freedom of information

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

FOIFRIDAYLOGO

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.

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FOI Friday: Lasering planes, worst days to die in hospital and reasons for refusing council houses

FOIFRIDAYLOGOThe day of the week you’re most likely to die in hospital < Surrey Mirror

PATIENTS are far more likely to die at East Surrey Hospital on a Monday than any other day of the week, according to figures obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The figures highlight an apparent sizeable disparity between death rates on different days of the week, with 40 per cent more deaths on Mondays than on Saturdays, the day of the week when you are least likely to die at the hospital.

Seven people a day taken to court for unpaid council tax < Romford Recorder

Seven people a day were taken to court by Brentwood Council last year for failing to pay their council tax.

And thousands of households were in arrears from April 2012 to March 2013, the new figures show.

Tax of £1.9million was owed at the time the summonses were issued, a freedom of information request by the Recorder has revealed.

In the same year, the council took 2,754 people to court to recoup the money.

The council says it recovered £1.3m – leaving £650,000 still outstanding at the end of the period. Most of this has since been recovered.

Hospitals using ‘zero hours’ contracts < Northern Echo

SOME of the region’s hospitals are under fire after thousands of staff were placed on controversial “zero-hours” contracts – with no guarantee of pay.

An investigation by Labour found at least 2,503 workers are now on the contracts, some of the 67,000 used across the NHS in England.

At York Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs hospitals across North Yorkshire, the number has soared to 1,069 – from just 166 three years ago.

Both North Tees and Hartlepool (786 staff) and South Tees Hospitals (312) trusts also revealed widespread use of the contracts, although those numbers are falling.

Total use across the North-East and North Yorkshire is likely to be higher, because three hospital trusts did not respond to freedom of information requests.

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The FOI that kept on giving has just given again

Lancashire Evening Post OAP crime

Back when I used to do FOI Friday weekly (I do mean to get that going again), there was an FOI request which kept turning up again and again and again.

The first time I noticed this particular FOI was in June 2009 when the Bristol Evening Post revealed the OAP crimes which were committed in the Avon and Somerset area, including a suspected 99 year old burglar.

Since then, it’s yielded stories across the country, including an OAP crimewave in Brighton, two 85-year-old women arrested for assault in Birmingham, a violent 94-year-old in Manchester and a 99-year-old who was discovered ‘equipped for stealing’ in Cambridgeshire.

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The three parts required for the whole story (infographic)

datafoiThis morning on Five Live Investigates – arguably one of the most under-rated shows dedicated to investigative journalism around – I had a bit of an epiphany.  The result of that epiphany is the infographic I’ve tried to create above (click on it to see a larger version).

On today’s show, presenter Adrian Goldberg covered the issue of ambulance response times. Now the rules around ambulance response times are common knowledge in newsrooms: You have Category A calls, the most life-threatening, which should see a paramedic with you within 8 minutes (the target is that 75% of such calls should have a response within eight minutes). (more…)

FOI FRIDAY: Shop burglaries, looked after children a long way from home, army redundancies and homeless in B&Bs

FOIFRIDAYLOGO‘Looked after’ children housed in different counties < < < Bury Free Press

More than 130 looked after children in Suffolk are being placed outside the county as the demand for placements increases.

Following a Freedom of Information request, the Bury Free Press can reveal that upto the end of February 135 out of the county’s 735 looked after children were homed outside the local authority boundary.

This compares with 155 out of 780 last year, 145 out of 785 in 2010/11 and 150 out of 775 in 2009/10. Children are currently placed in counties such as Kent, Lincolnshire, Shropshire, London, Rutland, Bath, Hampshire, Bradford Metropolitan District, Southend on Sea and West Berkshire.

Child criminals in Nottingham < < < Nottingham Evening Post

POLICE have arrested children as young as eight on suspicion of burglary and robbery.

Notts officers last year made 20 arrests of primary school-age children involving a burglary and ten children aged 11 or under were arrested for robbery.

