The most persistent and frequent polluters of England’s rivers and beaches are the nation’s 10 biggest water companies, an Observer investigation has revealed.
Pollution incidents, which have included sewage illegally pouring into a harbour for more than a year, and managers destroying records, show no sign of declining, according to data obtained from the Environment Agency (EA) under freedom of information rules. Only a third of the 1,000 incidents led to a fine (of an average of just £10,800); the rest resulted in cautions.
The EA data, obtained by the Request Initiative and analysed by theObserver, showed the most heavily fined company in 2005-2013 was Thames Water, which paid £842,500 for 87 incidents. Read more
Damian Carrington & Sophie Barnes | The Observer | 3rd August 2013
The Government’s justification for its controversial “bedroom tax” has been debunked by new figures showing that up to 96 per cent of those affected have, in effect, nowhere to move.
The figures published today in The Independent expose the false argument behind ministerial attempts to spin the move as ending the “spare-room subsidy”, and confirm campaigners’ claims that it merely penalises poor people.
Yet more than 19 out of 20 families hit by the bedroom tax are trapped in their larger homes because there is nowhere smaller within the local social housing stock to take them. This is shown by figures provided by councils in response to Freedom of Information requests by the Labour Party. Read more
Emily Dugan | The Independent | 5th August 2013
Defence chiefs have spent more than £500 million on lawyers and consultants while making thousands of troops redundant.
Most of the money has been siphoned off a budget that should have been used to pay for equipment in Afghanistan.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal that the amount spent by the Ministry of Defence on ‘External Assistance’ – lawyers, management consultants, accountants and IT experts – has doubled in the past two years. Read more
Sean Rayment | The Daily Mail | 3rd August 2013
A Sunday Express investigation reveals that multi-billion pound local government pension pots are still being invested in firms such as British American Tobacco, despite the fact that councils are now obliged to help residents quit smoking and reduce their drinking.
There are 101 pension funds managing £146billion on behalf of 4.6 million public sector workers.
More than a third responded to Freedom of Information requests asking for a breakdown of which companies funds were invested in. Read more
Kirsty Buchanan & Mathew |The Express| 4th August 2013
The committee set up to oversee detainee processing times on the Manus Island immigration detention facility has never met, in direct breach of Australia’s deal with the Papua New Guinea government, a freedom of information request has revealed.
The joint committee was created, in part, to ensure proper treatment of asylum seekers housed in the centre. It is supposed to include representatives of the PNG and Australian governments and meet once a month. It was the only oversight body set up under a deal forged between the two governments in September and was meant to monitor the treatment of detainees and the length of their stay on Papua New Guinea. Read more
Paul Farrell, Luke Bacon, Lawrence Bull & Oliver Laughland | The Guardian | 15th July 2013
More British soldiers and veterans took their own lives in 2012 than died fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan over the same period.
BBC Panorama learned that 21 serving soldiers killed themselves last year, along with 29 veterans.
The Panorama programme obtained the figure of 21 through a Freedom of Information request to the MoD. Read more
BBC | 14th July 2013
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
Civilian Ministry of Defence staff collected £17million in compensation last year after getting injured on the job. Mishaps reported included a chef cutting his little finger while slicing beef and a man slipping and breaking his ankle after a smoking break.
Details of 137 incidents logged under Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations – as well as the payouts total – emerged yesterday after a Freedom of Information request. Read more
Chris Hughes | The Mirror | 4th April 2013
The revelation follows a row over the practice at an Edinburgh crematorium, where parents who lost a stillborn baby or an infant who was days old were told there were no remains from such cremations, only to find out years later that ashes had been secretly buried.
Officials at the council-run Mortonhall Crematorium claimed there was nothing left to scatter, but put remains in a so-called “garden of remembrance” at the site.The controversial practice went on for 45 years, only ending in 2011, and its discovery by a child bereavement charity prompted calls for a public inquiry.
