copy of the audio recording of a council meeting.

The requester believed that elements of the written minutes of this meeting had been fabricated, and requested the audio file to see if this was the case. They were informed that the file had already been deleted according to council policy.

A complaint was then sent by the requester to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and, following an investigation, the ICO discovered that Young was, after initially denying it, aware of the FOI request and had deleted the audio file some days later.

On Wednesday 11 March, Young, of Shrewsbury Street, Whitchurch, Shropshire, was convicted at Crewe Magistrates after pleading guilty to blocking records with the intention of preventing disclosure and was fined £400, ordered to pay costs of £1,493 and a victim surcharge £40.

Mike Shaw, group manager in Enforcement at the ICO, said: “This case is about the public’s right to know, and we will not hesitate to take action to protect people’s right to access the information they are entitled to.”

“This case emphasises the critical importance of transparency for public authorities in the way they carry out their business.

“People should have trust and confidence that they can access public information without the danger of it being doctored, fabricated or corrupted in any way.”

Section 77 of the FOIA states a person “is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.”