Freedom Of Information

FOI: Adding a celebrity angle won’t always improve a story…

While searching for stories to include in FOI Friday on Google News, I found this one:


The story, based on an FOI request, goes on:

The most senior policeman in Islington says the borough is not at risk from a Breaking Bad style crystal meth epidemic – despite people being caught dealing in the past year.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Gazette reveals that three people were arrested for possessing or supplying the Class A drug methamphetamine in 2013.

The drug has been raised into the public consciousness by the hit TV show Breaking Bad, in which a school teacher with terminal cancer starts making the drug to raise cash for his family.

But Det Chf Sup Gerry Campbell, Islington’s borough commander, says the drug – which can have devastating effects for users – is not a problem in the borough.

He said: “Lets face it, meth has been available for a long time – it’s not something new.

“It has been found in London and there have been labs up and running, but as this investigation shows it is not something we would identify with the borough.”

I love the idea of using TV programmes to inspire FOI requests, and this is a great example of that. Reporting, however, that an area isn’t at risk of something most people wouldn’t have thought it might be at risk at, I’m not so sure about.

Half the battle with FOI requests is deciding which ones to invest the effort in when the information arrives.

But at least the people of Islington who were worried, can be less worried now.

FOI Friday: Teachers causing concern, prisoners on Facebook, school place fraud and teenage career criminals


Teachers on the ‘concern list’ < Basildon Echo

ALMOST 170 teaching staff are on a council list showing there are concerns about their working in schools.

They are not barred from working, but schools will be aware of the list of concerns, compiled by Essex County Council.

A total of 23 teachers and 14 other school workers have been added to the list in the past five years due to allegations of a sexual nature, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Social networks in prison < Daily Record

PRISON bosses last year shut down 80 Facebook accounts run by inmates in Scotland.

The social networking pages were updated using smartphones smuggled into jails and have been used by convicts to taunt victims or contact fellow criminals.

Officials investigated 118 allegations in 2013 that prisoners were running accounts on Facebook from behind bars, freedom of information figures released yesterday revealed.

Caught defrauding the school selection process < Camden New Journal

FIVE children in Camden were removed from school or had offers of places withdrawn after their families were caught fiddling the state admissions system, the New Journal can reveal.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request, Camden Council confirmed it had conducted 11 investigations into potentially fraudulent school place applications between 2012 and 2013. It had opened only two similar probes over the previous two years.

A “fraudulent” application was defined as using a temporary address, using a family member’s address, faking religious observance or supplying false information on application forms.


FOI FRIDAY: Ambulance delays, lack of dentists, data-snooping coppers and dodging conviction for assault


How to dodge a conviction if you assault someone < Brighton Argus

Thousands of criminals including sex offenders, arsonists and violent offenders have avoided conviction.

Sussex Police introduced community resolution in 2011 to deal with low-level crimes.

But The Argus can reveal that the policy has been used more than 11,000 times in the past three years and has even been used in a case of sexual assault against a child.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show it was used 1,200 times to deal with assaults resulting in an injury, and another 1,531 for assaults without injuries.

Struggling to get a dentist? Here’s why < Lancashire Telegraph

CONCERNS have been raised after the number of people visiting hospital for emergency dental treatment tripled in East Lancashire last year.

Staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) gave emergency dental treatment to 322 patients in 2013, which was up from 106 in 2012, according to figures obtained by the Lancashire Telegraph through Freedom of Information laws.

The increase mirrored a national trend which health campaigners said was down to a rise in the number of families struggling to afford regular check-ups on their teeth, with visits to the dentist becoming a ‘luxury’ for many.

Left waiting for an ambulance < North West Evening Mail

FIGURES show since 2012 457 patients in Cumbria have waited for an ambulance for more than an hour.

A Freedom of Information request by the Evening Mail showed 69 of the calls were in Barrow, Ulverston or Millom – with 14 in the area classed as serious Red Two calls.

There were two life-threatening Red One calls in Cumbria which took more than an hour to attend.

Pupil compensation claims continue to mount up < Yorkshire Evening Post

Almost a quarter of a million pounds of public money has been paid out in compensation and legal costs for injuries children have suffered in the city’s primary and secondary schools over the past five years, new figures reveal.

Pay outs include £35,000 after a child broke a limb, and £21,058 given to a pupil who suffered a facial injury.

The figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that there been 188 personal injury claims made against schools in Leeds since September 2008.

Of these 39 have been successful resulting in compensation payments of £221,013 since September 2008. Figures show £35,000 was paid out after a pupil suffered a broken limb in 2009 and £21,058 was given to a pupil who suffered a facial injury in 2010.


FOI Friday: The cost of murder, shoplifting hotspots, firefighter complaints and the return of wrong fuel in cop cars


The cost of Murder – Birmingham Mail

West Mercia Police spend fortune in bid to track down killers and see justice done

A Midland police force has spent more than £2.5 million on just FIVE murder investigations in the last five years.

The cases were the most expensive investigated by West Mercia Police, according to figures obtained by the Sunday Mercury.

The most money spent was £900,000 on bringing three Birmingham killers to justice for the brutal killing of a sub-postmaster in January 2009.

The investigation led to the successful prosecution of the killers of Craig Hodson-Walker, murdered during a botched armed raid.

Top of the shop … lifting hotspots < Manchester Evening News

Primark’s flagship Market Street store has topped a league of shame of Greater Manchester’s shoplifting hotspots.

The Manchester city centre shop called police more than three times a week to report shoplifting offences during 2013.

Figures released to the M.E.N by Greater Manchester Police under Freedom of Information laws detail the locations for more than 14,500 shoplifting offences last year.

Market Street – the city centre’s main shopping hub – was home to three of the region’s top four hotspots for police call-outs for reports of theft.

The crimes being committed on Facebook < Cambridge News

Facebook users have been reported by ‘friends’ to Cambridgeshire police for blackmail, child rape and grooming, as well as death threats.

Users of the social networking site have flagged up 169 possible crimes to officers since 2011.

They range from blackmail to bike theft and harassment to rape, data released by the force has showed.

Also on the Facebook crime list was harassment, intimidating or intending to instil fear in a witness to a crime, fraud, racial hatred, rape of children and threats to kill.


FOI Friday: Air bag thefts, obese toddlers, asbestos in schools and the £26,000 chairs

FOIFRIDAYLOGOHow much is a broken arm worth? < Eastern Daily Press

Victims of crime in Norfolk have been awarded compensation payments of up to £370,000 for injuries including a broken arm, collapsed lung, and even serious brain damage, new figures have revealed.

Data from the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority (CICA) show that in the past three years it has awarded payouts totalling £5.8 million to victims of crime in the county.

The list of more than 850 payouts, obtained by a Freedom of Information request, includes compensation for injuries including £370,000 for moderate brain damage, £43,500 for the loss of an eye and £93,000 for a permanent back injury.

The obese toddlers who are treated in hospital for being fat < WalesOnline

Obses toddlers are among almost 100 Welsh children deemed so fat they have been taken into HOSPITAL for treatment, WalesOnline can today reveal.

Dozens of kids – some just pre-school age – have been admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of obesity in recent years, according to the nation’s health boards, with some treated for ‘extreme obesity’ so serious it could lead to heart failure.

At least 97 children aged under 15 have been diagnosed as so overweight that they needed round-the-clock care from doctors and nurses – a statistic branded “repugnant” by chair of the Child Growth Foundation Tam Fry.


FOI: The council which doesn’t want you to know the things it expects you to want to know about

foiA while ago, there was a rather inspired FOI request put forward by the Norwich Evening News, asking police in Norfolk for copies of all press releases and statements prepared on a ‘if asked’ basis – ie they aren’t proactively released.

A friend of mine who works in PR Tweeted me at the time to say that such an FOI at the local authority he worked at would be a nighmare … for them. Which obviously would be a brilliant result for the local newspaper.

To me, it’s the classic example of an FOI working really well – it involves the journalist knowing how an authority operates and targeting specific information carefully.


FOI FRIDAY: Jail smuggling, brand conscious police, cost-saving consultants and golden hellos for paramedics


‘Golden Hellos’ for new paramedics < Eastern Daily Press

The East of England Ambulance Service paid the incentives to 59 qualified paramedics in 2013 to try and resolve the organisation’s staff shortage. However, five of the new recruits had to repay the £2,000 golden hello payments after leaving the trust, according to new figures.

The NHS trust, which launched a recruitment campaign last year to hire 231 paramedics and specialist paramedics, paid £106,909 in golden hello payments last year, according to figures from a freedom of information request by the EDP.

