Sunderland Echo

FOI Friday: Nightmare roadwork roads, self service checkout crimes, cost of PFI and student disciplinary offences

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The roads dug up more than 600 times in a year < Birmingham Mail

Road repairs in Birmingham are causing traffic chaos with some routes being dug up almost every day for the past FIVE years, the Birmingham Mail can reveal.

Workmen have had to carry out maintenance on Birmingham’s Broad Street three times a week since 2009. The entertainment district – known as the Golden Mile – has been dug up an astonishing 684 times.

Yet it is not the most repaired road in the city.

Crime caused by self-service checkouts < Sunderland Echo

FORGETFUL shoppers are turning other wise law-abiding citizens into criminals after it was revealed that cash-back worth £1,260 was stolen from self-service tills in Sunderland in the last three years.

Figures obtained by the Echo via a freedom of information request to Northumbria Police, show thefts are going up year-on-year in line with the increase of popularity of automated systems in supermarkets.

But police say many people do not realise that pocketing cash accidentally left behind at self-service checkouts is theft and will be treated as such. And those caught on CCTV can often find themselves appearing in newspapers and online as part of crime appeals.

Forty-seven thefts of cashback were reported between April 2011 and March this year within Sunderland Area Command, after being left at self-service tills. Thirteen thefts were recorded in 2011/12, increasing to 16, in 2012/13 and 18 in the last financial year.

Youngest fire-arm offenders < Cambridge Evening News

A boy aged just 11 is now the youngest person in Cambridgeshire to be arrested over a firearms offences, shock data has revealed.

Information released by the Cambridgeshire force has also uncovered the youngest children arrested over drugs and sex crimes.

The youngest children arrested over sex offences are two boys aged just 10 years old.

One boy was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman and another was arrested over the rape of another boy aged under 13 years old. Both were given a reprimand and no further action was taken.

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FOI FRIDAY: Changing high streets, FGM, hospital crimes and council staff attacks

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How is your high street changing? – East Grinstead Courier

instead is filling up with coffee shops and financial service providers such as banks and estate agents – and residents are not happy about it.

According to a Freedom of Information Act request put in by the Courier, nearly half the change-of-use applications submitted by East Grinstead businesses have seen permission granted to change them into one of these two categories.

And the response from Mid Sussex District Council also reveals that every application – all 17 – made since 2009 to change an East Grinstead shop from one type of business to another submitted to the council has been approved (one on resubmission after an initial rejection).

What crimes are committed in hospital? < Dundee Evening Telegraph

Drug-dealing, shoplifting, sexual assault, vandalism and assaults on police officers — all activities you might associate with a rough housing estate.

However, these are actually just a few of the crimes which have been reported at Dundee’s biggest hospital in recent years.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show nearly 200 crimes have been reported at Ninewells Hospital since 2011, including 62 last year.

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The 12 days of Local Pressmasness: 10 great FOIs

pressmanessAny news editor will tell you the Christmas is a time to fear and dread. The dirty looks when the rotas don’t go someone’s way. The knowledge that behind the smiles, reporters still aren’t any further on with their Christmas specials a week before Christmas than they were six weeks before. And the lack of news between Christmas and New Year.

So thank goodness for FOI. Searching Google News for ‘Freedom of Information’ shows that when it comes to finding strong Christmas stories, FOI is one of the best tools around. So seeing as it’s Friday, here’s a festive FOI Friday … 10 great FOIs seen in the Press over Christmas:

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Newspaper campaigning in a click-to-sign age: Why speaking truth to power is more important than ever

With print circulations going down, and tools online making it possible for anyone, anywhere to launch a campaign, how does a local newspaper ensure its campaigns still get attention and, most importantly, get results?

Simple: They innovate. And in this age of austerity, areas outside of London have perhaps never needed a campaigning voice which can turn heads as much as they do now

A rather remarkable thing happened the other week. The Northern Echo carried a splash which included the mastheads of pretty much every other newspaper in the north east. The Journal – its traditional rival – carried the same story. And it also appeared on the front page of various other daily titles – including the Evening Gazette in Teesside and the Sunderland Echo – and took up pages in The Chronicle in Newcastle and the Shields Gazette. And as the week continued, the same story was covered in a variety of weeklies.

The reason? As reported by Hold The Front Page, the region’s newspapers are lining up together to fight for a better deal for the North East from Government. In short, they feel they are being short-changed by Westminster, and there’s a lot of evidence to support that argument. Their solution is to see more power over public sector spending devolved to the region. It’s a very sound argument, backed up by political heavyweights such as Lord Heseltine, who has already identified £70bn which should be allocated to regional Local Enterprise Partnerships.

All for one...

All for one…

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FOI Friday: Dirty hospitals, re-employed redundant council workers, lost dogs and drug warrants

A fortnightly round-up of FOI-based stories which could be followed up anywhere…

The secret past of would-be teachers < < < Sunday Sun

POSSESSING explosives, being drunk while in charge of a child, death by reckless driving and indecent assault on a girl . . these are just some of the serious criminal convictions would-be teachers in the North have under their belt.

