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Archive for the ‘Freedom of Information’ Category

Safety fears over elite police officers drunk on duty at UK’s nuclear sites

Safety fears over elite police officers drunk on duty at UK’s nuclear sites

Police officers with the elite force that guards Britain’s nuclear power stations have been caught drunk, using drugs, misusing firearms and also accused of sexual harassment and assault.

The offences by officers with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC), released under the Freedom of Information Act, have raised concerns about the safety of the UK’s nuclear plants and radioactive material.

The CNC recently stepped up the number of officers guarding the Sellafield plant in Cumbria. Read more

Andy Rowell | The Independent | 26th June 2013

National police unit monitors 9,000 ‘domestic extremists’

National police unit monitors 9,000 ‘domestic extremists’

A national police unit that uses undercover officers to spy on political groups is currently monitoring almost 9,000 people it has deemed “domestic extremists”.

The National Domestic Extremism Unit is using surveillance techniques to monitor campaigners who are listed on the secret database, details of which have been disclosed to the Guardian after a freedom of information request.

A total of 8,931 individuals “have their own record” on a database kept by the unit, for which the Metropolitan police is the lead force. Read more

Paul Lewis, Rob Evans and Vikram Dodd | The Guardian | 

NHS chiefs fail to report surgeons over botched operations due to loophole

Bungling surgeons are being left off NHS danger lists because of a lethal loophole which puts patients at risk and leaves cowboy doctors riding high in performance tables.

Sub-standard surgeons are supposedly monitored on a database which registers operations that go wrong.

But under narrow guidelines, botched cases are only recorded if patients die, get infected or have to return to the hospital. Read more

Andrew Gregory | The Daily Mirror | 26th June 2013

BBC spent £28 million in eight years for stifling criticism

It’s paradoxical that figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the BBC, an organisation dedicated to disseminating ideas and promoting freedom of speech, has spent £28 million in the last eight years ensuring that people who leave will not speak out.

So-called “compromise agreements” have been signed by 539 staff, of whom 14 received more than £300,000 for their silence.

Tony Hall, the new director-general, has ordered pay-offs to be capped at £150,000 from September, but he hasn’t said whether confidentiality clauses will continue. Read more

The Economic Times | 25th June 2013

More than 4,000 officers disciplined for criminal behaviour in five years

More than 4,000 police officers were disciplined for criminal behaviour in the past five years. They include an inspector who was sacked after being arrested for shoplifting and a PC who resigned after installing a camera in a ladies toilet.

A sergeant in Lancashire was also sacked after he was discovered with three sub-machine guns and ammunition. A colleague from the same force resigned after being caught drug-trafficking. The number of officers found guilty of misconduct has shot up by 56 per cent – from 559 in 2008 to 873 in 2012. In total, 4,115 officers were disciplined over criminal behaviour, of which 643 were dismissed or forced to resign. Read more.

Steve Robson | The Daily Mail | 25th June 2013

Suffolk: More than 1,000 prosecutions are dropped in past six years

Figures from Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Suffolk, released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that between 2007 and 2012 a total of 1,032 proceedings were dropped for a range of reasons.

Reasons for cases being scrapped include other sentences, which accounted for 465 dropped prosecutions, a caution being more suitable and the effect on the victim’s physical or mental health.

Other reasons given were a long delay between the offence or charge and trial, the age of the offender and “loss or harm put right”. Read more

Lauren Everitt | The EADT24 | 25th June 2013

Sub-postmasters union condemns £15.4m bonus pot for Post Office bosses

Sub-postmasters union condemns £15.4m bonus pot for Post Office bosses

Senior Post Office bosses were awarded more than £2m in bonuses last year at the same time as ending a £2.2m incentive scheme for sub-postmasters which led to the latter taking industrial action for the first time.

Sub-postmasters had been receiving a 1p-a-letter payment for separating first and second class post since November. The Post Office decided to scrap the scheme after just five months, but the sub-postmasters were still expected to separate the post.

Their union, the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters (NFSP), said the move led to staff refusing to separate the mail until the payment was reinstated. Read more

Simon Neville | The Guardian | 24th June 2013

How Barrett Brown shone light on the murky world of security contractors

Any attempt to rein in the vast US surveillance apparatus exposed by Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing will be for naught unless government and corporations alike are subject to greater oversight.

The case of journalist and activist Barrett Brown is a case in point.

Brown made a splash in February 2011 by helping to uncover ”Team Themis”, a project by intelligence contractors retained by Bank of America to demolish the hacker society known as Anonymous and silence sympathetic journalists like Glenn Greenwald (now with the Guardian, though then with Salon). Read more

Arun Gupta | The Guardian | 24th June 2013

North Circular named as London’s most polluted road

The Walthamstow section of the road in north-east of the city had the worst traffic fumes, the study said. Oxford Street ranked in the worst 15 for its estimated levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Diesel vehicles are responsible for up to 30 times more emissions than petrol vehicles,Clean Air in London said.

