FOI media roundup: week ending March 7

Here is a round-up of stories generated by the the Freedom of Information Act. Thanks to Steve Wood for noting many of these stories on his FOIA weblog.

6 March 2005
Sunday Times
Britain’s biggest private landowner nets £1m in EU handouts

“The subsidies paid to Britain’s farmers have traditionally been kept secret, but The Sunday Times has made an application to the government for the amounts to be revealed under the new Freedom of Information Act. The government is due to rule on the application later this month, but some landowners are already disclosing the information.

The Sunday Times has obtained details of subsidies across the country. The counties claiming the most in 2003 were North Yorkshire with £121m, Lincolnshire with £113m and Devon with £84m.”

Sunday Times Comment

“Last week this paper, using the Freedom of Information Act, obtained a breakdown of assaults on teachers. Now we discover that so bad is the disruption, of both the low-level and the off-the-Richter-scale variety, that Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector of schools, admitted that children were being prevented from learning and reaching their full potential.
…So frightened is it of exposing the real extent of indiscipline in schools that [Peter] Peacock has stopped publishing annual statistics on classroom violence. We do know that incidents rose from 1,000 in 2000 to 7,000 in 2004, and that every 12 minutes a teacher in Scotland suffered some level of abuse from a pupil. But from now on, we will have to rely on anecdotal evidence, HM Inspectorate reports, and maybe the Freedom of Information Act, to keep us abreast of the facts. “

Independent
UK taxpayers spend £195m on fees for aircraft carrier project

“Details of the amount of money spent on the project were revealed by the MoD’s Defence Procurement Agency, in response to a Freedom of Information request lodged by The Independent on Sunday.”

5 March 2005
North-west Evening Mail (Barrow-in-Furness, Lake District)

“An Evening Mail request under the Freedom of Information Act revealed a 15 per cent overall increase in cases of MRSA between 2003 and 2004.”

4 March 2005
Hampstead Express (London)

“Parking chiefs at Camden have charged £700 to supply data under the Freedom of Information Act… even though some of the facts are freely available on the Internet.
Simon Aldridge, 37, who owns recycling business Pulp Faction, sent Camden 15 questions asking for information about parking fines issued in the borough. The town hall sent a response that it said covered 13 of the queries, but slapped a £703.60 price tag for answers to the other two questions.”

3 March 2005

Guardian
AstraZeneca cholesterol drug ‘no worse than other treatments’

“In the UK, minutes released under the Freedom of Information Act, released to the Guardian, showed the UK’s expert regulatory body, the committee on safety of medicines, has con sistently seen a “signal” of higher rates of the muscle wasting disease, rhabdomyolysis, in patients taking the drug, compared with other statins. “

CJD deaths linked to school meat
Western Mail (Wales)
School dinners eaten by three young people in Wales may have resulted in their deaths from the human form of mad cow disease, a previously secret report has revealed.

2 March 2005
Guardian
Secret Home Office papers on prison row fail to clear Howard
“Papers released last night under the Freedom of Information Act throw new light on Michael Howard’s performance in his infamous grilling by Jeremy Paxman.”

1 March 2005
Government Computing

“Whitehall has revealed some details of its 10 most at risk IT projects, following a Freedom of Information request. The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) has released details of IT projects found to be most at risk across Whitehall, but is keeping the projects’ identities secret.”

The response from the OGC is available as a PDF.

The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland)

“Police officers in Scotland are avoiding official complaints procedures by resigning or retiring early. According to figures obtained by The Herald under The Freedom of Information Act, scores leave the force each year whilst subject to misconduct investigations.”

Bury St Edmonds today

“Chief executive of the council, Deborah Cadman told Thursday’s cabinet meeting that they were already being hit with detailed questions, particularly over the Cattle Market. ‘We have had 29 request for information under the act so far and the majority of those are very complex,’ she said”

28th February 2005
Daily Record

“Scotland’s richest gangster received £218,000 of legal aid when he was tried on drug-smuggling charges.The amount of taxpayers’ money he received was revealed yesterday under the new Freedom of Information Act.”

Spacereview – A different kind of openness

“By originally failing to make the report on the loss of Beagle 2 (above) publicly available, the usefulness of the report was greatly diminished. In January, the Beagle 2 investigation report was finally released. Unfortunately, the obfuscation did not stop then. At the time of the release, BNSC stated that “in view of the Committee’s strongly held view that the report should be published in full, we have discussed the issue again with ESA and have persuaded them that the report should be published.
What BNSC left out of its statement was that it was actually the British magazine New Scientist that had forced their hand. New Scientist filed a request under the United Kingdom’s new Freedom of Information Act to force the document’s release. The magazine’s editors thought it was not a good idea to leave the dead dog alone.”

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