Figures released by the Ministry of Defence show that MDP officers have a total of 314 “open” and ongoing inquiries into possible criminal behaviour by either defence staff or civilian contractors. The list of potential offences include burglary, arson, assault, concealing criminal property and dozens of allegations of theft.
Other more unusual crimes include one instance of “disturbing military remains”, one inquiry into “fear or provocation of violence by words or writing” and one allegation of “stalking”. Some 3,400 officers from the MDP are deployed across the UK with a primary focus of providing armed security for nuclear weapons sites.
Units patrol the perimeters of military bases to safeguard assets but the civilian force also carries out regular police work within the defence community, in the same way that regional police forces operate. Details of the active MDP investigations were revealed through a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence. Read more
James Orr | The Telegraph | 16th April 2013
A top-security psychiatric hospital where Britain’s most evil serial killers contains hundreds of graphic movies showing sickening violence and kinky sex scenes, it can be revealed today.
Broadmoor Hospital – which houses the Yorkshire Ripper and cannibal killer Peter Bryan – has a catalogue of more than 200 DVDs, including films showing twisted scenes of murder and sex attacks.
The revelation was today branded ‘astounding’ by a leading psychologist as the NHS Trust which runs the hospital defended the policy, claiming the films prepared patients for the outside world. Read more
Rob Cooper & Sam Webb | The Daily Mail | 16th April 2013
COUNCIL chiefs have spent more than £28million of taxpayers’ money ferrying children to school by taxi over five years. Figures, obtained by the EADT under Freedom of Information laws, revealed £28,750,112 was spent sending children to school in taxis in the last five academic years in Suffolk.
The highest was 2010/11, when the school taxi bill totalled £7,415,777 – an average of £20,317 a day. The estimate for this school year is £7,201,899.
Suffolk County Council (SCC) has a legal duty to provide a home-to-school transport service for children, most of whom have special educational needs, subject to criteria. Pupils under the age of eight living two miles or more from the catchment or nearest school are entitled, as are pupils eight years old or over living three miles or more away. Read more
Matt Stott | East Anglia Daily Times | 15th April 2013
Detractors argue that the new act will allow the government to mislead voters and parliament. The government’s plan to install a new freedom of information act (offentlighedslov) is now beginning to face strong criticism from within.
Around 20 members of government coalition party Radikale (R) have already added their names to a petition against the act that has over 42,000 signatures. And now, Camilla Fabricius, Socialdemokraterne’s (S) head on the Aarhus City Council, has also joined the ranks.
“I have decided to take a stand against the upcoming offentlighedslov in its current form. The halls of Christiansborg do not need more opaqueness,” Fabricius told Kristeligt-Dagblad newspaper. “I urge [Justice Minister] Morten Bødskov, who is a sensible and intelligent man, to rethink the proposal.” Read more
Christian Wenande | The Copenhagen Post | 16th April 2013
Tobacco group JTI has gone on the offensive over ‘plain’ tobacco packaging with a national ad campaign claiming that the government does not fully accept that it would help cut rates of smoking.
The campaign, which is running in national newspapers and magazines, features a print-out of an email obtained by JTI in which an unnamed official at the Department of Health requests an impact assessment from an Australian counterpart of that country’s move to ban branded packaging.
The email – which was obtained under Freedom of Information laws – states that the main difficulty for the pro-plain tobacco packaging lobby is that “there isn’t any hard evidence to show that it works”. The line is highlighted and JTI’s strapline simply says: “We couldn’t have put it better ourselves”. Read more
See the advert here: tobacco.cleartheair.org.hk_wp-content_uploads_2013_04_JTI-advert-08-04-2013
Josh Brooks | Packaging News | 8th April 2013
Ministers have chosen to ignore warnings that residential and commercial property should not be built too close to the UK’s nuclear plants.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the government rejected advice from the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), regarding the lessons to be learned following Japan’s Fukushima disaster.