Hundreds of potential teachers have been applying for classroom positions across the region despite holding a range of serious criminal convictions, the Sunday Sun can reveal.

Information released by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), after the Sunday Sun made a Freedom of Information Act request, revealed the scale of convictions clocked up by teachers applying for positions in the North.

Childhood drugs overdoses < < < Sunderland Echo

A SIX-YEAR-OLD was rushed to Sunderland Royal Hospital after overdosing on antidepressants.

The shocking revelation comes as new figures show three people a day are admitted to the city’s hospital after taking a drug overdose.

A total of 2,999 people were taken to A&E after overdosing on prescribed or non-prescribed medicine and drugs from December 2008 to December 2011.

The youngest was a six-year-old. A further five 12-year-olds were admitted after overdosing on painkillers, penicillin and anti-inflammatory drugs.

More council compensation claims < < < Sunday Mercury

A COUNCIL grave digger has been awarded £65,000 compensation – after he fell into a burial plot he was preparing.

The cemetery worker received the payout from Birmingham City Council (BCC) after he hurt his right knee in the incident.

He is one of several local authority employees who have claimed compensation after being injured at work.

Click here to find out more!In another case a school worker was handed £100,000 after slipping on food in a dinner hall.
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FOI Friday: Hospital parking, strange police phone calls, cheating students and criminals applying to work in schools

Toilet seats and compensation < < < Birmingham Mail

A WORKER sued Birmingham City Council and won £1,750 after a toilet seat collapsed causing him injuries, it has emerged.

The man was one of 274 successful claims in the last five years leaving taxpayers with a bill of almost £5 million.

Trips, exposure to deadly asbestos and problems with training were behind some of the most costly compensation payouts by the city council last year, the Birmingham Mail can reveal.

The cost of defending claims by a police force < Carlisle Times and Star

Cumbria Constabulary has paid out almost £50,000 in five years defending itself against employees who made claims of racism, sexism and unlawful deduction of wages.

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show 12 employees made claims against the force between 2008 and 2011.

Of these cases, Cumbria Constabulary lost three following an employment tribunal, won three and settled five without the need for an employment tribunal.

Bomb alerts in a city < < < Bradford Telegraph and Argus

Bomb experts carried out a controlled explosion after a smoke grenade was found in a Bradford alleyway in the 15th Army call-out to the city in three years.

Statistics from the Ministry of Defence released to the Telegraph & Argus under the Freedom of Information Act show the Catterick-based Army bomb disposal unit had been deployed to 14 other reports of suspicious packages, bomb hoaxes and improvised explosive devices in the district before the latest incident on Monday night.

Violent criminals apply to work in schools < < < Sunderland Echo

VIOLENT thugs, benefit fraudsters, drink drivers, drug users and a witness who lied under oath.

These are just some of the people who have applied to teach your children.

Today the Echo reveals the long list of convictions held by people applying to work with children in Sunderland’s schools.

The criminal offences were discovered when the past of applicants was scrutinised by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

A Freedom of Information Act request found that 72 applications made in the city in the last two years were flagged up by the checking process, which unearthed 180 previous convictions.

A parking ticket issued every five minutes < < < Western Morning News

Motorists in Cornwall are being punished with parking tickets once every five minutes, the Western Morning News has discovered.

Parking officers handed out more than 36,000 tickets across the county in the past year, with drivers paying out more than £1.5 million in fi1nes.

Student plagerism on the rise < < < Nottingham Post

THE number of university students in Nottingham getting caught for cheating in coursework is on the rise.

In the past year 340 students in the city have been caught for plagiarism – almost 100 more than last year.

According to figures obtained by the Post, through a Freedom of Information request, the number of students found guilty of plagiarism at Nottingham Trent University has more than doubled, shooting up from 94 students in 2009/10 to 211 students 2010/11.

Crazy calls made to police < < < Sunday Sun

FROM vampire chases and alien attacks, to UFO and zombie sightings… these are just some of the spooky calls taken by North police forces.

Dozens of members of the public believe they have had a brush with the supernatural over the last five years.

The Sunday Sun can reveal the wacky calls received by forces in the region after a Freedom of Information Act request unearthed some ghostly goings-on.

Since 2007 more than 80 calls in relation to UFOs, aliens, zombies, vampires, ghosts and witches have been made to police by concerned members of the public.

Police officers who quit while conduct probed < < < Manchester Evening News

A total of 26 officers resigned from Greater Manchester Police over 12 months after investigations were launched into their conduct, the M.E.N. can reveal.
Details released through Freedom of Information show the public complained 1,374 times about GMP officers and staff in 2010.
This figure was a significant drop on the 2009 figures – when 2,167 complaints were made. In the vast majority of the 2010 cases, officers were cleared or the complaints were resolved through mediation.

CAMPAIGNERS have demanded an end to hospital parking charges for seriously ill patients after a Sunday Sun investigation revealed £8m was raked in by health trusts last year.

