With only a week to go before the elections in Tower Hamlets it seems the perfect time to report on the latest weary saga that is Greenbankgate.
Yesterday I received a reply from my last letter to Tower Hamlets council. I had been told the handwritten notes taken by the still unidentified mysterious canvassers had been shredded. How handy. Unsatisfied with the reply I asked for further clarification.
Here’s what I got. Don’t get too excited.
You can see the full reply from the council below, but it is not exactly easy reading so I will cover the useful bits here with my comments below.
Extracts from Response
“Mr. Carter’s investigation can only look into how your data was handled once received by Council officers. The Council does not hold this information. Our records commence with logging the enquiry. You may wish to direct your query for the attention of Cllr. Alibor Choudhury at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org for further information as to what happened prior to the Council receiving the information.”
Interesting. Now being directed not to another Council officer or Cllr. Alibor Chourdhury in his official role as Cabinet Member for Resources but a party political email address. Also interesting because Cllr. Choudhury admitted in council that the mystery canvassers were his volunteers.
“The Council no longer holds paper copies of the notes received. All MEs [Members Enquiries] are stored securely, in a locked cupboard and upon receipt these are logged within two working days. Once entered into the corporate databases for MEs , the original paperwork is disposed of securely, using white disposal bags or a cross cutting shredder for secure waste disposal.”
Fair enough and an answer to my question. Sort of. Because I still want to know where the original handwritten notes where between the 7th and 20th of November.
“Mr. Carter spoke to Ms. McKenzie, Members Support Manager, and Ms. Parchment, Head of Mayor’s Office, who confirmed the process and that a paper record is no longer held by the Council.”
Why on earth would Ms. Parchment, who Ted Jeory has written about, get involved with this? She’s the Head of the Mayor’s Office. Chief Honcho! Number One! Doesn’t she have people to do this sort of thing?
“Requests for information regarding third parties are dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act. The person works for the Council and the exemption in section 40(2) has been applied. The names of junior staff who are not customer facing are not normally provided.”
Blah blah blah blah. Legally correct. But not good enough thanks. No disrespect to the council officer who had to deal with this, your work is appreciated.
Let’s cut the crap
Before we start cutting remember that Tower Hamlets council is not Lutfur Rahman’s Independent / Tower Hamlets First / whatever party. One is a public body, the other is a political party.
There is a missing link between me and the Mayor (no jokes please). An indication of this is that there is gap between 7th of November 2013 when the enquiry was made and 20th November 2013 when it first showed up on the Council system.
Where was it during that time? The Council response is all about the Council – not any other organisation. As you would expect from a Council officer. Problem being it doesn’t help me.
The simple question I want answered is “How did an enquiry noted down by a woman who said she worked for Tower Hamlets Homes end up in Mayor Lutfur’s office and the Tower Hamlet council system?”
And I know the answer. You know the answer. Everyone knows the answer. So why are we all ignoring the elephant in the room?
Ooh look – an elephant behind the sofa
For my enquiries to get from ‘Tower Hamlets’ canvassers to Mayor Lutfur there has to exist another system or organisation. Simples.
Logic and plain old common sense says that the mystery canvassers must be involved with this organisation.
The mystery canvassers took my enquiries, put them into the system of this organisation and then they ended up in the Tower Hamlets council and Mayor Lutfur’s system.
Is that a fair conclusion?
I have known this every time I have made an enquiry, submitted an FOI request or a Data Protection disclosure request. I just wanted to see if anyone would admit to it. Sneaky, huh?
After many months we now have two clues. The first is when Cllr. Alibor Choudhury stood up in council and said ““They are volunteers we use. They have every right to go out and knock on doors.” The video of Cllr. Choudhury saying this is still online if you follow the previous link.
Pointers doing pointy things
And now this response which points me – and you – towards Cllr. Choudhury again.
The key detail is who does Cllr. Choudhury mean by ‘They are volunteers we use’? Who is ‘we’? Volunteers for what organisation? Not Tower Hamlets Homes. Not the Council. Not Tower Hamlets First. So who?
The letter suggests I email Cllr. Choudhury. Yeah, right.
Fortunately for us the Metropolitan Police Service started a formal investigation a while back. And I have total confidence that they are not only intent on establishing the truth of Greenbankgate but will do so.
While they do their police thing the rest of us can just sit back and remember to vote on 22nd May.
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Full text of letter. For the sake of clarity I have emphasised the council’s response in bold.
