Tag Archives: Freedom of information

Scandal of school kitchen hygiene

Mice, ants and mouldy walls in school kitchens

I had an article in last weekend’s Sunday Times after I obtained hundreds of reports from school canteen hygiene inspections from local authorities around the council.

Hundreds of schools were given poor hygiene scores of 2 (“improvement required”) or less; two schools (Sennybridge County Primary School in Powys, and Erith School in Kent) scored the bottom score of 0 (“urgent improvement required”).

Many of the reports made for uncomfortable reading: black mould on walls, broken windows, raw meat stored alongside cooked food, mice infestations, ant infestations, and poor personal hygiene among staff all featured in the reports.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon chain of restaurants and the government’s new school food tsar, and Janette Wallis of the Good Schools Guide were kind enough to comment on my findings.

The Sunday Times data team created an interactive map for the online version of the story, so look for poor-scoring school canteens near you here. If you’d like to have a look at a report from your local school, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Full text of the article is also available after the fold. Continue reading

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Police abandon 850,000 inquiries a year

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An article I worked on with Peter Newlands and Jon Ungoed-Thomas made the front page of the Sunday Times this weekend.

Freedom of information requests revealed more than half of police forces that responded to use a ‘screening out’ process, in which crimes are not investigated because police feel they are unlikely to be solved.

The Metropolitan Police alone abandoned more than 350,000 inquiries in 2011-12.

Among the victims affected was Marc Cutler, a public relations executive from north London, who had his Charge Plug bike stolen from railings near a flower market last year.

He said: “I spoke to the police, but they said there was not a lot they could do. They’d give me a crime report number, but they were not hopeful I’d get it back.

Cutler tracked down the stolen bike himself by scanning for advertisements on websites. He contacted the seller, a Russian man, and took two friends for the rendezovous.

At the meeting, Cutler clutched his stolen bike as his friends phone the police. Cutler said: “When the police got there, they checked the serial number and told the man he could leave the bike with me, or be arrested – he finally left. It’s a shame that they don’t take crimes like this seriously.”

Philippa Brady, an events manager who lives in London, had her bank card, camera and cash stolen during a night out at a cinema. There was CCTV footage that could have been examined, but police said a detailed investigation was not appropriate. She says she was told by an officer “There wasn’t a thing they could do.”

Full text is available on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

Two websites helped me speak to a number of affected cyclists whose stolen bikes were not investigated – www.stolen-bikes.co.uk and www.londoncyclist.co.uk.

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What price freedom (of information)?

I’ve written an article on the threat to the Freedom of Information Act ahead of the conclusion of a Justice Select Committee’s inquiry.

As a reporter, freedom of information laws often offer the best route when investigating matters which are not in the public domain.

Many topics, from expenses to disciplinary procedures, are often kept private and details can be difficult to obtain. Even though FOI requests are not infallible, they are a valuable tool for every journalist, and to me it is unthinkable that the rules could be watered down.

Stories I have found through FOI requests include John Bercow’s chauffered car habit, the BBC boss who was paid off then rehired, and the council that used terror law to catch a carrot thief.

Full text is on the Telegraph website here, or read on.

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