Post Eight – The Data Protection Merry-go-round

Dear Convener

Hi – it’s only me, Murdo MacLeod, your former Emergency Planning Officer.

Remember this? “The Comhairle is confident that correct procedures were followed at all times in the case of Mr Macleod and maintains that he was always treated fairly at all times.”

Oh yeah?

On 10 March 2006, I wrote to Gavin Lawson, Solicitor, the Comhairle’s Data Protection Officer, in the following terms:-

“My name is Murdo MacLeod and I am currently employed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as an Emergency Planning Officer. My payroll number is XXXXXX. Under the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998, I require my employer to provide me with a copy of everything in my employee records. I also require a copy of all the information presented to the Chief Executive by all parties, pertaining to my grievance of bullying and harassment against Katherine Mackinnon, together with the Chief Executive’s own records.

I would appreciate early confirmation of receipt of this communication. Thank you for your co-operation.”

I received a letter from Mr Lawson dated 14 March, acknowledging receipt of my request and seeking clarification regarding the information I required from the Chief Executive. I replied on 15 March as follows:-

“Thank you for the prompt response to my letter of 10 March. You requested clarification on two points:

(1) My request for all the information presented to the Chief Executive does include the information supplied by myself.

(2) I refer to any notes or other records created by the Chief Executive in the process of addressing my grievance.

Thank you for your co-operation.”

By my reckoning, the prescribed 40 day period (as stipulated in the Act) expired on 22 April. I had not received any further communication from Mr Lawson by then. I wrote again to Mr Lawson on 02 May, as follows:-

“I wrote to you on 10 March 2006 under the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998, seeking copies of information referring to me held by my employer. Your letter of 14 March acknowledged receipt of my communication and in your reply you stated that my “request will be processed promptly and in any event within 40 days of receipt.”

The prescribed 40 day period is now long past and I have not received any information, nor have I received any explanation for the failure to provide it. Please note that if I do not receive the information I am entitled to by Tuesday 9 May, I will consider lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner.

I look forward to your early response.”

On 06 May, I received a letter from Mr Lawson, in which he claimed that “I have not yet an answer to my request for clarification. The 40 day clock was stopped when I made my request and will not begin again until you provide the clarification sought. It is therefore in your best interests to provide the clarification as soon as possible. There has therefore been no failure to provide you the information within the statutory time limit”

My letter of 15 March was sent by first class mail and posted by me in the letterbox beside the Royal Mail Sorting Office in Stornoway (across the road from the council offices), as indeed were all my letters to Mr Lawson. I do not believe that the Comhairle did not receive my letter of 15 March.

I wrote to Mr Lawson on 12 May, expressing astonishment that he claimed not to have received an answer to his request for clarification. I enclosed a copy of my letter of 15 March and I sent copies of both letters to the Chief Executive. I requested Mr Lawson’s and Mr Burr’s early confirmation of receipt. Mr Burr confirmed receipt in a letter dated 15 May, in which he advised that he would discuss the matter with Mr Lawson “over the next few days”. No confirmation had been received from Mr Lawson by 26 May, so I wrote to him again, copied to the Chief Executive. I received a letter of apology from Mr Lawson dated 29 May and a letter from Mr Burr dated 30 May, confirming that Mr Lawson had received my previous communication.

On 02 July, 49 days after my second request for data access and 111 days after I had first asked for copies of information about me held by the authority I had still not received a single piece of paper. I wrote to the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC), requesting his intervention and I copied my letter to the Chief Executive. On the evening of Tuesday 04 July, about 6.40 pm, an A4 envelope was pushed through my letterbox. I did not see the person who delivered it. The envelope was addressed to me but not postmarked and I assumed this was the information I had asked for, being hand-delivered. It wasn’t very bulky and as I looked at it I thought it didn’t look much to show for nearly 20 years service.

On opening the envelope, I found a compliment slip signed by Mr Lawson and copies of various documents pertaining to my sick absence and my grievance against the Head of Human Resources. In fact, the only documents I didn’t already have were statements from the Head of HR and the Risk and Emergency Planning Manager. The earliest dated document was 07 April 2004 and the latest was 01 February 2006. There were multiple copies of several documents; six in one case. This was not what I asked for, this is not all I’m entitled to and this is not what I was promised. It beggars belief that my employer made me wait 113 days for what was provided. On Thursday 06 July, I received a letter from the SIC’s office advising me that he has no remit under the Data Protection Act and to send my complaint to the UK Information Commissioner. I did that the same day.

I received a letter dated 17 October 2006, from the Information Commissioner’s Office, advising me that they were now in a position to deal with my complaint. The Commissioner’s Office intend to approach the Comhairle “in order to clarify the situation and establish why, so far, they appear to have failed to comply with your subject access request”. I received a letter dated 14 November (184 days after my original request) from the Comhairle’s Freedom of Information Officer, together with a package of papers described as a “copy of your file” held within Personnel. If what I received is a copy of everything in my personal file/records there is something seriously wrong with the upkeep of the authority’s personnel records. I had no alternative but to bring my dissatisfaction to the attention of the Information Commissioner again.

The Chief Executive had not fully complied with my information request either. I have not had sight of Helen Froud’s submission nor of Mr Burr’s notes. The Commissioner was so advised.

Following correspondence with the Comhairle’s newly appointed Freedom of Information Officer (FOI), I met with her at her invitation on Monday 26 March 2007. She allowed me to read a file which contained material relating to my grievance against the Head of Human Resources. I did not see any notes, handwritten or otherwise, which I could attribute to the Chief Executive. The FOI Officer had stated in her letter of 20 March, that; “You have been provided with copies of all notes and records taken by the Chief Executive in the process of addressing your grievance”. I asked her during our meeting if she had written that statement because she knew it to be true, or because that was what she had been told. She replied that it was because that was what she had been told.

I have never received a copy of the notes the Chief Executive took at our interview.

Dear reader – Did the Comhairle’s actions conform to the spirit and the letter of the law?

You decide!

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