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Council told to publish Dr Who letters

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A tribunal has told Cardiff City Council to publish all its records concerning the television programme Dr Who.

This was despite a council claim that finding the documents would take an unreasonable amount of staff time.

Cardiff corresponds regularly with the BBC over road closures for filming the science fiction series in the city.

Journalist Christopher Hastings asked last year for all communications between the council and the BBC related to the programme.

He also sought all relevant council correspondence with utility companies and other public bodies, and copies of complaints sent to Cardiff about the programme.

Cardiff said finding this would take more than 18 hours, and so fell outside Freedom of Information legislation.

The Information Commissioner rejected this last summer, and Cardiff appealed to the tribunal. The Information Rights Tribunal ruled that Cardiff had failed to demonstrate it would take too long and said it had presented poor evidence in which its officers contradicted each other.

Tribunal judges said they were “rather bewildered by the nature and quality of the evidence” given by Cardiff as appellant.

The tribunal said a Cardiff officer, Phil Bradshaw, had last year estimated the time taken, but that freedom of information officer Dave Parsons, “however told us that Mr Bradshaw had now left employment with [Cardiff] and that his analysis was quite incorrect and could not be relied on.

“Mr Parsons pointed to a number of errors made by Mr Bradshaw including his estimate of the number of ‘principal officers’ employed.”

The tribunal said it also found contradictions in Mr Bradshaw’s evidence on the number of principal officers employed and how many would need to be consulted about Dr Who.

“The Tribunal was faced therefore with the rather odd situation of two of the appellant’s employees contradicting each other and, indeed, in Mr Bradshaw’s case, of an employee contradicting himself,” it said.

It ruled that Cardiff “failed to prove, on the balance of probabilities that responding to Mr Hastings’ enquiry would have involved in excess of 18 hours work”.

A Cardiff spokesman said: “The Council is disappointed with the tribunal decision but while accepting the judgement we are still concerned that it will take significantly longer to process than the 18 hours of employee time which allows requests to be refused under the Freedom of Information Act. “We estimated the cost of processing the original request for information would have been prohibitive.

“In hindsight we accept we did not provide sufficient evidence to the tribunal in regard of the costs of processing the request for information, however, we note that the tribunal recognised the efforts made to clarify the request which were rejected by the requester of the information.”

Council leader Rodney Berman (Lib Dem) had called for a review of procedures,”particularly the sign-off for the system of going forward to appeals as he had not been made aware this tribunal was happening until it was already underway”, the spokesman said.

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