But according to a BBC Scotland investigation, the scandal is much more widespread, with evidence suggesting that whether parents receive ashes depends on where they live. A documentary used freedom of information laws to ask councils about local policies on the issue over the past five years. Read more
Auslan Cramb | The Telegraph | 3rd April 2013
Meanwhile, city council is also expected to vote on a motion that would make councillor schedules and correspondence accessible through access to information requests.
The motion from Coun. Paula Fletcher calls for the province to make all records of city councillors subject to freedom of information laws, including schedules, work emails and communication with lobbyists.
Mayor Rob Ford’s records are already subject to freedom-of-information requests and in recent months several media organizations have used the law to gain access to his schedule, which he does not otherwise release.
“Unlike the mayor, city councillors cannot have their schedules, work emails or communications with lobbyists accessed through Freedom of Information requests,” the motion states. “Establishing clear, open municipal governments should be a priority for both Toronto and across Ontario. Residents should have the right to know who their elected representatives are meeting with and how they are spending their days.”
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is a provincial law and any changes made to it would affect elected officials across Ontario. Read more
Chris Fox | CP24 | 3rd April 2013
Paris – Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday that it has urged President Francois Hollande to raise press freedom concerns with Moroccan authorities during his visit to the former French colony.
The Paris-based media watchdog addressed a letter to the president, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, saying it was “important that the situation on the freedom of information should be addressed” during Hollande’s two-day visit.
RSF welcomed measures announced by Morocco’s Communications Minister Minister Mustapha Khalfi in November “to reform the media system.”
But the group warned that certain clauses in a draft law amounted to “worrying restrictions on the freedom of the press,” and noted the persistence of “red lines” in a press code that is still under study.
Those red lines relate in particular to the monarchy, Islam and the country’s “territorial integrity,” a phrase used in Morocco to refer to the disputed Western Sahara. Read more
Sapa | IOL News | 3rd April 2013
A federal appeals court in Washington, DC, rebuffed a clear attempt by the United States Justice Department to further pervert the Freedom of Information Act process.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on May 24, 2011, when it failed to produce documents on individuals at the FEC, who CREW believed were refusing to enforce campaign finance laws.
The lawsuit challenged the withholding of the documents and also the Justice Department’s interpretation of a rule in freedom of information law that requires agencies to communicate a “determination” on whether it will comply with the FOIA request within 20 working days. Read more
Kevin Gosztola | Firedoglake | 3rd April 2013
SCHOOLYARD sprains, strains, broken teeth, fractures and bullying are costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. In the past three years, the amount paid out for schoolyard injuries has soared, costing the state more than $2.75 million.
In 2012, 23 public school students received compensation, according to documents obtained by the Herald Sun under Freedom of Information. Four of the payouts were confidential, but the total figure is $957,495.
In 2008, payouts totalled $13,000. Some of the payouts in 2012 were for injuries dating back as far as 2007. Read more
Shelley Hadfield & Katie Bice | Herald Sun | 3rd April 2013
The Guardian’s Leo Hickman reports today on next Friday’s Information Rights Tribunal when Request Initiative will appeal for the Global Warming Policy Foundation to reveal the identity its seed funder.
The newspaper says leading climate scientists are backing the appeal, arguing that GWPF “routinely misrepresents and casts doubt on the work of climate scientists”.
The London-based climate sceptic thinktank chaired by the former Conservative chancellor Lord Lawson is fighting an FoIA request by Request Initiative to the Charity Commission asking for a bank statement it holds revealing the name of GWPF’s seed donor, who contributed £50,000 for its launch in 2009.
Request’s director, Brendan Montague, submitted an FoIA request to the Charity Commission arguing that the public has a right to know if any donor is related in any way to the oil industry.
GWPF has stated in the past that it does not accept donations from the energy industry, or anyone with a “significant interest” in the energy industry.
James Hansen, the director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies who first warned the world about the dangers of climate change in the 1980s has also backed Request Initiative’s appeal, telling the Guardian: “If successful, the FOI request may, by exposing one link in a devious manipulation of public opinion, start a process that allows the public to be aware of what is happening, what is at stake, and where the public interest lies.”