The regulator recommended restricting development near nuclear plants, advice that was overridden last week when the government approved the expansion of Lydd airport in Kent, a couple of miles from Dungeness nuclear power station. Read more
Jamie Doward | The Observer | 14th April 2013
WikiLeaks has released a new trove of documents, more than 1.7 million U.S. State Department cables dating from 1973-1976, which they have dubbed “The Kissinger Cables,” after Henry Kissinger, who in those years served as secretary of state and assistant to the president for national security affairs.
One cable includes a transcribed conversation where Kissinger displays remarkable candor: “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”
While the illegal and the unconstitutional may be a laughing matter for Kissinger, who turns 90 next month, it is deadly serious for Pvt. Bradley Manning. After close to three years in prison, at least eight months of which in conditions described by U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Ernesto Mendez as “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” Manning recently addressed the court at Fort Meade. Read more
Amy Goodman | The Citizen | 13th April 2013
BELFAST – The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) has more reasons than most for sending its minister or civil servants abroad on promotion and fact-finding missions.
Indeed, it could be argued, it would be failing in its purpose if it did not engage in such outreach activities. So why then is it so reticent about releasing details of overseas travel? For 10 weeks it has ignored Freedom of Information requests from this newspaper on this issue, even though it is obliged by law to respond and should do so within 20 working days.
Perhaps DETI is taking its lead from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister which was revealed recently to have failed to answer 40 FoI requests within the stipulated period, with 25 of the requests outstanding for more than a year. That is unacceptable and only fuels public suspicion about what goes on, whether that suspicion is justified or not. Read more
Belfast Telegraph | 15th April 2013
A few short days from now, the writ will drop on the 2013 provincial election, kicking off twenty-eight days of heated campaigning. And while there’s no shortage of issues for voters to consider, recent controversies around government secrecy and attempts to undermine Freedom of Information make it clear that information policy should be a top priority for voters.
The information rights of British Columbians are being undermined on many fronts. When it comes to access to information, a widespread and growing ‘oral culture’ at even the highest levels of government is making it tougher than ever before to obtain records and hold government to account.
And when it comes to privacy, the story isn’t much better. New data linkage and information sharing schemes like the BC Services Card and the Integrated Case Management System have been slammed by civil society organizations and Legislative officers as privacy-invasive, unreliable, and even dangerous to vulnerable communities. Read more
Vincent Gogolek | Huffpost British Columbia | 12th April 2013
Virginia is creating a new agency to support development of nuclear power – a move that has upset environmentalists and open-government advocates, because the entity won’t have to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Act and other laws.
For the past year or so, companies that work with nuclear energy have been speaking with experts at Virginia universities with nuclear engineering programs and at industry-related nonprofit groups. The goal was to foster collaboration among nuclear-energy advocates, according to Del. T. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg.
In January, Garrett introduced a bill to create the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium Authority. Sen. Jeffrey McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, sponsored companion legislation in his chamber. Both bills were passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell. Read more
Stephen Nielson | Capital News Service | 12th April 2013
Just 34 local people have been given jobs at the BBC’s £200million new northern headquarters, it emerged yesterday. Out of 2,300 people working at the corporation’s MediaCity base in Salford, Greater Manchester, barely 1.5 per cent are from the city.
The figures – revealed following a Freedom of Information application – explode the BBC’s claim that moving departments including sport and children’s programmes to the North West would create new jobs there
Instead, critics say millions of pounds of licence fee cash has been wasted in the name of ‘geographical correctness’. Read more
James Tozer & Miles Goslett | Daily Mail | 8th April 2013
POLICE have been forced to warn more than 200 people of dramatic murder plots hatched against them across the region in the past three years, The Sentinel can reveal.
New data has uncovered the number of secretive ‘Threat to Life’ warnings, which are issued when police have credible intelligence that a person could be targeted by a potential killer.
The intended victim is then given advice and offered police protection, or the opportunity to move to a safe location. A Sentinel Freedom of Information Act request revealed Staffordshire Police issued 221 of the warnings between 2009 and 2012. Read more
Aimi Redfern | The Sentinel | 8th April 2013
Redbridge Life is published four times a year and delivered to 104,000 homes and businesses in the borough. It is produced by the council and provides information on council services.
