In the past month over 4,600 Freedom of Information requests made via our site WhatDoTheyKnow resulted in information being released. Volunteer Molly Williams has picked out a few highlights.
The autopsy of Alexander Litvinenko
The autopsy of the former Russian spy who was killed in November 2006 by radioactive polonium-210, which is believed to have been slipped into his cup of tea on Putin’s orders, has been described by a pathologist as “the most dangerous post-mortem examination ever undertaken in the western world”.
An FOI request sent via WhatDoTheyKnow.com to Barts Health NHS Trust, whose care Litvinenko came under when he fell ill with the poisoning, revealed the detailed step-by-step procedure used to carry out his post-mortem safely. The examination determined how he was murdered.
Thousands of NHS and health bodies are listed on WhatDoTheyKnow, so if you have queries on the data they hold, it’s a great place to start.
Grenfell displaced person plans
An FOI request sent after the fire that killed 80 people and burned down a large block of flats in the Kensington and Chelsea area revealed the progress of plans to rehome those left homeless.
Some key details revealed were that:
- all regeneration plans have been put on hold in Kensington and Chelsea
- emergency hotel accommodation in Kensington and Chelsea was offered to all made homeless by the fire
- there were 179 offers of temporary accommodation made, of which 65 were accepted
- everyone affected has a dedicated Housing Officer to help them find a new home
- the council aim to rehome everyone who was made homeless by the fire by June 2018
Crime statistics at Leeds Festival
An FOI request sent via WhatDoTheyKnow revealed all the crimes reported from Leeds Festival over the past five years — including sexual offences, drugs, and fraud. It also showed that 2016, the latest year for which statistics were available, was the worst year for crime at the festival, with 200 offences reported. See the request and the full stats here.
Letter from Chris Grayling ordering GTR to fund a £13.4 million improvement to Southern Rail
How do you phrase a difficult letter? After it was quoted in national media, a message from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, fining Govia Thameslink Railway for £13.4 million, is now available in full for everyone to read.
In the letter Grayling stated that “passengers who depend on Southern have been badly let down” and went on to outline what the money will be spent on, including more on-board staff and £7m on “improvements that will directly benefit passengers”.
There are five railways companies listed on WhatDoTheyKnow. Not all of them are subject to FOI, but we list them anyway because we believe them to be subject to the less-known Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). And of course, as in the case mentioned above, you can always request information from public bodies which correspond with, or contract, organisations not covered by FOI.
Supernatural crime reports in the West Midlands
A requester asked for any reports on “ghosts, werewolves, witches, aliens, zombies and the like” to the West Midlands Police. Think this is a frivolous question? Well, in the past 12 months no fewer than 10 supernatural sightings have been filed. Following the response, the requester asked for further information on these mysterious sightings and is currently awaiting more detail.
Football in Worcester
A request revealed, within a series of released email correspondence, plans to build a community sports stadium and relocate 3D artificial turf playing fields. It also showed the decision process taken, including consideration of the possible effects on the local area. Read what’s happening to football in Worcester here.
If you want to know more about Sport England’s plans in your local community, you can send an information request to them via WhatDoTheyKnow.
Seabird and raptor monitoring on the Isle of Rum
An FOI request sent to Scottish Natural Heritage revealed details of their monitoring of seabirds and raptors including which species they track, their monitoring methods, and research aims.
Read the details of the methods, findings and staff involved in the monitoring of these incredible birds on our site, here.
Platelet donors and donations
Information released by NHS Blood and Donations under FOI revealed how the number of platelet donors and donations has been gradually decreasing since 2010. When responding, the public body helpfully explained the trend in the statistics:
“NHS Blood and Transplant has gradually reduced the amount of platelets it collects from platelet apheresis donations and increased the amount of platelets it collects by pooling whole blood donations from whole blood donors. This follows the 2013 recommendation made by the Department of Health’s Independent Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) to remove the requirement to provide 80% of platelets to hospitals by apheresis”.
FOI numbers and staff
You can even send an FOI request about the handling of FOIs! One requester asked for how many requests to Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council were received in the past three years and the number of staff who deal with them.
There were a total of 3,160 requests but no designated team dealing with them, which may simply suggest there is an FOI culture embedded throughout the organisation, where the role is combined with other jobs. Read the full response here, and if you, too have a question about FOI requests you might like to send an FOI request via WhatDoTheyKnow.com.
In the past week more than 300 Freedom of Information requests made via WhatDoTheyKnow.com resulted in information being released. Volunteer Molly Williams has pulled out a few highlights:
Flight paths over London
One user of our service noticed an increased number of flights within the vicinity of South Norwood and asked the Civil Aviation Authority for a map of the flight paths over London and for information on recent changes.
