FOI

Freedom of Information faces its biggest threat yet – here’s why

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It shouldn’t be a surprise that a Government is planning to deliver what could be a devastating blow to the Freedom of Information Act. It probably should be a surprise, however, that it has taken so long.

This lunchtime, the Government, still in the first flush of ‘oh, so we really are in charge, aren’t we!’ thinking, announced a ‘commission’ to look at the Freedom of Information Act.

The Government’s position is pretty plain. Michael Gove, the former FOI-dodging education secretary who tried to claim sending emails via gmail and not government accounts meant they weren’t covered by the Act, set out the government’s view pretty clearly shortly after becoming justice secretary.

At the heart of this commission is the concern that civil servants don’t feel they can speak freely for fear of what they say, or more aptly write, ending up becoming public via the Freedom of Information Act. Call me a cynic if you wish, but I spy a smokescreen aimed at making it harder for those in power to be held accountable by those who ultimately pay their wages – you and I.

Why do I think that? Some reasons:

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FOI Friday: Prisoner complaints, police redundancies, thefts from bars, dangerous dogs and ‘kebab crimes’

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

‘Kebab crimes’ in Scarborough < Scarborough News

There’s a saying that a pint and a fight are the ingredients to a great British night out, but an investigation has unearthed the shocking crimes committed in Scarborough’s pizza shops and curry houses by rowdy revellers after they’ve sank one too many.

Scarborough’s ‘kebab crimes’ include bloody beatings, callous charity box thefts and staff being racially abused.

And in one incident, a woman was attacked with a doner kebab.

Our probe found out that 19 crimes were committed in takeaways, restaurants and chippys over the past 12 months.
CCTV and a heavy late-night police presence have helped officers nab the majority of offenders, but North Yorkshire Police have now revealed details of the takeaway offenders still on the loose.

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FOI Friday: 34 years on the run, social media at councils, snooping councils and overtime for detectives

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The burglar on the run for 34 years < Belfast Telegraph

Thousands of suspected criminals are dodging justice after disappearing while on bail in Northern Ireland, it can be revealed.

Some of them are still on the run more than three decades after they vanished.

The suspects are linked to almost 13,000 crimes, including dozens of sex offences.

Nearly 1,500 individuals have been at large for at least a decade.

The figures have been branded “embarrassing”, with justice officials accused of allowing people to vanish into thin air.

Social media leads to demotion < Daily Post

Public service workers in North Wales have landed themselves in hot water over inappropriate use of the internet and posts on social media.

A Freedom of Information request by the Daily Post reveals nearly 60 council employees, health workers and fire service staff have either been sacked, suspended, disciplined or demoted since 2013.

Thousands of local authority, police, fire, health and university employees have access to the internet at work, with varying levels of personal use allowed.

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FOI Friday: Jollies in Cannes, guilty police, empty homes, naughty soldiers and road rage incidents

So does a trip to MIPIM pay off? < Brixton Buzz

£20,000 was taken by Lambeth Council from four property developers to help fund the trip to Cannes by four council employees. A Freedom of Information Request shows that although “conversations took place” at MIPIM World back in March, no actual deals were reached following the local authority jolly.

Which must have been disappointing for all involved…

MIPIM World is the international property fair for corporate developers. It is the Cannes Film Festival equivalent for folk who believe in gentrification. Lambeth Council wanted a piece of the action, but understandably felt slightly nervous about spending £20,000 of local authority money on a trip to the South of France.

Police found guilty of crimes in last five years < Belfast Live

Forty-six police officers in Northern Ireland have been found guilty of committing crimes in the past five years.

According to figures released to Belfast Live by PSNI, the law-keepers have turned lawbreakers by committing a variety of crimes including tampering with a motor vehicle and death by dangerous driving.

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FOI: Thinking beyond the obvious when asking for data

Last week, many newspapers and other media outlets carried stories triggered by and FOI which asked for details of the crimes committed by children.

Nothing unusual in that, given how common the ‘x number of 10 year olds arrested for x’ which have been made possible by FOI over the years.

But this particular FOI – a product of a partnership between security firm ADT and the Victim Support charity – tackled the subject differently, and there’s a handy tip for all journalists in the way they did it.

The FOI request asked for the number of burglaries committed in an area, and the number which could be traced back to young people under 18.

The result was an eye-catching headline for the partnership, which is seeking to raise attention to the issue of burglaries committed by young people.

The Victim Support press release states:

Nottinghamshire, Greater Manchester and London had the highest proportion of burglaries committed by juvenile offenders. Where an offender had been identified those police forces found under-18s were involved in 43 per cent, 41 per cent and 37 per cent of break-ins respectively.

The police force area with the lowest percentage of burglaries by under-18s was Wiltshire, at just three per cent, followed by Norfolk (9.8 per cent), Thames Valley (13.9 per cent) and Durham (14 per cent).

A great example of looking beyond the obvious headline possibilities when thinking up what to ask for when submitting an FOI. An absolute number can carry a great headline, but a well-crafted comparison can take a story in an entirely different direction.

FOI Friday: Bouncing babies, sex offence tickings off and pensioners on drugs

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

Some very bouncing babies < Huddersfield Examiner

Hundreds of Huddersfield’s bouncing babies are tipping the scales more than 2lbs above the national average.

Figures reveal about 100 babies per year are born at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust weighing in excess of 9lb 9oz.