A Freedom of Information Request submitted to the council reveals that the Spring 2013 edition cost £14,546 to produce. The council made back £4,860 in advertising income from the edition, leaving it with a loss of £9,686 on the paper.
Matt Keen, 39, of New Wanstead, submitted the FOI after receiving his copy. He said: “I’m very surprised that this thing is still coming out if it’s being produced at a loss.” Read more
Dominic Sutton | East London & West Essex Guardian Series | 8th April 2013
Five police officers and a civilian worker involved in the Metropolitan police’s phone-hacking investigation have faced misconduct allegations, Scotland Yard has confirmed.
The group included three detective constables and a civilian worker who have resigned from or left the Operation Weeting investigation following disciplinary action.
Scotland Yard revealed the misconduct allegations in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Sun. Read more.
Josh Halliday | The Guardian | 3rd January 2013
Nearly 12,000 people over the past five years were wrongly labelled criminals due to inaccurate record checks, leading to £1.9m paid out in compensation, campaigners have revealed.
The figures, published by privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch after a freedom of information request, showed the most common errors involved information being disclosed by local police forces or the police national computer.
In 3,519 cases, the wrong person’s entry on the police national computer was disclosed. Read more.
The Guardian | 28th December 2012
The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for national security vetting, said information about the number of people with access to classified material was “not held centrally”.
The Whitehall department could not even disclose how many staff in the Cabinet Office itself have passed security checks because the figure is not known and calculating it would involve days of trawling through personnel records.
The Daily Telegraph submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for details of how many people currently hold UK Government clearance to the levels of counter-terrorism check, security check and developed vetting.
The Cabinet Office replied: “The information you have requested is not available as it is not held centrally.” Read more.
Sam Marsden | The Telegraph | 26th December 2012
Scottish ministers drop royal secrecy plan
The Scottish government has dropped contentious plans to keep all communications between ministers and senior Royal Family members a secret.
Ministers said the move would bring Scotland into line with the rest of the UK, but changed their minds in light of concern over the proposals.
It was brought forward under planned reforms to freedom of information legislation.
Ministers made the decision after “careful consideration” of objections. Read more.
BBC | 27th November 2012
A further two workers have been disciplined following inappropriate behaviour on sites like Twitter and Facebook, the broadcaster has disclosed under a Freedom of Information request.
The “unusual” move comes as the broadcaster imposed an informal ban on its staff for tweeting about the BBC’s “problems”.
Acting director of news Fran Unsworth sent an internal email earlier this month saying it would be helpful if “some of our problems were not played out publicly across the social media and in the pages of the national press”. Read more.
Louisa Peacock | The Telegraph | 27th November 2012
A COUNCIL which last year dealt with over 1,000 Freedom of Information requests has drawn up proposals to deal with them quicker.
In 2005-06 Kirklees Council handled 284 requests under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations which covers requests relating pollution and health and safety.
By 2010-11 this had risen to 876 and last year it hit 1,137.
Last year 962 (85 per cent) of requests were responded to within 20 working days, which is in line with the minimum standard required by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which enforces compliance with the law. Read more.
The Yorkshire Post | 27th November 2012
Requests submitted under the Freedom of Information Act should remain free of charge, advised Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith on Wednesday night at City University.
Mr Smith was addressing a Request Initiative seminar on the Justice Select Committee’s post-legislative scrutiny of the FOIA alongside a panel of information law experts. He said it was “concerning” that some members of the Justice Select Committee suggested commercial fees should be imposed on media organisations “on the rather crude basis that journalists are using FOI to get stories to sell to newspapers.”
While it was an area of concern to the Committee that commercial organisations appear to be gathering data for their own purposes, the “vast majority” of requests made by journalists are in the public interest, insisted Mr Smith.
