Friday, September 30, 2005 

More anti-social policy suggestions, straight from the heart of No10.

Just completely depressing and soul-crushing after a bad enough week:

Tony Blair's willingness to embrace the law and order agenda became clear last night as Whitehall prepares to draw up powers for the police to dispense summary justice to combat antisocial behaviour and binge drinking. The new police powers are expected to include:

· Instant Asbos: much greater use of injunction-style "interim Asbos" granted to the police without evidence or witnesses having to be heard or the defendant informed. Bans and restrictions remain in place until a full court hearing.

· New police powers to cancel late-night extensions for rowdy pubs and clubs without having to bother the courts.

· Fixed penalty fines of £80 for drunk and disorderly behaviour. Three tickets and persistent binge drinkers will face a "drinking banning order" barring them from pubs and clubs in a specified area for a specified time, possibly a month. Underage drinkers and those who serve them will face similar fines.

· Extending £80 and £40 fixed penalty fines handed out by police officers for rowdy behaviour to 10- to 15-year-olds. schemes are under way in seven police forces. Those who do not pay or go to court will face fines of £120 and £60.

· Extending existing powers implemented in January 2004 to close down crack dens by giving the police wider powers to evict drug dealers first and insist they can only challenge the police action in the courts later.

The prime minister confirmed yesterday that this "radical extension of summary police powers" will be hammered out in the next few weeks and published before the end of the year. It will put the rights of law-abiding people to live in safety before the need to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction if necessary.

"I don't think that the traditional law can give law-abiding people adequate protection. We are trying to fight 21st-century crime - antisocial behaviour, drug-dealing, binge drinking, organised crime - with 19th-century methods as if we still lived in the time of Dickens," Mr Blair said in his Labour conference speech.

He spelled out yesterday what is going to be involved: "I want to go further," he said in a round of end-of-conference interviews. "I will have meetings in the next few weeks on this issue. Whatever powers the police need to crack down on this, I will give them," he said.

Judges have already warned the Home Office that they are not happy with the idea of imposing restrictions on people's liberty without a proper hearing. One district judge told Home Office researchers last year: "It would come under the human rights situation, wouldn't it? Making orders without there being any evidence considered?"

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the prime minister wanted the police to dispense summary justice: "They are no longer investigating crime but dishing out the punishments themselves. If he goes any further than he has already gone, he will be modifying policing in this country for all time."

Instant Asbos: It sounds like a new drink, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Asbos are bad and authoritarian enough: now the police will have the power to give summary "justice" by not even having to prevent any evidence or witnesses to a court. Such things could be based on pure hearsay. What if a person breaches an interim-Asbo? Will they be thrown to rot away in the cells until a court has time to hear them? Will they be applied to beggars and prostitutes in the same way that Asbos have been?

Fining underage kids is another great way to fill the tax coffers with the money of the poor, I guess. The kids get the fine, go home, get a thick ear or worse, a beating from their parents, who are the ones left out of pocket. What exactly is "rowdy behaviour?" Is it the kind of behaviour that intimidates people, just youths hanging about on street corners, but actually not doing anything wrong? Fines are another great way of putting a problem to the back of your head, especially as so many go unpaid. The sad fact is that if they were enforced completely, many would be left destitute.

The fines for those serving the underage will further limit the rights of those old enough to buy alcohol but who don't look it. This already expands to videos and DVDs. Why should I have to carry ID to prove my age when I'm old enough to legally purchase goods? Why should I have to carry ID full stop?

The other ideas/proposals are reasonably sane, thankfully, as long as they are not abused. In a week which has seen the Terrorism Act used to stop Walter Wolfgang re-entering the Labour conference, I can't say I'm convinced.

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. If you feel as strongly about this as I do, you should join Liberty. I did at the beginning of last month. It costs £8 a year if you're unwaged, or £24 if you're employed. I think it's a small cost to support an organisation that is launching campaigns to safeguard our rights on all fronts, including ID cards. Here's what Shami Chakrabrati, the director of Liberty, said about Blair's conference speech:

“The Prime Ministers speech contained much rhetoric about progressive values and the responsibility of true leadership. But there is nothing progressive or responsible about rubbishing the presumption of innocence or dishing out yet more summary police powers; after eight years it is time he changed the record”.