MoD wasted £22m on barely used vehicles
A Freedom of Information investigation has revealed the Ministry of Defence has spent £22m on revamping 100 Snatch Land Rovers for Afghanistan, that have barely been used, The Daily Telegraph reports.
Scotland’s colleges running out of bursary funds
The Herald reports that colleges in Scotland are running out of support funds for students, even before cuts of £11 million get implemented. A Freedom of Information request to 40 colleges by NUS Scotland revealed that out of the 28 that answered, 14 have overspent their funds for bursaries last year, with a another eight exhausting their budget.
The British government has fought in the High Court since 2009 to prevent the last Briton held in Guantanamo, and his lawyers, gaining access to evidence which may have proved his innocence, a Freedom of Information request revealed.
£274,345 was spent on paying Treasury solicitors and counsel’s fees and costs for managing the civil case against Shaker Aamer, a British resident who, despite being cleared for release in 2007, has remained in the Cuban prison without being charged. The legal team has since accessed the evidence.
Mr Aamer has now spent 10 years in Guantanamo. According to his lawyer, he is now “falling apart at the seams” and could die without ever being charged with an offence or meeting his youngest son.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman told the Independent: “We remain committed to securing the release of Mr Aamer, but ultimately it is a decision for the US authorities.”
The spokesman added: “The Foreign Secretary has made it very clear how important it is for the UK’s national security that the UK and US are able to share information in confidence.”
Two thirds of BBC programmes are repeats
The majority of the BBC’s programmes broadcast in 2011 were repeats, statistics released after a Freedom of Information request have shown. The average proportion of reruns was 61 per cent across all four channels, with figures for its digital channels being significantly higher.
84.2 per cent of shows on BBC Three and 78.8 per cent of programmes on BBC Four were repeats last year, The Daily Telegraph, Metro and Daily Mail report. According to the Mail, bosses have warned that the number of replays could keep rising as cuts to save the corporation a total of £1.3billion take hold.
Soaring Sandhurst injuries due to intense training
Officer cadets training for the Afghanistan front are increasingly subjected to injuries as a result of a rigorous training regime, the Daily Mirror reports. Statistics released under FoIA show intense exercise, which includes cross-country yomps and extra gym workouts, has led to an increase in the number of recruits suffering broken bones, concussion and burns.
35 trainees were hurt in 2008; 155 in 2009; and 185 a year later. The statistics for 2011 show that 80 recruits were hurt in the first three months alone.
The UK has been secretly supporting Canada in it’s campaign against EU penalties imposed on its highly polluting tar sands fuel, The Guardian has revealed.
A Freedom of Information investigation shows that since September at least 15 high-level meetings have taken place with David Cameron reassuring his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper that his government wants “to work with Canada in finding a way forward”.
The Guardian reports Canada’s tar sands are the second largest reserve of carbon in the world after Saudi Arabia, although the extraction of oil from the ground is far more polluting than conventional oil drilling, causing much greater greenhouse gas emissions.
The revelations, come as a blow to Cameron who claimed to lead the “greenest government ever” and ahead of new round of global negotiations on tackling climate change in South Africa’s Durban beginning today.
The UK government has been lobbied by Shell and BP, which both have major tar sands projects in Alberta, and opened a new consulate in the province to “support British commercial interests”.
Certain governmental departments are extremely secretive about their meetings with the multinational oil companies. The Department for Transport has released only two heavily redacted presentations made to it by Shell. It has refused to disclose six other relevant documents on the grounds of commercial confidentiality, as did the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). BP has also been meeting with ministers.
The documents were released under Environmental Information Regulations by Co-operative, a UK mutual business group that targets tar sands as part of its climate change campaign.
Colin Baines, Co-operative’s toxic fuels campaign manager, said: “It is very disappointing that the UK government is supporting Canada’s efforts and we hope it has a rethink and puts tackling climate change ahead of Canada’s trade interests when it comes to vote on the European commission’s commonsense proposal.”
