Cabinet Office: correspondence chaos update

Back in September I blogged about how difficult it’s been to get a response from the Cabinet Office to a small complaint I had about possible misuse of letterheads by Gordon Brown:

Tally so far: two emails [via the Cabinet Office website] and one letter from me plus four letters from my MP spread out over nine months and what to show for it all? Just one holding reply saying the issue had been passed on.

(Conspiracy theorists may at this point wish to mutter how implausible it is that seven times correspondence has been messed out and it just goes to show I’ve really stumbled on some secret plot to subvert our democracy with letterhead abuse.)

So I thought this time I’d try submitting a request under the Data Protection Act. After all, surely someone, somewhere will have some record of even one of these pieces of correspondence?

But no. Despite the Data Protection Act placing a legal obligation to properly answer my request for copies of any correspondence involving me, I’ve been told no trace has been found of anything by the Cabinet Office.

Since then, I’ve asked them to look again and lo and behold, finally this time the Cabinet Office admits to having copies of at least some of this correspondence. Except, that is, when they deny it again.

Because in addition to asking for my Data Protection Act request to be looked at again, I’ve also put in two Freedom of Information requests about the Cabinet Office’s records of complaints about emails sent via their website going astray. The first produced some general statistics, which prompted my second request asking for further details about those statistics (e.g. whether multiple complaints about the same issue counted as one or more than one towards the totals).

And now for the bureaucratic genius part. In response to that second FOI request, the Cabinet Office claims it has no records again. How it therefore put together figures about total number of complaints when it doesn’t have any records is puzzling. Chicken entrails anyone?

It gets better. Because you see of course my own correspondence counts as records related to complaints about such missing records. So the Cabinet Office is both claiming those records don’t exist (for FOI purposes) but also saying they do exist (for DPA purposes).

You may think that is incompetence, inconsistency or idiocy. I’m sticking with it being an act of legal genius to argue that a document both does and doesn’t exist at the same time.

I wonder if there is a Mr. Heisenberg on the Cabinet Office’s legal staff?

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