As any regular reader of the East End Enquirer knows one of the few things that the current Tower Hamlets Labour administration is really good at is hiding from scrutiny.
It does this in many ways as we have previously reported. After the previous Mayor had been kicked out and the current Mayor had sidled in he created something called the Tower Hamlets Overview and Scrutiny Transparency Commission (OSTC).
No, honestly! Look, it still has its very own web page.
‘the Love Wapping journo’
Long story short, back in September 2020 we had endured more than enough of this nonsense so we submitted a Subject Access Request (SAR) to the council. A SAR covers any and every mention of the person who is its subject – in this case the Wapping Mole, the author of this and a couple of thousand other stories, Love Wapping the ‘love Wapping journo’ and the East End Enquirer.
Here is the text of my SAR to the council back in September.
‘Subject Access Request
Please supply the personal data you hold about myself, Mark Leslie Baynes, also referred to as the Love Wapping blog, ‘the Love Wapping journo’ or the East End Enquirer website which I am entitled to receive under data protection law.
In particular I wish to obtain copies of all emails or other correspondence sent or received by (but not restricted to) the following people / Tower Hamlets council departments:
• Mayor John Biggs
• Will Tuckley, Chief Executive Officer
• Andy Bamber, previously Service Head Safer Communities, Crime Reduction Services (and other roles) to include any council reports, including those of an investigative nature.
• Andreas Christophorou, Divisional Director of Communications and Marketing
• Any officer working within Communications and Marketing
• Claire Belgard
• Any officer working in the Freedom of Information section
• Ronke Martins-Taylor
• Kate Bingham
• Robin Beattie
I would like the above information to be provided to me as electronic copies.‘
Dum de dum de dum
And we waited.
And waited a bit longer.
Then waited a bit more.
Despite regular requests to the Freedom of Information office at the Town Hall by the middle of January 2021 we realised that we were being mucked around by some room temperature IQ acolytes so decided to make a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
(We should emphasise that all through this the Freedom of Information officer at LBTH has been very good indeed – sorry to cause a fuss!)
The response to my SAR should have taken 20 days, not five months.
It’s almost as if there was something in an accurate and truthful response to my SAR that Tower Hamlets Council just did not want people to see.
Strange that, innit?
As if Moley would publish it! Cheek!
Complaint to Information Commissioner
Anyhow while we wait here’s the full text of my complaint to the Information Commissioner.
‘I am a journalist and have been covering Tower Hamlets Council since 2013.
On 03/09/2020 I made a Subject Access Request (SAR) regarding myself and my publications to Tower Hamlets Council (reference 24163573) and I am still waiting for a response.
I should emphasise that this is not the fault of the Complaints and Information Officer who has always been very polite and helpful.
On 21 October 2020 I was told in an email that “We are preparing the documents which will be subject to some redaction for 3rd party data. We hope to get a response to you by the end of next week.” and on 30 Nov 2020, 12:17 I was sent three small PDF documents relating to 2019/2020 and was told that officers were being chased for the rest.
Simply put I have no doubt that a full response to my SAR will put matters into the public domain which LBTH does not want to reveal.
It was revealed in a court witness statement that in 2016 responses to FOI requests were routinely tampered with including my own (https://www.eastendenquirer.org/2020/05/poplar-papers-9-how-tower-hamlets-council-avoids-public-scrutiny/). This sets the tone for the LTBH attitude to Freedom of Information.
Further evidence of this attitude is that for the last few years if I make a standard request for comment to LBTH media office I often do not get any response or the response is so delayed as to render the story of little use.
This only happens on stories which are either politically significant or might embarrass the council.
Essentially LBTH picks and chooses what they respond to and then when it is convenient to them complain that they were not asked for a response.
No doubt any response to enquiries from the ICO as to the reason for the delay in responding to my SAR will be blamed on the current pandemic. While I understand the current problems caused by the pandemic I think that nearly five months is enough for LBTH to fulfil its legal duty.’
Get’s the point across we think?
Of course there is every possibility that Tower Hamlets Council will try and pull a fast one on the Information Commissioner which is, to be honest, the reason the formal complaint is published above.
We have been sent three fairly benign PDF files with a few bits and pieces in the spirit of openness and transparency here are a few extracts.
Register of Interests Canary Wharf Group
Liveable Streets – unhelpful? Moley?
Summer Youth Programme 2016
Ramadan Food Distribution
Parking petition – A legal shot across the bows?
Amazing to think that the very well paid Senior Communications Officer thinks that we have to fabricate anything.
Maybe they keep him / her / they in a box in Sutton or somewhere else totally benign so they have no understanding whatsoever as to what goes on in this borough?
Guess we will have to tell them. When we do finally get our SAR response back we will of course share anything interesting with you.
It’s what we do.
A friend who did get a SAR response from Tower Hamlets Council was sent several large boxes of paperwork. Oooh!
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As community journalists we do exactly what it says on our tin – we work for the community.
In Tower Hamlets, which covers most of London’s East End, that means we spend a lot of time investigating allegations of political corruption.
It is an unfortunate fact that the poorest local authority in the country is still beset by the highest levels of corruption.
As Love Wapping we were instrumental in exposing the electoral corruption of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.
We hoped that would be an end to our work – no such chance!