Solidarity trade union Press Release 16/11/09
Durham Police are refusing to say whether it has used a leaked list of British National Party members to check if any of its employees belonged to that party.
Last November a national list of BNP supporters/members was circulated on the Internet. A man was convicted under the Data Protection Act for his involvement in this. He was a disgruntled former employee of that Party.
Following the leak and the national furore the Solidarity Trade Union was asked to represent a number of workers who were questioned on alleged membership, which in some professions is not currently permitted e.g. prison and police service.
Solidarity has now written to the local force asking them whether they had used the leaked list under the Freedom of Information Act.
Responding to the Union the Durham force said membership of the BNP would lead to any police officer or support staff employee facing disciplinary action.
Crucially however, it would not confirm or deny that the force had “processed any data relating to the leaked BNP membership list” or how any such decision was taken.
A spokesperson for the force said it, "can neither confirm nor deny it holds any information in relation to investigations it may have or have not conducted, which have not subsequently been placed in the public domain."
"At this time the potential harm to current and future investigations outweighs any public benefit in knowing if any additional information is, or is not held.“
That explanation, the force said, "should not be taken as an inference that Durham Constabulary does, or does not hold any further information in relation to your request."
“The police service would be legally entitled to process this sensitive data . . . the grounds for any decision would be that being a member of the BNP is incompatible with the role of a police officer/police staff and would be regarded as gross misconduct requiring formal action.”
Solidarity General Secretary Patrick Harrington said "I believe that the force has used an illegally obtained document. To refuse to even confirm or deny it by hiding behind a so-called Public Interest defence is disingenuous. To suggest that a truthful answer would 'compromise and hinder the prevention or detection of crime' is disturbing. Since when was it a crime to belong to a political party in the UK? We will be asking for a review of this decision."
The Solidarity trade union, which submitted the FOI application, has questioned forces across the country and received varying responses. The union believes that the ban on membership of the BNP and two other groups is not compatible with European law and is seeking to have it overturned.
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