Friday, 9 September 2011

What does Downing Street know about Phonegate?

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The Culture, Media and Sport's hearings into Phonegate revealed witnesses whose words and body language were filled with lies and crass arrogance.
Colin Myler and Tom Crone
Watching Colin Myler (Former Editor of the News of the World) and Tom Crone (Former Legal Manager at News International) on 6th September in front of the Committee demonstrated the worst behaviour of people caught in a lie and still trying to talk their way out of appalling actions by their employer and other employees. Trying to wheedle out of admitting they had mislead the Committee and parliament previously, Crone was reduced to arguing over the definitions of 'secret' and 'confidential'.
In the same way we had the haughty responses by some MPs caught stealing through the expenses system, greedy 'casino' bankers playing with the British economy like it was their own private bank and some police officers happily taking bribes, we saw individuals who would not accept that their past views were inconsistent and misleading to parliament and an utter failure to recognise the seriousness of phone hacking. Myler, Crone and others simply don't get it. Adopting the Nuremberg policy of 'we were only following orders' is pathetic. Looking at their faces you could see that they were going to fight tooth and nail in opposing inch by inch, the Committee's pursuit of the truth. Frankly, they were not believable witnesses and their words cannot be trusted.
Tom Watson MP in pursuit of exposing one of the  biggest conspiracies in the past century
On the other hand it was a pleasure watching Tom Watson MP in action tearing a part bit by bit the obfuscation. Tom has proved to be a doughty, terrier in pursuing the phone hacking and subsequent cover ups. He exudes the very finest qualities of the the best British parliamentarians. He deserves a medal for his pursuit of the truth of phone hacking and his refusal to go away when the Police, Solicitors and powerful media barons were telling him and the world that a single rogue operator was responsible for the phone hacking. Tom had rightly identified that the facts didn't stack up and sniffed out the leads and evidence to help blow open the affair.
Andy Coulson refusing to reappear at select committee
Andy Coulson has refused to appear before parliamentary committee
At least Crone and Myler did show up in front of the Committee, which is more than can be said for Andy Coulson desperately fighting against appearing before the Committee. Questions remain as to what he told David Cameron. Did he hint or give any sort of impression that he thought the phone hacking extended past Goodman and Mulcaire? Did Coulson send emails or correspondence setting out what happened during his period as News of the World Editorship? Will any of the enquiries get to see those emails, notes or letters? Was a civil servant present in the discussions between Coulson and Cameron about phone hacking? If so, there would be a record made of that conversation. If there was no civil servant present, why did Cameron avoid the usual practice on such a sensitive, serious and criminal matter? What kind of Prime Minister avoids making a record? Those records could ultimately place David Cameron in a compromised position.
David Cameron and Andy Coulson
What exactly did Coulson tell Cameron? Were records kept of their conversations?
God speed the Committee and the police enquiries to put behind bars all those involved in this disgraceful conspiracy. I hope that Fleet Street will clean up its act and eradicate the illegal practices where they thought they could freely wade through people's private lives. However, seeing the attitude of Crone and Myler, the Government will need to take steps to enforce that cultural change. You can't trust these type of people to genuinely make the changes needed. 
In the mean time, we are left wondering what records exist in Downing street about how much David Cameron knew about the extent of the phone hacking.

Obama throws down gauntlet to Republicans

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An assertive President Obama set out his stall for Congress to back his American Jobs Act. The interesting part of that speech was the way it was delivered and the strong, resolute delivery of the speech. Here was a President facing a tough election battle as the economy has slowed and ground almost to a halt after previously showing signs of a recovery. But more than a simple desire to win, we saw Barack Obama demonstrating leadership and purpose which frankly has been missing at times as he has tried to grapple with the problems of the economy and the consistent right wing attacks by GOP contenders.
Vice President Joe Biden
A word of merit for Joe Biden who was just behind the President’s right shoulder at the Congressional speech; he is an unswerving, loyal lieutenant that has proven to be a first rate Vice President. He works tirelessly behind the scenes and backs the President to the hilt. He doesn't show signs of his own ambition or politicking to undermine the President. That is a rare example of what a Vice President should be. He was on his feet applauding the President and Obama can be sure that Biden will use his influence to try and bring Republicans on board to get the AJA through Congress. Nevertheless, it is certain to face a very difficult ride and given the strength of the Tea Party values amongst Republicans, the AJA may well fail to pass. If so, the Republicans will play into Obama's hands. On the other hand if they successfully amend the Bill to their liking they could turn it around as a weapon against the President, which could mean he has to veto his own Bill.
There are fourteen months to go before the presidential election and the President needs the economy to improve. The hard truth though is that his proposed jobs act will only give a mild stimulus to the US economy and the underlying problems of the energy deficit and the artificial weakening of the Chinese yuan remain. It is difficult to force the Chinese to alter their exchange rate policy and unless there is a readiness to damage the environment then changes to the energy deficit are limited (electric vehicle technology is being proposed as one answer to the problem) . America needs to create jobs and more wealth through making its economy therefore, more dynamic, flexible and productive. There is still time for the trend to change towards reducing unemployment and increasing the money in the wallet and purse of the average American but time is running out.
Governor Rick Perry
Whilst the Republicans should be coming down the final stretch ten yards ahead of the president remarkably the voters are reticent of the GOP contenders. Even Texas Governor Rick Perry can only manage a small lead in the polls and that is during his current honeymoon period before the full scrutiny of his policies and past has been put under the microscope.  
With some radical and even off the charts extreme policies being espoused by Perry on Social Security the field is still open for Romney or even Palin (if she finally enters the race, which I think she will) to take the primaries. 
 US Ambassador to China
Jon Huntsman Jr
The President needs to ratchet up improvements in the economy where he can, hope for a radical GOP candidate to face him in the election and he needs a bit of luck. If those three things happen then Obama has a reasonable chance of success. He is a powerful campaigner and remains the favourite to win a re-election (but by a tiny margin).
However, if a more sensible GOP candidate like Jon Huntsman was to pull off a miracle GOP nomination (he is polling around 1%) then I think Obama will lose. But with Rick Perry, Bachmann and Romney slugging it out that scenario of a centrist winning the nomination is not going to happen. Obama knows the GOP struggle of exposing weaknesses and extremes in the Republican candidates can only help his chances.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Riot jail sentences need new radical jail life

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Don't just lock them up, make them work inside. Jail should be about changing them.

