The armed forces should seek to make British involvement in future wars more palatable to the public by reducing the public profile of repatriation ceremonies for casualties, according to a Ministry of Defence unit that formulates strategy.
Other suggestions made by the MoD thinktank in a discussion paper examining how to assuage “casualty averse” public opinion include the greater use of mercenaries and unmanned vehicles, as well as the SAS and other special forces, because it says losses sustained by the elite soldiers do not have the same impact on the public and press.
The document, written in November 2012 and obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, discusses how public reaction to casualties can be influenced and recommends that the armed forces should have “a clear and constant information campaign in order to influence the major areas of press and public opinion”. Read more
Ben Quinn | The Guardian | 26th September 2013
Britain’s controversial deployment of US-built Reaper drones in Afghanistan will come under scrutiny in court this week in a closed hearing that will see a UK-based drone operator give evidence for the first time.
The two-day hearing starts in London on Monday. It is expected to include testimony from a UK-based drone operator with “1,000 hours of Reaper experience supporting UK and coalition activities”. He will speak on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Tom Watson, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group examining drones, will also give evidence.
The appeal to the Information Commissioner, filed by Chris Cole of the campaign group Drone Wars, comes after numerous Freedom of Information requests relating to Britain’s role in drone warfare were allegedly refused by the MoD. Mr Cole aims to challenge that stance, claiming public interest. Read more
Kunal Dutta | The Independent | 22nd September 2013
As new figures show the number of people killed in drink-driving crashes rose by 17%, the BBC has discovered that thousands of drink-drivers are repeat offenders.
A fifth of those on a DVLA “high-risk register” have been on it before.
There are calls for more stringent checks before offenders are given back their licences.
The government said it had tightened up rules, and drivers now had to prove they were no longer alcohol-dependent.
Drink-drivers who are more than two and a half times over the legal limit, who have two or more drink-drive offences within a 10-year period or who refuse to give breath, blood or urine samples, are classed by the DVLA as “high-risk offenders”.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC discovered there are currently 230,149 banned drivers on the DVLA’s scheme and of these, 42,207 drivers had been on it before. Read more
Nicola Beckford | BBC News | 27th September 2013
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea had previously dismissed three workers for making “inappropriate comments” about the DVLA, a colleague or customers on social media. The man was dismissed last year, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.
A DVLA spokesman said it was “one of a list” of the worker’s “conduct issues”. He added: “DVLA staff cannot access any social networking sites on DVLA computers.
“Although instances of staff using social media inappropriately are extremely rare, any incidents of staff using social media at work on their personal phones are always investigated and could result in disciplinary action.” Read more
BBC | 22nd May 2013
Last month the Chancellor George Osborne boldly announced “This month, 9 out of 10 working households will be better off as a result of the changes we are making… And the average working household will be better off by over £300 a year.”
It came in a speech to Morrisons staff at the outset of a swathe of policy changes which began to be implemented last month, including the rollout of Universal Credit to replace a series of benefits, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) replacing Disability Living Allowance, a cap on the increase and total benefits working-age people are entitled to, and an increase in the income tax personal allowance.
At the time, Full Fact attempted to factcheck the 9 out of 10 figure to no avail. The Treasury neither published nor disclosed details of how the figure was arrived at. Now, one month on and one freedom of information request later, we’ve managed to get hold of the figures. Read more
Joseph O’Leary | Full Fact | 21st May 2013
Figures obtained by BBC Wales suggest a 23% increase across the country but Blaenau Gwent council received four times as many calls than in 2011. The RSPCA also received 2,200 equine complaints in 2012.
The Welsh government is considering new legislation on the issue and a consultation on abandoned horses finished last month. In response to a Freedom of Information request, 20 of the 22 local authorities in Wales revealed that in 2012 they dealt with 469 incidents – a 23% increase on the previous year.
Until March this year 165 incidents had already been reported. Some horse and pony re-homing charities say they have noticed an increase in abandoned animals too. Blaenau Gwent, which has several large areas of common land, saw the biggest increase in calls – from 34 in 2011 to 148 in 2012. Read more
Paul Heaney | BBC Wales | 22nd May 2013
A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the U.S. government had properly classified top secret more than 50 images of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden taken after his death and that the government did not need to release them.
