FOI FRIDAY: Secret dossiers, missing prisoners, hate crimes and council redundancies


1. Secret dossiers

There’s a lot of focus on FOI as a tool to get data out of authorities at the moment, so I thought it was worth kicking off this week with a great example of what you get when you ask councils for full documents on things.

Using FOI, the Leicester Mercury got hold of a dossier compiled by council officials who were worried about the behaviour of the Lord Mayor of Leicester – council officers even went as far as to take discreet photographs of him.

2. Hate crimes against disabled people

When you think of ‘hate crimes’ you tend to think of crimes based on race or sexuality. The East Anglian Daily Times reports on a rise in hate crimes committed against the disabled – using figures obtained under FOI.

3. Escapees from hospital

The value of FOI as a tool for keeping tabs on places long after things have gone wrong is demonstrated in this FOI from the Manchester Evening News. In 2006, a convicted killer who was being treated in a mental hospital went on the run and subsequently committed a rape.

In 2007, the hospital’s security was described as lax. The MEN, through FOI, has discovered a further 31 prisoners held under the Mental Health Act have subsequently escaped.

4. Missing laptops and mobile phones

Another twist on the time-honoured data-loss stories, this time from a security firm which asked various UK law enforcement agencies how many laptops and mobile phones had been lost. For anyone looking to revisit the old ‘data lost’ FOI requests, maybe it’s time to stipulate lost mobile phones as well.

5. Where is crime most likely to be solved?

FOI isn’t just here for the bad things in life… The Nottingham Evening Post used FOI to ask for the % of crimes solved in each postcode in the city – and led the story on the fact the city centre has the highest detection rate. Of course, the fact two thirds don’t get solved isn’t quite so positive.

6. Getting hold of letters

The Journal in Newcastle has long campaigned for the A1 through Northumberland to be widened, something the new Tory government has tried to kick into the long grass again. However, a clever use of FOI – asking for correspondence from interested parties to the the Department for Transport – will probably put more pressure on the government to think again, not to mention give The Journal a rather good tale.

7. The cost of redundancy

The Argus in Brighton is one of a number of publications to use research gathered by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism which set out to find how much had been spent on redundancy pay in the public sector so far. In Sussex’s case, it was £7million. You can see more of the numbers here.

8. Illegal parking outside schools

An issue which comes up time and again in regional newsrooms, and the Liverpool Daily Post this week reported on what was being done about people who park illegally outside schools.  More than 1,400 have been fined since Wirral Council introduced a ‘spy car’ to catch people at it. Lots of councils have these cars now, I believe.

9. Fines for employing illegal workers

The South Wales Argus approached the UK Border Agency to find out how many checks it had done in Gwent, and the size of fines issued as a result. More than quarter of a million was paid up in their area last year.

10. Council temp on £1,000 a day

And finally to Cornwall where the West Briton newspaper has shown again it pays to keep asking how much is being spent on temps, and the highest salary paid to each temp – one officers picks up £1,000 a day.








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