The campaign group’s study called for diesels to be banned from London’s most polluted streets by 2020. Clean Air for London said the mayor’s office released the pollution data after they had turned down three freedom of information requests and Clean Air for London used EU legislation to force the mayor’s office to release it.

Of any capital city in Europe, London has the highest levels of NO2, the group said. Read more

BBC  | 24th June 2013

Labour calls for publication of report detailing risks of privatised probation

Labour has accused Ministers of blocking publication of an internal risk assessment on probation changes which will see around 70 per cent of rehabilitation work handed to the private sector and voluntary organisations.

The Ministry of Justice has rejected a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the risk register to be published, the Opposition said.

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said: “Because of the Government’s secrecy, we don’t know whether the public’s safety is being endangered. What have they got to hide?” Read more

The Yorkshire Post | 24th June 2013

Met Police pay out £360,000 for wrongly ramming doors down in raids

Met Police pay out £360,000 for wrongly ramming doors down in raids

The financial fallout due to Metropolitan Police officers ramming down doors at wrong addresses to carry out police raids has come to light for the first time.

With officers having to get tough in smashing their way through to a potential suspect’s home many thousands of times a year, red-faced coppers have had to pay out hundreds of times each year for barging into the wrong address.

Official figures indicate that the Met was deluged with roughly a thousand claims each year from 2010-2012, receiving 1,109 claims of “wrongful forced entry” in 2010/2011. However, this figure decreased over the following years to 959 in 2011/2012 and finally 931 in 2012/2013.

The findings have been disclosed by the Metropolitan Police after a Freedom of Information Request from LondonlovesBusiness.com. Read more.

Asa Bennett | London Loves Business | 29th May 2013

British Ambassadors Struggle with Arabic

A Freedom of Information request by The Daily Telegraph also shows that three Ambassadors currently based in the Middle East and North Africa speak no Arabic at all.

The remaining seven have sufficient grasp of the language to be able to handle “routine everyday” matters, but would have difficulty with official business.

Concerns have been raised about the linguistic skills of British diplomats, particularly since David Miliband, then Foreign Secretary, closed the Foreign Office Language School in 2007. The last government also dropped language ability from the criteria for promotion to senior grades.

Today, the British Ambassadors in Sudan, Qatar and Algeria speak no Arabic at all. Those in Bahrain and Morocco, meanwhile, are below the lowest possible grade for Arabic, known as “A2″. Read more.

David Blair | The Telegraph | 31st May 2013

Police shot children as young as 12 with 50,000-volt Taser linked to causing fatal heart attacks

A 12-year-oldgirl was shot by police with a 50,000-volt Taser. The girl, who was  brandishing  two knives and threatening to harm herself, was one of more than 20 children shot by officers using the electric stun guns, figures show.

Police said the Taser was used to  detain the girl and ‘prevent serious harm to both her, the public and the officers’ after she began behaving ‘aggressively’ in St Helens, Merseyside, in July 2011.

The schoolgirl was one of  more than 20 children stunned with the weapons in the past three years,  according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Read more.

James Drummond | The Daily Mail | 3rd June 2013

Bury: Police Take £34,000 Worth of Cannabis Off Streets

MORE than £340,000 worth of cannabis was taken off the streets of the borough in 2012, figures have revealed.

Statistics released to the under the Freedom of Information Act also show the number of cannabis farms being discovered by police has risen by more than one-third since 2011.

In 2012, 31 cannabis cultivations worth £340,290 were found in the borough – an increase of 32 per cent from the 21 farms uncovered the year before.

In 2011, the farms police unearthed were also smaller, with their total value estimated at £139,670 — less than half 2012’s total. Read more.

Tui Benjamin | Bury Times| 31st May 2013

Cameron, Blair and their ‘grubby deal to censor Iraq inquiry’

Cameron, Blair and their ‘grubby deal to censor Iraq inquiry’: Key evidence has been held back in return for ex-PM’s neutrality at election, claims former foreign secretary

David Owen has accused Tony Blair and David Cameron of striking a secret deal to prevent the Chilcot Inquiry publishing key documents about the Iraq war. The former Foreign Secretary said extracts of letters between Mr Blair and President George W Bush have been held back to save the ex-Prime Minister’s reputation.

It is believed the documents may shed light on the allegation that Mr Blair had already agreed to go to war up to a year before the 2003 invasion. In a speech, Lord Owen made the  astonishing claim that Mr Cameron had backed Mr Blair’s decision to block the publication of the letters in return for his ‘neutrality or tacit support’ at the next general election.