The unanimous ruling by three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a request for the images by a conservative nonprofit watchdog group. Judicial Watch sued for photographs and video from the May 2011 raid in which U.S. special forces killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after more than a decade of searching.
The organization’s lawsuit relied on the Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 law that guarantees public access to some government documents. In an unsigned opinion, the appeals court accepted an assertion from President Barack Obama’s administration that the images are so potent that releasing them could cause riots that would put Americans abroad at risk. Read more
The Daily Mail | 22nd May 2013
USE of the main government jet by ministers – the long-range Gulfstream IV – is to be published online for the first time in an attempt to put an end to negative publicity about its cost.
The use of the jet has dropped by more than a third since the recession began, but it still features occasionally in media reports on foot of Freedom of Information requests.
The cabinet decided yesterday that the use of the jet by ministers will be published on a monthly basis by the Department of Defence on its website. The details of the usage of the jet by the previous Fianna Fail-led government will also be put online – with the department confirming that all flights from 2008 onwards would be documented. Read more
Michael Brennan | Irish Independent | 22nd May 2013
Michael Gove has been formally asked to explain his department’s “exceptionally poor performance” in stonewalling questions from MPs, amid renewed accusations of a lack of accountability at the heart of the Government’s Education team.
The chairman of the House of Commons’ Procedures Committee, Charles Walker, said he was “well aware of the exceptionally poor performance” of Mr Gove’s team in providing answers to parliamentary questions, and remained “unconvinced” that they were making sufficient efforts in tackling the problem, which has led to increasing claims of a diminished accountability.
With the Information Commissioner’s Office not ruling out legal action to force the Department for Education to improve its record in answering Freedom of Information requests, a senior Whitehall official close to David Cameron told The Independent that Mr Gove’s department was in danger of “resembling an information black hole”. Read more
James Cusick | The Independent | 28th April 2013
With millions in the bank, you would think Tony Blair could comfortably pay his hotel bills. But it has emerged the taxpayer has effectively been subsidising at least some of the former prime minister’s profit-making lecture tours since he left office.
Mr Blair is taking advantage of free accommodation in luxury taxpayer-funded residences on his frequent trips overseas. On a visit to the Philippines, where he was reportedly paid £200,000 a time for two half-hour lectures, he and his entourage were put up free of charge at the UK ambassador’s official residence.
They were able to enjoy a swimming pool, garden and tennis court at the residence, a Freedom of Information request revealed. Similarly secure accommodation in a private hotel would have personally cost thousands of pounds. Asked about such largesse being offered on a money-making trip, the Foreign Office last night suggested such freebies were routinely available to him. Read more
Neil Sears | The Daily Mail | 29th April 2013
Governments made a record number of requests for Google to remove political content in the last half of 2012, the search giant said on Thursday.
The number of official requests for content to be removed jumped 26% in the final six months of 2012 compared to the start of the year, according to the latest Google Transparency Report. Google received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content – an increase from 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that the company received during the first half of 2012.
Requests were made to pull videos from YouTube, delete blog posts on Google’s Blogger service and to remove items from Google search, making them harder to find. Read more
Dominic Rushe | The Guardian | 25th April 2013
Over 8000 UK drivers are still driving despite having 12 or more points on their licence. The top fourteen licence point holders with 25 points or more are all men.
The official upper limit for license points according to DVLA is 12, or six for those who have held a licence for three years or less. However, a freedom of information request to the DVLA showed many male drivers with 25-36 points were still driving.
A male driver from Warrington has the highest number of points, 36. Currently, there are 20,439,578 male and 16,804,524 female licence holders in the UK, but it’s men who fall foul of the law more often. Read more
Fenland Citizen | 28th April 2013
Europe is on the brink of a landmark ban on the world’s most widely used insecticides, which have increasingly been linked to serious declines in bee numbers. Despite intense secret lobbying by British ministers and chemical companies against the ban, revealed in documents obtained by the Observer, a vote in Brussels on Monday is expected to lead to the suspension of the nerve agents.
Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, loss of habitat and, increasingly, the near ubiquitous use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
The prospect of a ban has prompted a fierce behind-the-scenes campaign. In a letter released to the Observer under freedom of information rules, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, told the chemicals company Syngenta last week that he was “extremely disappointed” by the European commission’s proposed ban. Read more
Damian Carrington | The Observer | 28th April 2013
The Scottish Information Commissioner has found in favour of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture (GAAIA) in its appeal against Scottish Ministers following a freedom of information request to reveal information about seals killed under seal killing licences issued by the Ministers, including to which companies licences had been issued and how many seals were actually killed.
Following an investigation, the Commissioner found that the Ministers, while revealing some information, had wrongly withheld information on seal killings and required it to be disclosed.
While the Commissioner did not accept that the retrospective nature of the information would prevent its use by protestors, who might protest about the shooting having taken place, once details were released, she said she was not satisfied that the Ministers had demonstrated that disclosure of the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially public safety. Read more
Fish Update | 26th April 2013
MORE than £100,000 worth of iPads, iPhones and Blackberrys have been given to council staff – despite huge cuts to services in Coventry. Data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act shows top-of-the-range mobile phone and tablet devices worth £113,000 were handed out for the first time last year.
Coventry City Council insists they were purchased at an initial “subsidised price” but admits to shelling out £15,754 on 95 iPads for senior officers and councillors.
It comes when the city council is losing a THIRD of its government funding. Over the next three years, £60million more cuts are expected as well as at least 800 more job losses. Read more
Martin Bagot | Coventry Telegraph | 27th April 2013
Government watchdog Common Cause and 11 environmental groups raised more questions Thursday about the role of gas industry-associated consultants in the state’s environmental impact study of shale gas drilling and fracking.
A review of Department of Environmental Conservation documents obtained by Common Cause through Freedom of Information Law requests shows two more firms with memberships in the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York were contracted for the state’s review.
The review, still incomplete after five years, is to determine whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves blasting chemical-laden water deep into the ground, will be allowed in the state. Read more
Associated Press | 25th April 2013
The Alberta Liberals sent letters to the province’s ethics and elections watchdogs Friday calling for investigations into lobbying by a coalition of construction interests that also made campaign donations to the Progressive Conservatives.
In the letters to Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson and acting Chief Electoral Officer Lorie McKee-Jeske, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said documents released through a Freedom of Information request to the Alberta Federation of Labour raise questions about the connection between political donations and attempts to influence legislation.
The documents, which include a series of emails after the April 2012 election, include a chain of messages from a construction company executive pushing for a meeting with Premier Alison Redford to discuss labour code changes being advocated by the Construction Competitiveness Coalition. Read more
Sarah O’Donnell | Edmonton Journal | 26th April 2013
Campaigners in South Africa have vowed “this fight is not over” after MPs passed widely condemned secrecy laws that could threaten whistleblowers and journalists with jail terms of up to 25 years.
The protection of state information bill, dubbed the “secrecy bill” by its opponents, was passed by 189 votes to 74, with one abstension, in a parliament dominated by the African National Congress (ANC). It is now a formality for President Jacob Zuma to sign it into law.
Freedom of speech activists acknowledge that the bill has been greatly improved and amended during five years of fierce national debate. But they warn that it still contains ambiguities and harsh penalties that could have a “chilling effect” on those seeking to expose official corruption. They intend to challenge the legislation in the highest court in the land. Read more
David Smith | The Guardian | 25th April 2013
Reporters Without Borders urges French President Francois Hollande to raise human rights and freedom of information with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, during a two-day official visit to China that began yesterday.
Hollande’s visit is the first by a foreign head of state since Xi was installed as China’s president on 14 March.
“While it is clear from the size of the accompanying delegation of French businessmen that trade will be the leading subject of their talks, it is essential that Hollande should keep his promise – announced by government spokesman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem – to raise human rights with Xi, and this should include freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. Read more
Reporters Without Borders | 26th April 2013
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed that hackers have recently attempted to break through its security systems to get hold of potentially market sensitive information.