The introduction of fees would be an attempt at cost recovery; implementing the Act is costing local government £31.6m per year, although it was suggested this figure may be overblown after a Bexley Council study found the average spend per request was just £19. Request Initiative director Brendan Montague flipped the coin and said FOIA costs are the government’s problem and “councils are spending £31.6 million a year to keep information secret.”
There was lively debate between other information law experts on the night including Maurice Frankel, director of the UK Campaign for Freedom of Information, “FOI Man” Paul Gibbons and FOIA trainer Tim Turner, who chewed over some other key points of the select committee’s report published earlier this year. Mr Turner suggested the ICO is not enforcing the act strongly enough although he praised the office for working through a huge backlog of complaints.
Under Section 77 of the FOIA, it is a criminal offence to destroy information but no prosecutions have been launched to date, as proceedings must begin within six months of the alleged destruction. “The problem we’ve found,” explained Mr Smith, “is that very often evidence does not come to light until six months it occurred so there’s a clear problem with that time limit.”
An audience of more than 90 people attended and spoke of their increasing difficulties in obtaining specific types of information such as email correspondence and information relating to policy formulation.
Maurice Frankel said some MPs had sought an absolute exemption for information relating to government policy formulation and warned that alternatively we might see more frequent use of the ministerial veto. He added: “It is the sign of any healthy Freedom of Information Act that it is not entirely loved by government.”
A Government decision on the Committee’s findings is expected in later this year. At present there are no plans to introduce commercial fees, but Mr Smith said “it is important to recognise that just because the Committee haven’t recommended something, that doesn’t stop the government from making its own decisions.”
The Freedom of Information Act will be reformed following a Ministry of Justice Select Committee review of the legislation. But how will it change and what does this mean for the journalists and campaigners who use the act? Join Request Initiative at City University as it welcomes a distinguished panel of FOIA and information law experts, including the ICO’s deputy commissioner Graham Smith, to discuss the report and what it means for requesters.
The event is organised by Request Initiative and City University and will be an excellent opportunity to get up to speed on what the changes to FOIA mean and a chance to meet professionals in FOIA, media and charity sectors.
Book your ticket now.
In its first seven years FOIA was central to some of the biggest stories of the decade. The MPs expenses, revelations about oil companies and the Iraq war and “Climate-gate” could not have happened without the law. The act’s importance to all journalists is clear; in the last month more than 900 articles containing “freedom of information” have been published in the UK.
Prior to the review, FOIA professionals had well-founded concern that the government now feared the act and would seek to curb its power through new exemptions, time extensions or a fee-paying system. These fears appear to have been allayed, with the committee rejecting such proposals and concluding that FOIA “remains a vital element of the transparency agenda”. Instead the committee recommends, among other things, that:
The review seems to be good news for FOIA requesters. But can journalists and campaigners look forward to a new dawn of transparency? Probably not.
The committee failed to make a strong statement on the application of the law to private companies like G4S and Serco who are contracted by the public sector. The committee also effectively endorsed the use of the controversial ministerial veto to withhold highly sensitive information. And the review proposes measures that will hinder transparency, such as a reduction in the time authorities are required to spend processing requests.
City University and Request Initiative welcome a panel of information law experts who will unpack the report and consider its merits and drawbacks in detail before an audience of media, charity and legal professionals and students. Drinks and light refreshments will be served afterwards.
The panel includes the ICO’s Director of Freedom of Information and Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith, the Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel information rights professional and blogger FOIman, Data Protection expert Tim Turner and Request Initiative’s executive director Brendan Montague. It will be chaired by Linda Lewis, course director of City University’s journalism department.
For more on our speakers, click here.
Graham Smith is Deputy Commissioner and Director of Freedom of Information for the Information Commissioner’s Office. Prior to his appointment as Deputy Commissioner in 2001, Graham enjoyed a career in local government, working for four local authorities over 20 years. He holds a law degree from the University of Sheffield and a Diploma in Local Government Law and Practice.
Maurice Frankel has worked with the Campaign for Freedom of Information since it was set up in 1984, and has been its director since 1987. He has been closely involved with the Freedom of Information Act since its inception, in seeking to persuade the government to legislate, in pressing for improvements to the bill during its Parliamentary passage and subsequently in training both public authority staff and potential users.