The debate about the length of jail sentences for those found guilty of involvement and incitement of the riots has begun to take off between the doves and hawks on restorative justice. At first glance, four years for urging a riot on Facebook (but nothing then happened) can seem harsh. Writing a few words on social media can result in a sentence twice as long as actually looting goods from shops may seem disproportionate. Likewise, six months prison for stealing bottles of water can seem too much to some. However, if we are serious about puncturing the arrogant, laid back views of a minority in society who do not fear jail then these cases may start to have an effect on their attitudes. 
If the part of society that gave birth and nurtured the culture that created the looters, are alarmed at the length of sentence then the judge has succeeded in getting a message through to them. Over the past ten years, some social media users in society have become anesthetised to communicating responsibly. Especially on Facebook and Twitter, communicating has become contorted for some. What they write compared to what they would say face to face has become dysfunctional. The lonely and aloof aura as they type away on the keyboard has produced at times vicious, irresponsible and even deluded messaging. Perhaps the ‘Facebook Two’ sentences will make people stop and think that they are writing in cold reality and they cannot write anything they feel in that split second.
What is more important than arguing over the length of sentences is what goes on inside those jails. If they are holding pens and even training camps to improve the skills of robbers to rob better or increase the environment of aggression and hostility to inflame the gang culture, then those jails are failing. One British jail has a re-offending rate of 74%. That is a failed system.
As I suggested in my previous post on the riots, we need to get those prisoners out of their cells where they languish for up to 23 hours and get them working and exercising for say 18 hours.
The point of prison is yes to punish but also and this is crucial, to change that offender’s behaviour. We need people coming out of jail who will contribute back positively to society. There is no point whatsoever, ‘locking them up and throwing away the key’, because apart from the most violent crimes or severely mentally ill patients, the vast majority will come back out. We need them getting jobs and not living on benefits. We need them to have learnt from their spell in jail to teach youngsters to stay on the straight and narrow. We need those ex-offenders to be volunteering to help the local community. If they have few working skills, jail should be training them work and life skills to improve their chances of getting a job.
That is the part of the debate, which seems to be missing. Long sentences? Fine (case by case) but we need to radically change our prisons and construct a justice system that transforms wrong doers into stable, working citizens. Does Cameron have the nuanced understanding of what happened in the riots to produce that radical transformation of our prisons?
Does Cameron understand how to transform jails?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Grim lives but squalid characters - time for hard work

