Freedom Of Information

FOI Friday: What gets stolen from shops, dangerous animals in Chester, zero hour council contracts and finds by police diving teams

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What is being stolen in shoplifting incidents? < Exeter Express and Echo

A £22,500 shotgun has been stolen from an Exeter store and was never returned, it has been revealed today.

The vintage weapon was stolen in March this year according to new information about shoplifting in the region from Devon and Cornwall Police.

The spreadsheet documenting every incident of shoplifting in Devon and Cornwall for the last three years was released by the force under the Freedom of Information Act.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a Hussey and Hussey, double-barreled gun, was removed from the Exeter store “by unknown means” between March 4-10.

Sexual misconduct in South Yorkshire Police < Doncaster Free Press

Nine South Yorkshire police officers have been disciplined following allegations of sexual misconduct made by colleagues.

Allegations were made between 2010 and March this year, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Dangerous animals on the prowl – allegedly < Chester Chronicle

Cheshire is one of the most dangerous places to live according to 999 calls – that is if you are scared of tigers, pumas, panthers and lynxes.

A tiger has been spotted prowling along the banks of the River Dee, a lynx with paw prints as big as a “human hand” killing sheep, cats and chickens, and a large wild cat terrified a caller who was sure it was at large in Tarporley town centre.

Details of the 999 calls, revealed to The Chronicle through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, show that Cheshire has one of the highest rates of big cat sightings in the country – with nine sightings reported to Cheshire Constabulary between 2011-April 2014.

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FOI Friday: Babies missing from care homes, absent pupil fines, stalking laws and sexting complaints

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Schools starting to make use of fines for absent pupils < Harrogate Advertiser

An investigation by the Advertiser series has found that nearly eight times more fines were issued in North Yorkshire, year on year, in the first quarter of the new rules.

Countywide, there were 95 fines issued from September to December, compared to 12 the previous year.

And for the Harrogate district there were 18 fines issued – compared to zero the previous year.

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “From last September, schools have not been able by law to allow pupils to be absent from school during term time unless they receive an application in advance from a parent that the child lives with, and there are exceptional circumstances relating to the application. It is completely at the headteacher’s discretion to decide what are exceptional circumstances.”

Are the police making use of new stalking laws? < WalesOnline

The number of suspected stalkers detained by police in South Wales is “disappointing”, a leading charity has said.

The Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service said the nine arrests made by South Wales Police since stalking became a crime in November 2012 should be much higher.

The data, released under Freedom of Information laws, reveal that the force made seven arrests between April 2013 and March this year on suspicion of a stalking offence.

Since April, two people have been arrested.

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FOI Friday: Most frequent ambulance callout addresses, affordable homes, benefits families moved hundreds of miles, and fire crews freeing kids from cars

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52 visits to one address by ambulances … and just two patients taken to hospital < Dundee Telegraph

Ambulances were called out to a Dundee property a staggering 52 times in just ONE year it has been revealed.

And on just two of those occasions somebody was taken to hospital by paramedics.

The figures, from a Freedom of Information request, also showed crews spent 31 hours and 43 minutes going back and forward between the property between April 2013 and April 2014. In Arbroath, the Scottish Ambulance Service attended one single property 36 times, with only four of those occasions ending in someone being driven to hospital. The statistics don’t include nursing or care homes.

Numbers of affordable homes falling in the North East <  The Northern Echo

HOUSEBUILDING has collapsed in most of the region, The Northern Echo can reveal – despite Government claims of a “success story”.

The number of ‘affordable homes’ being built has fallen in 13 of 17 areas since the Coalition came to power, after housing programmes were axed.

And it has plunged sharply in many areas, including in Hartlepool (down 62.5 per cent), Middlesbrough (down 59.1 per cent) and Stockton-on-Tees (down 54.5 per cent).

Fire crews freeing children from cars once a week < Wolverhampton Express and Star

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FOI Friday: Food thefts, fights at weddings, the impact of Jimmy Savile, noise abatement notices and the 15-year-old with over 12 speeding points

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4,000 crimes involving food theft in Dundee < Dundee Evening Telegraph

Nearly 4,000 crimes involving food and drink theft have been recorded in Dundee over the last five years.

Figures released through Freedom of Information legislation revealed that there were 3,979 unique cases of stolen food and drink between April 2009 and April 2014 in the city.

An incredible 958 — or almost a quarter — of the crimes involved alcohol being stolen.

The next most common items nicked were meat and confectionery, with 869 and 389 crimes respectively.

