FOI Friday: 10 things we discovered thanks to Freedom of Information this week

Compensation to prisoners, use of tasers in Cambridgeshire, probation breaches in Bedfordshire and the criminal record of a football legend. FOI Friday has a distinct criminal theme this week…

Compensation paid to prisoners

The Lincolnshire Echo published details of compensation payouts to to prisoners at jails in its area. A total of £16,365 has been spent in the last two years on compensation at the county’s three prisons – HMP Lincoln, Morton Hall, near Swinderby, and North Sea Camp, near Boston.  A total of £4,500 of that was paid out for injuries sustained by inmates. A further £3,400 had to be forked out because of unlawful detention – such as prisoners being kept in the cells for longer than required.

Taser use in Cambridgeshire

My image of Cambridgeshire is of pretty little towns like Stamford, and the university city of Cambridge. Admittedly, I did cover an attempted murder of a man whose wife had hired a hitman, only to find out he was cop, in Cambridge once. But they were from Lancashire, which kind of explained it in part. Anyway, the Cambridge News used FOI to find out how often tasers had been used “to resolve dangerous situations”. The answer was 500. Shocking?

Was the Wizard of Dribble a coffee crook?

The John Terry scandal this is not, but using the Freedom of Information Act to gain information on legendary football Sir Stanley Matthews came up trumps for someone, reports the Daily Mail. The MoD released “secret” files – which presumably wouldn’t be available if Matthews was still alive today – and fellow player Stan Mortensen was arrested for trying to sell contraband coffee and soap during the Second World War whilst playing an international match in Belgium. Not a big story by any stretch, but an interesting precedent perhaps?

Call that a punishment?

A slightly different take on the “how many crimes dealt with by caution” from the Western Telegraph this week, which asked for stats on the number of ABH cases recorded by the police, and how many were dealt with by a caution. The answer?: One third.

Police complaints on the up

To Lambeth, one of the London areas where the council feels the need to publish its own newspaper. Just to keep residents informed, you understand. Whether you’ll see this tale in Lambeth Life is, of course, another matter. The weekly Guardian newspaper there asked the police how many complaints had been made against police officers, and how  many had been substantiated. The result?

Some 15 investigations in to 448 complaints made against police in 2008-9 found the complaint was justified, a Freedom of Information request showed.

In 2007-8 just five complaints were substantiated.

Use of the Westminster dining rooms

The Times reports on an FOI request put into the houses in parliament asking for information on who had booked dining rooms at Parliament. The information came from the Commons Banqueting Office. It strikes me there are two things to take from this for regional journalists. Firstly, could the Commons Banqueting Office hold local information on MPs use? And could this principle be applied to local authorities – eg asking for who booked council venues?

Parking fine problems

Parking fines come close to being top of the common gripes list among readers. So this angle from FOI in the Swansea Evening Post take on it thanks to FOI is interesting – finding out how many tickets were issued incorrectly.

Violence in the library

Think libraries are quiet places meant for study? Not in Sunderland, apparently, if an FOI result from the Sunderland Echo is anything to go by. It reports:

Supposedly places of peace and tranquillity, new figures reveal 300 instances of antisocial behaviour between the bookshelves in the last three years.

Probration breaches

Bedfordshire on Sunday reports on the effectiveness – or otherwise – of probation of prisoners. Using FOI, it gleaned that more than 120 criminals in Bedfordshire were returned to prison in 2009 for breaking the rules of their probation.
Three actually re-offended on the same day as their release, committing acts of theft, burglary and dangerous driving. Asking for total numbers, plus offences, plus how quickly they reoffended generated a strong story.

Consultants advice: the cost, in more ways than one

Finally for this week, The Bucks Herald found out how much had been paid to consultants by a local council, includign £1.2million to consultants who found ways to export council jobs outside of the county. Given the desire by councils to outsource at the moment, this could be a good FOI to follow up elsewhere.

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