How the UK Prime Minister's office gets around Freedom of Information requests

Weeks before the 2005 Freedom of Information Act came into effect, Tony Blair's government instituted a policy of automatically purging all calendar items and emails after three months.

The policy, which causes enormous dysfunction in government and civil service, has been continued by the next two governments, right up to the current day. It means that disputes about what had happened just a few months before cannot be settled unless someone deliberately saved the relevant messages. It's so broken that some senior staff have effectively given up on email.

Tony Blair is on record as hating the Freedom of Information Act, because it is used by journalists as "a weapon" against politicians.

One former permanent secretary told the newspaper that he thought there were problems with his BlackBerry when he noticed his emails kept disappearing.

Emails are only saved beyond three months if an individual saves them, which former Downing Street aides said caused "hugely frustrating" problems over staff having different recollections of what was discussed an agreed at meetings.

Sean Kemp, a former special adviser to Nick Clegg, said: "Some people delete their emails on an almost daily basis, others just try to avoid putting anything potentially interesting in an email in the first place."

Downing Street accused of deliberate attempt to avoid freedom of information requests as ex-staff reveal 'dysfunctional' automated deletion system
[Matt Dathan/The Independent]

(Image: 090331, Tamaki Sono, CC-BY)