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

Prolific criminals and their crimewaves revealed

A fascinating FOI emerges from the pages of the Lowestoft Journal this week. At some point, the Government created the phrase ‘prolific and other priority offender (PPO)’ to cover the offenders who committed the most crime. Police forces are supposed to record the crimes they commit, and so on. So the Journal asked for the details and got this story:

A HARD core of about 150 criminals in Suffolk are responsible for more than 3,000 offences, new figures have revealed

Nearly 150 of the county’s most notorious thieves and troublemakers have been arrested on a total of 5,151 occasions and convicted 3,034 times, with one Lowestoft teen arrested 19 times and convicted 12 times.

The Lowestoft teen is one of the youngest persistent offenders, together with two 14-year-olds from Sudbury – one of whom has been arrested 20 times and has nine convictions.

Stashed in a prison cell

The Liverpool ECHO used FOI to established what items had been confiscated from cells at one of the local prisons. They probably couldn’t believe their luck when they got this result:

A PRISONER at a Merseyside jail was found with a safe in his cell to keep his valuables in.

A tattoo machine, needles, ink and tattoo patterns were also discovered at HMP Kennet, in Maghull.

The surprising details were released in a Freedom of Information request submitted to the Prison Service.

Accidents in schools

Sticking with the Liverpool ECHO, another great story from FOI – but not from the obvious source. It turned to the Health and Safety Executive to find out how many accidents and injuries had been reported. The level of detail is remarkable and well worth a look at the story:

A CATALOGUE of slips, trips, falls and violence in Merseyside’s schools is today exposed in an ECHO investigation.

Our probe has discovered that headteachers are opting to be “safe not sorry” and calling ambulances so pupils and staff get hospital checks for minor scrapes and sprains amid rigid Ofsted and legal expectations.

Fearing reprisals Merseyside schools are also hiring £30,000 a year facilities managers to carry out risk assessments and pupils are even banned from playground equipment until daily checks have been undertaken.

Last year schools in the region formally logged nearly 500 accidents to the Health and Safety Executive.

Seven out of 10 accidents saw the pupil or staff victim taken to hospital for treatment.

Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations schools must report all workplace accidents that involve hospital treatment.

Attacks on teachers

The Rochdale Observer has another line on injuries in schools – the number of pupils suspended or expelled after attacking teachers:

Figures released to the Observer under the Freedom of Information Act showed that 26 secondary school children have been suspended since September last year and one pupil has been expelled for assaulting teachers and school staff.

From September 2008 to 2009 52 pupils were suspended and two were expelled and in the previous year 59 were suspended and two were expelled.

Seven primary school children have been suspended since September last year but none have been expelled.

In the school year 2008/09 eight were suspended and one was expelled and the previous year 13 were suspended and one was expelled.

Staff assaulted include teachers, headteachers, teaching assistants, office and clerical staff, IT or science technicians.

Parking fines for council vehicles

An interesting tale from the Bolton News, which sought out how many parking tickets had been issued to council vehicles. The overall cost – not much more than £1,000 – may not seem that high, but it could beg the question as to why council vehicles had to park illegally in the first place. A more bizarre version of a similar FOI – in Lambeth – appears here

Hospital false fire alarms

False alarms are a daily problem for the fire brigade – anyone who has done calls first thing in the morning would know that – but what’s the cost when they all add up? And what if you could name the worst place for false alarms in your area? That’s what the Flintshire Chronicle has done thanks to FOI, asking the fire service for the buildings they are called out to most frequently.

FALSE alarms at a North Wales hospital have cost the fire service more than £50,000 as part of a £1.5m bill.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Wrexham Maelor Hospital called firefighters out more than any other premises in North Wales for two years in a row.

But the 177 automatic fire alarms last year and 225 false alarms at the hospital the year before have largely been down to construction work.

What  gets found on police raids?

A new line in FOI inquiries from the Sunderland Echo, which sought to find out from Northumbria Police how many police raids had been held since the start of the year, and what had been recovered. Presumably, this information is logged in a way which makes it reasonably easy to access:

Guns, machetes and truncheons were unearthed as police carried out eight raids a day across Wearside.

Figures obtained via the Freedom of Information Act showed 463 raids on 442 properties in just January and February netted thousands of pounds-worth of cocaine, heroin and cannabis.

Ghost town?

When I first saw the headline ‘Preston: City of Ghosts’ I hoped that the Lancashire Evening Post had found a way of using FOI to get ghost sightings. Sadly not, but they got a great story from asking for the list of properties which have been declared empty for council tax purposes:

Almost 3,000 homes – including a raft of luxury apartments – are lying empty in Preston.

The council list, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows 44 flats in the Light Building, a luxury 68-apartment complex near the city centre in Walker Street, are listed as empty, although the company behind the scheme today insisted the figure given by the council was incorrect.

If you do like ghosts…

… Then you’ll be sad to know that Norwich Hospital doesn’t have any. Yes, it was the subject of an FOI!

The wait for an allotment

With summer just around the corner, The Newcastle Evening Chronicle’s FOI request about allotment waiting lists seems timely. A niche issue? Hardly – with thousands being told they’ll have to wait five years for the chance of a part of the Good Life.

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