Fights and crimes at weddings <Torquay Herald Express

POLICE in Devon and Cornwall were called to tackle violence at SIXTEEN weddings and wakes last year after fighting broke out between guests.

They were called to wakes and weddings in Newton Abbot, Totnes and South Brent among other places.

The most serious incident in Devon and Cornwall happened in Exeter where one person was charged with “wounding with intent” after a fight at a wake.

At another funeral in Barnstaple, two people were arrested and one charged with “assault occasioning actual bodily harm”.

Arrests were also made at a wake in Newton Abbot and a wedding in Totnes although no charges were brought.

Noise abatement notices target the strangest places < Manchester Evening News

A Conservative club and two supermarkets were among 1,000 premises served with noise orders telling them to keep it down.

Little Lever Conservative Club, where regulars go for a game of bowls or bingo, was served a noise abatement notice by Bolton Council last year.

The club, which prides itself on its “fabulous bowling green” and “regular bingo nights”, landed itself in trouble last year for being too loud.

Meanwhile, Manchester council issued an order to Sainsbury’s supermarket, on Whitworth Street, and Salford council issued another to Morrisons, on Trafford Road, after neighbours complained about the noise.

Nearly 1,000 noise abatement notices have been served by Greater Manchester’s councils over the last three years.

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Ever wondered how an FOI officer reacts to your FOI request? One man just did…

We’ve all been there. At least, I know I have. You get an email. You’re either infuriated by the contents or by the author – or both – and you decide to let off some steam.

You write, you click send, you realise … you’ve replied to the person who sent the email, rather than forwarding it on to that friendly ear you’d been aiming for.

A quick apology is in order, normally. Fingers crossed the person receiving it calms down quite quickly. The more brazen among us might even try to suggest it was all some sort of wind up, assuming your reply wasn’t too personal.

Yes, it’s awkward, but it could be so much worse … as the FOI officer at the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service found out to his cost this week when dealing with an FOI submitted through Whatdotheyknow?

It all began so well, with an interesting question posed by a member of the public:

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FOI Friday: Convicted cops, Nick Clegg’s school dinner nightmare, family court battles and ambulance waiting times rising

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Legal aid cuts forcing people to represent themselves in courts < The Journal

Legal aid cuts have led to an alarming number of people having to represent themselves in family courts in the North East.

The proportion of unrepresented North East parents attending court to contest custody of their children and other family matters has leapt from 34% to 53% of litigants since the removal of legal aid from family lawyers in April 2013.

Between April and December 2012, 4,698 people represented themselves at North East courts for child-related proceedings.

In the same nine-month period for 2013, the figure jumped to 7,562. This is a year-on-year rise of 61%; the highest in England and already more than the previous year’s total of 6,502.

Schools not ready for Nick Clegg’s free school meals for all infants scheme < Birmingham Post

Almost half of city council-controlled infant and primary schools are not yet ready to provide free meals to pupils – as the Government’s national scheme is revealed to be at risk of failure.

Details revealed in a Freedom of Information request show that 74 maintained schools across Birmingham need investment to improve or expand kitchens and dining areas, while 101 schools said they had adequate facilities or did not respond to the request.

From September, every child in reception, year one and year two in state-funded schools will receive a free hot lunch, in a government scheme which aims to improve academic achievement and save families money.

Cops convicted of crimes still on duty < Lancashire Evening Post

Police officers convicted of dangerous driving, a hit and run and public order offences are on duty in the county.

Figures revealed under Freedom of Information laws show 20 serving officers working for Lancashire Constabulary have a criminal record.

Of those seven were convicted and 13 were given a caution.

The majority are for motoring offences, including three for driving without due care and attention.

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FOI Friday: Teachers ignoring FGM advice, fines for school parking, food shoplifting and hospital repairs backlogs

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Teachers ignoring FGM guidance < London Evening Standard

Less than half of headteachers in London have read official guidance on stopping female genital mutilation, new figures revealed today.
The guidance, which tells teachers how to identify girls who are at risk or who have suffered mutilation, was emailed to every school in the country. But data from the Department for Education shows that only 56 per cent of heads in the capital even opened the email after it was sent to them by Education Secretary Michael Gove last month. An even lower proportion — 45 per cent — then “clicked through” to read the guidance , meaning that headteachers in 1,724 London schools have ignored the effort to prevent the abuse.

