FOI disclosure stories 23 February-1 March 2009

Police ‘over the top’ at climate camp – Guardian Unlimited 01/3/09
“Police have been accused of setting a “dangerous precedent” when they confiscated hundreds of items of property – including children’s crayons, a clown’s outfit and a pensioner’s walking stick – from people attending an environmental protest camp at Kingsnorth power station. A list of more than 2,000 possessions taken from protesters, who were repeatedly searched going to and from the camp last August, has been obtained through a freedom of information request by Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth. It is the latest attack on what has been criticised as over-the-top policing of the Climate Camp near the site where the government is planning to allow the construction of a £1bn coal-fired power station by the energy firm E.on.”

Queen rents Diana’s flat to army for £108,000 a year
– The Times 28/2/09
“The Queen is earning more than £100,000 a year from the taxpayer by renting part of a royal apartment once used by Diana, Princess of Wales, to the head of the British Army.
Documents released under freedom of information rules reveal that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is being charged an annual £108,408 by the monarch for accommodation in Kensington Palace used by General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff… The disclosure comes as an army officer reveals in Soldier magazine that the families of some troops serving in Afghanistan were living in homes without heating and hot water throughout winter.”

Children left alone’ in refugee centre – The Sunday Times 28/2/09
“Some children are being left locked in rooms during the day in Mosney, the largest refugee centre in the country. An inspection report of the Co Meath facility, which houses about 800 asylum seekers, states that children were being left unattended during the day, with some locked in bedrooms for an unspecified period of time. Two inspectors from the Department of Justice visited the former holiday camp on December 2 and 4, 2008, and discovered several children had been left home alone. They found unattended minors in eight of the centre’s 285 apartments. Their inspection report was released under the Freedom of Information act.”

Civil servants attacked for using anti-terror laws to spy on public – Guardian 28/2/09
“Controversial surveillance powers employed to fight terrorism and combat crime have been misused by civil servants in undercover ‘spying’ operations that breach official guidelines, the Guardian has learned. Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show some government departments and agencies have used these powers incorrectly or without proper controls. They also show the official government watchdog set up to monitor the use of such clandestine techniques criticised the departments for their behaviour… The watchdog highlighted how: officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) did not have proper authorisation when they went undercover posing as anglers to glean information about imported fish; a manager responsible for authorising surveillance at the NHS anti-fraud agency routinely gave officials ‘carte blanche’ in surveillance operations; tracking devices were attached to vehicles in a bid to monitor the disposal of waste, after the Environment Agency received apparently incorrect advice from the Home Office; potential prosecutions were jeopardised because those conducting the surveillance operations were not properly trained and had not followed procedures…”

Minorities more likely to be scanned – BBC 27/2/09
“A disproportionate number of Asian and black people are being stopped by police and fingerprinted using a new mobile scanner, the BBC has learned. Of the 29,000 people stopped, 14% were Asian and 16.5% black despite those ethnic groups representing just 4% and 2% of the population respectively. The figures were revealed in a Freedom of Information request made by the BBC… Twenty police forces across Britain are trying out the new mobile fingerprint scanner, called the Lantern, with the aim of making on-the-spot identity checks easier and faster. Liberty said it was concerned the new scanner was another measure alienating ethnic minority communities.”

Policing is overpriced and underperforming
– 26/2/09
“Britain has the world’s most expensive police force, and it doesn’t work according to a report released today. Think-tank Reform, authors of the report, said the 43 forces in England and Wales are run as “fiefdoms” by unaccountable chief constables who are exempt from freedom of information (FOI) requests. Meanwhile England and Wales have the highest per capita expenditure on policing in the developed world, apart from Scotland.”

UK’s poor record on prosecuting hackers revealed
– ComputerWeekly 26/2/09
“Experts have called for more police resources to fight computer crime, after it emerged that only 299 hackers have been charged under the UK’s computer crime law over the past four years. Computer Weekly has discovered that only 110 cases involving unauthorised access and virus writing reached magistrates courts across the country last year from November 2007 to October 2008, 59 cases reached court in the year to October 2007, while 49 cases were brought to court in the year to October 2006. The figures, obtained by CW under the Freedom Of Information Act, pale in comparison with the estimated amount of computer crime taking place… The DTI Information Security Breaches Survey showed that 96% of large companies suffered a security incident last year, and 13% of all companies detected unauthorised access on their networks. There were 144,500 cases of computer misuse in the UK in 2006, according to a survey by online identity firm Garlik. The study found a further six million virus incidents took place during the same period.”

7000 homes ‘red flagged’ by ambulance services – 25/2/09
“Figures under Freedom of Information legislation uncovered almost 7,500 addresses where ambulance staff required a police escort or are advised to exercise caution because of the potential of violence. Risks include people with a history of violence and aggression towards ambulance staff, addresses with dangerous animals or weapons and patients with psychiatric or alcohol-related conditions and mental health disorders. The Liberal Democrats say some parts of the country have hundreds of addresses that have been flagged – in the North West alone, more than 3,000 addresses are seen as at risk.”

Criminals applying for jobs in schools: Paedophiles among 7,000 trying to work with children
– The Daily Mail 24/2/09
“Almost 7,000 teachers with criminal convictions, some for paedophilia and manslaughter, applied to work in schools last year, startling figures showed yesterday. Candidates also included drug-dealers, kidnappers, child- beaters, brothelkeepers and flashers, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Whitehall officials have admitted they do not know whether the criminals were taken on, as recruitment decisions are at the discretion of individual schools. The list of convictions was released by the Criminal Records Bureau, which gives prospective employers background information on applicants wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults.”


£1m spent on council temps in 9 months – South Wales Evening Post 01/3/09
“More than a million pounds has been shelled out for temporary workers at Swansea Council in just nine months. The authority paid two employment agencies £1,007,725 between April and December last year. The figures have emerged following a request from the Evening Post under the Freedom of Information Act… The total figure is just below three per cent of the council’s annual employee costs.”

MP’s fears over police numbers – Basingstoke Gazette 28/2/09
“The number of uniformed police officers in Basingstoke has fallen as the town sees ‘worrying increases in drug crime,’ according to Basingstoke MP Maria Miller. There were 190 uniformed officers and 22 police community support officers (PCSOs) at police stations in Basingstoke and Deane district on January 1 – down from 200 and 24 respectively on the same day in 2008, according to figures the MP obtained through a Freedom of Information request.”

One in seven inmates fail drug test
– Lincolnshire Echo 28/2/09
“Illegal drugs are still getting into Lincoln Prison – with one in seven prisoners failing routine testing. And this follows a clampdown and a subsequent reduction in the number of drugs brought into the men’s prison in Greetwell Road. A request submitted to the Ministry of Justice by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 99 prisoners tested positive for drugs out of 514 routinely tested in 2007/8 – almost one in five.”

Croydon trams involved in 28 accidents in 2008 – Croydon Advertiser 27/2/09
“Trams were involved in 28 ‘accidents’ in Croydon last year the Advertiser has discovered. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that 15 people were injured in the incidents.”

Judkins Quarry waste plant plan cost council £21k – Coventry Telegraph 26/2/09
“Almost £21,000 was spent by Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council in dealing with the aborted plan to have a toxic waste plant at Judkins. Jayne Innes, Nuneaton’s prospective Parliamentary Labour candidate, has obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request… The controversial move, by soil cleansing firm TCSR, had initally been approved by the county council last summer but sparked protests from residents and enviroment groups. It was withdrawn in November when site owners WRG cancelled their permission for it to go ahead.”

Application goes in despite review order
– The Cornishman 26/2/09
“The controversial plans to regenerate Penzance harbour have been submitted to Penwith District Council, despite the Department for Transport (DfT) ordering an independent review into the proposals. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the DfT has requested that a marine consultant is appointed to provide an independent review of the Route Partnership’s proposed new vessel and associated shore side infrastructure… But despite the review uncompleted and the plans missing the deadline for the last Penwith District Council planning meeting taking place next month, the Route Partnership has filed three applications [including a full planning application].”