I couldn't agree more.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005 

Moss dross week 2.

I really hoped it wouldn't go on this long, but it has. Both the Sun and Times had Moss on their front page today, apparently as she is now entering "rehab". Whether this involves laying in a hotel somewhere for a month or actually detoxing is up to you to guess. Oh and the link between the two? Yep, they are both owned by this blog's best friend, Rupert Murdoch.

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More scaremongering from London anti-terrorist police.

The police officer in overall charge of London's anti-terrorist operation has told the Guardian that Scotland Yard is tracking a number of potential terrorist suspects who may be planning further attacks.

In his first full interview since the July 7 atrocities, Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman said none of the individuals was linked to the blasts on July 7, or the attempted bombings two weeks later.

No master plot had been discovered, but Mr Hayman said that the force, and Londoners, would have to accept that the city was now a prime target. He anticipated other terrorist cells, which may well be British, would launch attacks.

"I don't want to scaremonger but it has to be said, when you look around the world and at the prominence of London, that the threat is real," said Mr Hayman. He said detectives were actively pursuing "other lines of investigation".

"We always remain active in covert operations. We have a number of people who are of interest."

He added: "London is an iconic site as a location for another terrorist attack. We have to be vigilant but you can't predict where or how or when they will try."

Yes, London is obviously an iconic site to attack. But let's remember one thing: none of the countries hit by "al-Qaida" since 9/11 have been hit again. America hasn't (directly). Spain hasn't. Bali hasn't. Istanbul hasn't. Tunisia hasn't. Morroco hasn't. Iraq and Afghanistan don't count for obvious reasons. You can argue against Chechnya also, but I'd describe that as an internal conflict with Russia rather than a international terrorist beacon. The London attempted bombings of the 21st were most likely done by incompetents or copycats, and it's also doubtful whether the 7th bombers had any link with "al-Qaida".

So who is likely to be targeted next? My guess is countries in the coalition of the willing that have up to yet emerged unscathed. Australia has not been hit directly, despite the Bali and Indonesia bombings. Italy has not been touched. Japan is another possible target, as is Israel, which has not had an al-Qaida spectacular, maybe only because Hamas and Islamic Jihad are just as capable. Poland is also another target, being the main member of "new Europe." This is not to say that other countries have no threat level, I'm sure they have. France's ban on the hijab in public institutions could be used as an excuse. I would find attacks on the above much more likely than further attempts on countries already hit, although the United States is undoubtedly the main target for Islamic fundamentalists everywhere.

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New Labour, no dissent.

There are some things you don't expect to happen, even at a Labour conference where the motto seems to be "don't mention the war". The sight of 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang being forcibly ejected for daring to heckle Jack Straw during a small mention of the Iraq war was one thing I genuinely did not expect even Labour to sink to.

Then again, this is from a party that over the last few years has expelled numerous members and even an MP for going off message. George Galloway was expelled for allegedly telling British soldiers to disobey illegal orders. In Blaenau Gwent, where life-long party member Peter Law stood against Labour after an all-woman shortlist was imposed, and a Blairite was parachuted in as the party's candidate, many members were expelled for supporting him. More recently other members have been threatened for tactically supporting Liberal Democrats in constituencies where Labour could not win, despite numerous columnists and the Guardian supporting tactical voting.

There still is dissent in the Labour party. Not all MPs are there to become government ministers to further their careers. The Campaign group is still vocal, despite its old-lefty image. However, as more groomed Blairites appear to be dropped onto constituencies whether they want them or not, Labour cannot pretend that it does not have problems with internal dissent.

Let's face it. Labour is and always has been governed by control freaks. One of the things Blair's reign will be remembered for will be spin, especially the David Kelly affair. If Labour wants to make the public believe that they are actually listening, the least they could do is actually start some proper debates within the party about what the post-Blair party really should look like. At the moment, the party is just heading for more of the same. If Brown cannot excite the party, what chance has he of gaining the public's trust?

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 


Last week's news story about Rupert Murdoch saying that Tony Blair had found the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Katrina full of hate for America was big. Despite this, 4 newspapers didn't make a mention of it, or if they did, they didn't cover it to the extent of every other newspaper in the land. Those newspapers? The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World. Now here's the question: guess who owns all 4 of those newspapers.