The peer also pointed the finger of blame at Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, accusing him too of blocking the publication of the documents.  The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq conflict was set up four years ago but has yet to report. Read more

Tim Shipman | The Daily Mail | 31st May 2013

The homeless aren’t ‘negative impacts’ – they are living victims of policy

Homelessness is not a problem. Homelessness is many problems woven together into a human calamity and a social catastrophe: lack of housing; lack of jobs; lack of money; lack of social support; lack of mental health care; but above all, lack of compassion where it matters.

The past week has vividly illustrated the complexities of the issues. Already the eviction notices have begun to arrive for arrears on the new “bedroom tax”, as prompt as they were predictable. Freedom-of-information requests to 107 local authorities have revealed that 86,000 households in council or housing association properties have been forced to look for one-bedroom homes, of which only 33,000 have become available in the past year.

Charities are reporting vast increases in requests for help and their caseloads as squeezed incomes and benefits combined with rising living costs lead to increased debt and arrears. Caps to housing benefits arrive nationally in September to exacerbate the crisis. Read more

Ally Fogg | The Guardian | 30th May 2013

HSBC money-laundering investigation letters spark questions over rushed fine

After a decade of investigations, US authorities last September decided to move “as quickly as possible” to fine HSBC on money laundering charges that the Treasury Department concluded were the most “egregious” it had ever seen, according to newly released documents.

A series of emails and letters released to Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group, paint a partial picture of the Treasury Department trying to catch up after a hard-hitting Senate report had blasted the British bank and a New York regulator had threatened to revoke the license ofanother British institution, Standard Chartered.

Bart Naylor, a policy advocate at Public Citizen, said the documents posed questions about why the Treasury Department wanted a quick resolution to the HSBC scandal. “Why all of a sudden do they want a resolution after 10 years of investigation? Was Treasury pre-empting more vigorous action by the Justice Department? These are questions that need to be answered,” he said. Read more

Dominic Rushe | The Guardian | 30th May 2013

Humaneness of badger cull to be judged on noise of dying animals

The noises made by shot badgers and comparisons with harpooned whales will be among the measures used to assess the humaneness of badger cullsin England, a government document seen by the Guardian reveals.

The paper also acknowledges that none of the shooters will have experience of killing free-running badgers and that the requirement to target the heart and lungs is untested. Anti-cull campaigners have reacted furiously to the heavily redacted document, which is marked “protect”.

“With such large-scale killing in our countryside, it is simply unacceptable that the government is continuing to be so evasive about how suffering will be measured during the pilot culls,” said Mark Jones, executive director of the Humane Society International UK, which obtained the document through the Freedom of Information Act. Read more

Damian Carrington | The Guardian | 30th May 2013

The FCA’s astonishing lack of MI on whistleblowing

It’s not unusual to get freedom of information requests knocked back by the regulator under FoI cost of compliance rules. Public and regulatory bodies are able to reject FoI’s that would cost over £450 (18 hours work at £25 per hour) and communications staff are often quick to pounce on anything but the most tightly written FoI to try and escalate the potential costs above the limit.

However, we were very surprised to have a recent pretty simple FoI request made by our regulation reporter Natalie Holt rejected by the Financial Conduct Authority on this basis. She asked for the number of whistleblowing reports made to the FSA in both the 2011/12 and 2012/13 financial years and also the number of whistleblowing reports in 2012/13 that resulted in enforcement action.

The request was made after FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley made a big deal about the use of whistleblowing at a Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards hearing earlier this year. He went as far as floating the idea of offering large cash incentives to encourage more people to report foul play to the regulator. Read more

Paul McMillan | Money Marketing | 30th May 2013

Sex allegations against 81 BBC staff since Savile; BBC ‘appalled’ by flood of sex allegations against its staff

Sex allegations against 81 BBC staff since Savile; BBC ‘appalled’ by flood of sex allegations against its staff

MORE than 150 allegations of sexual abuse have been made against 81 BBC employees since the Jimmy Savile scandal engulfed the corporation last year. Half of the accused are current members of BBC staff or contributors, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed.

Of the cases involving those 40 employees, 10 remain outstanding and are currently being investigated by either the police or the BBC. The figures reveal a significant shift in the number of people coming forward in the wake of the Savile controversy.

A BBC spokesman said the organisation had been “appalled” by the allegations of harassment and abuse that had emerged since the Savile scandal broke and insisted that a series of reviews were under way to ensure that lessons could be learnt. Read more

Victoria Ward & Jennifer O’Mahoney | The Daily Telegraph | 30th May 2013

Cumbria PCC expenses ‘leak’: Eight complaints

Eight formal complaints have been made about Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) after he spent £700 on a chauffeur-driven car. A Freedom of Information request has revealed concern over Richard Rhodes’ use of taxpayers’ money.

Details of the money he spent first appeared in a newspaper last month. Three police staff members were arrested for leaking information. The PCC’s office said it was “aware” of the complaints.