MoD losses thousands of personal files
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act expose the Ministry of Defence as the worst Whitehall department when it comes to safeguarding personal details, despite the fact its soldiers might be an obvious target for terrorists. The Sunday Times revealed the MoD has lost personnel files 64 times in the past three years. One file lost in February last year contained the details of 1,700 personnel while in July of the same year, the loss of a CD from secure government premises affected more than 2,300 people.
World-class research lab working under capacity
The government might have spent £400 million on building the Isis neutron source, a world-class laboratory in Oxfordshire, but a FoIA request submitted by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (Case) revealed it’s running at only two-thirds capacity. The Guardian reports the lab has been forced into part-time dormancy since the government cut the science budget and research funders allocated too little money to pay the full operating costs of the facility.
More than18m bus journeys lost because of cuts
An FoIA request by the Campaign for Better Transport has revealed 18.4 million bus journeys have been lost across England after £36 million cuts in subsidies. The Sunday Mirror reports that since April 1, 114 services have been axed or withdrawn in the evenings or at weekends.
Philip Morris drops FoIA requests about university’s research programme
Philip Morris International has quietly dropped its Freedom of Information request to access interviews data held by Stirling University as part of its research into children’s attitudes to smoking. The Independent reports that the company, who among other brands produces Marlboro, had to respond to the university’s refusal to publish the interviews within 40 working days but failed to respond within the required deadline.
Alcohol industry reps might be lobbying the government
Figures released under The Freedom of Information Act reveal ministers and civil servants in charge of alcohol policy have been meeting at least 85 times with representatives from the drinks industry, prompting allegations of “collusions”, the Sunday Times reports.
The Ministry of Defence has spent almost £600m on hundreds of external specialists, consultants and advisers, breaching government guidelines about expenditure.
Figures released under FoIA show that the MoD spent £564m in the last two years for the “technical support” of teams running the department’s biggest engineering and procurement projects. In 2006 that figure was £6m.
The Freedom of Information request submitted by The Guardian also revealed that an internal audit of the defence contacts signed in the last two years highlighted numerous flaws and characterised MoD’s control of its own budget as “poorly developed or non-existent”.
The disclosure has infuriated trade union leaders, who claim the MoD is paying the price for cutting too many in-house specialists, which has forced it to rely on expensive help from the private sector.
But defence minister Andrew Robathan has claimed nothing was wrong. In a letter to union leaders after the internal report’s publication, he wrote: “I am … content that appropriate safeguards are in place.”
The expenditure figures snowballed after a new regime introduced by Labour in 2009, allowed senior defence officials to hire specialists short-term and without authorisation from a minister.
As The Times also reports, 380 firms are currently paid to give technical support to the MoD. It also revealed one firm, Alix Partners, earned £5.5m at a rate of £4,000 per consultant per day.
Governments resists disclosure of Nestlé takeover documents
The government is blocking The Press in York’s FoIA request to gain access to the documents relating to Nestlé’s takeover of Rowntree in 1988. As the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade reports, after The Press’s original request in 2008 was rejected, its second application in 2010 was approved by the Information Commissioner’s Office. Nevertheless, the government has appealed against that decision, taking the case to the first-tier tribunal of information rights.
Flight Lieutenant Joseph Pasquini has found huge discrepancies between the data he collected following the UK’s biggest nuclear test blast at Christmas Island in the Pacific on 28 April, 1958 and those those issued by the MoD and the Atomic Weapons Results Establishment, the Independent reports.
Pasquini said: “I made several Freedom of Information requests and looked at the readings officially given and they were utterly false. My records for the MoD and AWRE are inaccurate. I didn’t say anything for 50 years because I was sworn to secrecy by the Official Secrets Act, and not even my wife knew what I knew. But people need to know the truth about what happened.”