The national averages are 7lb 8oz for a boy and 7lb 4oz for a girl.

Hospital records show that from 2012 to 2014 there were 314 newborns recorded as weighing 9lb 9oz or more.

Sex offences which just result in a telling off < Whitby Gazette

Police are letting paedophiles and sex offenders escape without a criminal record – meaning they could still work with children.

That’s the finding of a Yorkshire Regional Newspapers investigation which has revealed Community Resolution Disposals (CRD), designed to punish minor, first time offenders, have been handed out to people who had admitted possessing child porn or committing a sexual assault.

Angry campaigners fear that it could allow potentially dangerous sex offenders to “slip under the net” – and that North Yorkshire Police are letting serious offenders “off the hook”

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FOI: The council boss who threatened to sue a hospital

Good work from the Chester Chronicle in uncovering a remarkable spat between a local council and a local hospital.

The Chronicle used FOI to obtain letters between Cheshire West and Chester Council and the Countess of Chester Hospital following a spat between the two bodies.

As Chester West and Cheshire has long been one of the cheerleaders for reducing the strength of FOI legislation, it won’t come as any surprise to hear it was the NHS Trust which has been revealing the information.

The row broke out after the hospital lost a sexual health contract to a neighbouring NHS Trust. Councils are responsible for public health these days, so Cheshire West was the body doing the awarding of this contract.

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FOI FRIDAY: Clown crimes, daily A&E visitors, attacks on buses and pauper funerals

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Sexual exploitation within a police force < Birmingham Mail

Three West Midlands Police officers abused their position of authority by sexually exploiting underage children in the last two years.

The predators in uniform were sacked or resigned after being convicted at court for targeting a 15-year-old and two 14-year-olds.

Meanwhile, other officers from the force have been dismissed or disciplined for a range of offences or conduct relating to sexual exploitation of members of the public.

The shocking details were revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Mail to the force.

The problem with clowns < Liverpool Echo

Disguised with colourful wigs and white face paint, the Echo today reveals how crooks dressed as clowns carried out bogus charity collections, vandalised property and even armed robbery.

Police on Merseyside dealt with 14 incidents involving people posing as clowns in the past two years – and most were no laughing matter.

One of the red-nosed crimes was caught on camera, when a robber dressed as a clown walked into a Walton shop in July to demand cash.

Attacks on buses < Cambridge News

sleeping girl was groped on a Cambridge school bus and is among victims of sex attacks and violent abuse while travelling on public transport.

Hair pulling, throat grabbing, torrents of verbal abuse, racist onslaughts using the ‘n-word’ and sex attacks have been reported to Cambridgeshire police after the incidents happened on buses in the county, new data has revealed.

There has been a total of just 21 such incidents reported to the force since 2012 but documents obtained by the News detailing what happened make for disturbing reading. And police have issued advice on what to do in a dangerous situation on a bus.

Visiting hospital every other day < Liverpool Echo

A 45-YEAR-OLD man went to A&E at the Royal Liverpool Hospital more than 150 times last year.

The patient racked up a total of 164 casualty attendances between January and December 4, according to records obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

This means he was attending A&E once every two days on average.

A second patient – an 84-year-old woman – visited A&E at the hospital 140 times over the same period, while a third patient – a 55-year-old man – clocked up 102 visits.

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FOI Friday: Roadworks hell, hidden art, naughty nurses and bedblocking patients

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Plagues of roadworks < Get Surrey

Dismay has been expressed over a ‘plague’ of roadworks on a stretch between Bramley and Guildford in the past three years.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that more than 860 individual projects were carried out on the A281 from 2012 to 2014 – an average of 1.3 per day.

The majority of work was carried out in Bramley, with 477 roadworks in the village, with the remainder, 388, on the road through Shalford.

Broken down by year, there was disruption on the Shalford stretch for 160 days in 2012, a drop to 68 days in 2013 and rising to 160 last year.

Hidden Art < South Wales Argus

JUST two per cent of the almost 5,000 pieces in the fine art collection at Newport Museum and Art Gallery is on display, an Argus Freedom of Information Act request reveals.

The museum and art gallery building, which is at risk of closure in Newport City Council’s 2015/16 budget proposals, has 98 works of fine art on display compared to around 4,800 pieces in storage.

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FOI Friday: Post office closures, 653 ambulance visits to one house, the cost per fan of policing football and more…

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Ambulance called to one house over 600 times in one year < Birmingham Mail

An MP is demanding tougher action against bogus 999 callers after shock figures revealed ambulance crews were sent to one Birmingham address 653 times in 12 months.

Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe plans to raise the issue in parliament after statistics showed 30 Midland addresses were responsible for almost 5,000 emergency calls last year.

The figures from West Midlands Ambulance Service show under-pressure paramedics were called out an average of 13 times a day to the homes.

In one case an address in the Shard End area of Birmingham was visited 653 times – an average of almost twice a day – in the last 12 months.

Post office closures by stealth? < ChroniceleLive

The Post Office today stands accused of cutting down its network “by stealth” as an investigation reveals 17 North East branches have been “temporarily closed” for more than a year.

A Freedom Of Information probe has uncovered huge gaps in the region’s Post Office service, with seven out of a total of 20 branches marked as ‘closed temporarily’, having actually been shut for more than five years.

The Communication Workers’ Union has branded the situation “ridiculous” and claimed Post Office chiefs are letting down communities in the region who rely on their local branch.

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