You will recall the brouhaha caused by the visit paid by Dorset police to two women hoping to attend a Chris Loder surgery in a nearby village. This Orwellian incident has gained extra significance with moves by the government to enshrine ‘pre-crime’ in the Public Order Bill, indicating a degree of paranoia about anyone who might want to challenge politicians. As we know, neither woman had any intention of causing the slightest disruption. They wanted only to ask their MP important questions about water quality, sewage dumping and his resignation from the Jurassic Coast Trust.
Most people were shocked to hear that the police had been sent round to ask the women why they wanted to attend a meeting. It could not help but look like intimidation. Whose decision was that, we all wanted to know. Did Loder request it? The Conservative Police Commissioner? Did the police take it upon themselves? How did they get the women’s names and addresses?
Fran Swan wanted to know, so she used freedom of information (FOI) and subject access requests (SAR) in early December to try to get some answers that went beyond the bland statements issued by the various parties involved.
In particular, Fran wanted to see the email that Loder’s office sent to the police which triggered the whole incident. The police had explained that they were not able to share that email and that she should request that Chris Loder share it with her, since it came from his office. She asked. He eventually responded on 9 January:
“To further respond and clarify the answer to your question, there has been no email from me, nor anyone in my office containing your personal data, nor referring to two people, sent to Dorset Police on 17th November 2022.
Chris Loder MP
Member of Parliament for West Dorset”
Fran was understandably bemused and emailed back:
“This does not clarify things at all.
“Are you actually stating that there was no communication at all from your Principle secretary/office prior to the Chideock meeting whether it was on 17 November or another date?
“This is not what the police have said as I detailed in my last email. Are you saying the police are incorrect in this?
“How did the police know that I had applied to attend the meeting, my name and address, if they were not notified by your secretary/office then?
“Can we have some open transparency on this please?
“I apply to attend the meeting.
“I get a visit from the police.
“How does that compute if the police were not notified?
“Please clarify in a meaningful way
And he replied:
“I did say that I would reply to your other points in a letter and offered a meeting with you to discuss this fully last week because what you are asking is not covered in the Subject Access Request. But I will outline the answer for you here.
“1. There was no email from my office with your name on it, nor mentioning two people about this meeting from anyone in my office on 17th November 2022, nor any other day.
“2. An advisory email went to the police protection department on this date from my office. It advised the police of the event and that a number of people looked to attend who were not invited. This correspondence did not mention you, nor anyone else by name. We do this because of the risks we have to manage concerning my security.
“3. The police were adequately concerned to call my office to ask for more information about this notification and to understand who was going to attend the surgery meeting who were not invited. The details of those who were not invited, but requested to attend the meeting were requested by the police protection department for them to evaluate the risk. Those details were requested by the police and provided, but my office also made clear when providing those details that we did not believe there were any significant risks.
“I should re-iterate that at no point has anyone in my office requested the police to visit you, nor anyone else, and public statements saying that I have done so are untrue.
Chris Loder MP
Member of Parliament for West Dorset”
The local police commented on Loder’s denial of an email thus:
“Having read the below information it appears that Mr Loder is advising that personal data was not contained in the emails sent from his office to the Police. He doesn’t suggest that no email was sent.
“This has clearly left you with more questions and you’ve posed them back, but suffice to say we acted on information provided to us and the fourth paragraph of my email to you (copy below) contains a brief explanation around this.”
So is this a case of telepathy via telephony or what?
Mr Loder is getting a bit narked, claiming to be bombarded with emails from Fran. Just giving a straightforward answer would soon put a stop to them!
Fran also asked David Sidwick, Police and Crime Commissioner:
“1. Does he consider that the police visit to my house was disproportionate following the email to the police from Chris Loder’s Secretary/office?
“2. What would he advise the police reaction to be in the future under similar circumstances?
“In other words, if a constituent who is known to the MP applied to attend a meeting with say a question pertaining to the environment, what would be the recommended police procedure?”
“With regard to the police visit made to your house following contact from Chris Loder’s office, I believe that, although carried out with good intentions, it was ill-advised. I note that Dorset Police has apologised and offered recourse through the formal complaints process.
“Turning to your second question, asking me what I would advise the police response to be in the future under similar circumstances, it is not within my gift to provide direction to the police as those decisions are operational and therefore fall to the Chief Constable. I am however satisfied that the Force has reviewed their response and taken learning points from it.”
Fran requested information about upcoming surgeries close to her, having seen the ad (shown above)in the December issue of the West Dorset magazine. Loder responded by inviting her to Dorchester, some 24 miles away. Bear in mind that her intention to go the meeting in Chideock, a mere 7 miles away, was deemed suspicious as she was not sufficiently ‘local’!
It’s all a bit mucky, isn’t it?