Log In

Reset Password

Heather Brooke, the woman who exposed the UK expenses scandal to speak tonight

Bermuda’s citizens will have the right to know by the end of this year and if anyone is able to help them understand why that matters, it is surely Heather Brooke.

The UK-based activist and journalist has spent the last seven years requesting information from official bodies in that country, with dramatic results.

The MPs’ expenses scandal which rocked Britain in 2009 and exposed how politicians were wasting public money on personal claims came about because of an FOI request Ms Brooke made to Parliament, which was refused.

Her subsequent campaign for disclosure led to the total reform of the parliamentary expense system and her story was dramatised by the BBC in the film ‘On Expenses’.

This evening, she will speak at a Centre for Justice forum on freedom of information, outlining why it is so important for ordinary people to be able to access official records.

“You shouldn’t have to have money or be well connected or know the right people or be powerful to get basic civic information to find out how public services spend public money,” Ms Brooke told

The Royal Gazette yesterday.

“You shouldn’t have to take anybody out to lunch for it. If you don’t give people a statutory right to information, you end up with a patronage system where information becomes a commodity and people only get it if they are rich enough, powerful enough or if they are doing somebody a favour.

“The point about public information is that it should be available to all, not just to a select few.”

Mr Brooke was born in the US and worked as a reporter in the 1990s at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, in South Carolina, and the Spokesman-Review, in Spokane, Washington.

She gave up journalism and moved to the UK at the end of that decade to do a master’s degree, but was “propelled into the FOI scene” after seeking basic information about her neighbourhood.

“I had all these problems where I lived: rubbish collections, feral youths, low-level crime.

“Police didn’t do anything, the council didn’t do anything. I was trying to figure out who was in charge here, why isn’t anything getting done.

“Because I’d been a reporter in America I knew all the documentation that existed. I couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t give it out [in Britain]. They were saying ‘nobody in Britain gets to know’.”

At the time, the UK’s Freedom of Information Act was about to come into force. Ms Brooke, by then working as a freelance writer, pitched an idea for a book called ‘Your Right to Know’ to a publisher.

‘I felt I was in a pretty privileged position,” she said. “I had seen how the law worked in America.

“I remember thinking: how does any journalist do their job in the UK? I thought they were way too accepting. They didn’t know any different. I did.”

Her book, a how-to-guide for anyone wanting to make an FOI request, turned Ms Brooke into one of the country’s leading experts on the topic and motivated her to make countless requests herself.

“I thought: ‘I need to do it to show how it works’,” she said. “I was used to getting information so when I didn’t get it, I was surprised and outraged and offended.

“I never set out thinking ‘oh, parliament is corrupt’ or ‘MPs are wasting a bunch of money’. That was just one of hundreds of FOI requests I made. They basically drew attention to themselves because of their extreme obstruction.”

Ms Brooke’s campaign to get details of the expenses ended up in the High Court, as a test case which she won in 2008. But parliament still resisted the release of the information.

Eventually, a disc containing all the information was leaked to the Daily Telegraph and the full scale of the misuse of taxpayer cash was exposed.

“I felt vindicated on a number of fronts,” said Ms Brooke. “Everyone was so arrogantly sure that Britain was this model democracy and that’s not possible.

“Humans are fallible. If you give people a lot of money that’s not their money, and say ‘do what you like with it’, it’s just like a blank cheque.”

Premier Paula Cox has promised Bermuda’s long-awaited public access to information law will become operational “in the second half of 2012”.

Ms Brooke said ordinary citizens should ensure they take full advantage of it when it comes into force.

“I’m sure that people in Bermuda think the country can be better run than it is,” she said. “I’m sure that everybody has an issue about inequality or justice.

“The only way to fight any of these problems and to make sure society is working for the benefit of the majority of people, rather than a select few, is to argue on a level playing field.

“If they have all the information and you have none, you are completely impotent.”

Tonight’s forum is at the Church Hall at St Paul AME Church in Hamilton between 6pm and 8pm. Light refreshments will be served at 5.30pm


UK freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke is on the Island to speak at a forum this evening on your right to know. (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published March 14, 2012 at 9:53 am (Updated March 14, 2012 at 9:53 am)

Heather Brooke, the woman who exposed the UK expenses scandal to speak tonight

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon