FOI Friday: The stories made possible thanks to FOI in September 2016

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

A look at some of the stories made possible thanks to FOI laws in the UK – most of which can easily be replicated elsewhere…

Ambulances called to one house 500 times < Kent Online

The astonishing figure came to light following a freedom of information request by the KM Group that exposed the full extent of the volumes of 999 calls from a handful of properties across the county.

Another address in Tonbridge was responsible for 467 calls while another in Swanscombe generated 446.

Scale of Post Office closures < Yorkshire Post

Fears have been raised over the sustainability of rural communities as it emerges nearly 40 per cent of all Post Offices in Yorkshire have been shut down since the year 2000.

The Post investigation, based on Freedom of Information requests to the Post Office, found that 614 branches – 39 per cent – have been closed in Yorkshire.

Hospitals attacked by computer hackers < West Briton

Cyber criminals have made “multiple” attacks on Cornwall’s main hospital in the past year with repeated attempts to hold health bosses to ransom by stealing sensitive information.

According to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, the IT system of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) was once infected ransom-ware, a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.

According to the FoI, the RCHT has experienced “multiple attacks” through cyberspace in the past 12 months.

Finding out more about police dispersal orders < Cambridge News

A fascinating article appeared in the Cambridge News, with a prominent credit to the man behind the FOI, local campaigner Richard Taylor. He sought to find out the background to dispersal order powers police had sought ahead of a game between Cambridge United and Luton.

Tactics used by Cambridge United and Luton Town FC football thugs have been revealed as they play a cat and mouse game with police in a bid to clash on the streets.

The strategy was laid bare after Cambridgeshire police put in place a dispersal order for the last match between the U’s and bitter rivals from the Bedfordshire club.

 A massive list of streets in the city were named where police were granted special powers to disperse any groups suspected of causing anti-social behaviour.
The order says: “A group of Cambridge youths have tried to “ambush” a group of Luton risk fans as they have walked along East Road. The Cambridge fans have been contained by police officers escorting the Luton risk, but some of those Luton fans have now disappeared into the city.

“Both groups are highly mobile and have utilised taxis and private vehicles to move about the city and therefore they are not restricted to using licensed premises in the city centre.”

The drivers caught most often in bus lanes < Belfast Telegraph

A motorist has amassed more than £4,000 worth of fines after repeatedly driving in Belfast’s bus lanes – but has yet to pay a single penny.

The same vehicle was caught 33 times in 15 months around the city.

The motorist owes a total of £4,050 – all of which is outstanding.

In another case, a motorist has around £2,500 in unpaid fines.

They paid one of their 35 tickets – but ignored the rest.

It has led to claims that drivers are rebelling against the controversial lanes.

The cost of celebrities < getwestlondon

The ‘how much did councils spend on celebrities’ FOI is a well-known one, but perhaps more relevant than ever as cuts continue to bite at local authorities. It certainly made this story stand out on getwestlondon:

The cost of hiring celebrities for council events over the past two years in west London has been more than £20,000 – with £480 shelled out on a hire car for the visit of a JLS member.

Hillingdon Council paid out almost £500 for the transport of Jonathan “JB” Gill from the X Factor boyband, when he attended its Annual Kids in Care Awards during the financial year of 2014/15.

Mr Gill was not paid a fee for the appearance.

The figures have come from a Freedom of Information request submitted by our data journalism unit.

Council spending on consultants < Daily Post

Again, another FOI which has been well used in the past, but perhaps more relevant given local authority finance cuts:

Almost £10m has been spent on external consultants in three years by Anglesey council.

The figures, which were revealed following a Freedom of Information request, show that more than £3.8m of the £9.8m total was spent by the council’s sustainable development service, which includes the planning, highways and economic departments.

The former county councillor who made the FOI request said the figures were “mind-boggling”.

Glyn Jones, who lives in Aberffraw, said: “The mind boggles as to why a cash-strapped council would feel the need to spend so much on consultants when services are being cut.

“Are the officers finding it so difficult to make decisions that they have to hire outside help to assist them?”

Police officers mis-using social media < Bath Chronicle

Homophobic and derogatory comments, inappropriate contact and undermining public confidence in the police are just some of the ways Avon and Somerset police officers have been misusing social media.

According to data released after a Freedom of Information request, 58 police officers have been reported for inappropriate use of social media in the past four years.

Ranging from PCSOs to inspectors, the list of allegations proves that social media is a minefield for even the most straight-laced profession.

Data protection laws prevent the constabulary from revealing the names of those involved and precise details of the incidents.

How many times can you avoid jail? < Grimsby Telegraph

This FOI, to the Ministry of Defence, asked for details of the criminals with the highest number of convictions, and how often they had been sentenced, and what the sentencing was:

The MoJ can only confirm that the criminal is from the Yorkshire and Humber.

The criminal was the most prolific offender in the region given a non-custodial sentence in 2015, according to the figures.

 They had 340 previous convictions, including 163 for summary offences excluding motoring, 110 public order offences, 49 theft offences, one for robbery, and two for criminal damage and arson.

However, only 85 previous convictions have resulted in immediate custody – including 24 for summary offences, 40 for public order offences, 13 of the theft offences, and one each for robbery and criminal damage and arson.

What have police seized this year? < Evening Standard

This FOI request came from insurers Churchill and was focused mainly on supercars which had been seized by police. Is it worth journalists seeking to find full lists of items seized by police?

Nearly 4,000 luxury cars have been seized by police in England and Wales so far this year.

Six Bentleys, 11 Ferraris and six Lamborghinis are among the 3,700 luxury cars to have been seized in 2016 due to their drivers not having insurance or a valid licence.

Forces have raised more than £1.4 million from the sales of these cars, with the highest resale price of a single car achieved by the Metropolitan Police at £22,100.

Violent crimes in Schools < Coventry Telegraph

Police were called to more than 450 violent incidents at schools in Warwickshire over the past five years.

The attacks and incidents happened in both primary and secondary schools across the county, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Warwickshire Police were called to schools to deal with a total of 459 violent incidents in the past five years.

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