Last reviewed 8 April 2020

In the first ever successful conviction under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a council employee has been fined £400 for an offence under the FOI Regulations.

Nicola Young, town clerk of Whitchurch Town Council, was convicted under s.77 of the Act of deliberately obstructing records with the intent to prevent disclosure.

As part of her responsibilities as town clerk, she 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 Ms Young was, after initially denying it, aware of the FOI request and had deleted the audio file some days later.

She 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 £1493 and a victim surcharge of £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.”

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.”