Mr Rhodes, a Conservative, has since paid back all the money and apologised.  Two male police workers aged 47 and 59, have been told they will not face any criminal charges. A third, a female staff member, is on police bail until July. A man who does not work for the force remains on police bail. Read more

BBC | 29th May 2013

MP urges government not to get rid of ASBOs

EDMONTON MP Andy Love has urged the government not to scrap ASBOs after plans to reform powers to tackle antisocial behaviour were announced. His call came as figures released through a Freedom of Information request by the Labour Party revealed there were 11,930 reports of antisocial behaviour in Enfield in 2012.

The reports ranged from vandalism and intimidation, to the playing of loud music and public drinking.  In the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, the coalition government announced proposals to replace antisocial behaviour orders, which were brought in by the Labour government in 1998, along with criminal behaviour orders and crime prevention injunctions.

The government plans to reduce the 19 existing powers to deal with antisocial behaviour to six.  And it wants to make it easier for victims to get police involved in tackling repeat offenders and giving them more of a say in what form of out-of-court sanction offenders receive as part of a new scheme called community remedy. Read more

Koos Couvée | North London Today | 29th May 2013

Law Society calls for 28-day limit on police bail

Law Society calls for 28-day limit on police bail

More than 57,000 people are on police bail in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to figures obtained by the BBC. In one case a person arrested three-and-a-half years ago remains on bail.

The Law Society told BBC Radio 5 live it wanted a review of police bail practices and said there should be a statutory time limit on police bail. The data was collated from 34 of the 44 police forces that responded to a Freedom of Information request. Bail in Scotland is granted by courts and not by the police.

The data, obtained by a BBC Radio 5 Live Freedom of Information request shows that at least 57,428 people are currently on bail. Of those, 3,172 have been waiting for more than six months for a decision on charges. Read more

Laura Harmes | BBC Radio 5 Live | 28th May 2013

Dozens of knives seized from visitors to Manchester’s courts

More than 150 people were caught smuggling knives into the criminal courts of Manchester last year. Security officers at the city’s magistrates and two crown courts seized up to 20 blades a month from visitors, the M.E.N. can reveal. Another 224 people were stopped by guards while taking alcohol into the buildings.

Thousands of people a week visit the three courts and the confiscation figures highlight the task facing security staff. The M.E.N. obtained court security log details under Freedom of Information laws, with all seizures between April 2012 and March this year. Everyone entering the court building must walk through an airport-style security arch, before being checked by a guard with a metal detector.

A total of 155 knives were confiscated from people over a 12 month period – and 43 of those blades were longer than three inches. October saw the most knife seizures, with 12 from Manchester Crown Court and eight from the magistrates court. The figures for Minshull Street, Manchester’s second crown court, were not available for some of the months requested due to a change in security contractors. Read more

Pete Bainbridge | Manchester Evening News | 28th May 2013

IRELAND: Department of Health’s €110,000 bill for Oxford training trips

The cash-strapped Department of Health has come under fire after it emerged that it has spent over €110,000 sending officials on an exclusive training course on negotiation techniques at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the department yesterday confirmed that it has spent €111,022 sending officials to attend the Oxford Programme on Negotiation at the Said School of Business at Oxford University since 2006.

The department is sending three officials to attend the five- day course next month. The cost of sending the three to the course totals €22,282 this year and this follows a spend of €32,977 sending four officials on the course last year. Read more

Gordon Deegan | The Irish Independent | 28th May 2013

Bedroom tax ‘could make thousands of poor people homeless’

Bedroom tax ‘could make thousands of poor people homeless’

Tens of thousands of the poorest people in Britain risk being made homeless because of the bedroom tax, according to an analysis of councils’ assessments of the welfare cut.

From last month, housing benefit has been reduced to council or housingassociation tenants who ministers claim have more bedrooms than they need.

Data from 107 local authorities shows 86,000 households have been forced to look for one-bedroom homes, of which only 33,000 have become available in the past year. Read more

Randeep Ramesh | The Guardian | 27th May 2013

Legal aid cuts: what price justice?

In Sheffield magistrates court, Mr Zahedi has just been bailed; he only speaks Farsi. He is shaking his head as if a terrible mistake has been made, not by the court, not in the charge, but that his standing in this room at all, in his glass cage, is all the result of a factual error. He blows everybody a kiss in thanks. His bail conditions are that he stay away from a particular person; they can’t curfew him because he’s homeless. Most nights he sleeps behind the police station.

His solicitor, Lucy Hogarth, explains: “It took me and the clerk to persuade the court that they couldn’t remand him in custody, because the trial isn’t going to result in a custodial sentence. But the prosecutor wanted to lock him up.”

Her next client, Mr Oates, is up for benefit fraud, but the Department for Work and Pensions hasn’t sent the paperwork for two days, during which time he’s been held in a cell. “Without me asking,” Hogarth says, “he’d probably still be in there.” Read more

Zoe Williams | The Guardian | 24th May 2013

Paramedics ‘blacklist’ 600 Scottish homes

Nearly 600 homes across Scotland have been blacklisted as being too dangerous for ambulance crews to enter without police protection. The 593 addresses have been pinpointed because of previous attacks or threats on paramedics.

