Watchdog rules council data refusal was wrong

Bicester Advertiser: Stephen McCormick Stephen McCormick

A COUNCIL was wrong to refuse information to a resident about alleged bullying at a city college, the national information watchdog has ruled.

The Information Commissioner (ICO) said Oxfordshire County Council should not have denied Mike White’s requests about City Of Oxford College.

The council ruled his Freedom of Information Act requests about how allegations of bullying and harassment between students were handled as “vexatious”.

The college – formerly Oxford & Cherwell Valley College – said police investigations in 2009 found “no case to answer” over allegations.

Last September Mr White requested paperwork relating to the number of meetings a council officer had with college leaders.

After another request that month for internal emails, the council – to which he put in eight previous related requests – ruled them vexatious.

The ICO said the council had “concerns that information about a sensitive subject” was being requested for “not absolutely clear” reasons.

Given previous requests it said the two were “effectively unjustified and represent a disproportionate use of council resources in a matter which has been substantively addressed”.

“Scattergun” requests to different staff led to “disruption and duplication” it argued.

But the ICO’s Andrew White said: “Oxfordshire County Council is a large authority and 10 requests over a period of approximately one year does not appear to be excessive.”

They were not for “voluminous” amounts and the council “failed to provide evidence that they would have caused a disproportionate burden”.

He said: “It is difficult for the public to establish what actions were taken as a result of the allegations. Clearly a disclosure of the information requested by the complainant would shed greater transparency over the issue.”

Mr White, 45, who lives in Berkshire said he was made aware of allegations by a friend but was not directly involved before that.

Stephen McCormick, group deputy chief executive of Activate Learning, which runs the college, said allegations were “fully investigated at the time by the college, Thames Valley Police and local authority and there was found to be no case to answer”.

He said: “Around the same time an incident came to light in which a member of staff behaved inappropriately in the company of other staff members. This individual was dismissed according to our disciplinary procedures.”

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