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Tuesday, February 27, 2007 

Scum-watch: Silence, torture and police grandstanding.

I'm unsure of what to make of the complete silence from the Sun over the decision by Alistair Darling to ask Ofcom to review whether Sky's purchase of a near 18% stake in ITV is in the public interest. As the Grauniad report makes clear, Sky executives and no doubt the Murdochs themselves must be furious. After nearly 10 years of complete sycophancy towards the Blair government from the Sun and the Times, the scratch our back and we'll scratch yours pact seems to have come slightly undone.

On one level, Darling's decision is incredibly inflammatory. For a government that has gone out of its way to try to keep the Murdoch tiger in check, such a snub which could potentially lead to Sky's acquisition of the shares being blocked is like a red rag to a bull. However much Murdoch has denied it, it's always been thought that he would at some point try to buy a stake in one of the terrestrial broadcasters, and most assumed it would be Channel 5. As Nils Pratley suggests, the 2003 Communications Act even seemed to prepare for this to happen. The surprise was that Murdoch instead went for ITV, with no warning that such a purchase was coming, and only very shortly after NTL (now Virgin Media) had attempted a takeover. Many justifiably saw this as Murdoch's attempt to stop Richard Branson from building his own rival empire, and it's most likely been the rage of Branson, however hypocritical and opportunistic it is, that has led to Darling ordering Ofcom to investigate.

The really interesting thing is that Darling has apparently come into agreement with Branson. Although Virgin is now ubiqitious, Branson simply cannot compete in the power stakes with Murdoch. This makes me wonder whether this is either a ploy or a backup plan by the Brownites (of whom Darling is certainly a member) in case Murdoch decides with the departure of Blair to switch allegiance back to the Tories. Brown has courted Wade and Murdoch, most recently at the conference in Davos where they sat side by side, but he would be wise to beware of the knife in the back. John Major believed that it was the Sun switching to Labour that was the final nail in the coffin for the Tories, and with Cameron racing ahead in the polls, Brown must be more than aware that Murdoch backs winners, not losers, however much he got it wrong over Iraq.

It's this that would lead me to expect some suitably outraged editorial or simply a report from today's Scum, making it clear to Labour where its bread is buttered. Instead, there's nothing, not even a report about Darling's decision to bring Ofcom into the equation. News International often doesn't cover things that are potentially embarrassing towards its masters, or that might provoke uncomfortable questions from newspaper readers, but the Times has covered the story. I've tried every search combination possible on the Scum website, and there's nothing there. For now, silence seems to be the order of the day to stop the issue from being further inflamed.

There is however a quite wonderful ranting leader about Abu Qatada (Qatada, Qutada, whatever):

VILE Abu Qatada has spent a third of his life enjoying the warm embrace of the democracy he wants to destroy.

Sadly our indulgence of him is not over yet.

His family scrounged hundreds of thousands of pounds in state handouts after he arrived here on a fake passport in 1993.

Surely took advantage of the welfare state like every other citizen can?

He was granted asylum despite a dossier detailing his extensive links with terrorists.

Taxpayers have since forked out £140,000 to keep him locked up and a scandalous £200,000 in Legal Aid for him to fight the deportation he obviously merits.

This despite £180,000 in cash being found at his home.

Well, if this £180,000 was his, it should be used to pay for his legal representation. If it isn't, there isn't much that can be done about it. Being a "terrorist suspect" does not and never should disqualify you from seeking legal aid. If the government had attempted to try him instead of simply getting rid of him, then he might well be now languishing in a cell like Abu Hamza.

This is the man whose sermons against the West inspired the 9/11 hijackers. How he must chuckle as a Western legal system continues to bend over backwards for him.

Or continues to treat him like anyone else would be. Whichever you prefer.

At least one obstacle to his exit is gone: Jordan, where he has already been convicted of terror attacks, has agreed not to torture him.

A pity, but we all have to compromise.

The Sun being witty about a man potentially being tortured? Who woulda thunk it?!

Elsewhere, the Sun reports on the judge rightly chastising the police for remanding in custody the teenager who so nearly shot dead dear old Dave Cameron with his converted fingers:

A JUDGE attacked cops yesterday for locking up a hoodie who pointed an imaginary gun at Tory leader David Cameron.

Judge Wendy Lloyd said she was “concerned” the yob, 17, had been kept in custody for possessing just £5 of cannabis.

She said: “I am extremely angry about this case. There are robbers and burglars at large. But if you make a silly gesture behind Mr Cameron’s back then you are remanded in custody.”

She fined the lout £25 and released him from custody, where he had been held since Saturday. He faces a burglary rap next week.

It's been a while since I last indulged, but back then an eighth was £10. If prices have stayed broadly the same, he had about a sixteenth of the drug, which is barely enough for a couple of spliffs. Cannabis is a Class C drug, and until recently possession of such a small amount as this young man had would not have been an arrestable offence, unless there were mitigating circumstances. It seems that his boasting was enough for the police to raid his house, and the tiny amount he possessed resulted in his appearance before the judge and being remanded in custody.

You can argue about the merits of the police going after casual drug users, yet there seems to have been little reason for him being kept in custody. He is as the police themselves recognise tagged and under curfew. For such a minor offence, there was no reason for keeping him in, other than to make an example of him.

But police were furious at the judge’s reprimand. A senior source said: “The comments are unbelievable. Maybe this lad will get sent on a holiday camp or skiing to show him the error of his ways.

“He’s already tagged for previous offences. It’s a case of another judge who doesn’t know the reality of life. We certainly hope for the judge’s sake that he doesn’t re-offend.

“We took proper guidance and it was completely correct that he was kept in custody.”

The fact that he's tagged for previous offences doesn't matter when he was arrested simply for possessing a tiny amount of a drug. The whole thing was a complete waste of time and effort on the police's part, and their petulance at being given a dressing down for seeking such publicity by arresting the kid in the first place, when they could have just confiscated his weed and gave him a caution is telling. This isn't to defend the boy for being a thick little prick, but the police ought to know when to leave something alone, and this was one of those cases. He'd already proved that he was a moron, and the police's interference has if anything victimised him for simply being an idle prat around a politician.

Not Saussure also made some good points surrounding the case and contempt of court, and although I haven't named him in this post, the whole issue is something of a grey area.

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