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Wanted: CCTV images released by Greater Manchester Police of people suspected of taking place in looting across the city and Salford
The faces of some alleged looters and rioters
I lived and worked in North London between 2007 and 2008. I cycled for two hours each day through the streets not far from the Tottenham riots and I caught a glimpse of both proud, happy members of society and the sulky, bitter and introverted lives of others.
I lived in Lea Valley and I used to cycle each day down to Islington. I was knocked off my bicycle twice by careless drivers cutting in front of me (once without any insurance or an up to date tax disc) and both times using bus lanes and when I once tried to stop off and leave my bicycle at Tottenham Hale tube station, my bike was inevitably stolen. There were times when I saw gangs roaming around the streets with little to do but I never felt threatened. In fact, the most worrying time was being caught up in a huge crowd of Arsenal fans on the way to the ground and me pushing my bike through the crowd down the streets and realising that dangling from my rucksack was my Liverpool Football Club scarf. I got a bit of stick that evening…
David Starkey last night on BBC Newsnight proclaimed that the violence was down to a ‘black culture’ that had pervaded black and white, boy and girl. His bizarre and less than helpful idea does nothing to explain the reasons for the looting and that kind of pompous, ignorant and ‘white’ perspective will hardly help rebuild those communities scarred by the riots.
'Shopping with violence' as one commentator said
There are grim lives in some communities and that includes not just the cities but the towns and even parts of more rural areas. I have seen the pockets of hard deprivation in Shrewsbury when I was an MP. They are places where educational achievement is generally low, unemployment very high and the worshipping of celebrities and bling has intoxicated young minds. They seek a laser quick exit to their grim lives and have little discipline or role models to make them understand that through hard work they can reach for the stars. It sounds easy and it isn’t, it is very hard. There are few attractive jobs but if these young people with little self-worth (they create an artificial self-worth through gangs and wearing branded trainers, sunglasses and jewellery) can appreciate that if they truly put their minds to work they can slowly build decent, honest lives. The first job may not be up to much but if you work hard and put in the hours, go to college at night and get extra qualifications, save the little money you earn and invest in a car or a computer then over time you can get a better job and earn more money.
I know it is difficult when there are temptations around through weak willed gang members offering a quick fix. When there is no money. When the police may seemingly harass you. But watching life past by feeling constantly angry is not going to change anything.
The answers? Well for what it is worth, here is my two penn’eth:-
  1. The respect agenda needs to start consistently in every nursery school and be maintained throughout schooling. Teachers have an impossible task trying to control some teenagers and by then it is almost too late. Tolerance for others and an appreciation of everyone’s contribution to society is needed to be taught. Teaching responsibility is crucial to making children understand how they have to follow rules and undertake activities as part of growing up.
  2. The media should be urged to focus less on the minutiae of celebrity lives and more on success stories from our communities. Given the spotlight to young people who have create a business or excelled at school. To hell, with flash in the pan, can barely sing pop stars given fame and fortune. What about the quiet youngsters who put in hundreds of hours of voluntary work in communities or transform a broken down playground or simply go from ‘loser’ status to passing their GCSE’s? Media space and time should reward young people and not those who are undeserving and artificial. With all due respect, Big Brother contestants are not heroes and the slavish coverage of their lives should end. Newspaper editors should be shook up and told to stop hacking phones of private citizens and start using their powerful and influential companies to help grow our communities.
  3.  Parents should be held to account and there should be zero tolerance of the smallest problems at a very young age. The rioters and looters weren’t born rioters and looters, they became them. Some parents can’t cope with parenting. Fair enough; it’s a damned tough job at times. Some don’t have the skills to know how to raise a child. They should be offered help and when the child at the age of five is out breaking up a bus shelter, then it should the parents made to attend parenting classes. The ‘system’ should be there to help but with an iron fist in a velvet glove. If the parents don’t attend, then they should face stiff penalties. If they don’t co-operate when they do attend, they should face stiff penalties. But conversely if they genuinely learn new skills and seek to change the behaviour of their child they should be offered incentives. That should not mean money or materials goods (no gimmicks like film tickets as one bright spark tried to suggest under Labour) but rather more assistance finding work or a place doing community work with a recommendation on their CV. The focus should be on pushing children towards educational achievement (vocational and academic) and parents towards work, lifelong learning and a career path. It is changing the values away from quick ‘bling’ fixes to learning and hard work.
  4.  For those hard core, repeat offenders that are circulating through prison, the cycle must be broken and as a last resort, they need to be placed in a special facility which is a modified prison where there is very high staff ratios, high volumes of physical activities, a tough penalty system for misbehaviour and a reward system based on recommendations towards finding work after they leave. Instead of spending up to 23 hours locked in a prison cell, they should be spending 18 hours doing hard work. They should only be in a cell when they are sleeping. Some will call it a boot camp, but if it was run by ex-military staff these offenders would be placed in a tight disciplinary regime but one that recognises changed behaviour. It isn’t about scrubbing floors, breaking rocks or other boring, repetitive tasks. It is making sure that with a basic but decent diet and a huge amount of physical exercise they have no time to sit and lapse into routines of learned behaviour through gang culture. If they show an inclination to academic study they should face long hours of learning towards qualifications interspersed with the physical exercise. If they show an inclination towards vocational learning then they will be taught a trade; plumbing, painting, electrical, building and other useful skills. Doing nothing should not be an option. They should not leave without additional qualifications and an agreed plan of learning or work.
  5. For those with mental health problems in our communities, they should be under careful observation and support to identify their potential and find how they can still contribute to society whilst having intensive support and care to meet their needs. They need ‘buddies’ to help them day to day. They need counselling. They also need work. Whatever type of work that is, but still work. Studies repeatedly show that those with mental health problems function much better when they have something productive to do that builds self-confidence and self-worth and gives them a routine to enjoy each day.
  6.  We need to recognise youth workers who are paid a pittance and yet do fantastic leadership work in our communities. They live and breathe those streets and know who are the troublemakers and who have a great chance in life to move on up. They need to be given central roles in community projects and actual budgets to spend, to shake up the stale, frustrating routines in communities with innovative ways to involve young people and keep them busy. Close liaison with community leaders, teachers, probation officers, police officers and social workers should require weekly meetings to identify troublemakers, recognise the decent folk and give an impetus to being in control of those streets. Frankly it should be part of the Big Society agenda. They also should serve as an early warning system to trouble.
  7. Send those troublemakers who show improvement and are making progress, to places where there is genuine poverty (far worse than they face back home). I am not talking about free trips to sunny places to enjoy themselves but rather take them economy class to a country like Malawi and put them to work on building a clinic, classroom or planting crops. They should be sent to places a handful at a time and under supervision. Let them create something good. Let them sweat. Let them use their brain to figure out solutions to problems, where there is no builder’s merchant just around the corner. Where people are starving to death. Give them a shovel and tell them if they don’t dig a hole then that village of people will die of thirst. I’m certain that they will swallow their pride and start digging. They will receive a fantastic welcome and will receive great praise from wonderfully friendly people but there will be no hotel; they will live in the communities in mud huts and will work 16 hours a day. They will find out what it is really like to have little food and if you don’t plant crops or walk ten miles to the nearest water pump, you will die. It will leave an indelible impression on those young minds of how lucky they actually are. Two weeks sleeping on a mud hut floor, eating basic rice provisions and working hard to build a school may just puncture that swagger and arrogance.
Kanyopola in Malawi, 2002 during famine
For those that say, 'we shouldn’t be spending money on these troublemakers', well guess what, we already are spending money on them. We spend billions on welfare and placing them in prison. It costs up to £140,000 per year per young criminal.

It is time to spend a little on strengthening core values in society:
  • Zero tolerance of bad behaviour
  • Teach respect and responsibility throughout life
  • Invest in youth and community workers
  • Reward academic and vocational achievement
  • Put the media spotlight on youngster success stories
  • Focus energy, time and money on making people work, work and work
  • Push the troublemakers into seeing and feeling those starving to death
  • Introduce new facilities to make criminals work 18 hours a day and they don’t leave until they have shown real progress in attitude by learning a new trade or achieving academic qualifications
Malawi 2002 - hope with clean water