While the ABS says none of the attempted attacks were successful, there are growing concerns that intelligence about Australia’s economy is being eyed by either governments or individuals abroad.
News of the hacking attempts comes from a Freedom of Information request by the Australian Financial Review and, according to that, the ABS has been targeted by hackers over the past four years, including at least 11 incidents over seven months in 2012. Read more
Peter Ryan | ABC News | 26th April 2013
OAKLAND, Calif. – The Department of Defence must disclose the names of individuals who studied and taught during the past eight years at a Georgia school that trains foreign military and police officers, a federal judge in California has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland rejected the federal government’s argument that identifying trainees and teachers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation would violate their privacy and potentially compromise their safety, saying such concerns were outweighed by “the strong public interest in access to this information.”
Hamilton’s ruling, issued Monday, came in a lawsuit brought by two San Francisco members of SOA Watch, a group that has protested for more than two decades outside the training school based at Fort Benning and worked to implicate its graduates in human rights abuses in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala and other Latin American countries. Read more
Associated Press | 24th April 2013
LANSING — Prompted by a high-profile case of an attack on a suburban Detroit family, a Michigan lawmaker has introduced a bill aimed at limiting the release of 911 recordings requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Republican Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth said he wants to strike a balance between the public’s right to the information and the need for sensitivity, the Lansing State Journal reported.
The bill was prompted by a 2012 attack on the Cipriano family in Farmington Hills, Heise said. Tucker Cipriano is accused of beating his father to death with a baseball bat and trying to kill his mother and brother. Read more
Associated Press | 25th April 2013
William Hague spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money re-stuffing a 20ft-long ancient snake.
The Foreign Secretary ordered “Albert” the anaconda to be patched up after officials found he was in “poor” condition after decades of neglect.
The exotic artefact was given to Britain by a Bishop in Guyana in the 19th Century.
According to a freedom of information request the Foreign Office has not carried out “significant maintenance” on the snake in the last 40-50 years.
The damage was discovered after Albert was moved from his “suspended position” in the Foreign Office’s Ansell Library for planned refurbishments. Read more.
Tom McTague | The Daily Mirror | 1st November 2012
Freedom of Information requests have revealed a lack of government engagement with voluntary sector
Compact Voice recently submitted a series of Freedom of Information requests to fourteen government departments.
The requests contained a number of questions that we hoped would establish how well the government was working with the voluntary sector, and how well it was using the principles of Compact – the agreement between government and the voluntary sector, which sets out a number of principles to help them work better together.
A month later, we received replies to our requests. We had thought that the responses would give us a snapshot of how much money was being spent with the sector through grants and contracts, how many consultations had taken place and for how long, and whether adequate notice had been provided to funding changes. Read more.
Tim Elkins | The Guardian | 1st November 2012
HUNDREDS of drivers in Suffolk and Essex are still legally on the roads despite having 12 or more penalty points on their licence, shocking figures have revealed.
ccording to statistics from the DVLA, a total of 327 motorists are allowed to drive even though 12 points usually means a temporary driving ban unless it can be proved it would cause exceptional hardship.
The DVLA said courts are able to use their discretion to decide whether or not to disqualify a driver.
A Freedom of Information request to the DVLA showed there were 120 licence holders in Suffolk and 207 in Essex with 12 penalty points or more, as of September 1 this year, but who were still entitled to drive. Read more.
Lauren Everitt | East Anglia Daily Times | 1st November 2012
A different kettle of fish in Salford? BBC MediaCityUK row rumbles on as scandals and complaining staff continue
As the BBC’s move to Salford Quays remains embroiled in controversy, MM asks whether prejudice is rife among those formerly established in London?
For many BBC staff, the migration north to MediaCityUK may have been a welcome relocation, but for others, it was a deal breaker.
According to a recent request under the Freedom of Information Act made to GMP, there have been a number of crimes against BBC staff in the last year, including a producer being chased by four youths trying to steal bikes from staff and a worker being shot with an air rifle.
Todd Fitzgerald | Mancunian Matters | 31st May 2012
Thousands of 12-point motorists on UK roads
New research has revealed that thousands of motorists are currently driving around Britain’s roads despite having 12 points or more on their licence, even though they could be eligible for disqualification under current regulations.