Freedom of Information legislation abused to intimidate researchers
Freedom of information laws are being used as tools of intimidation against scientists and university researchers, forcing them to reveal unpublished manuscripts, according to an article in the Independent. Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, criticised the way scientists involved in contentious research such as tobacco use and climate change are pressured to disclose part of their work.
Last September, the Independent reported that Stirling University was fighting an FoIA request by tobacco giant Philip Morris International, which sought access to thousands of confidential interviews with British teenagers as part of the university’s investigation.
Health Secretary ordered to release NHS reforms Strategic Risk documents
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has been told by the Information Commissioner to disclose the Strategic Risk Register for the NHS reforms under the FoIA after a 12-month battle. The Daily Mirror reports the request was logged by Labour’s former Shadow Health Secretary John Healey.
Local councils cash in millions of pounds from parking services
A FoIA request filed by the Co-operative Motor Group has revealed a steep rise in the amount of money local councils make from parking services. As The Telegraph reports, local authorities have received an extra £184 million from parking charges in the years 2008 to 2010, compared to 2007.
UK Schools don’t know where their food comes from
Only 30 per cent of local education authorities know the country of origin of school food, a FoIA request by the Countryside Alliance Foundation has revealed according to the Telegraph.
Sure Start Centres funding slashed all across UK
The Sunday Mirror’s FoIA investigation into English local councils’ spending on Sure Start Centres showed that 90 per cent will reduce their funding next year. Sure Start Centres were set up by Labour in 1998 with a pledge to tackle child poverty, give children the best possible start in life and provide a lifeline to young mums as a place to meet other parents.
Despite facing budget cuts across the board, the Ministry of Defence is preparing to invest 750m pounds of taxpayer’s money for the construction of an enriched-uranium facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire.
The so-called Project Pegasus will replace an enriched-uranium facility built at the site in the 1950s.
The revelation came earlier this year, after freedom of information requests led to the publication of a 32-page MoD report that was market “Secret UK Eyes Only”. Although the report was originally heavily redacted, the Information Commissioner recently deemed the full amount of the 747m pounds investment should be made public.
The hefty investment will benefit AWE Management that has a 25-year non-revokable contract to run the base and comprises US corporations Lockheed Martin, Jacobs and UK’s Serco.
As highlighted by Observer’s Jamie Doward, other MoD investments in AWE include 500m for Project Mensa in nearby Burghfield to improve its warhead assembly facilities. But AWE’s bill, which between 2008-2011 amounts to 2.6bn pounds, includes millions for projects that have now been written off.
Like the 120m pounds spent on a cancelled plan to build a new hydrodynamics research facility at AWE Aldermaston (Project Hydrus), or a project to construct a “Systems Engineering Facility” that was cancelled and the 16m pounds invested written off.
Relatives received £6.7 million to visit inmates over the last three years
According to the Express On Sunday, £2,343,132 was handed by the Assisted Prison Visit scheme last year to family members visiting inmates. Furthermore, in a time when Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s department has to cut £2 billion out of his £9 billion annual budget, 139 jails in England and Wales had new plasma televisions installed.
Scotland’s police missing £56,000 worth of equipment
Almost £56,000 of equipment has been stolen from Scotland’s largest police force over the last five years, FoIA requests by the Press Association revealed.
Private social workers receiving more than £220,000 from HSE
The Health and Safety Executive handed out huge payouts to social workers responsible for children placed in care after courts appointed them as “guardians ad litem”. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show a top-earning social worked earned even £266,000 year.
Donald Trump asks for American-style protection of new development
Documents released after a FoIA request revealed the tycoon’s “unrealistic expectations” from Grampian Police, called to guard his £ 740 million golf resort near Aberdeen while residents opposing the plans see local authorities as Trump’s “private security”.
Health trusts squander thousands of pounds on recruitment firms
The Daily Mail reports that primary care trusts and strategic health authorities spent nearly 50 million pounds during the last three years in recruitment firms to hire managers, FoIA requests have revealed.