Julian Assange reveals GCHQ messages discussing Swedish extradition
Authorities at GCHQ, the government eavesdropping agency, are facing embarrassing revelations about internal correspondence in which Wikileaksfounder Julian Assange is discussed, apparently including speculation that he is being framed by Swedish authorities seeking his extradition on rape allegations.
The records were revealed by Assange himself in a Sunday night interview with Spanish television programme Salvados in which he explained that an official request for information gave him access to instant messages that remained unclassified by GCHQ.
A message from September 2012, read out by Assange, apparently says: “They are trying to arrest him on suspicion of XYZ … It is definitely a fit-up… Their timings are too convenient right after Cablegate.” The messages appear to contain speculation and chatter between GCHQ employees, but Assange gave little further explanation about exactly who they came from. Read more
Giles Tremlett & Ben Quinn | The Guardian | 20th May 2013
Clegg officials ordered to hand over key emails following pressure over his role in obtaining funding for charity linked to his wife Miriam
Nick Clegg was last night facing fresh pressure over his role in obtaining funding for a charity linked to his wife Miriam after the Liberal Democrat leader’s officials were ordered to hand over key emails to Britain’s data watchdog.
The demand by Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, means the Cabinet Office will be forced to release to him a pile of private correspondence relating to the £12 million Government grant received by Booktrust last year.
The Mail on Sunday revealed in December that the charity received the money after one of Mr Clegg’s aides lobbied for it. This meant the grant could be given direct – rather than having to compete with other charities. This newspaper then made a Freedom of Information request to the Government for the release of emails sent between officials relating to the deal. Read more
Glen Owen | The Daily Mail | 19th May 2013
Workfare placements must be made public, tribunal rules
The Department for Work and Pensions has lost a major court battle to keep the locations of thousands of workfare placements secret.
At the end of a freedom of information challenge that has lasted 15 months, Judge David Marks QC ruled that the DWP must publish the names of businesses and charities hosting hundreds of thousands of unemployed people who, in some cases, must undertake weeks of unpaid work as a condition of receiving benefits.
Marks, sitting with two others in the first-tier tribunal, said the DWP had offered “a paucity of compelling economic evidence” to back its claims that organisations involved would be seriously financially damaged by negative publicity campaigns should their identities become public. Read more
Shiv Malik | The Guardian | 19th May 2013
Plebgate: Mitchell supporters demand answers about Met Commissioner’s role
Friends of the former chief whip, who was forced to resign after admitting swearing at police officers in Downing Street, have established that the head of the Metropolitan Police held a meeting with journalists just prior to reports appearing in two newspapers suggesting a police investigation had found no evidence to support Mr Mitchell’s version of events.
Details of the meeting emerged after supporters of Mr Mitchell used a Freedom of Information request to ask about Sir Bernard’s meeting with reporters. Scotland Yard has confirmed that meetings with journalists took place but has not provided details about what was discussed.
Mr Mitchell stepped down last October after allegations appeared in the press that he had referred to police officers in Downing Street as ******* plebs and morons when they refused to open the main gates to allow him to cycle through. Read more
Martin Evans | The Telegraph | 19th May 2013
UK’s climate change adaptation team cut from 38 officials to just six
The number of people employed by the government to work on the UK’s response to the effects of climate change has been cut from 38 officials to just six, triggering accusations that David Cameron’s promise to be the greenest government has been abandoned. The UK is facing a multi-billion pound bill over the next few years for the costs of adapting to the effects of climate change – including flooding, much fiercer storms, droughts, heatwaves and more extreme weather.
The government’s advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, have warned that the measures needed to prepare the UK’s infrastructure will include defences for power stations, transport and communication networks, changes to how buildings are constructed, and new ways of trying to prevent flooding, such as an upgrade to the Thames Barrier.
But the number of officials charged with dealing with the issue within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has been dramatically reduced. A freedom of information response to a question by Friends of the Earth confirmed the reduction from 38 to six posts. Read more
Fiona Harvey | The Guardian | 17th May 2013
Millions for wind power we can’t use
The money is paid out when turbines are spinning but the electricity they are generating is surplus to requirements. Freedom of Information documents reveal that since 2011 more than £26.5million has been paid out under the scheme.
The payments, branded “utterly bonkers” by Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris, will enrage consumers facing an effective £100 surcharge on their bills for green energy.
The National Grid makes the payments if wind power is surplus to requirements or cannot be fed to places that need it because of system bottlenecks. Read more
Richard Creasy | The Express | 19th May 2013
300 police officers gagged at cost of up to £250,000 each
The Government has banned gagging orders for NHS employees after it emerged that £18million has been spent on silencing 600 staff. However, a survey using Freedom of Information laws has found that the orders are also widely used across police forces, leading to concerns that whistleblowers are being silenced.
Stephen Barclay, a Conservative member of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “It is very concerning to hear that police officers with issues of concern which are in public interest appear to have been silenced through gagging clauses.