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

21st century greed, disrespect and consumer society

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London riots day 3: A property on fire near Reeves Corner, Croydon
The riots sweeping across English cities over the past three years are a symptom of a section of society where rules are not respected and a belief dominates that they have no responsibilities.
There are no excuses for the violence, disorder and general thuggery on our streets. Whilst violence can never be condoned sometimes background factors exacerbate situations and can ratchet up the risk of violence. The miner’s strike on occasion degenerated into violence with men seeing their proud jobs taken from them by a cavalier management and a spiteful Government. The vicious riots in the early eighties in places like Toxteth, opened up the Police to a scrutiny, which demonstrated institutional racism. The tuition fees demonstrations, which were initially peaceful became violent and were ignited by the genuine worry over tripling of fees and a lifetime of student debt. Again, there was still no excuse for violence with police officers being hurt and even murdered for example, on the Broadwater Farm estate riot.
Yet, the summer riots of 2011 are different. Young people will sometimes be unhappy and demand that society give them more respect but what we are witnessing are a tiny minority of typically young people going out at night to rob and destroy property. They are engaging in anarchism where they don’t want to be part of English society and want to impose a set of selfish values where their greed and disrespect for the law means they feel they can act with impunity.
Map showing riot locations
Since 2008, we have discovered greedy bankers bringing  the economy to its knees, Members of Parliament stealing from taxpayers by false expenses, elements of the tabloid media hacking their way through people’s private lives and those same newspapers bribing corrupt police officers.
The common factors? They all felt they were above the laws of the land and they could feather their own nests. In the case of newspapers they want to sell more newspapers and beat the opposition to a story anyway they could. Ultimately, I am sure some journalists and private investigators were motivated by greed and enjoyed extra bonuses and cash for ripping exclusives off private voicemails.
UK riots: Daily Telegraph
Society needs to face up to this disintegration of society in some quarters. We need to stamp out corruption and put greed back in its box. Today like every other day 30,000 children around the globe have died from lack of clean water, food and medicines. A sense of perspective and a global outlook of those not as fortunate as ourselves needs to be understood to temper human weaknesses. We need to be taking care of our elderly relatives. We need to concentrate on getting to know our neighbours. We need to wind down our demands for more money and more material goods. It isn’t always easy when our TVs, newspapers, glossy magazines and the Internet are filled with the urging to get rich quickly through short cuts of appearing on ‘docusoaps’, the X-Factor and the other hundred shows and brands.
London riots front pages: The Guardian final
Yet those in power who are role models need to clean up their acts and demonstrate to the young people that there is a better way to lead their lives where they can contribute to their communities and not destroy them.
What kind of Britain do we want? If we don’t get hold of those youngsters out on the streets and instil the rules of society to show them the honest opportunities, then we will have another generation like Thatcher’s children who will create torrid estates of hate, filth and mayhem. We can turn our backs and move to nice neighbourhoods but ultimately the disorder and dysfunction will eventually catch up with us.
A new discipline is needed in communities, schools and at home to demonstrate zero tolerance for wanton destruction of property and to teach them respect to others. We need to create opportunities for business to thrive by making it easier for entrepreneurs to create wealth. Those young people can be the next generation of bright business people but they need clear rules as well as plenty of support.
The streets are burning but it will end and hundreds will face the consequences. It is stupid to think that you can run riot and steal TV's in high streets and not have you photo taken. The police should systematically examine the evidence and put together the cases for the CPS to prosecute through the courts. Examples should be made. If someone gets six weeks for a custard pie in the face of Rupert Murdoch then rioters should be facing very tough punishment.
Tonight though, it is time to rally around and support the police take back our communities.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Gaddafi's son's desperate pleas point to Rebel victory

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After months of decrying the democratic rebellion in Libya as an Islamist plot, Gaddafi’s son, Saif now gives an interview urging that the extremists should support his father. Here is another reason to get rid of Gaddafi where a secular state will be replaced by a puritannical, radical state of religious madness.
NATO and the West must continue to support the Rebels and step up training and weapons supplied to them. If Gaddafi was serious about a ceasefire that would lead to a stable peace then it should be genuinely considered but he is an untrustworthy snake who will not abide by any ceasefire terms and will inevitably seek to overthrow an Eastern half of a democratic Libya.
Another of Gaddafi’s sons has been proclaimed deadKhamis was a key military leader in charge of 32nd Brigade and has seemingly perished in a NATO airstrike. However, this was denied in Tripoli. It may be taking much longer than originally thought but Gaddafi’s infrastructure and military command and control is systematically been destroyed.
It is difficult to accurately assess the progress of the war. After the crazy first few weeks following NATO involvement when the Rebels were pushing back there followed months of stalemate with each side losing and then winning ground in a see saw backwards and forwards over the same ground in Ras Lanuf, Brega and Ajdabia. In the East, the inhabitants of Misrata suffered a brutal onslaught besieged day after day and yet their strength eventually and steadily broke out of the enclave and reinforced the belief that the upper hand was with the Rebels.
Rebels are slowly pushing Gaddafi's army back
The war could be over quickly, if NATO allows commanders to train the Rebel forces and modernise its equipment and weaponry. There is no sense in offering minimum air strikes and keeping fingers crossed that the Rebels will get to Tripoli. They will get there, but how many more have to die before they succeed. A swift, uplift in support by NATO could overwhelm Gaddafi's remaining forces and once a momentum builds the army will collapse into the desert. That doesn't mean it will be easy but a clear tide of support for the Rebels will swing the majority onside. Once the Rebels are in Tripoli and can demonstrate that they are fair, and just the vast majority will then begin to trust them and the fighting will end. Only then, can Libyans start to rebuild their country into a prosperous nation with a strong economy and a great future for today's sons and daughters.

News of the World reporters hacked other newspapers

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News of the World banner
The story of phone hacking goes on. No doubt the public are probably pretty bored by the whole story now but it has only just begun. It could take a couple of years before the civil cases are processed and the potentially scores of criminal cases are assessed and those with sufficient evidence prosecuted.
However, it has emerged that the News of the World was not just hacking politicians, celebrities, business people and the sickening hacking of Milly Dowler’s and service people’s phones but also other newspapers.
The News of the World hacked at least five reporters’ phones on the Mail on Sunday and it is very likely that other newspaper journalists and their private eyes were hacking into other newspaper journalist’s phones. The goal? To scupper ‘exclusive’ stories and by gaining insight into what other reporters knew in the race to piece together the jigsaw of top news stories. Sometimes they simply stole the story and broke it, before their rival.
Now you could think, well, what difference does it make? It doesn’t seem to be as important as hacking into private individuals’ phones and that is true, but it shows yet again the lengths that some of them went to secure a story or a nugget of information to try and outflank their rivals. How many private sources to genuinely important stories were ‘outed’ or betrayed?
There is much more to come out about what else these reporters and their private eyes were up to. My case file is growing and next week we will present further information to the police. I trust that they will continue to take it seriously (unlike the first time) and cross check it with the evidence seized so far. 
Glenn Mulcaire
Glenn Mulcaire
However, they are still only half way through reviewing Glenn Mulcaire's evidence and have only added around 40% of the seized electronic records from News International on to their computer database. For the hundreds of victims, the wait goes on.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Phonegate - John Yates should resign

