Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 16/6/2023 – #FOIFriday

Porn noises on Match of the Day? Yes, there’s a Freedom of Information request for that.

The BBC is subject to the FOI Act. As well as all the regular exemptions, it also has a pretty wide opt-out for information held for the purposes of journalism. Which can make it pretty difficult to get information out of it.

Back in January, a Match of the Day broadcast from Wolves’ ground was interrupted by a porn clip ringtone coming from a mobile phone that had been hidden in the studio by a prankster. Following the incident, the BBC launched an investigation, which the Metro requested under FOI.

After quite an FOI battle – the request was initially refused, then some information was released after an internal review, and some more after a complaint to the ICO – the Metro got more details about the security breaches involved in the incident.

In other news, the ‘optical illusion’ cycle path causing chaos in Keynsham is back. Three psychology professors have been looking into what has been causing people to trip.

So what other FOI stories are in the news…

Police sexual misconduct

Police officers are being accused of rape at a rate of one a week, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Channel 5 can reveal. Over the past five years more than 300 officers have been reported for rape and 500 for sexual assault. Only ten of those accused of sexual assault have been convicted.

The vast majority – 350 – are still working for the police.

Attacks on ambulance staff

Recorded incidents of sexual misconduct against Welsh ambulance staff have risen each year for the past five years. A total of 86 reports of sexual harassment and assault were recorded between January 2018 and March 2023. Almost two in every three physical attacks reported by staff were sexual.

Only one incident was recorded in 2018 compared with 30 in 2022, according to data obtained from WAST by a BBC freedom of information request. Thirteen incidents had already been recorded by the end of March 2023, suggesting there could be a further increase this year.

Families in B&Bs

The number of homeless families from Enfield living in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation beyond the government’s legal limit of six weeks has risen exponentially in the last year, the Dispatch can reveal.

Data obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show that as of the end of March 2023, there were 113 Enfield families with children who had lived for more than six weeks in B&Bs – which includes any temporary accommodation where there are no cooking facilities or shared cooking or washing facilities – after rising from just one at the start of the last financial year in April 2022.

Prison suicide risk

The number of prisoners in Scotland who have been placed on suicide watch has increased by 28 per cent since 2007, new figures revealed today. A freedom of information request by Scottish Labour found that 2,956 inmates are being supported by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) initiative Talk To Me, Morning Star reports.

The strategy, launched in 2016, works “closely with NHS partners to develop individualised plans and provide contact with Samaritans, where trained listeners provide additional support.” The number of prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm has fluctuated in the past 16 years, peaking at 3,217 in 2021.

Pension opt-out

Another angle on the cost of living crisis – how many public sector workers are ditching their pension contributions, potentially as a way

The number of individuals opting out of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme has risen by more than two-thirds over the past year, FT Adviser reports.

A Freedom of Information request by Wesleyan to the Department of Education, found that between April 2022 and March 2023, 9,199 teachers across the UK left their pension for “personal reasons”, a 77 per cent increase on the previous year. Opt-outs because of affordability accounted for nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of all cases of teachers leaving the TPS, up from 64 per cent the year before.

Home schooling

The number of pupils being home educated in Kent and Medway has risen by more than 50% within five years.

A total of 3,044 children in Kent were being home educated in April 2022, compared with 1,997 in 2018, according to Freedom of Information figures obtained by BBC Radio Kent. The number in Medway has risen from 405 to 608 over the same period.

Council officials say the reasons behind the rise include mental health problems, bullying and parents’ dissatisfaction with schools.

Thefts from hospitals

Between January 2020 and May 2023, there have been at least 35 reported thefts of hospital equipment, drugs, and patients’ possessions across hospital sites run by the York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The NHS Trust, which manages hospital sites across Scarborough, York, and Bridlington, has seen an increasing trend of thefts with a total of six reported in 2020, nine in 2021, 12 last year, and eight in the first five months of this year, according to The Yorkshire Post.

Tap in…tap out

Greater Manchester tram passengers are rubbish at remembering to tap their payment card at the end of tram journeys. And it’s costing them extra.

In six months alone, Metrolink passengers have been caught out nearly half a million times, according to Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM). In a response to a Freedom of Information request, the organisation revealed that from October 2022 to March 2023, there were 469,370 incomplete journeys, costing passengers £4.60 each time – even if they have reached the daily cap.

That means almost 8 pc of all contactless journeys – which make up nearly a third of all tram trips in total – are incomplete journeys, the Manchester Evening News reports.

Main street’s still all cracked and broken

A Freedom of Information request in May revealed the streets in Cardiff which see the most complaints about potholes and damaged pavements – with a WalesOnline picture follow-up showing things haven’t really improved.

It was also revealed that the council paid £434,000 settling claims over the state of its roads and pavements between January 2019 and May 2023. The figure decreased nearly every year since 2019 but in one case £20,000 was paid in a single claim. You can read more about this here.

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