Council investigated over withholding insured value of stolen mayoral chains

Ceremonial chains worn by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bristol were stolen last year

<p>The chains of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bristol were stolen in February 2020. </p>

The chains of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bristol were stolen in February 2020.

Watchdogs are investigating Bristol City Council’s response to an official request for information about the value of stolen mayoral chains.

Ceremonial chains worn by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bristol were stolen in a raid on a council building in February last year and remain missing 22 months later.

The 23-carat and 18-carat gold chains had been in the care of the council since 1828 and 1926, respectively.

In April of this year, a member of the public asked the council five questions about the precious jewellery using his rights under the Freedom of Information Act. The act requires public bodies to provide information within 20 working days unless they are entitled to withhold it.

Paul Woodstock asked for the insured value of each item, the sum of any money paid out by the insurance company, the estimated replacement cost, and whether the chains of office will be replaced and when.

When the council eventually replied in June, it did not answer any of Mr Woodstock’s questions. Instead, it told him that disclosing the insured sum could set a precedent and expose the local authority to “theft or attempted theft of [insured] items”.

“Whilst there is an inherent public interest in transparency, we are of the view that this is outweighed by strong public interest in preventing crime,” a council officer wrote.

The council apologised for the late response but stood by the substance of it after an internal review requested by Mr Woodstock.

Mr Woodstock argued the legal loophole invoked by the council was not relevant to his request because the mayoral chains had already been stolen and that the public has a right to know why they have not been replaced.

“The chains of office belonged to the people of Bristol not simply to the council,” he said.

Mr Woodstock subsequently complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which began an investigation by writing to the council.

That letter prompted the local authority to change its mind about the reason for failing to answer Mr Woodstock’s questions about the estimated replacement cost of the mayoral chains and any plans for replacing them.

It now claims it does not hold the information, adding no decision about whether to replace the chains has been made, according to a response to Mr Woodstock on November 17.

The local authority still stands by its original reason for refusing to disclose the insured value of each of the mayoral chains and the size of any insurance pay-out for the loss of each item, a spokesman confirmed on December 2.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is continuing its investigation.

Responding to Mr Woodstock on December 1, an officer for the local authority said: “The council is co-operating with the ICO’s investigation and you will be updated by the ICO once its investigation is complete.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office is an independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest.