Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 4/3/22 – #FOIFriday

This week’s stories show the use of FOI to follow up stories in more detail or locally, whether it’s concerns about children being at a higher risk of abuse during lockdown, or the ongoing impact of the pandemic in fines for businesses during lockdown or furlough fraud.

Neglected children

A “coke-snorting” parent collapsed and suffered a seizure – while clutching their one-year-old girl during a drugs binge at their Teesside home, is among the incidents uncovered by Teesside Live involving children and babies who were allegedly neglected and placed in peril by the selfish actions of their often violent, drunk or drugged-up parents.

Of the 150 reports of neglect investigated by Cleveland Police since the start of 2018, as few as eight people have been charged.

Coronavirus fines

More than £600,000 in Covid-19 fines have been dished to London’s businesses by local authorities wielding the emergency powers, an Evening Standard investigation has revealed.

As the paper points out, plenty of attention has been paid to police fines for individuals breaking the rules (not least whether the occupants of 10 Downing Street are going to be getting some FPNs), but council also had powers to fine businesses that didn’t stick to rules that shut non-essential businesses during lockdown, or that required social distancing and other public health measures.

Furlough fraud

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) spent £70 billion supporting 11.7 million jobs during the pandemic. However, HMRC estimated around 5 to 10% of that money may have been claimed wrongly or fraudulently.

The Great Yarmouth Mercury found tax inspectors had recovered almost £800,000 in furlough money across Norfolk and Suffolk since the outbreak of the pandemic – but have not prosecuted anyone for fraud. HMRC said it was still investigating a further 436 cases.

More e-scooter dangers

Not only do you run the risk of a road accident or having your scooter confiscated by police, but e-scooters are also a fire risk.

Kent Online reports that fire services across England and Wales attended 95 e-scooter fires last year – up from 33 in 2020. While a lack of safety checks on the lithium batteries the scooters use may be a factor, some fire crews were called out after e scooters were deliberately set on fire by arsonists.

Police car fire risk

Another potential fire risk is a type of engine fitted in some police cars – at least 55 police cars in Scotland are fitted with an engine that risks burning into flames when driven at high speeds, The Herald reports.

Police Constable Nick Dumphreys was killed when his BMW caught fire on the M6 near Carlisle in 2020, with English police forces subsequently banning officers from driving more than 90mph if their patrol car is fitted with a similar engine.

Stolen bins

More than 800 bins have been reported stolen by residents in the Barrow borough since 2018/19, reports The Mail.

It’s also a growing problem – figures showed a huge rise in bins being reported between 2018/19 and 2019/20 where the number jumped from 16 to 184. Some 374 stolen bins were replaced by the council in the last financial year – a four-year high – and 263 have already been reported stolen in 2021/22.

From the archives

Or rather the disclosure log. Writing FOI stories doesn’t necessarily need to involve submitting your own FOIs, you can also have a dig through public bodies’ disclosure logs to see what other people have been asking. Sometimes this will give you ideas for stories you can follow up, sometimes it’s just interesting to see what topics others are curious about.

North Wales Live has been digging through the strangest Freedom of Information requests made to police – including the classics, Bigfoot, UFOs, ghosts, and larger than average cats, and some more niche concerns like damage to dry stone walls, postbox thefts, and people reporting their naked neighbours.

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