A probe has revealed nine NHS trusts in the region raised a whopping £8,287,429 in parking fees – that’s up £106,000 on the previous year.

But many scrap all charges in some special cases, making parking free or discounted for cancer and renal patients and long-stay relatives.

Parking fines rebooted < < < The Birmingham Post

The ‘please name your top 20 streets for parking fines’ story is almost as old as the Freedom of Information Act itself but put in the context of tough economic times for businesses, it is perhaps more relevant than ever. To that end, the Birmingham Post got hold of Birmingham’s top 20 list – with one small street raking in almost £100,000.

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FOI Friday

1. Cheating Students – Northampton Chronicle

INCIDENTS of plagiarism by students at the University of Northampton in exam coursework have increased by 65 per cent in the past four years.

Latest figures show that 391 students were found guilty of ‘academic misconduct’ which primarily relates to deliberate or unintentional cases of copying other people’s work.

The statistics, available from a Freedom of Information request, show there were 237 incidents of academic misconduct in 2006/7, 245 in 2007/8, 284 in 2008/9 and 391 in 2009/10.

2. Council bosses take redundancy – and return as consultants – Merton Guardian

Town hall bosses have “serious questions to answer” after Merton’s cash-strapped council spent thousands of pounds on redundancy payouts to senior employees, only to rehire them as highly-paid consultants.

Since May 2010, five so-called ‘boomerang bosses’ have found jobs back at Merton Council after £178,000 was spent laying them off.

A series of emails, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that a week before chief executive Ged Curran authorised her job offer, the council’s head of human resources, Dean Shoesmith, gave Ms Williams instructions on how to become a consultant.

3. 72 benefit cheats in Lincolnshire caught claiming more than £320k – Louth Target

MORE than £320,000 in benefits has been fraudulently claimed in East Lindsey in the last nine months.

In total, 72 benefit cheats were caught by the district council during that period with the biggest fraudster, from Alford, being successfully prosecuted for claiming £58,325 too much for failing to declare a partner living in the household.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 15 people were brought before the courts for the offences in 2009/10 compared to 30 in 2010/11.

However East Lindsey District Council, who brought the prosecutions, says the figures don’t necessarily mean fraud is on the increase.

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FOI Friday: Prisoner complaints, pensions invested in cluster bombs and crime on rich streets

1. The complaints made by prisoners < < < Manchester Evening News

Inmates at Strangeways have bombarded jail bosses with thousands of often trivial official complaints in the last 12 months – including grumbles about heating, outstanding DVD orders and the quality of the food.

Records of formal inmate grievances at HMP Manchester have shown how officers are being tied up dealing with petty inconveniences. A total of almost 3,500 formal complaints were processed by Strangeways in 12 months – an average of almost 10 every day.

Details, obtained by the M.E.N. under Freedom of Information laws, show how staff had to chase up a newsagent after an inmate complained he had not received a TV listing magazine.

2. Crimes on rich streets < < < Surrey Comet

Criminals have been targeting millionaires on the exclusive St George’s Hill Estate.

In the past six months there have been eight crimes, according to a Freedom of Information request made to Surrey Police, including a suspected shotgun robbery.

The crimes include one incident of criminal damage, one non-domestic burglary, two robberies, two thefts or handling of stolen goods, one vehicle crime and one crime of violence without injury.

3. The council pension fund investing in cluster bomb firm < < < Sunderland Echo

£9MILLION pounds of council pension funds has been invested in a company that produces cluster bomb components.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Durham County Council has invested pension contributions in General Dynamics Corp.
The US firm is an arms manufacturer that produces parts used in cluster bombs.

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FOI Friday: Dirty schools, lying parents, superbug deaths and attacks on postment

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).

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FOI FRIDAY: Drowned dogs, toxic waste, taser guns and cheer-me-up consultants

 

FOI stories this week have covered everything from the buildings council own to the hospital which admitted paying consultants to advise on how to cheer up patients. Here are 10 FOI stories which could work for you… 

1. What buildings do councils own?

Here’s a clever FOI to kick things off this week. The communities secretary, Eric Pickles is keen for councils to reveal what properties they own. In Birmingham. the information is already available, thanks to an FOI. Asking the council how much it has spent on business rates in empty properties adds another dimension to the story.

2. Drowned puppies and toxic waste 

Perhaps the most unusual story I’ve ever seen on a story based on an FOI request. The Hinckley Times used FOI to find out the items the borough council had been called out to clear up. Among things collected on 800 call outs to clean up dumped stuff was a bag of drowned puppies, toxic waste, dead horses and the complete contents of woman’s wardrobe, including her underwear.

3. Why councils are spying on you 

FOI requests about use of  the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 use by councils – the ability for them to spy on you if they think you’re doing something wrong – was all the rage last year. But this FOI request by the Sheffield Star proves it is worth doing again, because councils continue to use the powers. In Sheffield’s case, 30 times in the last year.

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