Bill will force police to give information

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The Independent Online
THE POLICE are to be covered by the Freedom of Information Bill in a move by the Government to implement some of the recommendations of the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Had the draft law - to be unveiled next week by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary - been in force in the past, the Lawrence family would have been entitled to information about the number of officers being deployed on the investigation into the racist killing of their son, and on the focus for the inquiries. This could have alerted the family to failings of the inquiry before the killers' trail had gone cold.

The Bill will, however, allow police to withhold information where it is judged by a new independent Freedom of Information Commissioner to be "prejudicial" to the public interest. Officers will not have to disclose operational details, such as surveillance duties and the names of police informants.

The Macpherson report said: "We consider it an important matter of principle that the police services should be open to the full provisions of a Freedom of Information Act."

Defending his credentials as a reforming Home Secretary, Mr Straw said last night: "Contrary to what some may have been led to believe, it will be a radical and reforming piece of legislation. It will open up government, in a way which has never been possible before, to scrutiny by the individual citizen, and give people the democratic power which comes with such knowledge."

But he made clear that cabinet committees would still be covered by secrecy.

Campaigners for a Freedom of Information Act are expected to welcome the Home Secretary's announcement, which will go further than an earlier White Paper. But the use of the exclusion clause for "prejudicial" information will provoke controversy.

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