Regional round-up: Using FoI around Britain

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The Derby Evening Telegraph hit the headlines after using FoI to reveal that two murderers were on the run from Sudbury Prison. Deputy editor Neil White said: “Through FoI we found out that the prison spent £22k on a party to celebrate having been commended by the Home Office. We got that information from the Home Office at the very last moment before their deadline. “Separately we also asked what investments the Derbyshire County Council had made for their pension fund and we found out £30million had been invested in tobacco manufacturers and arms companies.

“The public are getting the information that they should do. Anything that dilutes the possibility of them getting that information from public bodies is obviously a bad thing.”

The Welwyn & Hatfield Times has found through the FoI Act that a convicted kidnapper and sexual offender are among 51 of 400 taxi drivers with criminal convictions working on the taxi ranks.

It also found Hertfordshire had 757 youngsters aged between 10 and 17 who were left off in a year with a caution or warning, for crimes including rape, conspiracy to murder and arson. Chief reporter Kelly-Ann Kiernan said: “The FoI Act has been invaluable in the last year — the Welwyn and Hatfield Times has revealed some shocking stories that would never have come to light without it."

In its first ever FoI request, the Kentish Express found that Kent county councillors spent tens of thousands of pounds on trips to Paris, New York and Washington — all at taxpayers’ expense. Kent Messenger Group political editor Paul Francis said: “It is hard to imagine, pre-FoI, that this information would have been volunteered by the county council and willingly put into the public domain.

“Interestingly, our request also threw up the fact that the council had no policy rules about trips abroad. As a result, it drew up a travel protocol for councillors going abroad.”

The Yorkshire Post has used the Act extensively since its introduction.

It found that North Yorkshire Police spent £28,400 on a new shower for chief constable Della Cannings and that former Leeds Mayor councillor Bryan North spent more than £2,000 of public money on high-value luxury goods, including coats and shoes.

They also revealed that Wakefield council had blocked attempts by two leading welfare organisations to investigate its children’s homes.

Head of content Andrew Vine said the Yorkshire Post supported Press Gazette’s campaign and said he felt it was the success newspapers have had with the Act that could have led the Government to propose changing it.

He said: “What it has done is enabled us to ask questions head on, as opposed to relying on un-named sources and leaked papers, and shine a light into all sorts of dark corners.

“It can be difficult as it is without any changes to the Act — organisations can spin out requests until they go away.”

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