accrington observer

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.


2 stories, 126 years apart: Why data should be at the heart of every newsroom

Last year, the Accrington Observer, a weekly newspaper in the town which has long since tired of hearing the old milk advert references, marked it’s 125th anniversary by republishing it’s very first newspaper:

accyobIt makes for a fascinating read – both in terms of what the founders of the paper thought would interest their readers, as well as what life was like in a mill town during its boom years – but one thing stood out for me more than anything else.

Tucked away on the back page was this:

observer2Taking up a good chunk of the back page was a detailed timetable for train services in and around Accrington. (For anyone who knows how poor the train services around Accrington are now, it’s a timetable to behold). What I don’t know is whether they published this data every week. I suppose the train timetable in 1890-something was to local folk what the chemist rotas were in the 1990s – information which was useful, but generally not available in too many other places.


As mugshots go, sexy is probably the last word you’d expect to see on his Santa hat…

Mugshots next to court cases come in many shapes and sizes. I’m a particular fan of police ‘most wanted’ mugshots at the moment, not least because of the huge number of page impressions they drive. This one from the Birmingham Mail went mental last week.

Of course, such mug shots don’t always come from the police. I’m not sure where this one from the Accrington Observer came from – but I’m pretty certain it’s the most unusual mugshot I’ve seen – and certainly the first mugshot where someone has ‘sexy’ written across their forehead.

Still, I imagine it’s the last thing on his mind at the moment – a jail spell is probably dominating those thoughts. But as ways to heap further shame on a criminal go, perhaps insisting on the release of a bad family photo is a way to go…


FOI Friday: Overdue books, bedding plants, baby scans and trading standards

1. The most overdue books in town

The devil, they say, is in the detail. And the Accrington Observer got plenty of detail back from its FOI request into overdue books at Accrington Library. Not only did they find out the number of books which are overdue, and the total amount owing in fines, but they also got details of the most overdue book at each library in the area. The most overdue book in the borough is a book called Balloon, which should have been returned in 2004. That means £300 of fines are attached to that book – although the cap on fees is just £6.

2. The cost of plants

Here’s one which will probably have critics of FOI claiming its proof of people abusing the act, but to me it’s just another example of councils being held to account. The Evening Chronicle in Newcastle used FOI to find out how much councils were spending on bedding plants. The total is around £500,000. It’s a good example of FOI being used to prompt a debate. On one hand, nice flower beds could be seen as a luxury councils can’t afford, but on the other, they’ll be the things people complain about if axed.

3. The cost of that first baby photo

Accusations flying of ‘stealth taxes’ on expectant mums in Birmingham after an FOI request revealed that the city’s main birthing hospital is making more than £50,000 a year from selling pictures of pregnency scans to happy (and I would imagine, some not so happy) parents-to-be. The £6-a-photo charge is much higher than at other hospitals.


The council where they like to say ‘I sue’

That's the way to do it - see you in court

That's the way to do it - see you in court

Councils have long complained about the impact of litigation, but normally it involves members of the public suing them.

But one Lancashire council has pleaded with its members to stop suing each other for comments made in the council chamber. Really.

The Accrington Observer reports that one in five councillors on Hyndburn Council have been involved in litigation with each other in recent years.

The newly-appointed Labour leader, Miles Parkinson – the Tories were booted out at the last elections – has now devised a plan to make it all stop – changing the format of full council meetings.

Councillors can no longer have a free-for-all in the part where they ask questions of the leader, and instead have to submit their questions in advance. A handy solution for the ruling party, I’m sure!

He blames the litigation problem on Punch and Judy politics – although I seem to remember Punch and Judy resorted to hitting each other with sausages, not going to court.

Coun Parkinson said: “It’s a fact that 20 per cent of councillors have taken libel action against one another.”

According to ousted council leader Peter Britcliffe:

“It was unheard of a few years ago, but once these things happen other people start to bite back.

“I have been involved in a case involving copyright and I once issued a point of clarification about something I said in the chamber. But I don’t think people are running round suing each other as much now.”

My first reaction when I read this was ‘but surely they’ll all covered by privilege’ but, of course, privilege only applies to statements made without malice. And proving that one way or the other could be a solicitor’s nightmare – or dream, depending on your point of view.

But it’s a point worth remembering for journalists covering increasingly fractious council meetings as spending cuts bite.