Since its passing in 2000, the Freedom of Information Act has been praised for increasing Government transparency. It serves as a vital tool for investigative journalists. Just look at the MPs’ expenses scandal, A&E ambulance delays and Prince Charles’s communications with the Government.
While the above are great examples of what can be achieved with this act, it’s safe to say that not every FOI request has been a credit to the argument against those wishing to scrap it.
Here are seven ridiculous FOIs not helping the cause and one that, despite its appearance, probably led to a pretty good story:
“What preparations has the council made for an emergency landing of Santa’s sleigh this Christmas? Who would be responsible for rescuing Santa? Who would be responsible for rounding up the reindeer, and who would have to tidy the crash site?” (Broxtowe Borough Council)
Outcome: Refused on the grounds that it was considered to be vexatious and lacks any serious purpose or value. And because Broxtowe Borough Council has no Christmas spirit.
“Can you please tell me what measures would be taken according to your emergency plan, if Nottinghamshire were to be attacked by aliens?” (Nottinghamshire County Council)
Outcome: Successful. Nottingham County Council’s emergency plans contain no provisions designed specifically for responding to an attack by aliens. But don’t tell the aliens that.
“The following post (copied in full below) has been circulating on Facebook, alleging that people are eligible to receive £26 a day/£182 a week in Tesco vouchers on the basis of being immigrants present in the UK. This is alleged to be in addition to the free housing and benefits for clothes, shoes, etc. Can you confirm whether the UK government does indeed provide vouchers of this amount to immigrants in the UK?” (Department for Work and Pensions)
Outcome: Awaiting classification. The Department of Work and Pensions replied that it is the Home Office that deals with asylum support, providing a link to what they receive, and that the figures cited in the request are incorrect.
“Can you please let us know what provisions you have in place in the event of a zombie invasion?” (Leicester City Council)
Outcome: Successful. Leicester Council has no “specific plans” for a zombie invasion but states its Emergency Plan could be applied to an invasion of any sort. The council also received “The Zombie Survival Guide” from a concerned member of the public.
“How many drawing pins are in the building and what percentage are currently stuck in a pin board?” (Stapleford Town Council)
Outcome: Refused. Because of course it was.
“How does the council manage to cope with the vagaries of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle? How does it function given the inherent unpredictability?” (Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council)
Outcome: Refused. Information not held.
“What precautions, preparations, planning and costings have been undertaken in the case an asteroid crashes into Worthing, a meteorite landing in Worthing or solar activity disrupting electromagnetic fields?” (Worthing Borough Council)
Outcome: Successful. Worthing Borough Council has an emergency plan aimed at fire and bomb procedures and evacuations.
And the hidden gem:
“I would like to know how many Ghost sightings, UFO Sightings, alleged paranormal activity and reports of witches there were in the area please, over the last 10 years.” (Nottinghamshire Police)
Outcome: Successful. Nottinghamshire Police could only search records dating back to 2004, but from this year to 2010 it received 34 reports of ghosts, 16 reports of witches, 46 reports of witchcraft and 19 UFO sightings.