You are currently viewing Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 2/2/2024 – #FOIFriday

Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 2/2/2024 – #FOIFriday

The theme this week is the use of the Freedom of Information Act to reveal poor and/or illegal behaviour. FOI can be a really powerful tool for bringing misconduct to light (particularly in showing the extent of problems).

Some of the things revealed this week were very serious, including a large number of ‘sexual safety incidents’ at mental health trusts, increased numbers of acid attacks, and complaints and investigations into police officers and firefighters.

However, some of it’s a lot less serious – like failing to return library books…

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Sexual assaults at mental health trusts

Mental health patients have alleged they were raped and sexually assaulted while being treated by the NHS, in what has been described as a “national scandal”. 

Following more than 50 freedom of information requests to NHS England mental health trusts, with 38 responses, Sky News and The Independent can reveal nearly 20,000 “sexual safety incidents” were reported on inpatient mental health wards between 2019 and 2023 – with the annual figure rising each year.

A sexual safety incident is defined as any unwanted sexual behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, comments of a sexual nature or observing sexual behaviour, including exposure to nakedness.

Acid attacks

A 31-year-old woman and her two children suffered a horrific acid attack in London earlier this week. FOI statistics show numbers of such attacks increased between 2021 and 2022.

In the year to 2022, acid attacks shot up by 69 percent nationwide and 45 percent in the capital. The Metropolitan Police recorded 107 incidents, up from 74 in the year to 2021. The data was released by police following a Freedom of Information request by Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI).

Sex offender firefighters

New data, uncovered in a Freedom of Information request, revealed that between 2019 and 2022, eight firefighters and staff at Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service were reported to or investigated by the police for alleged sexual offences.

Of those reported and investigated, a total of four members of staff went on to be convicted. As of March 8, 2023, two of those convicted were still with Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, while two had been dismissed.

Medical blunders

Medical blunders, equipment malfunctions and other healthcare ‘failings’ have cost NHS Ayrshire & Arran nearly £5.5m in legal fees, a Freedom of Information request has shown.

And Ayrshire Live can reveal that on at least three occasions surgical ‘foreign bodies’ were seemingly left “in situ” following procedures on patients, which also left the health board paying the price.

Disciplinary action

Dozens of Police Scotland officers have avoided misconduct proceedings by quitting the force in the three years since SNP ministers were urged to change Holyrood laws to stop officers from escaping disciplinary action, LBC has learned.

A Freedom of Information request shows 15 officers either resigned or retired in the last year while subject to the complaints process.

Shopping bad drivers to the police

Dorset Police’s online reporting tool for alleged road traffic offences, called Operation Snap, saw 1,721 submissions last year.

Launched in 2019, Operation Snap allows road users such as cyclists or drivers with dashcams to submit what they believe to be offences committed on the road to the police. Submissions are then looked at by police officers and then considered for further action.

In 2023, more than 40 per cent of footage led to police action being taken against the driver. A total of 843 incidents led to prosecution and 106 cases of Operation Snap reports led to court prosecution, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Champagne budget

Well, English sparkling wine. With FOI, how much did that cost is rarely a bad question.

After a two-year legal battle, officials have finally been forced by a court to reveal that the booze bill for a Brexit party in No10 was £7,897.

Civil servants had blocked a Freedom of Information request about drinks served at then-PM Boris Johnson’s bash to mark the moment the UK finally left the EU at 11pm, on January 31, 2020. The decision was backed up by the Information Commissioner, who agreed the public interest was not strong enough. But campaigners took the case to an Information Tribunal, which ruled against the government.

Potholes (again)

We’ve covered pothole payouts fairly regularly, but what proportion of complaints about damage and injuries from potholes are actually successful.

The council paid out more than £56,000 in compensation across Nottinghamshire, according to a Freedom of Information request. Statistics show just 90 cases were settled out of a total 1,601 complaints received in the last year.

Gedling resident Chris Cook Cann submitted the FOI. She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The state of the roads has been deteriorating so rapidly, I think they’re so unsafe now.

“I thought it would be interesting to find out how much they were spending on compensation.

“It seems only six per cent of claims are successful and the national figure is about 25 per cent. That’s fairly alarming.”

Overdue library books

Somerset Council is owed more than £50,000 in overdue library fines.

A freedom of information request has revealed the council is owed £50,469.15 for bills listed as overdue, which cover 21,099 items.

Image by Min An on Pexels

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