Tim Turner’s career in Information Rights started at the Information Commissioner’s Office as a Policy Manager on FOI issues, just after the 2000 FOI Act was passed. He worked with central and local government, wrote guidance and policies for the Commissioner and was a regular speaker at conferences and events. Tim was DP & FOI Officer for two top-rated councils as well an Information Governance advisor for an NHS organisation.
Paul Gibbons, aka FOIman, is an information rights professional and author of the popular blog FOIman.com. He has been working in FOI, directly or indirectly, for over 10 years and before that he was a records manager in the public and private sectors. Paul was a member of the Save FOI campaign that mobilised during the MOJ’s post legislative review of the act.
Brendan Montague, executive director of Request Initiative, is an investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience working for newspapers including The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday and The Daily Mail. Brendan is described by The Times as a “freedom of information expert” and has used FoIA to substantiate environmental and political stories.
Request Initiative is a non-profit community interest company which makes requests under transparency legislation on behalf of charities, NGOs and non-profits. The company also provides support for researchers and journalists wishing to make better use of the Freedom of Information Act, Environmental Information Regulations and Data Protection Act and conducts its own public interest research. Request Initiative events have been attended, in a personal capacity, by:
Location: Room B103 in the University Building,
London EC1V 0HB
Detailed map: http://www.city.ac.uk/visit#9609=1
Time and Date: 6pm for a 6:15 start, 9th October 2012
Tickets: Admission is free but reservation is required here.
Climate change minister faces questions over advisor who lobbies for green energy firm
The climate change minister faced questions last night over his relationship with an advisor after it emerged that he had met corporate clients of her private company.
Greg Barker worked with Miriam Maes, who runs the consultancy firm Foresee, while the Conservatives were in opposition. She was taken on at his department after the Coalition took office.
Documents released under Freedom of Information legislation show that she made repeated efforts to encourage Mr Barker to meet businessmen from one of her clients, Air Products – a multinational green energy company.
Daniel Martin | The Daily Mail | September 12th 2012
CCTV cameras being used in school changing rooms
More than 200 schools across Britain are using CCTV cameras in pupils’ toilets or changing rooms, according to figures obtained by anti-surveillance campaigners, who warned that the research raised serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren.
A total of 825 cameras were located in the toilets or changing rooms of 207 schools across England, Scotland and Wales, according to data provided by more than 2,000 schools.
The figures are based on freedom of information requests lodged by the campaign group Big Brother Watch. Its director, Nick Pickles, said the full extent of school surveillance was far higher than the group had expected, adding: “Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage.
Ben Quinn | The Guardian | September 11th 2012
Officials claim information is costing £38k
A COUNCIL has aimed a swipe at research groups and the press for ‘wrongful’ use of laws which compel it to disclose how taxpayers’ money is being spent.
Staffordshire County Council has published a round-up of the costs of answering questions under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act since January.
It claims to have spent £38,000 fulfilling its obligations under the transparency law, including £300 on answering questions from The Sentinel.
This is Staffordshire | September 10th 2012
Executives’ private health deals at colleges criticised
Some colleges in Wales have been criticised for providing private medical insurance for executives at the taxpayers’ expense.
Three out of 18 colleges told BBC Wales after a Freedom of Information request that they pay insurance cover.
Guto Bebb MP called it a “slap in the face” for the public and unions have questioned whether it is a good use of public money.
BBC | September 11th 2012
Council staff are being paid through limited companies in arrangements described as “tax avoidance” , The Daily Telegraph reports. A Freedom of Information request by the BBC Radio 4′s File on 4 programme revealed that nearly 100 highly paid positions are being filled using deals which allow public servants to make their own tax arrangements rather than use the PAYE system.
Public accounts committee chair Margaret Hodge told The BBC that the situation was a “tax avoidance scheme, which is totally wrong…I think they [HMRC] have to be more ambitious, I think they’ve got to work harder, and I think they’ve got to do better at getting that money in.”