Figures given to the Post under the Freedom of Information Act show that overall 44 children aged 11 or under were arrested in 2012 – down from 100 two years earlier.

As well as robberies and burglaries, other crimes included theft, assault and criminal damage. Some arrests were even made in connection with rapes, drug possession and having an offensive weapon.

Burglaries in shops < < < Bradford Telegraph and Argus

City centre traders have voiced frustration after figures obtained by the Telegraph & Argus revealed that only 32 people have been convicted following investigations into 684 burglaries of retail and commercial premises in the last year.

Business bosses have called for more police presence to deter burglars after seeing the outcome of a Freedom of Information request regarding non-house burglaries in the Bradford south division, which covers the city centre and suburbs, from October, 2011, to September, 2012.

Police made 89 arrests in relation to the crimes recorded during that period, and 32 people were convicted, although police pointed out that some of those criminals could have been found guilty of several of the offences.

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FOI: How Peppa Pig proved the value of Freedom of Information

This is Peppa Pig. Peppa likes many things. Peppa likes jumping in muddy puddles. Peppa likes doing sport at school. Peppa also likes going shopping on a Sunday in Dartford.

And that’s probably the best place for me to stop trying to write a blog post in the style of the voiceover of Peppa, the much-loved star of children’s TV.

There is, however, a serious point to this point – and yes, it does what the headline says: Shows how Peppa Pig proved the value of FOI for transparancy.

Here’s how: Once upon a time (here we go again), if a government announcement around investment and grants didn’t involve millions of pounds, it rarely troubled the news agenda of even the smallest daily newspaper.

I remember as a reporter working in Accrington, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph newsdesk weren’t convinced a £7million regeneration grant to take deprivation was an obvious splash. At the time, big government and European grants were ten-a-penny (pardon the pun) and the story wasn’t helped by the volume of regeneration jargon speak about ‘pathways’ and ‘zonal gateways’ etc.

Fastforward 15 years and we’re in a different economic climate, and how the news agenda has changed. The Portas Pilot – named after Queen of Shops Mary Portas – totals £1.2million to help 12 struggling towns come up with plans to change their futures.

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FOI Friday: Cannabis, university spending, race crimes at the football and asbestos in council buildings

FOIFRIDAYLOGOUnpaid court fines tops £4million – Bedfordshire On Sunday

MORE than £4 million in court fines is owed to courts in Bedfordshire, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The figures, released by Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), show that last September the amount of fines owed to the county’s courts stood at £4,286,800.

The criminal with 145 crimes to his names – Newcastle Journal

A ONE-MAN crime wave racked up 145 offences in two years, re-offending figures have revealed.

The string of crimes makes the 20-year-old male from Durham the region’s most prolific offender.

He was closely followed by a 38-year-old female and a 45-year-old male who committed 130 crimes each between January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2012, say Durham Constabulary.

In total, the top nine offenders together were responsible for 702 crimes across the force area.

Freedom of Information requests to North East police forces revealed just 19 criminals were behind more than a thousand crimes in the region over the last two years.

1000 council buildings containing Asbestos – North Wales Daily Post

SCHOOLS, leisure centres and public toilets are among more than 1,000 council-owned buildings in North Wales which contain asbestos.

A Freedom of Information request by the Daily Post has revealed that all types of the dangerous substance which is now illegal to use – are found in buildings across the region including the most hazardous material, crocidolite.

The figures showed Gwynedd to have the highest number of buildings containing asbestos with 409 in total, which included Arfon Leisure Centre in Caernarfon, Bangor Swimming Pool and Hafod Y Gest care home in Porthmadog.

Pauper funeral rise in Plymouth – Plymouth  Herald

ALMOST 100 people in Plymouth have been buried in so-called ‘paupers’ graves’.

The depressing statistic paints a harrowing picture of people in the community dying penniless and in isolation.

The figures on state-funded funerals were released to The Herald through the Freedom of Information Act.

But the reality could be much worse, since people who die in hospital are the responsibility of Plymouth Hospitals Trust.

