Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 20/1/2023 – #FOIFriday

Public body got something new and shiny (and possibly unnecessary), maybe a crime-fighting Tuk Tuk or a oddly shaped lectern? Maybe it’s a good time to put in an FOI asking how much they spent.

What about the impact of the NHS crisis? The many ways the cost of living crisis is being felt? The cumulative effect of years of cuts on public services? All areas that might benefit from an FOI request, as shown by this week’s stories.

Police misconduct

With the horrendous case of Met Police officer David Carrick, who has admitted a series of sexual assaults and rapes over 18 years, and the revelations that the Met Police missed several opportunities to investigate complaints about him, there’s likely to be lots of FOI requests going into police forces to find out how many officers have been reported for crimes and misconduct.

The City of London police is investigating 14 of its officers for misconduct charges, although none are believe to be involved in any sexual offences, City A.M. can exclusively reveal

As the smallest territorial police force in England and Wales with just 958 officers, the number of cases accounts for a relatively high proportion of its staff.

In another part of the country, a freedom of information request submitted to Cumbria Constabulary revealed that 31 officers were the subject of referrals to the Independent Office for Police Conduct as a result of issues such as excessive use of force or abuse of position, the News and Star reports.

The FOI revealed that eight officers were referred to the watchdog due to use of force; six for serious injury; six for abuse of position for sexual purpose; one in relation to a suicide; three for abuse of position; two for an adverse incident whilst in custody; two for a road traffic collision; two for discreditable conduct and one officer following a death after police contact.

Very long NHS waits

NHS acute care is in crisis but that (along with strike action) is likely to have a knock on effect on elective care (although the long waits have been an issue since before the pandemic).

More than 9,000 people at the time WalesOnline put in a Freedom of Information Act requests had waited more than three years. Of those, 8,700 had waited three to four years. Some 407 people had waited four to five years. Thirty people had been waiting five to six years. And there were at least two people who have been living in pain waiting for treatment for more than six years.

Since 2016 over 15,000 people have died while waiting for operations in Wales. The annual figures have more than doubled since 2016. The overall figure is likely significantly higher for two reasons. Firstly, Swansea Bay Health Board could not return the figures to us despite having more than three months to do it (some health boards came back within a few weeks). Secondly, the Cardiff and Vale figures are likely much higher because they don’t count all deaths in the community.

In terms of waits for diagnostic tests, one patient in NHS Grampian waited 258 weeks for a CT scan while another in the health board waited 255 weeks for an MRI scan in what the Scottish Tories says is a “ticking timebomb” for the NHS, PA reports.

Freedom of Information requests (FoI) by the party have revealed the longest recorded waits for one of the eight key diagnostic tests on which Public Health Scotland publishes information.

School meal debt

Data released to the Greenock Telegraph under Freedom of Information laws shows that there were 1,319 children at local primaries and secondaries with school meal debt at the end of last year.

A council spokesperson said the local authority takes a ‘sensitive’ approach to pursuing school meal debt and reiterated the council’s commitment to tackling child poverty.

The steps taken to recover the cash vary depending on the amount owed, with amounts below £10 only resulting in a text message being sent out. For amounts over £16, the child’s parent is called, and when debt reaches more than £50 the council’s debt recovery team is called in.

The total amount of cash currently owed is £22,245, which means the average amount owed is just over £16.

Cars on fire

Two FOI stories this week about the risk of cars catching fire.

Data collected last year under Freedom of Information showed that the London Fire Brigade had responded to 507 electric car fires in the past five years, with 43 reported by fire services in Merseyside, The Times reports.

Roadside rescue companies have previously said the risk of damaged batteries causing car fires mean they keep crashed cars five spaces away from other vehicles when storing them.

Police forces were instructed not to use patrol cars fitted with the BMW’s N57 engine in any high-speed pursuits due to safety concerns (BMW have now stopped supplying police cars). That followed the death of PC Nick Dumphreys, 47, while responding to an emergency call on the M6 near Carlisle in January 2020.

