Journalist condemns police force's 'appalling' refusal to comment on £80k fraud allegations - Press Gazette

Journalist condemns police force's 'appalling' refusal to comment on £80k fraud allegations

A freelance journalist and lecturer has described as “appalling” a police force’s refusal to comment on allegations of serious financial impropriety.

Nigel Green has been told by a source that a sergeant from Northumbria Police has been sacked and a constable disciplined over an £80,000 expenses fraud.

Green sent a list of questions to Northumbria Police under the Freedom of Information Act.

The force declined to answer any of six questions, claiming it was the policy of the National Police Chiefs’ Council that information relating to investigations would rarely be disclosed.

They also cited section 30 of the Freedom of Information Act, which states that information can be refused if it has been held as part of a criminal investigation.

Section 30 is a qualified exemption and Northumbria applied a public interest test but used Human Rights legislation as one of the main reasons for refusing to answer.

Green said: “I was not even asking for names, so I don’t see how this could be a breach of the officers’ privacy.

“All I was asking the force to confirm was the basic facts. I had been tipped that this involved around £80,000. Obviously that’s taxpayers’ money that has allegedly been fiddled.

“It is my understanding that no charges have been brought or will be brought.

“It is appalling that a police force can rule it’s not in the public interest for people to know anything whatsoever about this case.”

An IPCC spokesman said: “The IPCC is investigating the quality of an investigation previously conducted by the Professional Standards Department of Northumbria Police.

“That PSD investigation was initiated following allegations of exaggerated expenses/overtime claims by a Northumbria police sergeant.”

A spokesperson for Northumbria Police said: “We can confirm that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) are conducting an investigation. Due to their involvement we are unable to say anything further on the matter as this time.”

In 2011, Northumbria refused a Freedom of Information request by Green regarding the case of an officer who was jailed for life for raping vulnerable female prisoners.

The force admitted making errors in the initial investigation into PC Stephen Mitchell and Green asked if there had been an internal investigation into the handling of the case.

Initially, the force refused to release any information, claiming it would breach the privacy of those involved.

After a front page story on the refusal appeared in The Sunday Post, Green contacted Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth, about the force's refusal to release further details.

Campbell, who sat on the select committee which drew up the Freedom of Information Act, vowed to raise the case in Parliament if the force did not release the information.

Northumbria Police then released a statement confirming officers involved in the original investigation had been “given advice” over their “failings”.