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John Yates on phone-hacking claims
John Yates listing his excuses to the Home Affairs Committee for not looking at 11,000 pages of evidence in 2009
Assistant Commissioner John Yates failed miserably to adequately investigate systematic, widespread criminal phone hacking on a massive scale. His pathetic excuses in front of the Home Affairs Committee today must assume that MPs are idiots. 
To point the finger at News International and say "It is a matter of great concern that for whatever reason the NOTW failed to cooperate... with the relevant police inquiries... they have only recently provided evidence that would have had a significant impact". Poppycock Mr Yates, you are a police officer. Politicians can try and wriggle around and point the blame at others, but you were paid by the public to investigate. When you are sitting on 11,000 pages of evidence that is a pretty good start to join up the dots and haul in journalists and private investigators to demand answers. If you thought that the evidence was too big to handle for your officers you should have asked for more resources and asked for more time. You didn't. You ignored criminal activities and misled the public, parliament and the rest of the media that there were no other phone hacking other than the original Mulcaire-Goodman case. 
At best, the Met officer was grossly incompetent and negligent in overseeing the investigation in 2009 or (given the recent allegations of £130,000 of bribes paid to police officers) was dissuaded from investigating by vested interests, which makes him a fool. Either way, the man is not someone the British public should have in a senior position protecting them from criminals. John Yates should resign or be sacked.
The police found 11,000 pages of evidence from the original phone hacking cases and a cursory glance shows that there were many other victims who may have had their phones hacked. Andy Hayman was in charge of the 2009 investigation on the ground and promised to "leave no stone unturned". He then brazenly and misleadingly stated that: "The Guardian has said it understands that the police file shows that between 2,000 and 3,000 individuals had their mobile phones hacked into, far more than was ever officially admitted during the investigation and prosecution of Clive Goodman. Yet, my recollection is different. As I recall the list of those targeted, which was put together from records kept by Glen Mulcaire, ran to several hundred names. Of these, there was a small number — perhaps a handful — where there was evidence that the phones had actually been tampered with."
Clearly that is not the truth, when the Met have now admitted 4,000 names are in the evidence and after a thorough investigation it is likely that a substantial number will be found to be directly hacked or attempted to be hacked.
Former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman grossly misled the public
Mr Hayman no longer works for the Met so can't be sacked but he too should face an investigation for either blatant lies or at best, grossly misleading the public. However Mr Yates is still in place and needs to be held to account. Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee was withering in his dismissal of the credibility of Yates as a witness today and warned him about misleading parliament. Yates is likely to be recalled to the enquiry.
Yates supplied a letter to the Home Affairs Committee prior to attending and giving oral evidence today. He stated (in reference to advice from the Prosecution Counsel about the 2009 investigation) that: "It is appreciated that such a review is always undertaken in relation to relevance in respect of the indictment. However, in a written memorandum, dated 14th July 2009, Counsel stated: (the underlined aspects are my emphasis)

…'we did enquire of the police at a conference whether there was any evidence that the Editor of the News of the World was involved in the Goodman-Mulcaire offences. We were told that there was not (and we never saw such evidence).We also enquired whether there was any evidence connecting Mulcaire to other News of the World journalists. Again, we were told that there was not (and we never saw such evidence).'

In other words, in whatever guise - relevance to the indictment or otherwise - that Counsel considered the unused material, they stated then in unequivocal terms that they were neither told about nor did they see any matters that appeared to merit further investigation.
On 16th July 2009, in his own statement on the matter, the DPP stated 'it would not be appropriate to re-open the cases against Goodman and Mulcaire, or to revisit the decisions taken in the course of investigating and prosecuting them'. This led to the case remaining closed until January this year when new evidence was provided by News International which resulted in the launch of Operation Weeting."

The utter baloney that he has written to the Home Affairs Committee is staggering. Yates looked at 11,000 pages of evidence and he and his officers decided on the narrow confines of a brief not to look for any other possible leads of criminal activity. A cursory glance would have shown highly suspicious evidence. They must though have come across examples of wrong doing but decided not to offer it up as a viable case to the CPS. The question is; why? They didn't tell the victims that their phones had been hacked or were likely to have been hacked. They didn't take even samples of the evidence to chase down to see if there could be hard evidence of hacking. They walked a tight rope of ignoring everything apart from the original case to see if there was a water tight case of further wrong doing by journalists linked only to Mulcaire and the specific case for which he was found guilty. Staggering. Absolutely staggering. By blatantly and openly ignoring the mountain of evidence, Yates gave a further green light to the media to carry on as before to hack and blag their way through people's private lives. Yates has a greater responsibility to ensure that the excesses and criminal activities of those that live in the shadows are routed out and prosecuted. He has failed miserably and should go now.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

News of the World closes but 'Phonegate' goes on

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After years of denial, obfuscation and lies, News of the World has been forceably closed down by James Murdoch, Chairman of News International today. Phonegate had degenerated into hourly revelations of gratuitous phone hacking of 7/7 victims, Milly Dowler's phone and servicemen and women.  
Police officer at News International offices
The British press has taken a rightful battering for the industrial scale use of direct phone hacking and the use of private investigators to listen into private voice-mails to glean a quick story or a morsel of information.
The police must also be brought to account for the grossly incompetent and negligent first investigation in 2006 that repeatedly denied any wrong doing outside the original court case of two men. The reality was that evidence was hidden and ignored implicating many others. After hearing that police officers were indeed on the payroll of the News of the World, British justice has also taken a hammering. Can the police be trusted to carry out their work and not take bribes?
Met commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson Met chief
Police officers may have accepted over £100,000 in bribes, although Met Commission (above)
Sir Paul Stephenson had said the sums were 'small'
The Guardian has revealed that perhaps 4,000 victims are listed in the evidence and after the then Assistant John Yates had dismissed the newspaper for claiming in 2009 that between 2,000 and 3,000 might have been victims, it shows the deliberate misleading and perhaps untruths that were told by senior police officers.
Now the heat will be turned up on Rebekah Brooks and whether she knew more than she claims about the scandal. It seems like a question of time before she will be forced out. Murdoch has had enough and is now purging his media empire of those tarnished by Phonegate.
Rebekah Brooks with Rupert and James Murdoch - clock ticks to her firing?
The repercussions of this scandal will reverberate for generations to come but maybe it will be the catalyst to clean up journalism and end the dirty tactics of dish the dirt on anyone at any cost. However, it will take a long time for the public to forgive the excesses of this scandal. With ongoing police enquiries involving dozens of police officers sifting the evidence and new charges being brought regularly against employees of News International, this is far from over. Perhaps the worst is still to come out about what these disgraceful individuals did to the innocent? How many lives have they ruined in pursuit of a so called 'exclusive'?
News of the World
News of the World - the end but the scandal goes on

Monday, 30 May 2011

Goodbye nuclear, hello green energy

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German nuclear plant
In Germany, arguments are raging over the decision to close down all nuclear plants by 2022 following the tragic and avoidable meltdown of Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Germany's Angela Merkel although pressed hard by electoral gains by the Greens, has still taken a brave decision. However, it will also cast a long shadow over the landscape as the solution seems to be to build 'mega masts' to move energy from the North's wind turbines to the South via power lines in the sky. 
Chancellor Merkel on flight over Baltic 1 wind farm, 2 May 11
Chancellor's Angel Merkel takes a brave step towards a non-nuclear future
Traversing the beautiful forests of Rennsteig, the high voltage cables on large pylons, will scar an idyllic piece of the countryside to provide the 'Energie Autobahn' that cities such as Munich and Stuttgart will need. This is a quick and lazy solution to the problem.  If the Government was willing, it could bury the lines or find other solutions to developing alternative energy sources for the South of Germany. 
Green demonstration in Schalkau, Germany
Local residents opposing the proposed pylons
The risks from nuclear energy and all the waste that accompanies it are well known but after a hiatus of the past ten years when nuclear energy seemed to grow in respectability, Fukushima blew away the veil of naivety to reveal a form of science that repeatedly causes  deadly consequences. Nuclear has received bad press over the years from a suspicious public and media seizing on any doomsday news to exploit fears and worries over its safety. By ignoring the massive waste problem and tinkering with the figures, the argument was that nuclear was cheap, safe and carbon neutral. 
Nuclear power stations operational around the world. Click image for full graphic. GRAPHIC NEWS
The belt of nuclear reactors around the earth's middle
But Fukushima once and for all ended the 'rational', 'green' argument that nuclear was needed in a world with self inflicted climate change. 
In this combination of photos, the Number one reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, is seen before, left, and after an explosion that blew out the walls of the unit, in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture in Japan. The photo at left was taken in October 2008, and the photo at right was released by the Tokyo Power Electric Co on 12 March, following the explosion (AP Photo/Kyodo News and Tokyo Power Electric Company)
Before and after the explosion at Fukushima
Japanese Self Defense Forces wearing anti-radiation gear search for evacuees in...
The explosion destroyed the hull of the building containing the reactor, the...
The world should detach itself from the reliance of nuclear energy and massively invest in sustainable energy sources; wind, solar and water power. For too long countries have given muted support to alternatives and failed to turn them into mainstream. This is not an easy solution and arguments rage over whether alternatives energy sources can meet the demand, especially with the massive increases in energy demand from developing nations such as China and India, but a way has to be found. No one ever said finding enough energy for the human race was an easy science, but the sooner we seriously start, the better. Germany has taken the first steps and the rest of the world should follow. Organisations such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) are blazing the trail to find 100% sustainable energy solutions.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Bring war criminals to justice

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General Ratko Mladic
The news that Ratko Mladic has been found and arrested is a positive reminder of international justice working. Mladic was indicted for the slaughter of 7,500 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 and his day in court is long overdue. 
Cemetery at Srebrenica-Potocari
Just like the Nuremberg trials in 1945-46, it is very important to demonstrate that those who commit crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes are found and publicly tried.
Nuremberg Trials
I remember writing to the British Prime Minister, John Major demanding that something be done to end the massacre and receiving a typically bland reply and thinking that his weak, hand wringing was utterly unacceptable. I had grown up with the images of Jews being hunted and murdered by Nazi thugs and here on European soil was another genocide being practised. Major's letter to me was one of the galvanising forces that led me to throw my hat into the ring for the Labour candidacy a year or so later and led me to winning the seat of Shrewsbury and Atcham in 1997.
Slobodan Milosevic
In 2003 on the second anniversary of 9/11, I visited The Hague to see the trial of Milosevic and watched him behind the glass screen. He was brazen, confident and tried to impose his personality and will on the court. The judges were not impressed and would repeatedly correct his behaviour. The mistake was to allow the trial to drag on for more than five years and give the former President of Serbia so much air time. His early death of natural causes in custody robbed his victims of seeing him found guilty but at least he was forced to endure a trial and face his accusers in court.
Justice can still be done if proceedings are clearly given boundaries and a trial of even one year should have been enough. I was incredibly impressed meeting the legal team for the prosecution who were working with very limited budgets and having to fly witness around the world from for instance Sarajevo to Geneva to Paris and then The Hague so that the neighbours back home did not know they were appearing as witnesses against Milosevic. It took a huge amount of resource to make justice work and for it to be seen to be working.
But what remains in my mind is the terstimony of one witness who appeared cloaked behind a curtain. She was crying and whispered the story of how the Serbian soldiers had arrived in her village and picked out men and boys to kill. They then found two women hiding in a toilet block and casually tossed in two hand grenades. They walked away laughing to the screams of the women dying an awful death. 
Humans can be the most amazingly kind, generous protective creatures who can love and care for the vulnerable and the sick. Yet the same species can also be unspeakably cruel, devious and wicked. What happened in the Former Yugoslavia (on all sides) were acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. It is right and proper to hunt down those responsible. They can and will have a fair trial and the opportunity to defend themselves but that is the best way to deal with them.
Osama Bin Laden 
The killing of Osama Bin Laden was different. American Special Forces had split seconds to decide on foreign soil if they could take him alive and President Obama had made clear in his orders (no one could imagine President Bush seriously considering international law) that if possible he should be arrested. It was highly likely that given the risks involved the most likely outcome was that Bin Laden, a self confessed terrorist, would be shot and killed with the clock ticking down until all Hell let loose in Pakistan.
Front view of the ICTY.jpg
ICTY building in The Hague
Mladic will hopefully be handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [corrected from original article that stated International Criminal Court] in The Hague peacefully, just like Milosevic was before him. There is time to carry out the indictment and time for justice to be smoothly practised. 
It has been a bumpy road but I trust that the trend towards indicting, arresting and putting on trial where-ever possible will continue for those who carry out atrocities. As democracy flourishes and grows the values of justice under the auspices of the United Nations, will push back the evil that humans do until one day I hope such acts will banished into the mists of time.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Super injunction absurdity