Stage 3 Complaint 1-86833315
I am writing to let you know that Richard Carter, Complaints and Information Officer, has completed the investigation into your complaint.
Before I respond to your further queries raised in your letter dated 2 April2014 I would like to reassure you that the Council takes its responsibilities in handling your personal data seriously. Electronic information held is securely held and only accessible to a limited number of people on a need to know basis.
I shall now address each of your numbered points:
Query 1. The identity of the person or persons who gave Busra Hussain, Sadia Uddin or their colleagues details of my enquiry
1. Does this mean that the Mayor personally handed these details over.
This information is not held, but it wouldn’t be unusual for the Mayor to personally bring in enquiries for Council Officers to process.
2. If so who gave these details to the Mayor?
3. The Mayor did not accompany the three women ‘canvassers’ who knocked on my door on 7 November 2013 but I have since received letters from the Mayor in response to the queries I raised with the three women. I wish to know the identities of the three women and the identity of all persons who have handled my personal information from it being collected by the three women to it being handed to Mayor Lutfur Rahman
Mr. Carter’s investigation can only look into how your data was handled once received by Council officers. The Council does not hold this information. Our records commence with logging the enquiry. You may wish to direct your query for the attention of Cllr Alibor Choudhury at the following email address: email@example.com for further information as to what happened prior to the Council receiving the information .
Query 2. On behalf of what organisation were these details collected.
4. The Mayor is not an organisation. If these details were collected for an organisation that the Mayor has an association with please can you disclose the identity of this organisation.
See answer to point 3 in Query 1 above.
Query 3. The purpose of the collection of my details.
5. I do not understand how the query raised by three women who said that they were from Tower Hamlets Homes ends up in the Mayor’s office. I think the answer to this may have been resolved if you can provide an adequate answer to point 3 above.
See answer to point 3 in Query 1 above.
Query 4. Disclosure of any and all the details gathered by the women who visited me, Including copies of their original hand written notes and those relating to my enquiry were entered into any computer systems.
Can you tell me:
6. How you know that these original handwritten notes were shredded?
The Council no longer holds paper copies of the notes received. All MEs are stored securely, in a locked cupboard and upon receipt these are logged within two working days. Once entered into the corporate databases for MEs , the original paperwork is disposed of securely, using white disposal bags or a cross cutting shredder for secure waste disposal.
7. Who told you that the notes were shredded
Mr. Carter spoke to Ms. McKenzie, Members Support Manager, and Ms. Parchment, Head of Mayor’s Office, who confirmed the process and that a paper record is no longer held by the Council.
8. The identity of the organisation that held these original notes?
9. On whose authority were these notes shredded?
10. The time, date, location that the shredding took place?
11. The reason the notes were shredded
12. Is it standard practice for these notes to be shredded?
The Council held the notes. The circumstances in which these were destroyed is outlined in paragraph 6 above. This was in accordance with the Council’s records management policy and retention schedule. It is important to keep in mind that in the course of the everyday Council business, many documents are received that serve no useful purpose in being kept once they have been processed, in this case into the Corporate Member’s Enquiry database. Mr. Carter confirms that retention guidelines were followed when destroying the paper.
Query 5. Do my details remain on the computer system(s) and if so for what reason.
13. Please provide me with the identity of the person who entered the handwritten computer notes and my personal details into the Council’s computer system
14. Please provide me with the identity of the organisation that this person belonged to
Requests for information regarding third parties are dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act. The person works for the Council and the exemption in section 40(2) has been applied. The names of junior staff who are not customer facing are not normally provided.
The release of this information would breach the first data protection principle, which states firstly that data should be processed fairly and lawfully. In addition, certain conditions for processing must be satisfied . The conditions for processing are found In Schedules 2 and 3 of DPA98. At least one Schedule 2 condition must be satisfied for processing to be In accordance with the first principle.
When analysing fairness, the Council must consider what the individual has been told about the processing of their personal data and what their reasonable expectations are in relation to that processing. The Council also takes into account the potential for unwarranted detriment to the individual where that processing takes place. In the Council’s view ,no individual officer would reasonably expect that information of this nature would be disclosed to the public.
15. The earliest entry in the computer log you sent me is 20th November. Can you find out where my personal details were before being collected on 7th November and being input into this system on the 20th please?
The Council would’ve received the information up to 48 hours before the 20 November 2013. See answer to point 3 in query 1 above.
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