The statistics were obtained by the Conservatives under Freedom of Information legislation. The Scottish government said the figure was a “small proportion” of the country’s 2.5 million homes.

NHS Lothian had the most red flagged addresses, with 162, followed by Greater Glasgow and Clyde with 147, and Fife with 68. The Scottish Ambulance Service confirmed the snapshot for May 2013, which was an increase from the same time in 2012 when 437 addresses were red flagged. Read more

BBC | 26th May 2013

Investors target City regulator over handling of 2008 bank collapse

Campaigners fighting on behalf of almost one million Bradford & Bingley investors have fixed their sights on the City regulator.

The Bradford and Bingley Action Group (BBAG) has lodged a Freedom of Information request with the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to see whether its predecessor – the Financial Services Authority (FSA) – withheld information from shareholders in the lead up to the bank’s collapse in 2008.

Bradford & Bingley, best known for its bowler hat logo, was heavily exposed to the troubled buy-to-let mortgage market in the lead-up to the financial crisis. The lender ran into difficulties when funding from the wholesale money markets dried up. Read more

Jamie Dunkley & Roger Aitken | The Independent | 26th May 2013

Police pay £40m to translate inquiries

POLICE FORCES have spent nearly £40million on translators for suspects and victims unable to speak English over the past three years, an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has established. The Metropolitan Police paid out £7.1million on interpreters and translators in a single year. The London force listed 97 languages it has paid to translate, including African dialects such as Wolof, Yoruba and Oromo.

Rural constabularies have also spent substantial sums on language services. Thames Valley Police’s bill for translators and interpreters has exceeded £1million in each of the past three years. Forces in Kent, Norfolk and Lincolnshire have at times spent more than £400,000 a year on translation.

Polish, Romanian, Mandarin and Lithuanian are among the languages which police authorities most frequently require interpreters for. The figures – obtained using the  Freedom of Information Act – expose one of the hidden costs of years of high migration. Read more

Robert Watts | The Sunday Telegraph | 26th May 2013

How taxpayers are paying for Speaker John Bercow’s nanny to live in a grace and favour flat in the Houses of Parliament

The Commons Speaker is facing a storm of criticism after it emerged his children’s nanny lives in a taxpayer-funded apartment in the Houses of Parliament. John Bercow – who earns over £140,000 per year and has backed calls for pay rises for MPs – and his wife Sally have given their nanny the run of the housekeeper’s apartment near their own palatial rooms inside the Palace of Westminster.

The nanny’s accommodation in the Commons is entirely covered by the public purse, including the council tax and utility bills. The arrangement has been described as ‘indefensible’ by a former chairman of the Standards in Public Life committee. The Bercows, who have three young children, have separately acquired a riverside property nearby for £935,000 just four miles away.

Previously the couple said that their nanny was ‘live-in’. But according to details released after a freedom of information request, it now transpires that she lives in a separate flat consisting of one bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and a living room. Read more

Gerri Peev | The Daily Mail | 28th May 2013

Police Chiefs Fears over Bettison Quiz

SOUTH Yorkshire Police’s chief constable was keen to avoid questions about Sir Norman Bettison after the Hillsborough report, a previously secret email shows. The two men worked together at West Yorkshire Police before David Crompton left to head the South Yorkshire force.

They were in touch over Hillsborough before last year’s damning report, which revealed Mr Bettison’s role in the aftermath of the 1989 disaster. The day before the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, Mr Crompton and Mr Bettison swapped emails.

Mr Crompton, 49, told the then-West Yorkshire chief constable he did not expect a “direct focus” on him. But the HIP report, which exposed a police cover-up, did feature Sir Norman’s role – and led to calls for him to resign. And today we can reveal Mr Crompton was reluctant to answer questions over Mr Bettison, 57, after the details emerged. Read more

Jonathon Corke | The Daily Star | 28th May 2013

Just 6% of British army uniforms are made in the UK while £75million of manufacturing is outsourced abroad

Just six per cent of army uniforms were made in Britain last year under manufacturing contracts worth £5million while £75million worth of production was outsourced to India, China and Eastern Europe.

Struggling defence companies in the UK have been forced to lay off staff and open factories overseas in a drive to cut costs or risk losing contracts.

Senior Tory MP Patrick Mercer – a former Army colonel and former security spokesman – claimed there was a security risk involved with making the kit abroad and said ‘every soldier should have a uniform made in Britain’.  The staggering figures were released by the Ministry of Defence under a Freedom of Information Act request by Mail Online. Read more

Rob Cooper | The Daily Mail | 27th May 2013

Over 100 skipfuls of rubbish on roads and railways

LITTER louts drop enough rubbish at the side of Scotland’s railways and roads every year to fill 112 skips – or two Olympic-sized swimming pools. Figures released through Freedom of Information show 1,800 tonnes of refuse are collected each year, ranging from old furniture, washing machines and televisions, to food packaging, paper and cans.