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After my Blog last Saturday, the cat was finally out of the bag yesterday when John Hemming MP mentioned in parliament the rich footballer as Ryan Giggs who had taken out a super injunction affecting Imogen Thomas about allegations that he had an affair with her. To date Giggs has apparently not denied it.
John Hemmings MP
At one point, there was the absurd situation with the Sunday Herald placing a huge photograph of Giggs wearing a Manchester United shirt, on their front page with a tiny blacked out strip across his eyes saying 'censored'. The Herald claimed they were unaffected by the super injunction in Scotland.
Cameron also finally began to wake up to the mess and ordered a committee to convene to look at potential solutions to the current debacle of judges making up censorship laws as they go along and Twitterers blatantly ignoring them.
Was it opportunistic of Hemming to mention Giggs and breach a court order knowing he was safe from prosecution under parliamentary privilege? Yes, of course, but frankly the surreal situation of thousands of people being criminalised by gossiping that Giggs may have taken out a super injunction was fast becoming untenable. Would the courts try to force Twitter to hand over user names and identify those who may have breached the order? 70,000 people could have ended up in court. It simply was not going to happen. The courts have better things to do with their time.
Sunday Herald front page
As I mentioned in my Blog on Saturday 21st May, there are rare circumstances when I think a private individual should have the right to take out a super injunction but those circumstances should be exceptional and not just for the super rich to protect them from gossip. My Blog hit the front page of searches over the weekend for people searching to find out who was the footballer at the centre of the controversy.
I sincerely hope Cameron's new committee will rapidly come up with a set of proposals so that parliament can vote on them in the Autumn and gain Royal Assent by the end of the year. This issue is not going to go away sometime soon. There could still be various criminal cases involving Imogen Thomas, Piers Morgan, Dom Joly, Boy George, Toby Young and many others accused of allegedly leaking the information on Twitter and possibly others (your truly may be?).

Banning the book simply pushed up sales 
The situation reminded me of the 'Spycatcher' affair. The book was banned in the UK and in the days before the Internet it was a lot harder to find a copy of it overseas.
Nevertheless, I tracked down a copy to a book store in the US and purchased it. After reading it, I did wonder what the fuss was all about. Likewise, I am sure that Ryan Giggs will wonder whether the hyper-speculation over many weeks and the final outing has propelled his private life ironically into the spotlight far more than if he had taken the hit many months ago and issued a short statement about the alleged affair.

Imogen Thomas
Imogen Thomas
It is interesting to draw an analogy between phone hacking and super injunctions. In 2006, the police refused to fully investigate obvious, serious breaches of privacy affecting hundreds of people when their phones were hacked on an 'industrial scale' and then covered up by Executives and senior managers in the News of the World and other newspapers.
Now the CPS and police are being ordered by the courts to rapidly bring cases to try and criminalise anyone who even passes a view on an injunction (and not even on the substance of the allegation) which are currently designed to hush up indiscretions of the rich and the famous. Sorry but clearly the law is an ass. Don't get me started on gung ho judges wanting to shut up democratically elected MPs....

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Privacy vs Public Interest - Ryan Giggs vs Imogen Thomas

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Arguments continue to rage about whether super-injunctions should be allowed to protect any form of reporting about certain issues (including the fact an injunction even exits). It seems that the debate is polarised and causes immense passion on both sides. Sometimes super injunctions are needed to protect people from the worst excesses of the media. On the other hand, some of those super injunctions are designed by the rich to buy them greater legal protection than is available to the vast majority and there is not a sufficient reason to justify imposing such sweeping censorship.
Imogen Thomas, PA
Imogen Thomas is unable to comment due to the court order
Lately,  Ryan Giggs has allegedly secured a super injunction to stop any mention of an affair with Imogen Thomas. Yet Twitter users have apparently ignored the injunction and made a mockery of the courts and the system of super injunctions by naming him. We will wait and see if Giggs denies the allegations. If he does, then his name has been badly smeared. The worry is that it is left to the users of social media to push back against over zealous courts in an erratic, unregulated manner. Jemima Khan was left furiously denying any affair with Jeremy Clarkson after being falsely named on Twitter.
Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs has allegedly secured a super injunction against Imogen Thomas
For those that argue that anyone in the public eye should be open to any form of press scrutiny, I can see the logic of their puritanical (if simplistic) argument but it would allow anyone even forced into the public domain, such as a rape victim, to have to put up with paparazzi photographs. That would be grotesque and outrageous. So after that simplistic argument, the question is where do you draw the line before you reach the other end of the spectrum with press censorship by the rich and the powerful?

