FOI

What Staffordshire County Council’s breakdown of FOI applicants tells us about the authority

The Staffordshire Hoard was a huge find in a field near Lichfield. Staffordshire County Council is less keen on the information treasure hunters daring to use FOI to hold it to account

Staffordshire County Council’s decision to ‘name and shame’ organisations costing it money through Freedom of Information requests has prompted a lot of criticism.

My main bugbear is that, in the scheme of council spending, the cost of handling FOI requests remains tiny, as illustrated brilliantly by the Daily Mirror’s Ampp3d data journalism website here.

Staffordshire County Council’s actions have also concerned the Information Commissioner, with fears that the ‘name and shame’ approach is designed to put people off applying for information this way in the future. Well, that’s one way to reduce council service costs – how long until children receiving free school meals can expect their picture pinned up outside the canteen? An outrageous suggestion of course, but the principle is the same.

Paul Bradshaw makes a very good point that the roll of dishonour published by Staffordshire prompts many questions, and also fails to reveal what people were asking for. In other words, why they were having to use FOI.

Staffordshire argues the list – which appears to be based on the assumption that the minimum FOI cost is £50, which is a flaky position to start from – is designed to show ‘wrongful’ use of FOI. That’s a very subjective position for a publicly-funded authority to take.

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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: 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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The council which expects staff to ask for details about their pay review under FOI and then, well, just read on….

One of the unintended consequences of the Freedom of Information Act is the ability it gives authorities to kick issues into the long grass.

Reporters regularly tell me about asking for information from a press office and being told to file it as an FOI request. I know of councillors who have had to FOI their own authorities for information. And council officers having to do the same.

But this is the first time I’ve heard of a council expecting its staff to submit FOI requests for details relating to themselves  - and then telling journalists to do the same when they ask why the council hasn’t replied to the FOI request from council staff.

Derby City Council argues its nothing to hide, but it appears to be doing a jolly good job of creating the impression it has.

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FOI Friday: Saying sorry to dodge court, parents smacking children, arsonists wanting to work in schools and the safety of bail hostels

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Saying sorry to get away with violent crimes < Eastern Daily Press

Fears over the misuse of restorative justice measures have been raised after the revelation that Norfolk Police have used informal agreements to deal with more than 7,000 crimes since 2010 – including almost 3,000 violent offences.

The measures can be used by officers instead of prosecutions and can include an apology or compensation to the victim. The resolutions were introduced in order to cut down on police red tape, and prevent the criminalisation of young people.

Figures gained following a Freedom of Information request by the EDP show “community resolutions” – which involve the victims of crime – have been used in 4,362 cases since 2010, and “extended professional judgement” – which are settled just by officers – 3,205 times in the same period.

People reported to the police for smacking their own children < Exeter Express and Echo

More than 100 parents across Devon and Cornwall have been reported to the police for smacking their child over the last five years.

Figures released following a Freedom of Information Act request reveal a dramatic rise in the number of smacking reports last year, up from 17 in 2012 to 43 in 2013.

Devon and Cornwall Police say this spike could be due to “enhanced awareness” of the issues surrounding smacking.

A search of the force’s database revealed 108 crime logs relating to a biological parent smacking a child aged 17 or under between January 2009 and February 2014.

Thieves and arsonists caught applying for jobs in schools < The Lincolnite

Theft, assault on a child, arson and assault with bodily harm were among the crimes flagged up by Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS) on people applying to work in Lincoln schools.

According to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Request by The Lincolnite, a total of 85 convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands were highlighted by DBS checks requested by Lincoln schools in the last four years.

The crimes recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) were released on certificates where individuals applied for jobs at educational institutions in the postal areas LN1 to LN6.

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The council which called the police after someone sent ‘too many FOIs’

If you’re a journalist, ask yourself this question: How frequently do you send FOI requests? Once a month? Twice a month? Four times a month?

Would 25 in eight months – so between three or four a month – seem excessive? Not to me it doesn’t.

But for the clerk at Arlesey Town Council, Elsie Hare, not only was it was excessive to receive 25 FOI requests from local resident – and therefore contributor to her salary – Mark Newbury, that she rang the police.

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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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