Disclosure Details

Operation Spade - 802/14

Dated: 11 Nov 2014

Date of request:     02/10/14

Date of response:  10/11/14

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')(FOIA)

Thank you for your email dated 2 October 2014 in which you made a request for access to certain information which may be held by Northumbria Police.

As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.

You asked: 

 This request refers to information you have received that originated from the Canadian police operation known as Project Spade which identified customers of a child pornography distribution service based in Toronto.
1. On what date(s) did you receive information identifying such customers who had addresses within your area? (If the exact date is unavailable please state the month).
2. How many customers of this service with addresses in your area were you given information about on each of these occasions?
3. For each such group of customers (i.e. those identified to you at a particular time), please state how many
a) have been assessed to have potentially committed a crime
b) have been interviewed
c) have been arrested
d) have been the subject of an arrest warrant
e) have had their property searched
f) have been charged
g) have not yet been the subject of any police action
4. For each such group of customers (ie those identified to you at a particular time), please state
a) the earliest date on which anyone in that list was interviewed/arrested/made subject to an arrest warrant or had property searched.
b) the most recent date on which anyone in that list was interviewed/arrested/made subject to an arrest warrant or had property searched.

As you may know, comparable information has been released by Essex Police following the recent death of Martin Goldberg, an individual who was on the list supplied to UK police via Project Spade.

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.

Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Crime Department of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.

I am able to disclose the located information to you as follows.

1. 26th November 2013
2. 31
a.26, however 3 of these subjects had been dealt with by Northumbria Police for Indecent Image of Children offences prior to the intelligence being received from Operation Spade.
b. 23
c. All have resulted in either an arrest or interview as a Voluntary attendee, depending on the circumstances of the case/subject.
d. None
e. All had property searched
f. 3 subjects have so far been charged with possession of Indecent images of children.
7 subjects were NFA'd after no Indecent Images were found at the searched address, or on the seized computer equipment.
13 enquiries are still on going as subjects are on bail, as computer equipment is still to be examined, or a court date is pending.
g. None

a. 16th December 2013
b. 9th March 2014

In addition, I can neither confirm nor deny that any other information is held by virtue of the following exemptions:

Section 23(5) Information supplied by, or concerning, certain Security Bodies

Section 30(3) Investigations and Proceedings Conducted by Public Authorities

Section 31(3) Law Enforcement

Section 40(2) Personal Information

Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information with regard to an exempt body as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemption:

Section 23(5) Information Supplied by, or concerning, certain Security Bodies

Section 23 and 40 are class based absolute exemptions and there is no requirement to consider the public interest in their case.

Overall Harm

Any release under the Freedom of Information Act is a disclosure to the world, not just to the individual making the request.  To confirm or not that information is held with regard to Project Spade by Northumbria Police would be inappropriate as it would reveal actual policing activity.
By confirming or denying information is held has the potential to undermine any ongoing investigations and would allow a mosaic picture to be realised of where suspects are located across the UK.  If there are live investigations the information would identify those forces that may still be investigating individuals and those whom may have concluded theirs. 
This would undermine the national response to Op Spade as this could lead to offenders destroying evidence to avoid apprehension and going 'underground' by moving to another area which they feel would be 'safer'.  This would ultimately place the safety of individuals at an increased risk. 

Factors favouring confirmation or denial S30

The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve.  Confirming that information exists could promote public trust in providing transparency and demonstrating openness and accountability into where the police are currently focusing their investigations.  It could also provide reassurance to the public that Northumbria Police conduct investigations appropriately.  Confirmation may allow the public to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the Police Service. 
The issue of child sexual exploitation is a highly emotive subject area often attracting high profile media and public interest connotations.  Confirmation or denial that information exists could provide reassurance to the general public.

Factors against confirmation or denial S30

Modern-day policing is intelligence led and Northumbria Police would not disclose information that would undermine an investigation now and in the future as this could hinder the prevention and detection of crime as well as undermine the partnership approach to investigations and law enforcement.

Should offenders take evasive action to avoid detection police resources may well be diverted from frontline duties and other areas of policing in order to locate and apprehend these individuals.  In addition the safety of individuals and victims would be compromised.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial S31

To confirm or deny that any other information is held would identify whether the police has either concluded or completed their investigations into Operation Spade. This would in turn identify where police resources are being directed. It would offer greater transparency around a high profile international investigation at force level.

Factors against confirmation or denial S31

To confirm or deny that any other information is held would undermine law enforcement as it could identify whether the police have any ongoing investigations or offenders outstanding. The disclosure of this information would undermine the forces ability to detect crimes associated with Op Spade as it would disclose the police current focus with investigations. It could lead to offenders to go underground or move to avoid detection.

Balance Test

Modern day policing is intelligence led and the disclosure of any other information that would undermine Northumbria Police's ability to prevent and detect crime would not be disclosed. If any other information is held, this could offer inferences as to police focus, resource allocation and current status of investigations. This information, if held, would be of use to offenders situated in the force area. Similarly, if there is no further information held it could identify to offenders that they are not being investigated in relation to Op Spade or any associations through the intelligence received through the operation. Although there is considerable public interest in this operation, the handling by CEOP and by individual forces, it is of paramount importance that the force protects any information, if held, that if disclosed would undermine the forces ability to detect crime or prosecute an offender.

Due to the different methods of recording information across 43 forces, a specific response from one constabulary should not be seen as an indication of what information could be supplied (within cost) by another.  Systems used for recording these figures are not generic, nor are the procedures used locally in capturing the data.  For this reason responses between forces may differ, and should not be used for comparative purposes.

The information we have supplied to you is likely to contain intellectual property rights of Northumbria Police.  Your use of the information must be strictly in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) or such other applicable legislation.  In particular, you must not re-use this information for any commercial purpose.

How to complain

If you are unhappy with our decision or do not consider that we have handled your request properly and we are unable to resolve this issue informally, you are entitled to make a formal complaint to us under our complaints procedure which can be found at: http://www.northumbria.police.uk/foi/disclosurelog/foicomprights.asp

If you are still unhappy after we have investigated your complaint and reported to you the outcome, you may complain directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office and request that they investigate to ascertain whether we have dealt with your request in accordance with the Act.


FOI Complaint Rights Procedure_tcm4-67103