Putting FoI to use in the BBC regions

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BBC South’s Portsmouth reporter Dominic Blake used FoI to shed new light on the disappearance of Commander Lionel “Buster” Crabb, who vanished while spying on Russian warships visiting Portsmouth Harbour 50 years ago.

His fate was a closely guarded secret and the Government extended the usual 30-year secrecy rule to 100 years in the hope that files would remain closed until 2057. But a series of FoI requests by Blake revealed a trail of cover-ups and deceit. The story was broadcast on BBC South’s Inside Out programme and Blake, an experienced diver himself, was Crabb’s stunt double during a series of reconstruction dives in Portsmouth Harbour.

BBC NorthEast obtained via the FoI a list of all the faults in 10 new schools built under the private finance initiative for Newcastle Council. In addition to revealing numerous building problems, their inquiries also revealed that the council was still spending thousands of pounds a month on PFI payments for one of the schools that had since closed down as part of a reorganisation of education in the city.

BBC West, after numerous rejections and appeals, finally received the information that the number of absconders from Leyhill Open Prison had risen dramatically — which led to a national news story. The region’s news team also used an FoI request regarding car-parking charges at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon to gather information that led to a national story about car parking charges in hospitals across the UK.

BBC East Midlands radio station Radio Derby made a request under the FoI Act which revealed that a teacher was sacked for taking a gun into a Derbyshire school. Nobody was hurt in the incident but a county council spokesman said the school and the teacher would not be named until an inquiry by the General Teaching Council had been carried out.

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