Parents targeted with fines for bad parking near schools < Birmingham Mail

Birmingham City Council has declared war on selfish parents blocking roads around schools by handing out almost £140,000 in fines in a year. The major crackdown saw increasing numbers of mums and dads caught flouting parking laws after the council deployed surveillance camera vans. Last year 1,974 penalty charge notices (PCNs) were dished out – a 25 per cent rise on the previous 12 months. The crackdown followed concerns about the rising tide of potentially dangerous parking around school times. Some areas are brought to a standstill by the huge numbers of parents leaving their vehicles on verges, blocking drives and even parking over zigzag road lines next to school gates.

Compensation claims for wrongful arrests and other things < Plymouth Herald

DEVON and Cornwall Police has paid out more than £1.3 million in compensation to members of the public over the last four years. Since 2009 a total of 460 claims have been made following incidents including collisions involving police vehicles, unlawful detention, wrongful arrest, negligence and bites by police dogs. The force has also had to pay out for successful claims for harassment, bullying, damage to property, defamation, use of excessive force and unlawful seizure. There was also one successful claim, resulting in a £500 payout, for ‘misfeasance in public office’.

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FOI: The most pointless FOI redactionever?

Redacting of information can be infuriating for people submitting Freedom of Information requests. It can also be infuriating for the bodies responsible for responding to FOIs, as time spent redacting can’t be counted towards the time limit for each request.

Until last week, the most peculiar redaction I’d ever seen was one sent to the Liverpool Daily Post from Liverpool City Council which, from memory, was several pages long and the only part not covered in black boxes was the council logo, and maybe the name of the person who sent it.

But then this one came along. It’s an exchange between Iain Duncan-Smith, the work and pensions secretary, and the residents of James Turner Street, aka Benefits Street.

For some reason, when the DWP released the information, it felt the need to blot out the name of the residents association at the top, despite leaving in the ‘aka Benefits Street‘ reference further down, and reference to the real street name in the body of the text:

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FOI Friday: 10 stories which show how FOI helps local media make a difference

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This week is Local Newspaper Week, run by the newspaper industry and the Newspaper Society, to promote the important work done by the local and regional press. The theme this year has been ‘making a difference’ - highlighting the campaigns regional newspapers have run which have helped change the communities they live in for the better.

Meanwhile, various famous and important folk have explained how they feel local newspapers make a difference for them.  There are many ways local media can make a difference for the better – be it a newspaper, a newspaper’s digital presence, or a hyperlocal site which has no roots at all in the ‘traditional’ media – but the way I wanted to focus on today was the use of Freedom of Information (FOI).

Journalists get a lot of stick for the way FOI is used to generate stories, but there are very few who disagree with the principle that FOI should help hold authorities to account. That’s how FOI used by the regional Press can make a difference. Each week when I am compiling FOI Friday, I find lots of examples of great FOIs which don’t really fit the bill for FOI Friday as they are unique to one area and hard to replicate elsewhere.

So, this week, I thought I’d share 10 FOI stories I’ve seen which fit the bill of having the potential to make a difference:

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FOI Friday: Ambulance call out hot spots, crisis fund rejections, Premier League policing and missed 101 calls

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Most frequent ambulance call out homes < BBC

The Welsh Ambulance Service is urging people to think before dialling 999, after one home rang for an ambulance 290 times in a year.

Of the call-outs to the property in Colwyn Bay, Conwy, 98 resulted in hospital visits.

The service spent 3,660 hours dealing with the “top 10″ frequent emergency callers in north Wales last year.

The cost of police and crime commissioners < Northampton Chronicle

The number of staff employed by Northamptonshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has almost trebled and the wage spend nearly doubled in the 18 months since he started his job, latest figures have shown.

A Freedom of Information request revealed PCC Adam Simmonds employed 12 staff in his office at an annual cost of £729,100 when he began his new role in November 2012.

By March 31 this year, the number of staff had risen to 34 and the associated costs had increased to a total of £1.4 million.

Analysis of all the staff structures used by PCCs at all the other police forces in England revealed Mr Simmonds had the largest amount of employees under his direct control.

Crisis fund applications rejected < Inside Housing

English councils turned down more than 70,000 applications for emergency housing assistance last year, despite £9 million of funding being handed back to government.

Research by Inside Housing has revealed that while 153 councils underspent their discretionary housing payment allocations in 2013/14, others turned away thousands of applicants and still spent well over their allocated amount.

Responses by 203 councils to freedom of information requests showed 249,457 applications for DHP were received in 2013/14. Of these, 70,486 were refused, with 41,639 of the rejections made by councils which spent at least 95 per cent of their allocations.

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