FOI FRIDAY: Wrongly-released prisoners, compo for teachers, police bill for mobile phone records and dodgy measures in the pub

Looking for an FOI idea? Here are 10 which made headlines recently….

1. Wrongly released prisoners

The Liverpool ECHO used FOI to find out how many prisoners had been released from the city’s two prisons by mistake over the last few years. In total, nine were – including several who had been convicted of violent offences.

2. Compensation for teachers

Teachers in the North East have received compensation payouts totalling £400,000 in the last few years as a result of accidents in the classroom. The Sunday Sun got the information using FOI, and also asked for a breakdown of payouts. As a result it was able to report where the largest payout was made, and for what:

One teacher in South Shields, South Tyneside, was given the highest individual payout of £50,000 after they tripped over a play bed and were left with a permanent wrist injury.

Another teacher in North Yorkshire – which paid out a total of £31,775 for eight claims – was compensated after getting an electric shock from the main supply. Payouts for the 2009/10 financial year totalled £230,620 – a rise of £52,000, or 29%, on the 2007/2008 financial year.

3. Dodgy scales in Coventry

How reliable are the measures you receive in pubs and shops? The Coventry Telegraph set out to find that out using FOI – discovering the Trading Standards officers had uncovered dodgy scales and measuring equipment – eg petrol pumps, beer pumps – 128 times in the last few years.

4. The unchecked foreign doctors

Medical magazine Pulse caused a stir this week with an FOI to every primary care trust in the country which asked how many foreign doctors each employed – and how many of them were checked and verified by the PCT. It turns out hundreds of foreign doctors are being employed without the employers doing proper checks.

5. Council spies on contents of bins for five years

A favourite talking point for many local papers are bins, and this one from the Yorkshire Evening Post is eye-opening. Using FOI, it asked if the council had monitored the contents of individual bins in the city. It turns out they had – hiring a company at various points over five years to have a rummage through people’s bins.

6. Serious Untoward Incidents in hospitals

We’ve talked about asking hospitals and Strategic Health Authorities for details of Serious Untoward Incident reports to find out about when things have gone wrong in the NHS. The Bournemouth Daily Echo is the latest paper to get a great story out of doing so:

A MAN believed by paramedics to be dead was later found breathing by undertakers.

The incident was one of more than 60 ‘Serious Untoward Incidents’ recorded by South Western Ambulance Service between 2007 and 2009 and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

After undertakers discovered signs of life, paramedics were called back to the scene.

7. Cuts? Not the tea party, please…

With councils everywhere making the valid point that services being slashed to save money will impact on everyone, the South Wales Evening Post did a good job of holding a local council to account when it used FOI to reveal that the council spent £3,000 on an afternoon teaparty – the cost up 42% on the previous year’s tea party.

8. Sex offence? Odds are it’ll end in a caution

The Sunderland Echo did some interesting data analysis on FOI-based figures surrounding sex offences reported to the police. Around half ended with just a caution.

9. Scrutinising university spending

With university budgets in the spotlight this week, now is a good time to be using FOI to scrutinise spending at universities. The Daily Record has already done this, finding out the Strathclyde University spent £60k on new numbers for doors in a university block at a time when it was pleading poverty as the reason for cutting courses.

10. Police pay to access phone records

Crime doesn’t pay, they say – but it seems it does for mobile phone companies. The Bolton News used FOI to find out how much Greater Manchester Police spent on accessing phone records as part of criminal investigations. Mobile phone companies are £1.5m better off as a result.

5 comments

  1. Thank you once again David for bringing another set of sizzling FOI-request results to our attention! This certainly does give ideas which can be repeated locally!

    1. Thanks Ray – that’s the idea. It’s not meant to be a top 10 of the best ones, just a collection of interesting ones I stumble across each week.

  2. Your round up of FOI stories is invaluable, but the story you attribute to the Bournemouth Echo was in fact ripped off from a BBC Spotlight report without a credit to its source. I put the FOI request in myself.

    1. Thanks Julie – I’ll correct the article. I do try to work out the original source, but sometimes it can be a little hard

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