To be in Liverpool yesterday was to witness something remarkable. The most outrageous wrong righted after 23 years. The truth revealed, but justice still to be done. Proof that if you believe in what you’re doing, you should keep fighting, even when the whole world appears to be against you, determined to keep secrets under wraps.
Seeing people standing around TV screens in cafes which are normally just background noise, nodding, wiping tears from their eyes as David Cameron issued a national apology. Seeing a city stop for two minutes at 3.06pm to remember the 96 who died.
I was lucky enough to work in the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post newsroom for three years, and still work closely with the digital team there. There was never any doubt that the newsroom would do a brilliant job in print and online – covering the latest chapter in arguably the biggest news story to ever involve the city. And they did.
Children lose school places after parents lie < < < Birmingham Mail
RECORD numbers of Birmingham children are being left devastated by the city council withdrawing their prized place at school because the youngsters’ parents lied on their application form.
The local authority has taken places off eight pupils who were due to start their new schools this month after being tipped off by the mums and dads’ neighbours.
The number has shot up from five youngsters having their place withdrawn in 2010 and three in 2009.
Dirty School kitchens < < < Liverpool Echo
A FILTHY school canteen plagued by rodents posed an “imminent risk” to Merseyside pupils’ health, a report has revealed.
Mounds of mouse droppings were discovered in the kitchens of Bedford primary in Bootle in a surprise hygiene spot-check.
Pellets were even found in a bain-marie, a hot cupboard used to keep food warm for the 220 children who are served school meals, and near to where sandwiches were prepared.
40 deaths related to superbugs < < < Teesside Gazette
MORE than 40 people have died at two Teesside hospitals over the last three years after contracting a killer superbug.
A Freedom of Information request has shown the number of patients who died at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton, and the University Hospital of Hartlepool after contracting Clostridium Difficile (C.diff).
Oooh.. a secret
1. Asking for more than just numbers
It’s easy to fall into the trap of just asking for numbers and data under FOI – after all, there’s a heck of a lot to go after. But asking for correspondence between parties, or responses to consultations can often lead to excellent stories too.
To illustrate that point, here’s a story from the Fulham Chronicle, which began life in Inside Housing. The local council leader has been trying to get some flats demolished and, perhaps unsurprisingly, has run into problems from residents who quite like living in their houses. Inside Housing obtained a letter from the council leader to a government minister pleading for help:
Mr Greenhalgh scrawled ‘I really need your help on this’! at the end of a typed letter to minister for decentralisation Greg Clark regarding future of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates. His letter to Mr Clark – obtained by Inside Housing magazine under the Freedom of Information Act – concerns the council’s bid to get the government to scrap legislation that would allow tenants to transfer ownership of their homes – of which 750 are earmarked for demolition – from the council to a housing association set up by themselves.
2. Top 10 most expensive police investigations
It may be that Lothians Police just happened to have this information to hand, but it’s fascinated that the Edinburgh Evening News got so much out of this FOI request – asking for details of the top 10 most expensive operations run by the police in the area. One murder case tops the list – beating even the investigation which followed the Glasgow Airport bombings.
Remember the story the other week about how Downing Street used fake IDs on letters for security reasons? (We used to do something similar to avoid complaining customers on the phone at a well known toy shop I used to work in).
The BBC reports on this week that the JobCentre is at it too to protect the identities of workers in difficult situations. They call them ‘office names.’ This one could run and run?
And here’s another just waiting to be repeated elsewhere: How much councils spend on ‘interesting’ phone calls, such as the speaking clock and premium rate numbers. Quite what information was released is unclear – full phone bills or whether the FOI officer collated details for specific types of numbers, eg 123 and 0871.
1. Spending money to talk about cuts
The Waltham Forest Guardian reports on an interesting spending choice at the local council – an £18,000 advertising campaign to tell people the council would protect local services which people care about. The campaign follows on from another £27,000 campaign to find out which services people wanted protecting.
2. Complaints against social workers
An interesting story from the Coventry Telegraph, which quotes a report obtained using FOI to reveal who makes complaints against social workers in the area. The most interesting fact is that 10% of complaints are made by young people about their care.
3. Partying on the university budget
I’m never sure whether the active use of FOI by politicians in Wales is a good thing or not – largely because I believe politicians only turn to FOI when they are being denied access to information through other channels which they perhaps have a right to request information through. Either way, an Assembly member in Wales used FOI to find out how much universities were spending on hospitality – four in South Wales clocked up £6.4million over three years. One to chew over?
Looking for an FOI idea? Here are 10 which made headlines recently….
1. Wrongly released prisoners
The Liverpool ECHO used FOI to find out how many prisoners had been released from the city’s two prisons by mistake over the last few years. In total, nine were – including several who had been convicted of violent offences.
2. Compensation for teachers
Teachers in the North East have received compensation payouts totalling £400,000 in the last few years as a result of accidents in the classroom. The Sunday Sun got the information using FOI, and also asked for a breakdown of payouts. As a result it was able to report where the largest payout was made, and for what:
One teacher in South Shields, South Tyneside, was given the highest individual payout of £50,000 after they tripped over a play bed and were left with a permanent wrist injury.
Another teacher in North Yorkshire – which paid out a total of £31,775 for eight claims – was compensated after getting an electric shock from the main supply. Payouts for the 2009/10 financial year totalled £230,620 – a rise of £52,000, or 29%, on the 2007/2008 financial year.
3. Dodgy scales in Coventry
How reliable are the measures you receive in pubs and shops? The Coventry Telegraph set out to find that out using FOI – discovering the Trading Standards officers had uncovered dodgy scales and measuring equipment – eg petrol pumps, beer pumps – 128 times in the last few years.
Cars for the political top cats
It’s been a week for hearing about cutbacks in the public sector. Councils will argue they are as a lean as they can be anyway. But the South Wales Echo, using FOI, has learnt that £350k a year is spent £350k on top-of-the-range cars to ferry their political masters around.
Drugs in pubs
The Northumberland Gazette reports this week on findings from a freelance journalist who asked for the results of cocaine spotting operation in Alnwick which concluded that 24 of the 33 pubs tested in the area had traces of cocaine in them. At the time, the police only issued vague details of the results to the local paper. Given the connection Harry Potter has to Alnwick – I think parts were filmed there – the story has been huge nationally, and the police have been left to defend why they were so vague on detail in the first place.
Children hooked on drugs
A great result for the Streatham Guardian which used FOI to find out the number of children being treated for drug addications – including booze – in the area. The information came from the local PCT – or NHS Lambeth - and led to this story:
NHS Lambeth said the majority were treated for cannabis use, but “a very low amount” were treated for other drugs such as cocaine, as well as alcohol misuse.
The figures show 52, 12 to 15-year-olds were treated in 2007-08, 56 in 2008-09 and 46 by the end of 2009.
It is estimated this could rise to 61 when the full statistics for 2009-10 are published later this year. Some 22 were treated for alcohol abuse.
They were referred for treatment by themselves, parents, schools, social workers and outreach programmes.