freedom of information

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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The tax-payer funded lobbying group which is taking up council time and money by asking for examples of FOI requests which take up time and money. Really.

foiUpdated: The Local Government Association have been in touch to say they did not send the email asking for information, but that the email was prompted by their query to the Lawyers in Local Government group on the back of suggestions from some councils about FOI volumes becoming problematic.

An interesting press release landed in my inbox tonight from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, a wonderful group which has seen off many threats to FOI and was instrumental to it being enacted in the first place:

A survey of local councils, aimed at gathering information to push for restrictions to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act has been criticised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information. The Local Government Association (LGA) has written privately to councils saying it is thinking of calling for changes to the Act and asking them to supply details of “problems” caused by it.
The email, circulated last month, says the LGA is “considering pressing the Government again for changes to the FOI legislation, having regard to the cost and time in handling FOI requests”. It says it is particularly concerned about “the use of the FOI process by researchers and campaigners for their benefit at our expense” and asks for statistics on the proportion of requests made by “media, campaigning bodies, commercial or business bodies undertaking their own research” and the time and cost of dealing with “research type” FOI requests.

The LGA says the email to councils didn’t come from them, but from Lawyers in Local Government, which the LGA had spoken to about concerns among a small number of councils that FOI was being used increasingly by commercial organisations. They’ve asked me to point out they didn’t send the email to the councils involved – which I’m happy to do.

To me, this effectively means is a tax-payer funded organisation – the LGA, despite its official sounding name, is little more than a lobbying group for councils, funded by millions of pounds worth of subscriptions paid by councils – is proactively seeking to restrict use of one of the few tools available to the public to hold its members to account. The LGA says it is just seeking views at the moment.

If this was a survey which sought views in general, it would be different. But it’s very clear from the tone of the email that what we have here is someone fishing for tales of woe about FOI.

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FOI Friday: Air gun attacks, stressed out students, pauper funerals and troubled families

FOIFRIDAYLOGO

Bedroom tax rent arrears < Wolverhampton Express and Star

Out of 3,803 Sandwell people affected by the removal of the Government’s spare room subsidy, 2,432 have now fallen into rent arrears.

But the Labour-led council has not yet evicted anyone for falling into arrears as a result of what has become widely known as the bedroom tax.

The numbers of people in arrears and affected by the policy were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act after a request by a member of the public.

Troubled families < Brighton Argus

Nearly 1,000 problem families have been identified in Brighton and Hove since the launch of a Government scheme nearly two years ago.

The Troubled Families programme was launched as part of a scheme to get children off the streets and to help families get back into work.

According to a Freedom of Information request, the city council has identified 963 “troubled families” in Brighton and Hove and has so far “turned around” 317 of these.

Prisoners in your area < Daily Post

More than a third of all North Wales prisoners are from a single county, latest figures reveal.

There are a total of 857 from the region behind bars at prisons in England and Wales – 308 of which originate  from Flintshire.

The county also has the third highest number in Wales  – beaten only by Cardiff and Swansea.

The next highest in North Wales is Gwynedd with 163 prisoners followed by Wrexham (129), Conwy (118), Denbighshire (90) and Anglesey (49).

The figures, based on data up to December 31 last year, have been released following a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice.

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FOI Friday: Suspects released by mistake, crimes in hospitals, careless coppers and big pay outs for teachers

FOIFRIDAYLOGOWrongly-released offenders < Manchester Evening News

A sex offender, violent thugs and burglars are among a long list of charged suspects released without trial because of blunders by Greater Manchester Police.

Dozens of charged suspects walked free over the last six years before they reached trial – with more this year than any of the previous five – after officers breached their own rules.

Officers must follow the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) after making an arrest – a code they are taught during their basic training.

PACE covers police powers and procedures, including instructions on how to treat suspects once they have been charged with an offence.

But on 55 occasions, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) officers failed to follow PACE, leading to a suspected sex offender, 15 alleged violent thugs, and 39 other would-be criminals getting off without a trial between 2008 and 2013.

Universities disclosing student info to police < Carlisle News and Star

The University of Cumbria has passed on the personal details of more than 20 students to police over the last three academic years, new figures reveal.

The latest available information shows that the university disclosed details of 25 of its students to officers carrying out formal investigations between 2010 and 2013.

Four related to investigations relating to theft or damage, eight for sexual or violent crimes and 10 where a student was a potential witness or victim of crime.

Three did not have sufficient details to be categorised, according to a Freedom of Information request.

Crimes in hospitals < Brighton Argus

Assaults, racial abuse, criminal damage and arson are among scores of crimes reported at hospitals across Sussex.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed Sussex Police were called to investigate 241 incidents in one year.

Other allegations included sexual assault and possession of a weapon.

The most common call outs were for theft, public order offences and common assault.

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FOI Friday: Prostitutes wanting to work in schools, hunger on the rise, counselling on the underground and 11-year-old drug runners

FOIFRIDAYLOGOProstitutes applying for jobs in schools (or reasons criminal checks failed) < Nottingham Post

PROSTITUTES, shoplifters and even someone who assaulted a child have applied for jobs in schools in Nottinghamshire over the past three years.

Other crimes committed by those wanting to work with children include assaulting a police officer, growing cannabis and racially aggravated criminal damage.

The Post can reveal that Criminal Records Bureau checks flagged up the crimes of 779 people when they applied for positions in schools in the city and county since 2011.

This figure includes 164 convicted of thefts, 39 assaults, 33 instances of loitering for prostitution, and ten for soliciting prostitutes.

Malnutrition on the rise < WalesOnline

Doctors have diagnosed hundreds of patients in Wales with malnutrition over recent years, we can reveal, amid anger about soaring dependence on foodbanks.

The statistics show patients have even been treated for cases of “severe acute malnutrition” normally associated with the developing world.

Malnourished babies and children are among more than 1,200 malnutrition cases diagnosed since 2007/08 with rates in Wales’ worst affected area jumping by a staggering 1,400%.

Many of the 1,229 recorded cases have involved patients being admitted to hospital for treatment while the true tally is likely to be even higher after two health boards refused to provide data on diagnoses in response to our freedom of information request.

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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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