Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 26/5/2023 – #FOIFriday

If you regularly send Freedom of Information requests for stories, you may have experienced something like this. You make your request, start writing your story, but when you go to the press office for comment, things aren’t what they appear.

The South Western Ambulance Service has apologised after it gave incorrect information in a Freedom of Information request on traffic schemes implemented by B&NES Council, Bath Echo reports.

Earlier this year, a member of the public questioned whether the ambulance service had been consulted with by the local authority on plans to create cycle lanes along the Upper Bristol Road in Bath, and the introduction of trial low-traffic neighbourhoods in the wider area.

A response in May from the ambulance service incorrectly said that it was not aware of the proposals and had “not been engaged on the plans”. The South Western Ambulance Service has now said the local authority did consult with them ahead of the works, and has apologised to the council and the member of public who submitted the FOI request.

Sounds familiar? Not all answers to FOI requests are helpful. Sometimes public bodies misinterpret things (they can ask for clarification), or don’t look for all the information that could be available, or just don’t check responses aren’t nonsensical before they send them.

If you spot something that doesn’t look right, you might be able to query things, but often it doesn’t become obvious until more people look at the response (like the public at large).

So who’s possibly had better luck with their requests this week?

Drinking ban

FOI – for when public bodies have failed to follow up the effectiveness of their policies. Though this is an interesting one – as the council isn’t responsible for issuing fines, it wouldn’t hold that information. But it may not have asked for reports on what is happening with the orders? Or no one checked for that information.

Cornwall Council is looking to extend its orders to stop anti-social street drinking until 2026 – but admits it doesn’t know how successful the scheme has been.

Richard Stokoe, who sits on Marazion Town Council, felt it was imperative to find out how successful the orders had been before taking part in the consultation, the Falmouth Packet reports

He sent a request to Cornwall Council under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to find out how many fines had been issued under the alcohol Public Space Protection Order for each year since 2014. The response stated: “Cornwall Council does not hold this information. Whilst the legislation permits authorised officers of the council to issue a fixed penalty notice, enforcement within Cornwall is normally undertaken by Devon and Cornwall Police. Any data collected by Devon and Cornwall Police regarding any actions they may take with regard to enforcement of this PSPO is not routinely shared with Cornwall Council nor is it collected by Cornwall Council.”


Children aged as young as 12 have reported being victims of ‘upskirting’ in Birmingham and across the region, shocking stats from West Midlands Police revealed

Upskirting is where pictures or videos are taken under a person’s clothes of their private parts without permission for sexual gratification by an offender. It became a specific offence in April 2019.

WMP probed 31 cases between 2019 and 2022, according to figures obtained by BirminghamLive via a Freedom of Information request. Fourteen cases were reported last year compared to eight in 2021, six in 2020 and three in 2019. Despite this only one charge was brought against a suspect in that time period.

Defibrillator crime

Dozens of defibrillators have been smashed up or stolen by criminals, the Daily Mail reports. Between 2020 to 2022, police data collected and analysed by show vandals targeted the life-saving devices 93 times.

Crime reports tell of how yobs kicked and punched public-access defibrillators, as well as using bricks and traffic cones to smash them up. Police also recorded 155 thefts of the medical devices, with that number having nearly doubled each year – from 28 incidents in 2020 to 43 in 2021 to 84 in 2022.

Violence in schools

The Scottish Government’s education secretary will announce a summit on violence in schools on Wednesday after reported incidents reached the highest level in five years, STV reports.

On Thursday, freedom of information requests revealed there were nearly 15,000 incidents of violence reported last year – 10,852 of which were in primary schools. However, the true figure is higher with Glasgow and South Ayrshire not providing the data.

Drink drivers

Drivers are most likely to be caught drink-driving this week, compared with any other point for the rest of the year, statistics suggest. Nationally, more people are caught over the limit at the wheel during May than any other month of the year, BirminghamLive reports.

It means the next few days, during the final week, is when cops are statistically most likely to catch those breaking the law. The data has been revealed following a freedom of information request to police forces across the country.

Some 1,949 drivers were charged with drink-driving in May 2022, the study by Admiral Car Insurance found. The next highest months were January – which likely included some festive cases – and March.

September was the month with the fewest cases, followed by February. Experts fear this May could have been even worse with the extra bank holidays.

Abuse of GPs

The Leicestershire police commissioner recently reached out to local GP leaders due to concerns about rising levels of abuse at practices.

Data obtained by Pulse via the Freedom of Information Act showed that for Leicestershire Police the number of callouts associated with violent behaviour at GP practices increased by 150% over the pandemic, jumping from 10 total callouts in 2019 to 25 in 2022.

And, over the same period, the number of recorded crimes for criminal damage and public order offences increased by 80% and 50% respectively.

Quick getaway

The number of thieves using e-scooters and electric bikes to make speedy getaways has almost trebled in the past year, figures reveal (this might be because these are relatively new forms of transport).

Criminals used electric bikes in 1,397 gadget thefts last year and e-scooters in 424, an increase of 185 per cent, it was revealed in Freedom of Information requests to Scotland Yard and City of London Police, the Daily Mail reports.

AI public bodies

The UK public sector is already using AI more than you possibly realise, the Conversation reports (they may or may not be being more effective with it).

The legal charity Public Law Project recently launched a database looking at the use of AI in the UK public sector. Through freedom of information requests, the Tracking Automated Government (TAG) register has, so far, tracked 42 instances of the public sector using AI.

Many of the tools are related to fraud detection and immigration decision-making, including detecting sham marriages or fraud against the public purse. Nearly half of UK’s local councils are also using AI to prioritise access to housing benefits.

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