The cost of the clean-up operation is about £60,000 a month. Last month, almost 4,000 hours were spent clearing litter from motorways in Glasgow and surrounding area.

Transport minister Keith Brown urged people to dispose of their rubbish responsibly. He said: “Scotland is a wonderful country and its natural beauty is a key factor in attracting tourists. Read more

Claire Gardner | The Scotsman | 25th May 2013

Owners bear the brunt of catalytic converter thefts

THEFTS of catalytic converters ripped from vehicles across Nottingham soared by over 300 per cent in 2011-2012, a Freedom of Information request by the Post has revealed. Figures in 2013 have also already overtaken total offences in 2009.

The crimes represent just under 20 per cent of all recorded metal theft offences in 2012. The data shows an increase of 256 offences over the 87 reported incidents in 2011. It is the also the highest recorded number of catalytic converter thefts over the past five years.

Police say intelligence shows that the crimes being carried out mostly by organised gangs. Catalytic converters, devices used to reduce output of toxic chemicals, are being targeted for the valuable elements they contain. Platinum and rhodium from converters can fetch hundreds of pounds on the black market. Read more

Tom Norton | The Nottingham Post | 24th May 2013

Fire crews save pets from peril

They were among hundreds of bizarre calls to firefighters in Courier Country — including a cat that got its head stuck in a TV. A freedom of information request has revealed a series of strange animal emergencies such as a Perth iguana that got stranded on a roof and a dog that trapped its head between railings in Dundee’s Whitfield area.

Some of the more distressing calls included a dog impaled on a fence in Aberargie, a dolphin that got into difficulty at Moncrieffe Island and a horse that had to be put down after falling into a well in Auchterarder.

Data was requested from all eight of Scotland’s former fire services to cover the last five years, however only three responded with results. Since 2008 there have been almost 139 calls to animal-related incidents in Tayside compared with around 670 in Strathclyde since recording mechanisms changed there in 2009. Read more

Graeme Bletcher | The Courier | 27th May 2013

Sharp drop in school attacks

The number of physical attacks by pupils on teachers in Bassetlaw has dramatically reduced in the past year, according to new figures. Data obtained through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act shows there were zero recorded incidents between 2012-13 – compared to three in 2011-12 and 13 in 2010-11.

According to Notts County Council, the recorded attacks happened at Portland and Valley in Worksop and Elizabethan and Retford Oaks over the past three years. Of the total number of physical attacks, three resulted in exclusion, six pupils were verbally reprimanded and three cases put down to special educational needs.

There were no verbal attacks recorded over the same period. Katy Williams, director of business services at Outwood Grange Academies Trust, which governs Portland and Valley, said the data was a clear indicator of Outwood’s approach to discipline. Read more

Worksop Guardian | 25th May 2013

USA: Lawsuits seek more than U.S. acknowledgement of drone killings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama is facing demands in court to reveal more about the U.S. drone program, despite his speech addressing it on Thursday and his government’s acknowledgement a day earlier that four Americans have died in drone strikes.

Civil liberties advocates, news organizations and the families of those who died have brought lawsuits in New York, Washington and Oakland, California, challenging the government’s refusal to provide information.

Now that the drone program’s existence has at last been confirmed, government lawyers on Wednesday indicated they would abandon their previous arguments, which did not confirm or deny the drone program. In the case in Oakland, they said they would give a new response to the Freedom of Information Act request filed by the First Amendment Coalition within 30 days. Read more

David Ingram | The Chicago Tribune | 23rd May 2013

USA: EPA out of control

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative advocacy group, has sued the Environmental Protection Agency seeking an explanation of why it has been denied waivers of fees for provision of documents while environmental groups almost always got waivers. Just more evidence EPA is becoming a law unto itself.

Christopher Horner of CEI used a Freedom of Information Act request to examine document requests over about 15 months. His own requests for waivers were denied 14 out of 15 times; requests from environmental groups were granted 75 of 82 times.

Every time Horner appealed (he didn’t say how many times that was) his request was granted. EPA’s inspector general says he will look into the accusation; the acting EPA administrator, Robert Perciasepe, says EPA’s policy is not to discriminate in waivers and anyway, documents increasingly are provided in electronic form, which incurs no fee. Read more

The Boston Herald | 26th May 2013

DENMARK: City Council moves to counter freedom of information act

The oft-criticised freedom of information act (offentlighedslov) proposal received another blow yesterday when the Copenhagen City Council approved a proposal from Enhedslisten (EL) aimed at maintaining transparency at the council level.

