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Vexatious letter writing

Lesnes Abbey, Belvedere

During the latter part of the 20th century while neighbouring Greenwich was proclaiming itself a Nuclear Free Zone (goodness knows how medical supplies were delivered to their hospitals), Bexley was telling its long-suffering residents that it was “Working to improve your quality of life”. It was a very annoying slogan because it was so blatantly untrue and eventually I decided that whenever I saw something that didn’t seem to match the aims I would question it.

During 2000 and 2001 I wrote three letters covering seven subjects most of which may now be found on this website. That letter count doesn’t include the follow ups caused by Bexley council’s inability to answer difficult questions. At one point I received a friendly phone call from a man who worked in the council’s Sidcup offices to tell me that the slogan was all hot air and that in local government it was almost inevitable that all changes will be for the worse. Fortunately I have long forgotten his name, if I ever knew it, and it wouldn’t be something I’d ever repeat here anyway.

In October 2001 I received a veiled threat about my correspondence with Bexley council in a letter headed “Protracted correspondence”. It was from Alan Twyman in the Chief Executive’s office and he had copied it to my local councillor.

It said that he “accepted that the public have a right to raise matters with the council” and “you will appreciate that there is a cost involved in responding to letters and emails and at some point it may be difficult to justify the use of resources where, for example, correspondence becomes vexatious.”

So three letters in two years raising a total of seven questions about Bexley’s bogus slogan may become vexatious correspondence? If they had bothered to answer the questions honestly in the first place it would probably have brought the matters to a swift end but when the replies reveal a catalogue of misinformation, inconsistencies and a readiness to abuse the law it has to be questioned further.

A BBC journalist said on his blog in 2009 that “Under the Freedom of Information Act, a request can be refused if it’s vexatious, but this has to be an issue about the request itself, not the person making it. Just because you are a really annoying person is not sufficient grounds for turning down your freedom of information applications.” This was his summary of a decision by the Information Commissioner. Once again Bexley council sets its own rules with scant regard for the law.

September 2009

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