The cost of spin < Thame Gazette

Cashstrapped Bucks County Council spends £720,000 a year on an army of public relations gurus.

The authority, which has downgraded libraries and cut cash to daycare centres, held on to funding for 21 communications roles this year.

Last year the council spent a further £45,911 on internal and external newsletters.

Figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, form part of revelations that Vale ratepayers are spending more than £2million a year on PR roles.

Does restorative justice work < Windsor and Maidenhead Advertiser

Almost a third of offenders given restorative disposals went on to commit another crime.

Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows that 1,202 people in Windsor and Maidenhead were given restorative disposals between 2009, when they were first introduced by Thames Valley Police, and 2013.

Of these 339 reoffended.


FOI: The clown FOI which is a masterclass in getting information from a database

Of all the sources I use to find good Freedom of Information-based stories,  funny site The Poke isn’t among them. I do, however, follow them on Twitter, so when this tweet came up, it was like they’d invented personalised linkbait just for me:

thepokeClowns have been in the news quite a bit recently, largely thanks to this quirky FOI-based story which cropped up all over the place over Christmas. And there are problems in the Fens too.

Anyway, that prompted Richard Osley, the deputy editor of the Camden New Journal to submit a request to the Met Police in London. You can read his post here.

The response from the Met is at this link. I’m highlighting this FOI because I think it’s a brilliant example of how to get the most out of a databse you know a public authority holds:


While the response is exactly what it should be: The information requested, in full, in an easy to use way:

clowns2Asking for a specific key word to be searched reduces the risk of the FOI going over cost limits, and also reduces the chance of you missing out on information you might find interesting, or making the FOI impossible.

For example, when working at the Liverpool Daily Post, I once asked for details of all crimes at schools in Merseyside. The police said it couldn’t provide that detail within the cost limit because it would have to filter out any crime which was committed at an address – eg School Lane – but not at a school. Flipping that on its head and asking for any case referring to ‘school’ would have solved that.

Of course, there are other famous ‘database’ FOIs too. As anyone who has sat through one of my FOI presentations knows only too well!

FOI Friday: Social workers sacked, unsolved crimes, bailiffs after benefit cuts and dodgy drivers


Thirty-year-old unsolved murders in Surrey – Surrey Advertiser/GetSurrey

A total of 41 murder cases in the county – the earliest dating back to 1974 – remain unsolved to this day, the Surrey Advertiser can reveal.

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed murders in Epsom, Ash, Guildford, Effingham, Ashtead, Virginia Water and Woking for which nobody has been convicted.

Detective Superintendent Nick May, of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said: “The overall number of unsolved murders in Surrey remains low, with an average of just over one a year since 1974, and no unsolved murders have taken place in the county in the past five years.

Malnutrition cases on the rise – Burton Mail

DIAGNOSED cases of malnutrition in Burton have trebled since 2008 – an increase which mirrors a national trend – according to figures obtained by the Mail.

The number of patients either admitted with malnutrition or treated for malnutrition at Queen’s Hospital, Burton, increased from less than five in 2008 to 15 in 2013.

The data was obtained after a Freedom of Information request.

Malnutrition can be caused by a poor diet, a lack of food or illnesses which prevents the absorption of nutrients.

Chop chop trees – Sheffield Star

Sheffield is being stripped of more than 1,000 trees in just over one year.

Figures obtained by The Star under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the council is working to fell 1,200 trees from a stock of 36,000 by March.

Streets Ahead contractor Amey has already pulled down 750 highway trees – some 100 years old – which they claim are dead, dying, diseased, dangerous or damaging structures since August 2012.


The 12 days of Local Pressmasness: 10 great FOIs

pressmanessAny news editor will tell you the Christmas is a time to fear and dread. The dirty looks when the rotas don’t go someone’s way. The knowledge that behind the smiles, reporters still aren’t any further on with their Christmas specials a week before Christmas than they were six weeks before. And the lack of news between Christmas and New Year.

So thank goodness for FOI. Searching Google News for ‘Freedom of Information’ shows that when it comes to finding strong Christmas stories, FOI is one of the best tools around. So seeing as it’s Friday, here’s a festive FOI Friday … 10 great FOIs seen in the Press over Christmas: