FOI Friday: Dodging magistrates, the race for Oxbridge, big cats and clearing up after gypsies

Oxford University - unfamiliar territory for Welsh students?

How many going to university?

Some interesting data from the Western Mail, which used FOI to ask how many students from each of the towns in Wales had been enrolled at Oxford and Cambridge in recent years. In some parts of Wales, not a single student has attended Oxbridge for seven years.

No shows at magistrates courts

One of the more controversial cuts decisions made by the government has been the planned closure of courts. The Southport Visiter used FOI to ask how many no shows there had been at its courts, which are due to close. The answer was that 1,778 warrants had been issued for no shows since 2008. The next question is whether that figure will rise when Sefton Magistrates closes and cases are transferred further away

Gypsy clean up

Covering stories about gypsies can be difficult for regional journalists because it often leads to accusations of promoting Nimbyism. However, the Sunderland Echo added an extra dimension to its coverage of a temporary gypsy camp by asking the council how much it cost to clean up the camp. The answer was £1,700.

Hotel rooms in government

Good stuff from Sky News’ Waste Watch blog, which used FOI to ask all government departments how much they’d spent on hotel rooms and what the nightly allowance was for a hotel room. Some departments allow up to £140 a night, others as little as £80. All in this together?

Proof there’s always a story in expenses

Ever got an FOI back and been disappointed by the response? The Ventnor Blog, the excellent hyperlocal site on the Isle of Wight, has given a brilliant example of why its worth publishing what you get regardless of what the response is – at least when it comes to FOIs about expenses. They report on an FOI about the council chief executive’s expenses. No big ‘shock horror’ spending but enough run-of-the-mill stuff to prompt a good discussion.

Are big cat sightings the new UFOs?

Remember when asking for UFO sightings reported to the police was all the rage? Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a few stories which have asked for the number of ‘big beast’ sightings – giant cats, beast of Bodmin moor, that sort of stuff. In this example from the Wear Valley Mercury from Durham Police.

Drink drivers

The BBC in Scotland got under the skin of drink driving by asking police a number of questions including how over the limit the most over the limit driver they caught was (six times, since you ask), how old the oldest drunk driver was and how young the youngest one was, along with details you’d expect, such as number of arrests etc. A blueprint for a good story with crime stats.

The payments made to snitches

I think this one has appeared on FOI Friday before but it keeps delivering results: The amount paid to police informants for information. In the North East, The Sunday Sun reports £1.8million being paid out over the last six years.

Getting beyound Scores on the Doors

Scores on the Doors, the food hygiene ratings website, does a good job of telling you broadly how well a food establishment does on the hygiene front. What it doesn’t tell you is how inspectors from the local council arrived at that score. The Belfast Telegraph used FOI to get hold of a report for one of the city’s top restaurants after it was awarded just one star out of five.

And finally…. Congratulations to Big Brother Watch

I thought I’d start rounding off FOI Friday with an organisation which has used FOI well to get its point across in stories across the UK. This week, it’s Big Brother Watch, the organisation which campaigns for more people to watch the reality TV show, sorry to raise awareness of how the state snoops in our lives. It used FOI to find out from every police force how many times officers had been ticked off for mis-using personal data. Answer: Lots. The press release and stats have appeared in dozens of papers around the country as a result.


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