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Regional press continues to push for information under FOI

Regional newspapers continue to make good use of the Freedom of Information Act, three years after public authorities opened up their files.

Section 1.1 says that any person making a request for information from a public authority is entitled to be told whether or not the authority holds the information and, if it does, to receive the information.

Highlights of recent public interest requests by local newspapers include:

  • Thirty-five West Midlands police officers have been arrested in the past year, with alleged crimes including cases of assault as well as incidents of shoplifting and drink driving. The figures were released to the Express & Star and show a total of 24 police constables arrested between November 2006 and October 2007, as well as six special constables, two sergeants, two support staff and one detective constable.
  • South Wales Echo reporter Matthew Aplin discovered that six out of seven of Cardiff Council’s executive cabinet still drive to work and park free in County Hall’s underground car park. Unlike the Echo’s readers, they face no £5-a-day charge.
  • The fraud trial of former Mayor and Mayoress of Sefton, John and Catie Walker, cost the court service almost £200,000, according to the Crosby Herald. The figures were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the Ministry of Justice.
  • Drink-driving offences by foreign drivers in Cambridgeshire leapt by 381 per cent in three years, the Evening News exclusively revealed. The figures, obtained by the News under the FOI Act, apparently support claims by Cambs Chief Constable Julie Spence that migrants had “different standards” from UK citizens.
  • Councils across Yorkshire were sitting on a combined fortune of £26m that was gathered under planning rules but not yet spent, the Yorkshire Post revealed. The sum was paid by developers under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and was being held in town hall bank accounts across the region. Council bosses told the paper that the cash was there because work had to be done on allocating money to different projects.
  • Meanwhile, Warwickshire County Council could have something to hide, after a gentle warning for Leamington Observer man Kevin Unitt about his most recent request.

    He asked for a full list of UFO sightings – if any – reported to the council.

    The rather dry response?

    “We will treat this as an FOI request if you wish us to, in view of the expectations of the FOI legislation for public authorities to be helpful and open.

    “However we would ask you to be understanding of the fact that each FOI request made to the Council takes a certain resource commitment and we are generally inclined not to deal with requests that tend towards the frivolous.”