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

It’s getting harder to get information out of the Government. Last year, fewer than two in five Freedom of Information requests were answered in full.

Central Government departments and related bodies received 52,662 FOI requests in 2022, according to annual data published by the Cabinet Office. They granted those requests for information in full just 39% of the time, Civil Service World reports.

This marks the first time such public bodies answered fewer than two in five in full. That’s as opposed to them being fully or partially withheld (or just not answered). In 2005, the year in which the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act came into force, they released all the information in response to two-thirds of requests.

So what have the lucky few managed to get a response to this week…

Children on the wrong ward

Thousands of children in mental health crisis are being treated on inappropriate general wards – with some forced to stay for more than a year and staff not properly trained to care for them, according to the Independent. New figures uncovered by The Independent show at least 2,838 children needing mental health care were admitted to non-psychiatric hospitals last year.

Freedom of information responses from 54 hospital trusts across England – more than one-third of all trusts – showed there were 2,838 admissions of a child with a mental health condition to physical health wards in 2022. This is slightly down compared to 2021 when admissions rose to 3,461 across these trusts.

The average number of days spent by a mental health patient on these wards was 12 days.

Flashing cases

With the College of Policing set to examine how reports of indecent exposure are handled, how complaints have previously been handled may be worth an FOI.

Only one in eight reports of indecent exposure in Dorset in the past four years led to a court prosecution. Figures obtained by the Daily Echo from Dorset Police also show that a suspect is not identified in more than a third of cases.

The Daily Echo’s Freedom of Information request unearthed there had been 413 reports of indecent exposure across the county in the past four years.

Last year, when there were 90 reports made, just eight led to an individual being charged, summonsed or receiving a postal requisition.

Drugs in prison

One for your local prison?

HMP Hindley in Bickershaw has seen a total of 675 drug seizures between 2020 and 2023, a freedom of information request revealed. But in 2022, there were a massive 329 reported incidents of drugs found in cells – a huge increase compared to just 81 in 2020.

The Freedom of Information request (FOI) submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service also revealed there were 265 reported drug finds in 2021. According to the Ministry of Justice, this spike in drug incidents reflects the investment made into prison security which have helped uncover more hidden drugs stashes.


We like a pothole FOI. And the framing in this story – potholes outlasting PMs – is great.

Stoke-on-Trent has been named among the worst places in the UK for pothole repairs, after data revealed that one crater in Tunstall took more than 560 days to be repaired. A Freedom of Information request made by the Liberal Democrats showed that it took Stoke-on-Trent City Council 567 days to repair the pothole in Machin Street – the longest wait in the country according to data provided by 81 councils.

The same FOI request – which covered the financial year 2021/22 – also revealed that the city council had the third longest repair time, with holes being filled an average of 48 days after being reported. In that same year, 4,111 potholes were reported to the city council.

Lift out of order

This potentially could work for buildings belonging to other public bodies.

TfL closed tube station lifts more than 500 times last year, despite being in working order, because there were no “trained staff” available in case they broke down. That was a five-fold increase compared to 160 in 2021, the Evening Standard reports.

The worst-affected station was Wimbledon Park, which had a lift installed as recently as August 2021. Last year it was shut on 84 occasions, for a total of 348 hours. Other stations plagued by lift closures due to staff shortages last year include Ickenham (44), Osterley (33), West Ham (33), Harrow & Wealdstone (32), Southfields (24), Hillingdon (21), Canning Town (21) and Morden (20).

The figures, which emerged from a freedom of information request to Transport for London, are separate to lift closures as a result of engineering breakdowns.

Switched off fountains

More than £8,000 has been spent by the borough council on a closed water feature in Basingstoke that has not been in use for more than three years, the Gazette can reveal.

The fountains near Eastrop Park were closed in 2020 when the pandemic hit, because of restrictions. In response to a Freedom of Information request, the council said it spent £8,110 on the fountains, including installation of a sign asking people to keep out of the water installed last year.

Overdue library books

Figures released by Essex County Council showed more than 16,000 items are more than 30 days overdue to libraries across the region. The local authority say they would only charge a maximum of £7 per overdue item, despite one book having been loaned out since April 2001.

The most overdue items include The Inbetweeners, The LEGO Movie, a book about the causes of World War One, as well as several romantic novels, according to Essex Live.

A copy of The Limey withdrawn from Harlow Library in April 2001 is the most overdue item. It has been more than 8,000 days since it was taken out from the Essex County Council library. A number of Disney books and films are well overdue too.

‘Grey: Fifty shades of grey as told by Christian’ is yet to be returned after being loaned out in June 2019. A copy of Fifty Shades Darker is also missing having been taken out in September 2019. All six series of The Sopranos have been taken out but remain missing too.

Stop leaving your sex toys on the Tube

More than 250 vibrators and other sex aids were among 768,000 items handed in to lost property in London from 2014 to 2022 – with just 22 owners going back to reclaim them.

Appropriately, the largest haul was at Cockfosters Tube station in North London — the end of the Piccadilly Line, according to the Sun. Some 78 sex toys were also left on buses in the capital — while eight were found in the back of black cabs.

In 2020/21, more than 26,000 books were found along with 17,945 bags, 11,120 pieces of clothing, 6,265 specs and 15,615 phones. TfL said most items are donated to charity if unclaimed.

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