The requested maps were provided and the request-maker was advised to contact Heathrow and London City Airports to seek more information about any changes to their operations.
Overdue library fines
After being chased by the Information Commissioner, the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts revealed it took in £2,169.20 from payment of fines for overdue library books in 2015/16; the money is set to be re-invested into learning resources.
The requestor has made a similar request to many universities.
In Barnsley, 69 dogs were put down between April 2016 and April 2017, with two enforcement notices issued regarding dogs without microchips.
James Jones, who made this request, has asked for similar information from a number of other councils in the area.
Number of homeless youth under 25 in Sheffield
Statistics on the number of people aged 16-25 found to be homeless by Sheffield City Council have been released. The council didn’t directly answer a request for the average waiting time for homeless youth to be housed but stated: “Our target is to rehouse any person to whom we have a full duty towards within 12 weeks, and this is rarely exceeded.”Age
2015 2016 2017 16 2 0 0 17 4 1 0 18 12 10 0 19 10 8 3 20 26 18 3 21 22 11 3 22 20 16 0 23 19 17 6 24 16 19 8 25 13 18 9 Totals 144 118 32 Overall : 294
Spending on agency teachers
Spending on agency workers in every Nottinghamshire Primary School in 2016/17, and the number of pupils at each school was revealed, and showed Chilwell School, with 759 pupils, spent the most on agency supply staff at £229,074.49.
Is a high level of spending on agency supply staff something to be concerned about? We at WhatDoTheyKnow don’t have the information and background knowledge to put these figures into context but they, and the fact they’re accessible under FOI, might be of interest to school governors, parents, councillors, supply staff and agencies.
North Wales Police have two drones ready to be deployed for incidents such as searching for missing people, demonstrations, surveying crime scenes, festivals and sports events, image capture, armed support, and policing collision scenes.
The force’s response reveals their drones have not yet been used operationally.
Find out if your police force is using drones, and perhaps whether doing so has reduced their spending on helicopters, by looking to see if the information is already on WhatDoTheyKnow — and if not, request it yourself.
Moreton railway crossings
On multiple occasions when I visited Moreton level crossing in Dorset I noticed that the time taken from the barriers closing to the train passing is considerably less than other level crossings on the same line; what is the reasoning for such a short time?
Their response was:
In short the time difference between Moreton and other crossings is down to the fact that they are different types of crossing.
The crossing at Moreton is what is termed an ‘automatic half barrier crossing’. Such crossings operate much more quickly than full barrier crossings since they rely on the train hitting a treadle (a device that detects that a train axle has passed a particular location) on the approach to the crossing to start the barriers’ descent. Since these are half rather than full barriers anyone or anything on the crossing at the time the barriers come down can still exit the crossing. Full barrier crossings do not work on the same automated system but instead require a signaller to monitor the crossing (either on site or via CCTV at a signal box). It should be noted that the risk associated with half barrier crossings is much greater than that associated with full barrier crossings and, in consequence, their use is limited to only quieter roads.
Injuries to people at time of arrest
Staffordshire Police released information by request showing that 26 allegations were made by people who stated they had been injured while in police custody or at the time of arrest. Of those incidents, two resulted in fractured limbs.
Number of delayed FOI requests
And finally, another FOI request via WhatDoTheyKnow revealed how many FOI responses to Somerset County Council had been delayed in the past three years.
‘We do not record the number of requests that have been delayed, but instead record the number of requests that have not been sent out within the 20 working day deadline.’
Period Number of requests received Number of requests on time Percentage of requests on time Number of requests not sent out within 20 working day deadline 01/04/2014 to 31/03/2015 1307 756 57.84% 551 01/04/2015 to 31/03/2016 1192 692 58.05% 500 01/04/2016 up to 31/03/2017 1219 772 63.33% 447
The law requires Freedom of Information requests to be responded to promptly. If you’re not happy with the responsiveness of your local public bodies you could write to your elected representatives; mySociety’s service WriteToThem.com can help you.
We hope this post gives you a taste of the kind of information which can be obtained under Freedom of Information law. If you would like information like this from your own local public bodies then first check WhatDoTheyKnow and if it has not already been requested you can make a request yourself.
We’re keen to make a round-up of interesting releases like this a regular feature. If you’ve spotted information released via WhatDoTheyKnow which you think we should note in our next post then do let us know either on Twitter where we’re @WhatDoTheyKnow or via our contact form.