EL’s proposal is based on a principle that citizens and the media should enjoy the highest amount of transparency possible when attempting to gain insight into council policymaking.

“The City Council must, as much as possible, work towards transparency and openness in our administration and I am really pleased with this law,”  Rikke Lauritzen, an EL spokesperson, told Berlingske newspaper. Read more

The Copenhagen Post | 24th May 2013

TURKEY: Reporters Without Borders Condemns Sentencing of Sevan Nişanyan

Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the sentence of 13 and a half months in prison that an Istanbul magistrate’s court passed yesterday on Turkish-Armenian journalist Sevan Nişanyan for posting “insulting” comments about Mohammed in his blog.

“Nisanyan’s jail sentence is a grave violation of freedom of information and sends a threatening message to fellow journalists and bloggers that is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It should be overturned on appeal. Suppression of comments critical of Islam has no place in a secular country such as Turkey.”

“We have often hailed the gradual weakening of Turkey’s Kemalist – secularist, nationalist and militarist – taboos but democracy will not benefit if they are replaced by a new religious censorship.” Read more

Reporters Without Borders | 24th May 2013

IRELAND: Central Bank warned in advance over Joyce coin

The Central Bank was warned about potential design and copyright problems before it issued the flawed €10 James Joyce commemorative silver coin last month.

Department of Finance officials alerted the Central Bank on at least two occasions about the possibility of difficulties with the James Joyce estate over copyright and design. The details are contained in documents obtained by RTÉ News under Freedom of Information.

The coin sold out within two days of being issued on 11 April, despite carrying on its front an error in a quotation from Joyce’s most famous work, Ulysses, alongside an image of the author that was not approved by his estate. Read more

The Irish Times | 24th May 2013

Information Commissioner: FoI exemption for private companies is “perverse”

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, joined a panel of experts to discuss the ‘future of transparency’ at City University London last night. The panel discussed FoI requests, the value of openness, and what happens when the need for transparency meets obstacles such as privatisation or national security.

Joining the Information Commissioner were human rights activist Helen Darbishire, investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, barrister Robin Hopkins and director of Request Inititative, Brendan Montague. The event was chaired by  Linda Lewis, course director of City’s Political Journalism MA.

Christopher Graham made his position clear on whether FoI should apply to private companies carrying out public sector work. He said: “Private companies are increasingly taking on public functions. What seems to be so perverse is that there’s all this talk of transparency, but private companies are outside of FoI. We’ve got to find a way of FoI following the public pound. If you’ve got a socking great government contract that is to deliver a service that would have been applicable under FoI, how can you say this doesn’t apply?”

On the importance of transparency, Duncan Campbell said: “The society we live in is built on a fundamental system of checks and balances. There are competing centres of power – judiciary, executive, legislative, press – don’t trust any of them entirely. In order to make the public service function of these centres of power work, you need scrutiny and transparency. It’s the lifeblood of the multi-headed organism that is 21st century democracy.”

Discussion soon moved on to attitudes towards transparency. Brendan Montague said: “There isn’t a conspiracy of secrecy but there is a culture of secrecy in our country. Recently I was speaking to journalists in Norway who can access cabinet ministers’ emails online. Why couldn’t that be the case here?”

Robin Hopkins said that the biggest thing we could fix for FoI requests is the time frames and speed of turnaround. Brendan Montague pointed out that FoI only has power in the way it is used, and that it is the public who bring it to life. He said: “It’s only through our participation as citizens that we increase the power of FoI. It should be an offence to our mind that this information is not being published. We read about political corruption and think ‘of course’, we read that information is being kept private and think ‘of course’. We need to change that in ourselves. We need to get quite cross about this.”

Christopher Graham ended the night with a comment that one way to improve transparency would be to stop cuts to the Information Commissioner’s Office. He said: “Stop cutting the ICO budget. Over the past three years the very modest grant in aid has been cut and cut and cut.”

Dan Douglas | City Journalism | 23rd May 2013

Original article  here

See a Storify of Tweets from the panel discussion, curated by Jess Denham (Interactive Journalism MA)





Cumbria police staff cleared over crime commissioner’s expenses leak

Cumbria police staff cleared over crime commissioner’s expenses leak

Two Cumbria police staff suspended last month, after details of their chauffeur-driven police and crime commissioner’s travel expenses were leaked to the media, have been cleared of any wrongdoing and will return to work. A 47-year-old man who was arrested on 10 April on suspicion of data protection offences and misconduct in public office will face no criminal action and has had his suspension lifted.

Another staff member, a man aged 59 who was interviewed by police on a voluntary basis, will also face no criminal action and will return to work. Two other people – a 50-year-old woman who works for Cumbria constabulary and a 54-year-old man from Penrith who does not work for the force – remain under investigation by the force’s professional standards department. Their bail dates have been extended to 5 July and the constabulary is preparing files for the Crown Prosecution Service.