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'Darling, it's a long way in the future'.

Tony Blair yesterday completed his takeover of the Labour party. In his conference speech, he outlined exactly how he intends to "modernise" the public services, mainly by introducing "choice". Never mind that over half the population is unconvinced that the private sector has any place whatsoever in the NHS or running our schools, this is going to be Tony Blair's legacy.

It's worth going through Blair's entire speech to the Labour conference, just to show exactly how out of touch he has become with the average Labour or union member. The sad thing is that he has succeeded so well in destroying the Tories as a political force in this country that he has changed his adopted party into one slightly to the left of Thatcher's.

So what now? The world is on the move again, the change in the early 21st century even greater than that of the late 20th century. So now in turn, we have to change again - not step back from New Labour but step up to a new mark, a changing world is setting for us. The danger of government is fatigue; the benefit, experience.

I tell you my conclusion after eight years of being prime minister: the challenge we face is not in our values; it is how we put them into practice in a world fast forwarding to the future at unprecedented speed.

Over these eight years we have won the battle of values. The age we live in is democratic not deferential. We believe in solidarity. We believe in social justice, in opportunity not for a privileged few but for all, whatever their start in life. We believe in tolerance and respect, in strong communities standing by and standing up for the weak, the sick, the helpless.

Yes, the world is changing. China and India are undoubtedly rising, but their threat at the moment is being vastly exaggerated. Neither country is stable. Both have huge rates of poverty, with only a few being enriched. Our own country is barely democratic. When a party which won just 36% of the popular vote in the general election can have a majority of 60 seats in parliament, something stinks. If we believe in solidarity, why did Labour ministers condemn the strikers at Heathrow who walked out in support of the sacked Gate Gourmet workers? Why is Labour not prepared to remove the anti-union laws of the Thatcher era? The only solidarity Blair has believed in has been riding pillion with the United States in their foreign policy aims. If we believe in opportunity for all, why has Labour not done more to alleviate poverty? Tax credits, the minimum wage and Sure Start are all helping, but it is not enough. The gap between rich and poor continues to grow.

In the era of rapid globalisation, there is no mystery about what works: an open, liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive. The new world rewards those who are open to it. Foreign investment improves our economy. Or take immigration. We know we need strict controls. They are being put in place, along with identity cards, also necessary in a changing world. But one of the most satisfying things about the election was that the country saw through the Tories' nasty, unprincipled campaign on immigration. People who come to work and make their lives here make Britain not weaker but stronger.

Yes, we need to remain competitive. But this is not at the cost of throwing all our benefits we worked for throughout this century out of the window. The Scandinavian model of society has been shown to work: high tax, liberal penal and social policies, care from cradle to grave. And their economies are not falling into recession. As for immigration, the Tories campaign was despicable. But this is the same Labour party which has deported the Kachepas back to Malawi to an uncertain future. It's the same party that was going to send back failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe until stopped by a court. It's the same Labour party sending back immigrants to Iraq, despite the UN saying it is too dangerous. The pandering to the tabloids continues unabated.

In the first two terms we corrected the weaknesses of the Tory years: boom-and-bust economics, chronic underinvestment in public services, mass unemployment. But our job was never simply to repair the Tory damage; it was to create an inheritance for future generations by taking the tough decisions needed to secure our future. That is the task in the years ahead. We know how hard it is for families to balance work and home life. Over the next few years, we will open up for the first time ever a new frontier of the welfare state: affordable, wraparound childcare between the hours of 8am-6pm for all who need it. We will get more people off benefit and into work.

Labour inherited an economy on the up, but this is mainly correct. The childcare of 8-6 is a great, laudable idea. But it must not come through ever greater use of the private sector whose only aim is to profit from the children they are looking after. Children also should not be expected to be there from 8 till 6 every weekday. The culture of teaching to exams and SAT targets must be further investigated and changed if necessary.

Let's be frank about why so many people are on incapacity benefit: under the Tories it was used to conceal unemployment. Next month we will publish proposals radically to reform the benefit for the future and help people who can work back into the workforce, where they belong.

This is an untruth, and Blair knows it. Incapacity benefit has been used by many of those who suffered in the industrial decline under Thatcher, especially in the north. Many of those on it will never work again. They should not be forced back into menial, depressing work on lower pay that what they currently get it, just to improve figures which the Tories themselves created.

