Using the crowd to hold those in power to account

My first experience of life as a daily newspaper reporter was in Accrington, the town best-known for being referenced by the very Scouse lads in the milk advert of the 1980s.

That was in 2000. Back then, one of the big issues facing the town was the decline of retail in the town centre. From the Accrington office of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, where two reporters were based in a tiny first-floor room with cracked plaster on the walls and a chain-link ladder to throw out of the window in lieu of a fire escape, it certainly felt like a town in decline.

Continue reading


FOI Friday: What gets stolen from shops, dangerous animals in Chester, zero hour council contracts and finds by police diving teams


What is being stolen in shoplifting incidents? < Exeter Express and Echo

A £22,500 shotgun has been stolen from an Exeter store and was never returned, it has been revealed today.

The vintage weapon was stolen in March this year according to new information about shoplifting in the region from Devon and Cornwall Police.

The spreadsheet documenting every incident of shoplifting in Devon and Cornwall for the last three years was released by the force under the Freedom of Information Act.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a Hussey and Hussey, double-barreled gun, was removed from the Exeter store “by unknown means” between March 4-10.

Sexual misconduct in South Yorkshire Police < Doncaster Free Press

Nine South Yorkshire police officers have been disciplined following allegations of sexual misconduct made by colleagues.

Allegations were made between 2010 and March this year, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Dangerous animals on the prowl – allegedly < Chester Chronicle

Cheshire is one of the most dangerous places to live according to 999 calls – that is if you are scared of tigers, pumas, panthers and lynxes.

A tiger has been spotted prowling along the banks of the River Dee, a lynx with paw prints as big as a “human hand” killing sheep, cats and chickens, and a large wild cat terrified a caller who was sure it was at large in Tarporley town centre.

Details of the 999 calls, revealed to The Chronicle through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, show that Cheshire has one of the highest rates of big cat sightings in the country – with nine sightings reported to Cheshire Constabulary between 2011-April 2014.

Continue reading

Dear Nick Clegg, if you think you’ve got it bad, then please read on

Poor old Nick Clegg. Damned for apparently abandoning his principles when the hooked the Lib Dems into the coalition and now damned for sticking to his guns in the European elections by (whisper it) saying being in Europe might not be a bad thing.

He’s got Vince Cable saying one thing in support but apparently saying something completely different between the lines, vocal Peers releasing what appears to be remarkably unreliable polling reports, and, according to various reports, the subject of a really badly planned leadership coup.

Continue reading

FOI FRIDAY: Ambulance delays, lack of dentists, data-snooping coppers and dodging conviction for assault


How to dodge a conviction if you assault someone < Brighton Argus

Thousands of criminals including sex offenders, arsonists and violent offenders have avoided conviction.

Sussex Police introduced community resolution in 2011 to deal with low-level crimes.

But The Argus can reveal that the policy has been used more than 11,000 times in the past three years and has even been used in a case of sexual assault against a child.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show it was used 1,200 times to deal with assaults resulting in an injury, and another 1,531 for assaults without injuries.

Struggling to get a dentist? Here’s why < Lancashire Telegraph

CONCERNS have been raised after the number of people visiting hospital for emergency dental treatment tripled in East Lancashire last year.

Staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) gave emergency dental treatment to 322 patients in 2013, which was up from 106 in 2012, according to figures obtained by the Lancashire Telegraph through Freedom of Information laws.

The increase mirrored a national trend which health campaigners said was down to a rise in the number of families struggling to afford regular check-ups on their teeth, with visits to the dentist becoming a ‘luxury’ for many.

Left waiting for an ambulance < North West Evening Mail

FIGURES show since 2012 457 patients in Cumbria have waited for an ambulance for more than an hour.

A Freedom of Information request by the Evening Mail showed 69 of the calls were in Barrow, Ulverston or Millom – with 14 in the area classed as serious Red Two calls.

There were two life-threatening Red One calls in Cumbria which took more than an hour to attend.

Pupil compensation claims continue to mount up < Yorkshire Evening Post

Almost a quarter of a million pounds of public money has been paid out in compensation and legal costs for injuries children have suffered in the city’s primary and secondary schools over the past five years, new figures reveal.

Pay outs include £35,000 after a child broke a limb, and £21,058 given to a pupil who suffered a facial injury.

The figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that there been 188 personal injury claims made against schools in Leeds since September 2008.

Of these 39 have been successful resulting in compensation payments of £221,013 since September 2008. Figures show £35,000 was paid out after a pupil suffered a broken limb in 2009 and £21,058 was given to a pupil who suffered a facial injury in 2010.

Continue reading

2 stories, 126 years apart: Why data should be at the heart of every newsroom

Last year, the Accrington Observer, a weekly newspaper in the town which has long since tired of hearing the old milk advert references, marked it’s 125th anniversary by republishing it’s very first newspaper:

accyobIt makes for a fascinating read – both in terms of what the founders of the paper thought would interest their readers, as well as what life was like in a mill town during its boom years – but one thing stood out for me more than anything else.

Tucked away on the back page was this:

observer2Taking up a good chunk of the back page was a detailed timetable for train services in and around Accrington. (For anyone who knows how poor the train services around Accrington are now, it’s a timetable to behold). What I don’t know is whether they published this data every week. I suppose the train timetable in 1890-something was to local folk what the chemist rotas were in the 1990s – information which was useful, but generally not available in too many other places.

Continue reading

As mugshots go, sexy is probably the last word you’d expect to see on his Santa hat…

Mugshots next to court cases come in many shapes and sizes. I’m a particular fan of police ‘most wanted’ mugshots at the moment, not least because of the huge number of page impressions they drive. This one from the Birmingham Mail went mental last week.

Of course, such mug shots don’t always come from the police. I’m not sure where this one from the Accrington Observer came from – but I’m pretty certain it’s the most unusual mugshot I’ve seen – and certainly the first mugshot where someone has ‘sexy’ written across their forehead.

Still, I imagine it’s the last thing on his mind at the moment – a jail spell is probably dominating those thoughts. But as ways to heap further shame on a criminal go, perhaps insisting on the release of a bad family photo is a way to go…


FOI Friday: Overdue books, bedding plants, baby scans and trading standards

1. The most overdue books in town

The devil, they say, is in the detail. And the Accrington Observer got plenty of detail back from its FOI request into overdue books at Accrington Library. Not only did they find out the number of books which are overdue, and the total amount owing in fines, but they also got details of the most overdue book at each library in the area. The most overdue book in the borough is a book called Balloon, which should have been returned in 2004. That means £300 of fines are attached to that book – although the cap on fees is just £6.

2. The cost of plants

Here’s one which will probably have critics of FOI claiming its proof of people abusing the act, but to me it’s just another example of councils being held to account. The Evening Chronicle in Newcastle used FOI to find out how much councils were spending on bedding plants. The total is around £500,000. It’s a good example of FOI being used to prompt a debate. On one hand, nice flower beds could be seen as a luxury councils can’t afford, but on the other, they’ll be the things people complain about if axed.

3. The cost of that first baby photo

Accusations flying of ‘stealth taxes’ on expectant mums in Birmingham after an FOI request revealed that the city’s main birthing hospital is making more than £50,000 a year from selling pictures of pregnency scans to happy (and I would imagine, some not so happy) parents-to-be. The £6-a-photo charge is much higher than at other hospitals.

Continue reading