Yesterday Diana Rusk in the Irish News noted that NI Water supremo Laurence McKenzie just happened to delete that controversial email text which Paul Priestley sent him, a full 17 days after receiving it. But an FOI response from NI Water reveals he deleted it the day after NI Water received an FOI requesting it.
The request was eventually granted. Following a complaint from the person who made the original request, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in Belfast is looking into the matter.
In today’s paper they are calling it a ‘silver bullet’. This refers not to any future investigation but to the fact that this email – rather than the sloppy (to put it mildly) processes which led to the firing of the four NEDs last March – was what directly led to the suspension and investigation of Paul Priestly last month.
That the email itself was an attempt by Priestly to use the independent office of a member of his so-called Independent Review Team, (which helped bring to fruition Mr MacKenzie’s radical idea [text deleted by request]) has provoked little comment in the general media coverage of these events.
NI Water is at pains to suggest that MacKenzie did not formally know about that request until an internal meeting on 30th July 10. This is an important defence, not least from the point of view MacKenzie’s own commercial future.
Under legislation, the deliberate destruction of information requested in an FOI can lead to criminal proceedings.
That would require a second investigation as a follow up to the Irish News story, with a clear judgement from the ICO. In England, in practice, the ICO has, on occasion, been reluctant to get its hands too dirty.
He may defer, for instance, to NI Water’s procedural claim that there is no requirement to retain CC’ed emails of official records. It’s a claim would have been considerably strengthened had Mr MacKenzie deleted the email before the FOI request had entered the company building and not such an obviously short time afterwards.
As for DRD, they are refusing all requests for contextual details of the original email sent to Peter Dixon by Paul Priestly on the grounds it will form part of the official NICS investigation of Priestley by Sir Jon Shortridge. That’s not due to complete before November.
Whatever the outcome, this looks like yet another hare running that Mr MacKenzie can ill-afford…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty