Northumbria Police has responded to criticisms over how it handled and released sexual and domestic violence data concerning its own officers.
The force recently disclosed at a North Tyneside full council meeting last week that 11 officers had been dismissed, and three prosecuted, following investigations into sexual or domestic abuse between April 2019 and March 2023. This was requested as part of a motion from independent North Tyneside councillors asking for greater police transparency.
However, those independent councillors also asked why the force had refused to answer a freedom of information request (FOI) from the Liberal Democrat Party in October 2023. The party asked every force in the country how many officers were currently under investigation for sexual or domestic violence and “how many of those officers are a) suspended; b) on restricted duties; c) working as normal; and d) have left the force.”
Initially, Deputy Mayor Carl Johnson, speaking on behalf of the police, said the reason the Lib Dem FOI was not responded to was because the force had never received it. However, regional Lib Dems provided the Local Democracy Reporting Scheme with their FOI and Northumbria Police’s rejection response from October of last year.
This prompted criticism from Newcastle City Council Lib Dem leader, Colin Ferguson, who said: “It’s deeply concerning that Northumbria Police refused to disclose this information when first asked in October last year.
“This raises serious concerns about the transparency and governance of Northumbria Police and should have alarm bells ringing in the force. Is the PCC comfortable with FOI requests being selectively responded to, depending on who is asking?
“Fundamentally, residents have a right to know: is this a screw-up or is it systematic? We need an urgent response on such a serious matter.”
Via a third party, Northumbria Police were able to find the original October FOI, which they claimed couldn’t have been located earlier from the information provided in the motion from North Tyneside last week. The police also maintain they had the legal right to refuse the Lib Dem’s FOI on the basis the data that was asked for could have impaired the integrity of ongoing investigations and negatively impacted victims.
A spokesperson for Northumbria Police said: “In our response, we made it clear to the applicant how they could utilise the legislative processes available to them if they were unhappy with the response or how the request had been handled.”
Regarding the most recent request for data from North Tyneside, the spokesperson continued: “The latest request for data contained within the motion was not dealt with as a FOI request and was provided to aid and assist. The information being sought had similarities to that which had been requested last year, but there were distinctively different parameters.
“This included asking how many officers had been accused of sexual or domestic offences from April 2019 to March 2023 and those which had subsequently gone on to be investigated. Given that there has been a passage of time since the original request and that the requirements were clearly defined, we were able to share the data and this was done within three days.”
Regional Liberal Dems still maintain their original FOI should have been answered and was similar to to information requested from North Tyneside Council’s motion.
Coun Ferguson said: “It beggars belief that two such similar requests for information could not be easily matched by Northumbria Police, particularly given that the investigation by the Liberal Democrats received national attention. I remain troubled that it appears that this information was more willingly disclosed elsewhere via the same approach.”