Hugh Grant has taken a tough stance against press intrusion
Hugh Grant takes a view that if his job requires certain publicity such as attending a film premiere that should not give the automatic right to the press to be able to route through his bins and lie in wait outside his house or when he goes shopping. That sounds reasonable. Likewise, just because someone walks down the street and is photographed with their children, does not mean that they have necessarily invited the photographers to come and take their photo (although some celebrities and their agents apparently tip off the press on their whereabouts specifically so they can appear in magazines such as OK! and Hello).
John Terry took out a super injunction in 2010
However, the use of super injunctions does cause real concern. There is little doubt that only those who are rich and famous can afford to go to court and seek such overbearing and prescriptive orders. The argument that they are the only kinds of people who need them and Mrs Smith from Burnley who is a clerk in an office would never need one, is not the point. Mrs Smith should not be told that some parts of the law are off limits and that she had better pray that she doesn’t need to get a super injunction because she can’t afford one, is a dangerous precedent for a law that should be blind to who you are and the size of your wallet or purse. No, it would be better that parliament set the rules on privacy vs public interest rather than judges listening to super rich lawyers earning six figure salaries on behalf of rich people earning seven or eight figure salaries.
Yet, Lord Neuberger's recent report on this issue seems to conclude that parliamentarians should be gagged by taking away their privilege to report any such injunction in parliament. That is a scary statement from a senior judge who is Master of the Rolls. MPs rarely use such privilege and understand the responsibility of using it. However, the fact a judge wishes to stop MPs openly challenging the courts demonstrates that it is the courts that need to be reminded that it is parliament who is the sovereign body in this country and not judges.
An unprecedented attack on Parliamentary privilege: Lord Neuberger would gag MPs and peers
Lord Neuberger wants to gag MPs in parliament
Some will argue that there should be no right to telling the press what they can and cannot print given that sometimes individuals invite the press into their private lives and then five minutes later complain bitterly that they do not want to be photographed or door stepped. Well frankly, why not? Just because I agree to shop in Sainsbury’s one week should not force me to go next week. My ‘contract’ is in fact a freedom to choose who I do business with. Therefore, there should be a respect for when it is agreeable for the press to arrive to take photographs and when they are not welcome.
Andrew Marr
The BBC's Andrew Marr was embarrassed by taking out an injunction
I have suffered first hand from a journalist screaming abuse at my young son through my letterbox threatening to print a story if he didn’t go and persuade his daddy to come to the door. I have seen the belligerent tactics of a press who have not a care in the world for family members. As an MP, I even had one heated conversation with a regional newspaper editor who said, “your wife is public property and I’ll print what I like about her”. A charming man. On other occasions I have endured a journalist from the News of the World repeatedly ringing a family member posing as a policeman from “Belgravia Police Station” and saying I was involved in a car accident and he urgently needed my address. Of course, I had not been involved in any accident and the 'policeman' upon checking, did not exist. Another time a journalist posed as my sister and rang up the hospital where a family member was seriously ill, to try and get medical information. Fortunately, a sharp minded nurse gave the woman short shrift.
There are some members of the press who know no bounds of living in the gutter to get any information that they can use. They will twist around information to talk up to sound like a thriller story that will grip readers, regardless of facts. The trail of havoc though that they lead behind them, lasts forever. Would I have taken out a super injunction to protect my family in those circumstances and I had the money? Yes, in a heartbeat. But the injunction would be based on stopping photographs of my children appearing in the press, untrue liaisons with other women or medical details of my family. The problem lies in the way the press will gossip, smear and use innuendo which is not in the public interest. The rules are grey and unenforceable and every case is unique. That is where clarification is needed to cut through to say, "Is this story really in the public interest?".
For those in the public eye being scrutinised under genuine public interest (and not because it is interesting to the public) then the rules are different. If a politician has defrauded the taxpayer then it is reasonable to investigate them and ask them for comment and take their photograph. If an actor stars as a policeman on TV and makes his name and fortune in a role that is demonstrating he is a law enforcer, then it seems perfectly reasonable to highlight the fact he was caught speeding in a car. If a footballer who makes money from his family image and pretends to be happily married and yet has a six month affair, then yes it is right the press explains to the public that he is misleading them.
However, in each of those cases, I fear for the impact on the families of those individuals who are innocent victims. They will pay for the rest of their lives for the mistakes of the individuals and perhaps the tenacity of the media.
For the record, I think most journalists in the UK are respectable, reputable professionals who are a true asset to our democracy. Unfortunately there is a small minority who are truly undesirable individuals who need to be reined in.
The problem is that some in the media sometimes don’t just push against the boundaries of decent behaviour or slightly bend the rules in pursuit of a public interest agenda, they sometimes utterly disregard them and have no problem in wreaking people’s lives in order to get a story that will improve ratings on TV or sell more newspapers. It is the recklessness that some wish to curtail and given the repeated number of times some in the media over step the mark, a voluntary system of enforcement is worthless.
David Cameron needs to come up with new legislation on the boundaries for protecting privacy
The Government should look at now designing a sensible system of legislation that gets the balance right. Otherwise, more injunctions will be taken out by the rich and they will be able to protect more than their privacy and no doubt use the legal tactics to prevent the public finding out wrong doing. The leaking and breaches of court injunctions seem the only defence against the onerous court orders and yet it should be the responsibility of parliament to take action rather than those using social media. With rich footballers now hounding Twitter to reveal user information to pursue individuals that breach injunctions, this argument will continue to rage until the Government stops ducking the issue and takes action. The current situation is an utter mess and it will only spiral further out of control with even more zealous courts and social media users determined to name and shame regardless of the consequences. David Cameron needs to get off the sidelines and bring forward new legislation that sets out the red lines of where privacy should be protected.