Freedom of Information Requests 2009

What does the Open University have to hide about its use of animals in education and research? To find out Doug Paulley has been using the Freedom of Information Act.

A diary of events in Doug's quest for information is listed below.


13th February 2009

Doug submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Open University asking for information relating to the use of Animals and Animal Material. See Doug's questions.



18th March 2009

Beverley Midwood, Senior Manager - Legislation and Information at the OU, replied to each of Doug’s questions. See her responses.

Beverley Midwood informed Doug that if he wished to appeal against any of her refusals, he could write to the University Secretary.

Doug sent his appeal to the University Secretary.



19th March 2009

Doug received the following acknowledgement from Fraser Woodburn, the Open University Secretary:

Dear Mr Paulley

Thank you for your e-mail. I will look into the points you raise and get back to you. I would like to point out that providing information to OUSA on animal usage has been more difficult than I would have wished but I have personally ensured that a report was provided, in the requested format, this year and last year.

Your sincerely

Fraser Woodburn
The Open University



10th April 2009

On 10th April 2009 Doug contacted Fraser Woodburn drawing his attention to a BBC article about an Order to release animal test data. See Doug's letter about the BBC article.



15th April 2009

On 15th April 2009 an email from the OU’s Freedom of Information office indicated that Fraser Woodburn, the University Secretary, was investigating Doug’s appeal of his FoI request on animal usage. Fraser Woodburn was awaiting a response from a department before getting back to Doug.

The Freedom of Information office was also obtaining minutes of the Animal Ethics Advisory Group, which meets three times a year. They would redat (obliterate) any information relating to applications for licences then send them on.

The same day Doug sent the following reply.


Thank you for your assistance in this, and I should be very grateful if you could also pass on my thanks to the University Secretary for his involvement.

I am grateful also for your work in retrieving and processing the A.E.A.G. committee minutes. I shall look forward to receiving them.

I am somewhat confused; I haven't received anything that specifically indicates it is the report to OUSA. Is it the attached? I ask as it doesn't really fulfill the request made by OUSA - policy quoted below - as it is very limited in the information it provides; for example, it doesn't provide the number of animals used in research, only in education.

Thank you

"2007/75 Annual Report
This Association asks the Open University to provide the General Manager of OUSA and OUSA Vice President Education with an annual report giving a detailed breakdown of its use of animals in research and education for onward transmission to those OUSA members who request it."

"2005/85 Publication of use of animals
This Association asks that the OU publish more detailed information on its use of animals in research and education than is currently provided in its annual reports from the Biology Department. This should include numbers of animals ordered and used, and this information be made more widely available."



23rd April 2009

On 23rd April 2009 Doug received a full response from Fraser Woodburn, the University Secretary.

See Fraser Woodburn's response.

He stated that, as there was a refusal of information in his letter, Doug had the right to complain to Information Commissioner.

The same day Doug contacted the Information Commissioner. Doug states:

"The I C O are very good but can be quite grindingly slow. The enforcement decision over numbers of primates for other universities took 2 years.

Ours is a similar case but slightly different in that we are asking for sources of animals and animal tissue. Similar arguments have been used on both sides. So whilst the previous decision isn't a direct precedent, it should have a bearing. But we are (eventually) setting a new precedent I think. Eventually."

See Doug's appeal to the information commissioner.



12th August 2009

On 12th August 2009 Doug received a letter from the Information Commissioner asking for clarification of a couple of minor points. The letter and the questions made it clear they had thoroughly read and understood the position, which was encouraging.

The letter also indicated that they intended to investigate, to persuade the OU to release information (if their investigation determined the OU hadn't met its obligations), and if necessary to issue an enforcement notice.

The letter stated:

"I am writing to inform you that I am undertaking some preparatory work before your complaint is formally allocated to a case officer. However I hope to be able to allocate your complaint to a case officer in the next few weeks...

As I have indicated, the process of reaching a decision may take some time but once your complaint has been allocated we will update you on th eprogress of the investigation as appropriate but at least every 6-8 weeks."



1st March 2010

Doug received a further response from Beverley Midwood, Senior Manager - Legislation and Information at the OU, following his appeal to the Information Commissioner.

See Beverley Midwood's response to appeal.

She also posted minutes of the Animal Ethics Advisory Group to Doug with a covering letter stating:

"Please find enclosed copies of the minutes of the A E A G from December 2008 and June 2009. In your original request you asked for the papers of the Group for the last year, so I hope these dates are acceptable. The minutes of the most recent meeting have not yet been approved.

"Material which is exempt under the Freedom of Information Act has been redacted. This is material which includes individual's names which is exempt under Section 40 - personal information, and the release of information about Licence Applications which could endanger the health or safety of individuals, which is exempt under Section 38."

A E A G minutes December 2008 (pdf 386 KB)

A E A G minutes June 2009 (pdf 484 KB)



10th March 2010

Doug received the following response from the Information Commissioner:

Following the letter you received from my manager Pam Clements regarding the scope of your case, I am writing to let you know that your case has been allocated to me to investigate. I have written to the Open University in order to set out the scope of the case as you clarified in August 2009. I am aware that the Open University has now written to you again and provided you with further information in relation to points 8 and 10 of your request. Could you confirm if you are now satisfied with the response you have now received in relation to points 8 and 10 of your request. If you are now satisfied in relation to points 8 and 10 of your request my investigation will focus upon points 2 and 4 of your request in relation to which the Open University has refused to provide you with any information.

Please let me know how you wish the case to proceed at your earliest convenience. If I do not hear from you by 24 March 2010, will presume that you are now satisfied with the responses you have received in relation to points 8 and 10 of your request and will focus my investigation solely upon points 2 and 4 of your request.

See Doug's reply to the Information Commissioner.



21st May 2010

Doug had the following to report:

The latest position is that the Information Commissioner are working towards a decision notice to serve on the Open University. They tell me that they almost certainly will NOT uphold my request for details of the people or roles of people on the Animal Ethics Advisory Committee etc. (because the roles identify individuals) but that's the only thing that they have indicated they won't uphold.

I've just been asked by the Information Commissioner if I'm happy with the minutes now they've been supplied with a bit more detail. I've said no. I'm not happy cos they withheld information relating to "comments about the type of animals to be used". I've also asked if there's any way round the situation with names or roles but we'll see.

A E A G minutes December 2008 updates (pdf 336 KB)



26th May 2010

Doug was asked by the Information Commissioner if he was happy with the minutes now they had been supplied with more detail. He said no because they withheld information relating to "comments about the type of animals to be used".

He received the following response:

Dear Mr Paulley,

I have been advised by the Information Commissioner’s Office that you remain dissatisfied with the redactions made in the minutes sent to you on 6 May 2010 in item 4.1 iv

The University has reviewed this again and has decided to release the wording of the recorded minute as follows:

“The comment was made that there are different strains of (type of) rat and each strain has different characteristics therefore the appropriate strain should be used. This could be clarified by the suppliers and would be looked into.”

The University is refusing the further details of the type of rat involved, as these details could enable the research to be matched with other information that is in the public domain which could result in an individual being identified. The University wishes to reduce the risks of specific individuals becoming targets of activities intended to disrupt their activities or endanger their health and safety and so these details are being refused under Section 38 of the Freedom of Information Act – Health and Safety.



22nd June 2010

Doug received the final Decision Notice from the Information Commissioner's Office. It is 17 pages long and is now on the Information Commissioner's website, listed as one of the June 2010 Decision Notices under 21/06/2010, case reference FS50246399 where you can download the full Decision Notice (PDF 59 KB).

See Decision Notice summary.