I am a mug!

Published: Wednesday, 22 May 2019

I AM a mug! That is what I have been told by a distant relative who worked for Canal & River Trust, writes Alan Davis.

What makes me a mug is that I donated to a CaRT appeal following the Middlewich breach in 2018. According to my relative, the breach was due to overtopping caused by CRT's failure to implement the recommendations of a Principal Inspection Report carried out by its Earth Structure Inspection Team in March back in 2010. He suggested I ask CaRT for a copy of the same team's post breach report.

Acknowledgement was ambiguous

So I did! I made an information request for this report on 20th February, some three months ago. CaRT's acknowledgement was ambiguous, but they eventually confirmed that they were treating my request under Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) and would respond within 20 working days of the request being made.

I did not hear from them again.

A little digging indicated that I was entitled to complain to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). I did so. The Information Commissioner managed to get a response where I had failed. ICO also issued a decision notice—'The Commissioner’s decision is that the Canal and River Trust failed to respond to the complainant’s request within 20 working days of receipt and has therefore breached regulation 5(2) of the EIR.'

[The Decision Notice was received, and indeed states CaRT's breach of regulation 5(2) of which we have had sight.]

Deny holding the information

However, CaRT's response was: 'The Earth Structures Inspectors visited the location shortly after the breach to discuss clearance and dismantling works for the repairs only and no Principle Inspection report was generated. Therefore we do not hold the information you are requesting.'

If that happens then it may be I will not disclose the vitriol emanating from my relative when made aware of CaRT's response extracted by the Information Commissioner. However, when calmed down a bit he made it clear that it was standard procedure for a report to be made subsequent to any catastrophic failure. He provided me with a copy of the report made subsequent to the 2012 Dutton breach as proof.

[We have had sight of the The Dutton Post Breach Report and it is indeed proof.]

On 25th March 2019, I asked for an internal review:

Unhappy with handling of request

'Dear Canal & River Trust

Your email (below) says that I have the right to ask for an internal review. I wish to do so being very unhappy with the handling of this request.

Firstly, rather than accept your apology for the delay, I would like a detailed explanation as to why it took you so long. It seems to me that you deliberately avoided responding and only did so when the Information Commissioners Office was asked to help.

Secondly, I have great difficulty in understanding why a Principal Inspection Report was not produced. My understanding is that this is standard practice (I attach a copy of a similar report carried out immediately after the Dutton Breach). I would like whoever is carrying out the review to name themselves and explain the failure to carry out this post breach report when it was known that the Trust had failed to carry out a previous inspections recommendations.

Alan L. Davis'

Another ambiguous response

After another ambiguous response, I finally got this:

Sorry I should have stated specifically in my acknowledgement the review of the way your request was dealt with will be undertaken by Tom Deards who is head of legal and governance services and you will receive a response from him within 20 working days."

However, to date, Mr Deards has failed to respond prompting a second complaint to the ICO. Hopefully, the Information Commissioner will get a response from Mr Deards where I have failed.

If that happens then it may be two decision notices for a single information request.

No longer a 'Friend'

For my part, I am not holding my breath waiting for CaRT's head of legal and governance services to respond. I have seen and heard enough! I have rescinded my regular monthly contributions as a 'Friend' and will not make any further payments to ad-hoc appeals. Indeed, if I had not donated anonymously to the Middlewich Appeal, I would be asking for my money back.

Following my recent experience, I have to agree with my relative—I am a mug!

(My relation was one of 240 staff told that jobs were at risk before Christmas. He no longer works for the Trust having found employment on a more attractive remuneration package elsewhere.)