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How FOI changes would incentivise inefficiency … surely the Government can’t want that?

bigbenI spent yesterday afternoon at a briefing held by the Campaign for Freedom of Information over proposed changes to the legislation which is supposed to hand us all the right to know.

The Campaign’s excellent Maurice Frankel delivered to succinct summary of the areas which should worry us. From a journalistic point of view, I picked up on the following proposal which should cause concern:

1. Reducing the time limit from 18 to 16 hours before a request can be rejected: Never good news to see the time cap reduced, but even more worrying when the following point is taken into consideration:

2. Allowing time for ‘considering’ FOI requests to be included in the 16/18 hour cap: This has the potential to effectively kill FOI. How on earth do you determine what counts as consideration?

3. Charging a flat fee to go to the Information Tribunal: This could be a flat fee of £80. You can argue that if you’ve gone to the trouble of appealing to the refusing authority, then to the Information Commissioner and still not got the answer you want, you’ll find £80 to go to the Tribunal. But that’s not the point. It’s another deterrent.

4. Asking contractors carrying out services for public authorities to operate under FOI voluntarily. Because they’ll all sign up to do that, won’t they? (I’ll do another blog on this later in the week).

5. Grouping FOI requests on different subjects but by similar people together so they can be treated as one. In theory, all local newspaper journalists going to the Home Office with FOI requests could be counted as one.

Number 2 is probably the most worrying. All of a sudden, FOI becomes less a piece of legislation where they assumption is that the information should be released, and more a piece of legislation where the assumption is that if an authority thinks about the request for long enough, the information won’t be released.

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The biggest threat to Freedom of Information yet? Why all journalists should be worried

A new year, and it would seem, a new threat to Freedom of Information. If 2012 was about pushing back on calls for charges for making Freedom of Information requests, then 2013 looks to be the year we fight attempts to introduce other ways of blocking access to the same information.

The Justice Select Committee spent many hours digging into the impact of FOI before delivering a lengthy report last summer. The Government responded in November and, generally, was quite positive: They kicked the idea of charging for FOI requests into touch.

But they did insist they’d keep on looking at way to reduce the alleged burden FOI is causing public authorities. I’ll come back to this burden a bit later on.

In a debate at the end of last month, justice minister Helen Grant said:

“Despite the many benefits that the Act has brought, we cannot ignore concerns about the burdens that it imposes on public authorities. That is especially important in the current challenging financial climate and at a time when more freedom of information requests than ever are being received. Central Government received 47,000 initial applications in 2011, at a cost of £8.5 million in staff time alone. Local authorities and other public bodies are also affected. We aim to focus our efforts on the disproportionate burdens placed on public authorities by what we call industrial users of the Act.”

That should set an alarm bell ringing in any newsroom which makes regular use of the Freedom of Information Act to hold public authorities to account.

Anything which allows an organisation to target ‘industrial users’ of the Act can only serve one purpose: Turning the FOI Act from what it was intended to be – your right to request information – in a selective access-to-information mechanism controlled by those with a vested to keep their secrets, well, secrets.

But how would the Government determine an ‘industrial user.’ Here’s where things get very worrying:

We will also consider other ways to reduce burdens fairly and proportionately, including addressing where one person or group of people use the Act to make unrelated requests to the same public authority so frequently that it becomes an inappropriate burden.

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Why is it always the easy questions that leave ‘em stumped?

Which way to?

One of my New Year resolutions was to try and stop spending so much money on car parks, especially at train stations (£15 a day is now, frighteningly, actually good value). It’s for that reason that on Tuesday I was earwigging into a conversation involving two Metrolink staff about the problems they’re facing on the various extensions Manchester’s tram system is under going.

Annoyingly, as soon as someone asked them about this front page story from the Manchester Evening News involving a courtroom battle over a £42million contract for signalling, they annoyingly went quiet. Still, maybe it’s enough to prove the value of what you can overhear on a tram/train/bus.

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