Last year Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies, who share joint responsibility for the police vehicle fleet, declined to say whether its BMW vehicles were affected by the fault. However a freedom of information request, from the Eastern Daily Press, revealed both had marked and unmarked BMW cars, with 34 in Norfolk and 47 in Suffolk. The N57 diesel engine features in a number of BMW police vehicles, including the 330d, 530d and X5.

The police force said any vehicles with the N57 engine are subject to rigorous monitoring.

Inexperienced police officers

From 2010 onwards police funding was cut and the number of officers fell. The Government then tried to reverse this with a campaign to recruit 30,000 new police officers. But upping police numbers with lots of new recruits may not be a straightforward answer.

A Freedom of Information request by the BBC found 54% of officers in Devon and Cornwall Police had three years of service or less. Only 55% of response officers were qualified to drive with blue lights.

The chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police Will Kerr has said the force is battling inexperience among its ranks due to the number of new recruits. He said: “It is a challenge and there’s no point trying to pretend it is otherwise.

“But, of course, when you’re significantly increasing the number of new recruits and new police officers coming in through the door… that takes a lot of time and effort and detailed training programmes.”

Empty building

Checking up on how decisions and policy choices are going can work on a smaller scale too.

The Hive, as it is known locally, in Camden was constructed in the 1980s and was once used as a bustling day centre for children, and later as an African and Caribbean club for cooking lessons. After it stopped being used and fell into disrepair, the council spent £167,000 on works and in 2017 sought a new user.

The following year, a panel agreed a private nursery could rent the building. A bilingual, Mandarin-speaking nursery called Abbey Road Nursery was supposed to take over in 2018, but the doors have never opened.

A Freedom of Information request by the Camden New Journal has revealed the council still receives £25,000 in rent a year from the company that planned to open the nursery. The council said it was receiving rent and the tenant was maintaining the building, and, while the pandemic may have delayed plans, it was exploring options for what to do next.

Helpline demand

Demand for the UK men’s domestic abuse helpline has almost tripled since 2017, according to data obtained in a Freedom of Information request by South West Londoner.

The Men’s Advice Line, a government funded helpline for male victims of domestic abuse, has experienced a 170% increase in calls and emails since 2017. In 2017-18, the helpline received 12,559 calls and 2,129 emails. However, the service has experienced a growth in demand since then, and in 2021-22 the helpline received 32,891 calls and 6,805 emails.

Overdue reviews

Freedom of Information requests revealed the proportion of overdue annual reviews into Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) was around 40pc at the end of 2022 and 2021, 46pc at the end of 2020 and 35pc at the end of 2019, the Eastern Daily Times reports.

EHCPs lay out the support a child with SEND needs and how this will be provided. These are required by law, as are annual reviews of them.

Annual reviews into 3,026 Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) in Suffolk were not undertaken by the end of November 2022. This was out of a total of 6,993 plans. The number of overdue annual reviews was 2,500 from a total of 6,313 EHCPs in December 2021; 2,550 out of 5,597 EHCPs by the end of 2020, and 1,663 out of 4,802 EHCPs by the end of 2019.

Dating danger

Bosses at Essex Police say overseas crime gangs are using apps to find targets to scam. People in Essex looking for love have been deceived into handing over £5.3m to romance fraudsters with almost 380 cases reported in just two years, the Echo reports.

As well as this, a Freedom of Information request reveals that dating apps have also been used by rapists, paedophiles and stalkers to target victims across the county.

Between January and September last year (the latest available data) eight crimes reported to Essex Police mentioned dating apps by name. Tinder was named in a report of rape while Grindr was named in crime reports concerning the meeting of a male child following sexual grooming and engaging in sexual communication with a child.

During that same period Plenty of Fish was named in a report of stalking. The year before Tinder was named in five crime reports, Hinge in three, and Plenty of Fish in nine – with the most common offence on the latter harassment and sending letters with intent to cause distress.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.