Liverpool council's Freedom of Information cover-up, how we were all misled
Many journalists have long suspected that Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requests are sanitised before being sent out.
Attempting to represent the data or information in a favourable context may be one thing, deletion of items requested is another.
As our story shows today Liverpool council actively covered-up information requested by me and now council leader Joe Anderson (who was leader of opposition at the time).
It goes without saying that cover-ups of this nature are deeply worrying. Perhaps some background would be helpful.
It is not unusual for opposition politicians to work with journalists on a story.
In the autumn of 2009 Cllr Anderson received a tip off that it might be worth asking questions about corporate hospitality being lavished on officials. The details are supposed to be contained in a register.
After discussing the tip off we both sent off inquiries that asked for information from the register for the previous three years.
What was to follow happened below the radar was quite extra-ordinary.
The requests sparked an internal investigation after a number of potential breaches in policies and procedures were found.
There was no evidence of corruption or officials being put under undue influence, but the then-city treasurer Robert Corbett reviewed the hospitality received.
In cases where it could be perceived there was little or no benefit to the city of Liverpool, he asked officials to make an equivalent donation to the Lord Mayor's charity.
We were told about this and the story was duly reported.
But what we were not told was that items were deleted and amended. From what I can gather from the internal audit investigation, whose report I was subsequently leaked and forms the basis of today's story, is that the doctoring was not of big ticket items.
So why was it done? To save the blushes of certain council officials with regards certain entertainment? Perhaps it was seen as a damage limitation exercise.
Cllr Anderson believes nothing corrupt had taken place, but morally wrong instead.
Who knows why it happened, we will probably never know.
We will be referring the matter to the Information Commissioner's Office for consideration.
Although it happened on a previous watch the ICO could sanction the city council to send the message that public authorities need to be open and honest in their dealings, not just with the press but also the public.