FOI FRIDAY: Asbestos, Facebook, police cells and sham marriages


10 good examples of FOI in action from the local, regional and national media:

1. Asbestos found at public buildings – Milford Mercury

Asbestos, known as the silent killer, is regularly the subject of health and safety campaigns – so an FOI which reveals that the majority of council buildings in an area contained asbestos, although often in non-dangerous uses, has the potential to make waves.

2. Prisoners communicating by Facebook – Yorkshire Evening Post

I’ve seen a few stories about those behind bars using Facebook to taunt victims, witnesses and so on – but this is the first time I’ve seen FOI used to find out how many Facebook accounts have been investigated by prison authorities.

3. Health and safety deaths and injuries in the workplace – Bradford Telegraph and Argus

A good example of why ‘open data’ will never give the public as much power as the right to ask for information. This FOI asked how many deaths in the workplace had been recorded by the Health and Safety Executive in the Bradford area, and the number of injuries recorded. The amount of detail per case varied.

4. Rising numbers of children running away from home – Wigan Evening Post

An interesting social issue here – the number of children running away from home in Greater Manchester is rising (each child is counted only once in the figures) and a charity puts stress in the home down as a major reason. What’s causing that stress? The fact all were found is also interesting.

5. The number of drugs crimes in Plymouth a year tops 1,000 – Plymouth Herald

This is a really good example of an FOI response not being the be-all and end-all of a story. Finding out that 1,000 drugs crimes were committed in Plymouth is a good story – using it to get the police to open up on how they plan to deal with it is a better one.

6. How firefighters were attacked in Hertfordshire – Hertfordshire Mercury

A good example of ‘devil in the detail’ when it comes to FOI. Asking for the number of times fire crews were attacked in a year will give you a good number, asking for details about each attack gives you a better story and top-line to hang said story on.

7. Schools agency staff bill – Cornish Guardian

January is always a good time to dust down familiar FOI requests, but that doesn’t make an FOI any less relevant. At a time when spending is being monitored everywhere, the amount being spent on agency teachers (bearing in mind how little goes to the teachers) is remarkable.

8. What suspects get up to in prison cells – Swindon Advertiser

FOI Friday’s intro of the week goes to the Swindon Advertiser for this one:

SMEARING the walls with faeces, smashing up CCTV cameras and headbutting desks — this is just some of the behaviour that goes on inside police cells.

9. Getting at the criminal justice system – Manchester Evening News

Remember when it was all the rage for politicians to talk about criminals being allowed to live at home under curfew to avoid filling prisons? The MEN asked how successful that was – a quarter struggled to stick to the rules.

10. Sham marriage numbers

The Borders Agency, part of the Home Office, can release figures on the number of sham marriages it has stopped or discovered in each area. The MEN discovered this using FOI and ran this story as a result.

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FOI Friday is compiled using Google News and tip-offs sent to this blog or to me via Twitter @davidhiggerson


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