Foreign students missing from university – Gloucester Echo 26/2/09
“Up to 66 international students at the University of Gloucestershire have disappeared without telling the authorities. Figures released following an Echo Freedom of Information request revealed students from China, India, Russia and Africa have all abandoned courses at the university and dropped off the official radar since April 2005. Although university staff said the drop-outs could be for a number of reasons, officials at the UK Borders Agency said educational courses were often used as a backdoor to the UK by illegal immigrants.”

Taxpayers may not recoup damage bill – The Northern Echo 26/2/09
“Taxpayers may be unable to regain the £780,000 it cost to repair a damaged gas pipe after it emerged a council is not in legal talks over who should foot the bill. Information released to The Northern Echo following a request under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Darlington Borough Council has spent an extra £32,000 on legal and engineering advice regarding who is liable for a 100-year-old pipe, which was damaged during town centre pedestrianisation works. The same request also revealed that the council is not in any legal talks, but the council said it is investigating the possibility… If no other party is found to be liable, it will be impossible to recover the public money spent.”

CCTV cameras issue over 3,000 parking tickets in three St John’s Wood streets
– Labour Matters 25/2/09
“CCTV cameras in three streets in St John’s Wood were responsible for over 3,000 parking tickets being issued to drivers in 2008, according to figures released by Westminster City Council following a Freedom of Information request by parking campaigner Paul Pearson.”

Taxpayers fork out thousands to pay for supply cover in schools
– Middlewich Guardian, Cheshire 25/2/09
“Taxpayers will be forking out thousands of pounds more because of teachers absent from Middlewich schools. Figures obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act show the missing members of staff are costing £13,746 more than the previous year. Middlewich’s six schools accumulated 404 supply days in 2007, costing £80,847, which rose to 473 days and £94,593 in 2008. Over the two years, supply days in Middlewich have cost taxpayers a total of more than £175,000.”

Ashfield Homes Christmas bonus row – Mansfield Chad 25/2/09
“Bosses at Ashfield Homes received in excess of £50,000 in bonuses at Christmas and have come under fire from councillors who say that this money should be poured back public services. Using information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been revealed that 184 employees received performance-related bonuses of £300 each in December, bringing the total to £55,200 paid out to individuals.”

All Saints’ RC School fingerprint bill tops £25k York – Evening Press 24/2/09
“A fingerprint registration system cost a York school more than £25,000 to install – and could lead to breaches in pupil confidentiality, a civil liberties group claims. The revelation came after privacy campaigners used the Freedom of Information Act to quiz All Saints’ RC School about the system, which is used to speed up attendance registers and library withdrawals and cost the school £25,180 to install.”

Anger at councils’ investments in arms firms – Lincolnshire Echo 24/2/09
“The levels of investment held by Lincolnshire councils in some of the world’s largest arms companies has been branded ‘shocking’ by a leading campaign group. New figures released to the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act show the Lincolnshire County Council Local Government Pension scheme has almost £13.4 million invested in 13 major players in the global arms trade.”

Eight postal workers caught stealing – EveningNews24 24/2/09
“Eight postal workers were caught stealing mail in Norfolk last year – equalling the total of crooked Royal Mail workers for the previous three years combined. A Freedom Of Information request revealed the tally of shame, which saw five postal workers covering the NR postcode area prosecuted and two cautioned. One resigned before they could be dismissed. In 2007, four postal workers were caught stealing post and there were two in 2005 and 2006. In each case the employee was prosecuted.”


Level of crime at Craiginches Prison is cause for concern
– The Press and Journal 27-2-09
“Police had to deal with more than 100 crimes committed inside Aberdeen’s closure-threatened Craiginches Prison last year, it has emerged. In addition to 50 drug offences and 20 assaults, prisoners were also found in possession of dangerous weapons, accused of starting fires and of committing acts of racist abuse. Figures revealed through the Freedom of Information Act have led to fresh fears that inmates are not being rehabilitated.”

Teachers sacked for child porn and theft – Edinburgh Evening News 23/2/09
“Dozens of teachers and support staff have been sacked or suspended from Lothian schools for reasons ranging from downloading child pornography to stealing, it can be revealed today. Around 30 have been disciplined in recent years, according to figures released by local authorities to the Evening News under freedom of information laws.”

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