FOI Friday: 10 things we’ve learnt thanks to Freedom of Information this week

I said last week I’d blog in a different post about good FOI stories which emerged as Christmas specials in newspapers over Christmas – I meant to do it this week but didn’t get chance.

So, for now, here are 10 stories generated via FOI which have appeared in the regional media over the past seven days:

1. Criminal record cabbies

The BBC’s Inside Out programme in the West Midlands found a very interesting story when it sent over 70 FOIs to councils and police forces to discover how many cab and taxi drivers had been given licences despite having criminal convictions.  Despite offences including drugs and indecent assault, some 209 drivers were given licences, the BBC found.  Interesingly, these decision tend to have to be made at supposedly public licensing committee meetings, but this sort of information is normally dealt with in private session so as not to reveal personal details about an applicant, so FOI really is the only way to find this information out.

2. Compensation claims from the MoD

The Sun used FOI to find out what the Ministry of Defence had compsensated people for, other than injuries suffered in combat. Among the results was this gem:

A farmer has been paid £42,000 by the Ministry of Defence after he claimed his chickens laid fewer eggs because they were frightened by the noise from jets including the Red Arrows.

A compare and contrast with the amount paid to injured soldiers made this story what it really is. It’s also an FOI which could be replicated across all walks of government, local and national.

3. Checking out how effective new legislation is

The Stage magazine reports that FOI has revealed how effective new legislation design to protect would-be performers from dodgy agents has been. Basically, it banned the practice of up-front fees. Admittedly, the fact 60 such agents have had action taken against them, with362 complaints made, is quite a niche story – but the principle of using FOI to check out how well a headline-grabbing piece of legislation has actually been has paid off once again.

4. The Osman rule

A great bit of research from The Western Morning News, and proof of the need to know what you’re talking about to ensure success under FOI. It asked for the number of Osman warnings dished out by the local police:

The so-called “Osman” warnings were issued by senior officers after receiving specific intelligence that individuals were at serious, and imminent, risk of being killed. Many involve known criminals.

In the case of the Western Morning News, there were 19 such warnings made last year – suggesting 19 murder plots in the area. One I think many other titles will follow up.

5. Sorry seems to be an easy word

Keeping up with the theme of using FOI to check on how legislation is working, the Lancashire Telegraph asked police how many crimes had been resolved by encouraging the offender to say sorry. At the time, it was called restorative justice. Now, 1,800 such cases have been dealt with by getting the offender to say sorry.

6. Silly fuels

A quirky one from the London Evening Standard, which reports that the Met lost £280,000 last year having to pay for repairs to cop cars which had been filled using the wrong fuel. I can almost hear the tut-tutting of those who believe the press abuse FOI for stories like this – but the information was requested by Lib Dem MP  Sarah Teather. Does that make a difference?

7. Bed blocking

Another example of using FOI to check up on Government legislation appeared in the Liverpool ECHO this week. Health reporter Liza Williams asked local health authorities to reveal levels of bed blocking in the area, and how long the longest bed blocking case had been going on for. The answer: More than two years for one unfortunate patient who was deemed well enough to be cared for at home.  Labour promised to end bed blocking, but it seems even the threat to fine councils which don’t have accommodation ready for people ready to leave hospital hasn’t been enough to solve the problem.

8. Police taking second jobs

The Sunderland Echo reports that 326 police officers have second jobs in addition to their roles at Northumbria Police. Diver, boxer and Osprey trainer were among the second jobs uncovered. Wider questions could be asked potential conflicts of interest, I suppose, if others were to uncover similar answers. The Police Federation say more and more are taking second jobs because their pay rises are so poor.

9. Overdosed on drugs

What’s the drug which hospitals most commonly see involved in overdose cases? That’s the question the North Devon Journal asked – and the answer was: paracetamol

10. Finding out previous conversations

And an interesting one from the North Wales Daily Post to end on. It asked for correspondence between the police and the operators of a local tourist railway about a crossing deemed dangerous. The letters reveal the police warned the railway that the crossing was dangerous and they would prosecute if there was an accident. Maybe other papers could ask similar questions over accidents at blackspots – police often call for improvements long before councils implement them. One for the back pocket, I’d say.

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