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Daily’s FoI victory exposes secret pay-off to NHS chief

A regional daily paper scored a Freedom of Information victory over its local NHS, exposing an six-figure golden handshake to a former chief executive.

The North West Evening Mail revealed the six-figure payout after relentlessly pursuing a rejected FoI request submitted by health correspondent Emma Preston.

The request was made following the departure of Tony Halsall, who left his post as chief executive of the failing University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and signed a deal which meant details of the financial package he was given were protected by a confidentiality agreement.

The Cumbria-based Evening Mail launched a campaign in January calling for the truth after the request was rejected on appeal several times, eventually being passed to the Information Commissioner.

However the trust finally relented and released the full details of the deal, including a £250,000 financial package.

Evening Mail deputy editor James Higgins welcomed the U-turn, claiming it as a victory against “cloak and dagger” public sector secrecy.

The North West Evening Mail splash after claiming victory in its Freedom of Information campaign

“The power of the regional press is evident once again as is proved by our local health trust’s eventual decision to back down and release what should have always been in the public domain,” he said.

“Following the publication of our call for answers pressure has been mounting on bosses at UHMBT to do the right thing – and the fact the Information Commissioner was reviewing the case can only have added to that.

“As the local newspaper for Barrow and south Cumbria, it is essential we are a voice for the people. To win a significant victory in the fight against public sector secrecy and what was a cloak and dagger agreement is extremely gratifying.”

The paper splashed on the campaign victory, with an artist’s image of Mr Halsall’s face superimposed on a £250,000 note.

James added: “We wanted to give it a good show, but project the story in a different way, and the team believed the bank note approach did just that.”