According to a Freedom of Information request made by the Co-operative Motor Group to the DVLA, almost 9,000 drivers with at least 12 points on their licence continue to use UK roads. While motorists who amass 12 points or more within the space of three years are eligible for a ban, the DVLA stated that courts have the option to “use their discretion” when deciding whether or not to implement such a sanction.
“It is concerning that motorists with so many points on their licence can legally be allowed to continue to drive,” said Co-operative Group managing director Tony Guest. “We would hope that at the very least these drivers are having to undertake re-training to ensure that they do not re-offend, but understand this is rarely the case. We would push for a standard test for drivers that reach 12 points for the safety of all road users.”
Katy Robinson | World News Report | 30th May 2012
Swansea AM demands action as cost of thefts revealed
THE cost of metal theft from publicly owned property in Swansea hit £74,579 last year.
A Freedom of Information request submitted to Swansea Council revealed the cost of stolen items such as road signs, lead, cabling and downpipes during the financial year 2011-12.
The issue was raised in the Assembly chamber by Swansea West AM Mike Hedges, who asked the First Minister what action is being taken to combat metal theft in Wales. It was his information request which revealed the figure for Swansea.
South Wales Evening post | 31st May 2012
Five of Britain’s oldest motorists have racked up penalty points for driving offences in the past three years. Figures released by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency under the Freedom of Information Act showed that of those, one 100-year-old and three 99-year-olds were convicted of speeding offences. The fifth driver, also a centenarian, faced action for jumping a traffic light, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety, was not surprised by the released information. He said: “They may have been just going too fast or just failed to notice the speed limit sign. It could be that they were speeding because they didn’t want to hold up other drivers behind them.”
In all there are 121 motorists over the age of 100 still holding driving licences. Apart from being obliged to renew their licence every three years after their 70th birthday, older drivers face no other restrictions.
Toilet problems for London 2012
Documents obtained from the Olympic Delivery Authority under the Freedom of Information Act show that Olympic Games test events were full of toilet problems, The Express reports. Plumbers were called out 32 times to two test events last summer. The toilet malfunctions are thought to be due to the new toilet designs, which were introduced in a bid to make the “Games green”.
The toilets have “water-saving dual flushes” which are more prone to blockages when used in large commercial environments. Questions are now being asked as to whether the 496 new toilet facilities in the main stadium will be able to withstand vast numbers of visitors expected at the main events later this year.
Big businesses are paying £1,800 a head to attend exclusive invite-only meetings with civil servants and senior Government staff.
The Independent, Guardian, Daily Mail and Telegraph all report on the previously-banned events organised by networking business “Chemistry Club” being attended by officials from large companies such as BP, Google and the Royal Bank of Scotland; as well as numerous senior Government staff, such as Chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander and climate change minister, Lord Taylor.
The Guardian has learned that these private gatherings, which had their ban lifted by the Cabinet Office recently, were also attended by public sector figures from the Metropolitan police and intelligence agency GCHQ, fueling concerns from transparency campaigners that those with the financial means could secure privileged access to government decision makers.
Tamasin Cave, of the transparency group Spinwatch, said the Chemistry Club represented a lobbying industry that was out of control.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “Here we have a company charging thousands of pounds for dinner with ministers, special advisers and top civil servants. These revelations leave serious questions for David Cameron to answer if he is to avoid the suspicion that lobbyists believe they can buy influence with his government.”
The club stresses its evenings “are not social gatherings but ‘work events’” that “represent an exceptionally good use of attendees’ time”.
Details of meetings were published by the networking business but the Cabinet Office said it had no records of any meetings when questioned by the Guardian in a Freedom of Information request.
Killer drivers back behind the wheel
The DVLA has released figures which show hundreds of convicted killer drivers are back on the road. Among the 625 to get their licences back are 317 drink-drive motorists, 148 who caused death by being careless driving, and 13 who took a life while either unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured. According to The Mirror’s further investigations, more than 5,000 motorists on our roads have three or more drink-drive convictions.