26 June 2006

Freedom of information - student shows how it's done

It's not every university assignment that turns into front page news, but that's what happened when Hannah Postles learned how to use the Freedom of Information Act.

Hannah, a third year journalism student at Sheffield, took her findings to the Yorkshire Evening Post and ended up writing the next day's exclusive splash story.

Hannah Postles

Her story revealed the list of items confiscated from inmates at the top security Wakefield prison - including hard-core pornographic DVDs, mobile phones, and even collections of newspaper cuttings about prison staff.

The article, based on information Hannah obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, began life as an assignment for a module on investigative journalism. When Hannah went to the Leeds-based YEP on work experience she suggested the story to the paper's newsdesk, and within minutes she was contacting the prison governor, the Home Office and local MPs for their reactions.

Hannah, 21, said afterwards: "When I took the information to the newsdesk I didn't think in a million years it would make the front page splash. It was really exciting to see the information from my request develop into a real news story and even more exciting to see the finished story and my byline on the front page the next day.

"I asked for the information after a man on a train told me his brother who was in prison had smuggled a mobile phone into his cell. I sent one request asking for specific information about mobile phones which I submitted for the Investigative Journalism module, but also thought it would be interesting to see what other things prisoners tried to smuggle into their cells.

"I picked Wakefield because of its high profile inmates, I hadn't even thought about the fact I'd be doing work experience in Leeds a couple months later."

As well as being the splash in the YEP's Wakefield edition, the story was the subject of the paper's leader column and was also picked up by the national press.