Hackney Council had the highest number, with 39 people in permanent posts paid through external companies. The arrangements means individuals are taxed and pay national insurance at lower rates.
The Local Government Association said councils adhere to strict HMRC rules. Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said councils had a “responsibility to employ skilled staff in a way that provided good value to residents”.
NHS reform plans changing GP priorities
NHS records revealed through a Freedom of Information request show that GPs are spending as little as one day a week seeing patients as they are busy setting up organisations for the health reforms, The Guardian and the Independent report. Figures released as part of a request made by False Economy, a trade union-backed research group, show family doctors are devoting most of their time to setting up clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), the groups of family doctors that will replace PCTs in commissioning and paying for treatments on behalf of patients from April 2013.
More women fail driving test, DSA FOI reveals
Official figures from the Driving Standards Agency indicate that women are more likely than men to fail their driving test. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that examiners recorded 1,660,206 errors by candidates that were serious enough to mean a failed test – 718,244 by men and 941,962 by women. The report described in the Telegraph also outlines the reasons for failure and suggests that women are more likely than men to fail for errors in reverse parking and inadequate observation.
Broadmoor patients seek thousands in compensation
Six of Britain’s most notorious killers and rapists at the Broadmoor high security hospital have received £64,000 in compensation in the past five years. In total, 17 patients have sued Broadmoor since 2006, a Freedom of Information response from the West London Mental Health Trust revealed. The most recent two cases won £7,500 in compensation after hurting themselves opening windows. Speaking to The Daily Mirror reports, a spokesperson from West London NHS Trust said: “Patients are entitled to claim damages for clinical and non-clinical negligence.”
Shisha bar rise despite smoking ban
There has been a rise of 210% in shisha bars across the UK since the smoking ban was put into place, the Independent reports. Freedom of information data collected by the British Heart Foundation from 133 local authorities in large towns and cities shows there were 179 shisha bars in 2007, rising to 556 now. According to the BBC report, the World Health Organisation has advised that a 40-minute session on a waterpipe is the equivalent to the volume of smoke inhaled from at least 100 hundred cigarettes.
Judge Alison McKenna has ruled following an Information Rights Tribunal that the name of the seed funder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation should not be disclosed after a Freedom of Information request because the think tank is not “so influential”.
The judge decided that the legitimate public interest in naming the donor does not outweigh his privacy because Lord Lawson and his charity, the GWPF, do not have a significant enough influence on the public debate about climate change, the Guardian reports tonight.
Judge McKenna said in her ruling: “We are not satisfied that the charity is so influential as to make the disclosure of its financial affairs a matter of legitimate public interest outweighing the privacy rights of the data subject.”
Brendan Montague, the director of the Request Initiative, made the original request to the Charity Commission and argued that because the think tank has board members from across the House of Lords and sets out to influence newspapers and policy makers the public should know where its funding has come from. Montague will seek legal advice before deciding whether to appeal.
He said: “Judge Alison McKenna has found against me on the grounds that Lord Lawson’s climate sceptic thinktank is simply not as influential as the former chancellor has made out in his own company accounts. We provided evidence of Lawson enjoying private lunches with the current chancellor, George Osborne, and so I only wish I shared her view.”
“The tribunal has found the claims of influence over policymakers by Lord Lawson ‘surprising’ in light of the fact the Global Warming Policy Foundation is registered as an educational charity. The judge states this is ‘a matter for the Charity Commission’ and I hope the regulator will now properly investigate this highly-connected lobbying machine.”
Climate scientist professor James Hansen, climate historian professor Naomi Oreskes and professor of ethics Clive Hamilton submitted witness statement to the tribunal to say the public interest would be served by naming the donor. The Poles Apart report published by James Painter of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism was also presented in evidence of the influence of the GWPF.
Lord Lawson told the Guardian before the tribunal hearing that he had “no intention of responding to Mr Montague’s political attack on me and on the GWPF”. The GWPF states that it does not accept donations from the energy industry, or anyone with a “significant interest” in the energy industry.