Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 7/7/2023 – #FOIFriday

Love to see those tasked with enforcing Freedom of Information law, turn out to not be too keen on Freedom of Information law.

Scotland’s newly-appointed FOI commissioner has run into criticism, the Ferret reports, because he previously accused the media of FoI “abuse” to produce “crud” about the police, and suggested reforming the law.

So who’s been “abusing” FOI to produce “crud” this week (by which we mean using it a vital reporting tool)?

Social media monitoring

Health chiefs spent thousands of pounds spying on Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar after he raised concerns about a scandal-hit hospital. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) paid £15,000 a year to a company with links to Cambridge Analytica to monitor three opposition MSPs.

The Sunday Mail last month revealed how the health board had spied on widow Louise Slorance and posts about her late husband after she criticised NHSGGC over his care.

Now a series of Freedom of Information requests by this newspaper has uncovered the extent of the health board’s online spying operation. Along with Louise’s social media accounts health bosses were also spying on Scottish Labour Anas Sarwar, Jackie Baillie and Paul O’Kane.

Care home crimes

Allegations of abuse or neglect at care homes are not resulting in criminal charges.

Freedom of information (FOI) requests by ITV News to police forces in England and Wales have revealed a charge rate of just 1.4% for allegations of this kind. The 16 forces which responded told us they had received 1,080 allegations in 2022 – but just 16 charges were made.

Needle spiking

One thing FOI is useful for is following up on stories – in this case, the spate of reported drink and needle spiking cases.

Not a single person has been charged by police in connection with drink spiking in Northampton town centre despite years of victim reports dating back to 2021. The Northampton Chronicle recently submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to Northamptonshire Police asking how many people have reported being spiked in the town centre in 2023.

The data revealed that so far this year, up to June, there has been 29 reports of drink spiking and three reports of needle spiking, with only one arrest and zero charges made.

ChatGPT cheating

Nearly 400 uni students have been investigated for using AI bots like ChatGPT to cheat in their assessments. Figures obtained by the student newspaper The Tab show that 377 UK university students have faced a probe for cheating on their coursework.

Of those, at least 146 have so far been found ‘guilty’ – with investigations still ongoing at dozens of universities. The data, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also show up to 40 per cent of all UK universities had experienced the issue.

Fit to drive

The number of people contacting the DVLA worried about a driver’s ability behind the wheel is rising, a BBC Freedom of Information request shows. Experts said older people should plan their retirement from driving and relatives should be having “difficult conversations” with loved ones.

The government said motorists must ensure they were fit to drive.

The BBC Freedom of Information request found that, in 2022, 48,754 notifications were submitted to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency from across Great Britain with concerns over a person’s fitness to drive. That is up 82% from 26,716 in 2021.


A freedom of information request by DIY company GTSE has revealed the areas with the best access to allotments in England, as well as revealing the entry costs which can be as high as £382 a year. It found that the council area with the most allotment plots per 100,000 people was the borough of South Tyneside.

It revealed the cheapest average plots in England are offered by Stockport Borough Council at an average of £17 per year, the Daily Mail reports. The most expensive area was Rochdale in the North West, where a patch to grow your own produce will cost £382 a year.

Petrol money

Councillors have claimed hundreds of pounds in expenses for petrol and diesel, a freedom of information request has revealed. The Oxford Mail asked for information on county councillors’ expenses for petrol and diesel between January 2022 and June 2023.

The highest claimants included Andy Graham, leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, who claimed £1,579.95 for 3,511 miles, Freddie van Mierlo, who claimed £1,033.65 for 2,297 miles and Liam Walker who claimed £1,268.55 for 2,819 miles. The leader of the county council, Liz Leffman, claimed £513 in petrol expenses for 1,140 miles and Duncan Enright, cabinet member for travel, claimed £652.50 in diesel expenses for 1,450 miles.

Big screen bonanza

Sheffield City Council has raked in more than £76,000 over the last five years from filming taking place across the city for films and television shows including The Full Monty TV reboot and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, according to figures, obtained by The Star using the Freedom of Information Act.

During the 2022/23 financial year, the council received 49 requests to film across the city, which generated a total of £22,572. The figure is not broken down by production.

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