The investigation was launched after a whistleblower claimed that Richard Rhodes, Cumbria’s Conservative police and crime commissioner (PCC), had used taxpayers’ money to pay for chauffeur-driven vehicles – only paying the money back when details appeared in the press. Read more

Mark Smith | The Guardian | 23rd May 2013

Nursery reforms could cut childcare costs by 28%, DfE calculates

The cost of childcare could be cut by as much as 28% if the government was to go ahead with stalled plans to raise ratios of children to staff in nurseries. Government plans are currently stalled due to a disagreement within the coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

The new calculations released by the Department for Education under a freedom of information request said parent costs could be cut from £4 an hour to £3.49 an hour (a 12% cut) while teacher salaries could go up. Alternatively, if the extra revenue was used solely to reduce costs for parents, this could yield costs savings for parents of up to 28%.

Conservative ministers had been hoping to relax staff-child ratios by September, but Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, vetoed the plans saying he thought the proposed ratio changes would lower the quality of childcare. Conservatives are likely to use the figures to show they have been on the side of parents and choice, but are being blocked by the Liberal Democrats. Read more

Patrick Wintour | The Guardian | 23rd May 2013

Conservation agency approved cull of endangered birds, documents show

Tens of thousands of endangered birds have been shot, trapped and poisoned on one of England’s largest shooting estates with the approval of the government agency responsible for protecting the species, a Guardian investigation has found.

The government has licensed an annual cull of lesser black-backed gulls on the Abbeystead estate on the Bowland Fells in Lancashire for decades, officially to stop water pollution. However, some experts believe the culling was also partly to protect grouse shooting interests.

The regulator Natural England now admits that, since a government-led bird conservation review occurred in 2001, “confusion” over the legal protection status of the species has allowed the culling to continue, despite its population crashing in recent years. Read more

Leo Hickman | The Guardian | 23rd May 2013

Unhappy Mondays: It’s the day of the week when muggers steal the most phones

It is the most miserable day of the week, a return to reality from the elation of the weekend. To compound Monday’s reputation problem, new figures indicate it is also the day when people are most likely to have their mobile phone stolen – with skint thieves who have spent their funds over the weekend to blame.

Figures the Metropolitan Police released under the Freedom of Information Act this week detailed the rising number of mobile phone thefts by days of the week for the last three years in London. Monday became the most active time for muggers last year with some 17,382 thefts.

After beginning the week on Monday and Tuesday with a combined total 33,347 thefts, thieves appeared to suffer a midweek malaise last year when the numbers of thefts dropped to 29,952 combined on Wednesday and Thursday. Surprisingly it is Friday, when millions in the capital head out to the pubs, clubs and bars, that proved to be the day with least thefts last year with 14,876. Read more

Sam Masters | The Independent | 23rd May 2013

Government licensed secret buzzard egg destruction, documents reveal

A government agency has licensed the secret destruction of the eggs and nests of buzzards to protect a pheasant shoot, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The action sets a historic precedent, being the first time such action has been licensed against any bird of prey to protect game shoots since raptors gained legal protection decades ago. Buzzards are recovering from near extinction and now number 40,000 breeding pairs, while 35m pheasants are bred each year for shoots.

It is also less than a year after the wildlife minister, Richard Benyon,abandoned related plans citing “public concerns”. Benyon, whose family estate in Berkshire runs shoots, cancelled plans to spend £375,000 on testing control measures for buzzards around pheasant shoots after a public outcry in May 2012. Read more

Damian Carrington | The Guardian | 23rd May 2013

IRELAND: Parents left in the dark over findings of inspections into childcare facilities

Thousands of parents will leave their kids in creches and other childcare facilities today believing they are in secure hands and in well-regulated surroundings.

And, for the most part, they are. But as the Irish Independent revealed in a major expose last year, inspectors have found serious lapses of standards in many facilities, including Montessori schools.

The shocking litany of complaints included shouting at children and slapping, serious understaffing and youngsters being left go thirsty. We also uncovered, after a painstaking search and trawl through inspection reports obtained under Freedom of Information, damp and cold buildings and a lack of vetting of carers for possible criminal records. Read more

Eilish O’Regan | Irish Independent | 23rd May 2013

IRELAND: Carál Ní Chuilín overturns PRONI archive refusal

A solicitor for the families of two people killed during the Troubles made a Freedom of Information request for access to inquest records. The Public Record Office refused, saying it was not in the public interest to release the information.

That decision has been overturned by the Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín. Ms Ní Chuilín is responsible for overseeing the work of PRONI. The files held by the archive include documents from dozens of inquests into controversial killings.

The solicitor was seeking information about the deaths of Gabriel Higgins, who was shot dead by the UVF in September 1979, and Francis Toner, who was killed by members of the same paramilitary organisation in May 1982. Read more

BBC | 23rd May 2013

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