“These agreements have a clear effect beyond those who sign them because other officers with ambition will see what has happened to those who have concerns and decide to stay silent.” Read more
Steven Swinford | The Telegraph | 17th May 2013
£6m cost of Olympic Torch relay
England’s largest local councils spent more than £6 million hosting the Olympic Torch for last year’s Games, figures published on the one-year anniversary of the start of the relay show. On average, authorities paid out just over £40,000 to host the flame, funding items such as security and street furniture, as well as road-closure notices and evening celebrations.
The biggest spends were in the London boroughs of Bexley and Waltham Forest, who both forked out in excess of £279,000, while more than a dozen other authorities recorded six-figure sums to host the Torch.
Those councils who enjoyed multiple visits from the iconic flame and its formidable entourage often reported larger spends than those whose glimpse of the parade was fleeting, while larger authorities with huge populations understandably spent more than their smaller counterparts. Read more
The Belfast Telegraph | 19th May 2013
University buys a £1.4m Picasso. What’s wrong with this picture?
The first I heard of Durham University’s sensational decision to splash out millions on a Picasso painting among other new art was when I received this text from my son, who is a student there: “Durham Uni spent £1.4m on art for one of the centres. … Now we know where my £9,000 is going.” A few seconds later came another text: “Why do we need it?”
It’s the right question to ask and so far Durham’s elders have failed to put up a convincing answer, leaving many students wondering if the university is getting too big for its boots in its drive to compete with Oxbridge, even over its art collections. What’s interesting about the cynicism of my son – and he says his friends feel the same – is how the punitive cost of soaring tuition fees is turning today’s students into bolshie consumers rather than bolshie CND marchers.
How times have changed – twenty years ago no student would have given a toss about what their university was spending on art – or their wine cellars for that matter. So in that sense it’s rather heartening to hear that students are still capable of being goaded into action as the cost of the art only came out into the open after Durham’s student union put in for a Freedom of Information request; one that was originally refused. Read more
Margareta Pagano | The Independent | 19th May 2013
Police take DNA of 27 primary children a week: Nearly 54,000 under 18s were swabbed for database during 2012
Police collect a DNA sample from a child every ten minutes, it emerged last night. Officers took nearly 54,000 swabs of genetic material from under 18s last year.
On average, 27 primary school children had their DNA taken by the police every week to put on the national database. The figures were uncovered by anti-prison campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform using the Freedom of Information Act.
Frances Crook, the league’s chief executive, said most children were ‘just up to mischief’ and it was wrong to treat them like hardened criminals. Read more
Jack Doyle | The Daily Mail | 20th May 2013
£500m bill for appeal battles over benefits
More than 1.2 million cases involving claims for disability and unemployment allowances have been taken to the special tribunals since April 2010, latest Ministry of Justice data reveals.
With each case costing an average £377 to process, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, the bill has been £475million.
Rising unemployment, a large backlog and confusion over welfare reforms and controversial work capability assessments mean that the figure is forecast to hit nearly £1billion by the end of this Parliament in 2015. The numbers were compiled by researchers at ilegal, the internet forum for law specialists. Read more
Ted Jeory | The Express | 19th May 2013
Royal Regiment of Scotland top military league of shame by failing more drug tests than any other
THE Royal Regiment of Scotland have topped a military league of shame which shows they had most positive drugs tests out of the whole British Army. There were 62 positive drugs tests on soldiers from the regiment in 2012, according to newly obtained Ministry of Defence figures.
The military personnel from the regiment – whose motto is Nemo Me Impune Lacessit or no one provokes me with impunity – tested positive for illegal substances including cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy.
The figures – which were revealed in a Freedom of Information request – show that a total of 140,563 tests were carried out on Army, RAF and Royal Navy personnel – with 575 testing positive for Class A, B and C drugs. Read more
Lynn McPherson | The Daily Record | 19th May 2013
Suffolk: Ride and run crimes are under-reported by taxi drivers
Hundreds of people have hired a taxi and made off without paying after being driven to their destination, figures have revealed. Between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012, a total of 270 ‘ride and run’ incidents were reported in Suffolk, according to a Freedom of Information request.
And now taxi drivers are calling for a crackdown on the problem because they say the true figure will be much higher as many incidents are not reported. John Lloyd, manager of Hawk Express Cabs based in Ipswich, said the issue has become an increasing problem.
“Sometimes the driver reports it to police and they are encouraged to do so,” he added. “The police do their best. They take the passenger’s address and contact details and try to persuade them to pay with 24 hours and if not, it will be made a criminal offence. Read more
Lauren Everitt | East Anglian Daily Times | 17th May 2013
USA: IRS accused of hiding existence of Tea Party targeting documents
The Internal Revenue Service denied the existence of any documents related to its policy of targeting Tea Party organizations in response to a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request, even though such documents were later discovered by the IRS inspector general.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a conservative nonprofit group, filed a FOIA request in 2010 through investigative journalist Lynn K. Walsh seeking all IRS documents related to the agencies tax-exempt division specifically mentioning the Tea Party.
IRS headquarters responded in 2011 that it “found no documents specifically responsive to your request.” However, the May 14 inspector general report found that the “first Sensitive Case Report [identifying Tea Party groups] was prepared by the Technical Unit” in April of 2010. Read more
CJ Ciaramella | The Washington Free Beacon | 17th May 2013