FOI Friday: Cops under probe, postie problems and restaurant reports

1. Cops under probe

The Lancashire Telegraph lifted the lid on 50 cases of serious misconduct brought again Lancashire Police officers which were, in the main, kept under wraps.

Cases include allegations of assault, theft, drink driving, possession of child porn, fraud, making threats to kill and rape. Of course, 50 cases among such a large force is a small percentage – but it raises the issue of whether such hearings should be in public.

2. Councillor receipts

The thorny issue of councillor expenses has provided an interesting example of an FOI story based on what isn’t held for the Express and Echo in Exeter. Reporters at the paper used FOI to ask for the receipts submitted with councillor expenses claims. The council then revealed it didn’t keep the receipts. The paper puts this into context by saying the HM Revenues and Customs urges companies to return receipts for six years.

3. Getting off from a parking fine

500 motorists in Bristol escaped parking fines because traffic wardens filled the form in incorrectly. Details of the errors were revealed to the Bristol Evening Post via FOI. But put into context, 6,000 tickets a month are issued – so the chances of finding a loophole seems slim.

4. Music to your ears

The Wishaw Press in Scotland used FOI to find out how much NHS Lanarkshire spends on PRS licences – the licences needed to play music in the workplace. The figure is £23,023. NHS Lanarkshire says it is value for money and defends the spending on the grounds that it was from an endowment fund of donations.

5. Restaurant reports

Do we need to use FOI to find out about restaurant inspections given that Scores on the Doors is freely available and the Food Standards Agency is building up something similar? Arguably yes – because only limited information is released. This example from the Daily Mail, which sought the inspection reports for Jamie Oliver restaurants across the country made for interesting reading.

6. The reasons for exclusion from school

It’s an old favourite but always worth looking at again – the reasons children are excluded from school. This Portsmouth News story is proof of that. It learnt:

Dozens of primary and secondary school youngsters have been given fixed-term or permanent exclusions for complaints which, according to national guidelines, range from sexual graffiti and bullying to sexual harassment and assault.

Details of the incidents are kept secret to protect the identity of the youths and victims involved but a local teaching union boss claims malicious sexual harassment of teachers is on the rise.

Sion Reynolds, president of NASUWT’s Portsmouth branch, which represents around 650 working teachers and 150 trainee teachers, said: ‘There is a lot of malicious name-calling, pushing and shoving and generally extreme bad manners.

‘This is something that is of huge concern to us and that we find totally unacceptable. Female teachers are usually on the receiving end of sexual harassment.

‘And where 10 years ago male teachers were called “gay”, the current favourite is “paedophile”. Regardless of the lack of truth in the accusation, labels like that stick and are extremely dangerous.’

7. The cost of closing care homes

The Birmingham Mail covered extensively the closure of council-run childrens homes in Birmingham last year. At the time, the council said it didn’t need the capacity. The Mail has now used FOI to find out how much the city council is spending to place children in private care homes:

Figures obtained by the Mail show that the cost of placing children from Birmingham in private care rose from £13,032,594 in 2005/6 to £18,434,830 in 2009/10 – an increase of 41 per cent.

But just for the period between April 1 and July 31 last year, the council paid £13,772,491.

If the same cost was maintained throughout the year, it would leave the taxpayer with a bill in excess of £40 million.

8. Postman Prat

Good stuff from the Sunday Sun, which used FOI to find out about problems in the Royal Mail in the North East. It got a postcode area breakdown of complaints and the types of complaints, plus details of the numbers of posties investigated. Putting the complaints in the context of the number of rounds each postcode has helps paint an accurate picture.

9. Flytipping

Burnley isn’t a big borough, but it’s got a big fly-tipping problem: 362 cases reported every month – with 56% of cases involving waste dumped in dirty back yards. The council’s quote tries to put a positive, if council-speaky, spin on it.

10. Stolen from hospital

I’ve included FOIs about crimes in hospitals before but I thought this example from the News Shopper was worth including because it shows how much better an FOI story can be if it is about more than numbers. In this cases, they’ve found the family of a woman who was cremated without her wedding ring after it was stolen.

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