Next year too, building on Britain's Kyoto commitments, we will publish proposals on energy policy. Global warming is too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger or split into opposing factions on it. And for how much longer can countries like ours allow the security of our energy supply be dependent on some of the most unstable parts of the world?

For both reasons the G8 agreement must be made to work so we develop together the technology that allows prosperous nations to adapt and emerging ones to grow sustainably; and that means an assessment of all options, including civil nuclear power.

In transport, we will continue to develop proposals for a fundamental change in its funding, including road pricing. And next year, too, we will address the future of local government: a new and ambitious blueprint strengthening the leadership of our cities, giving good councils new freedoms and devolving more power to neighbourhoods.

Blair says the above, but we all know that energy policy won't go far enough. Some scientists already believe that global warming is too far advanced for anything to be done. As for depending on unstable countries for our energy supply, why doesn't he order the oil companies to actually drill what there is in the North Sea, rather than relying on easier to drill places such as in Russia? Part of the instability in the Middle East is our direct fault, and we continue to prop up regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Civil nuclear power is not going to solve anything. British Nuclear Fuels is badly run, costing taxpayers billions of pounds. Further plants would cost huge amounts of money, continue to create waste which we don't know what to do with, and would be unable to meet our energy demands on their own. All options must be on the table, but nuclear isn't the only answer.

In transport, we will continue to develop proposals for a fundamental change in its funding, including road pricing. And next year, too, we will address the future of local government: a new and ambitious blueprint strengthening the leadership of our cities, giving good councils new freedoms and devolving more power to neighbourhoods

No mention of the disaster of rail privatisation, a Tory blunder which Labour refuses to correct. Instead it is selling off a franchise which the public sector took over due to an appalling service, despite it being vastly improved and just as cost-efficient. The huge price increases in train fares have not resulted in an improved service. Buses are in a similar mess. Road pricing might work; it also might not. Instead of focusing on car-sharing, removing the car from the centre of our lives and developing alternatives, we continue with an unsustainable policy. New Labour, no change.

The truth is, command public services today are no more acceptable than a command economy. The 21st century's expectations in public services are a world away from those of 1945. People demand quality, choice, high standards. Why? Because in every other walk of life they demand them. And they are paying their taxes, so they feel they are entitled to them. If we misunderstand this, we will make a mistake of the proportions of council house sales in the 1980s. We know what makes a good school: good leadership, great teachers, strong discipline, a love of learning. We know what makes good healthcare: quick access, committed care, clean, comfortable surroundings. But what happens if you can't get them? If you've the money, you buy better. That is an affront to every progressive value we believe in. There's a great myth here, which is that we don't have a market in services now; we do. It's called private schools and private healthcare. But it's only open to the well-off. There is another myth: choice is a New Labour invention. Wrong. Choice is what wealthy people have exercised for centuries. The Tories have always been comfortable with that. But for Labour, choice is too important to be the monopoly of the wealthy.

A final myth: the way to keep universal services universal is to make them uniform. Again, wrong. The way to keep services universal is to make them of such quality that enough of those who can afford to go private opt to stay in the public service.

Of course people demand quality, choice and high standards. But they want it where they are, locally. They don't want to choose which hospital to have it, or whether to go part-private. They want it where they are. If that is being uniform, then uniform is what they want. What the rich have is access to quality; that is not choice. Choose between the NHS and private and if they can afford it they'll pick private anyway. The NHS is there for everyone's use, no matter what, but we shouldn't introduce needless reforms and markets to pander for those who always have and always will do otherwise. Quality at point of access is what is essential.

I will never return us to selection aged 11 in our schools. I will never allow the NHS to charge for treatment.

Under the Warwick accord, we are ending the two-tier workforce. But it isn't fair when parents have no option but to send their child to a poor local school, or a patient can't get diagnostic tests done in six months when the technology and the capacity exist to deliver it in days.

The wealthy, by their wealth, can change that in their lives. I want decent, hardworking families to have the same power. Every time I've ever introduced a reform in government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further.

Specialist schools, denounced at the time, have performed better than traditional comprehensives. Fact. City Academies are massively oversubscribed. Fact. And the beneficiaries are not fat cats. They are some of the poorest families in the poorest parts of Britain.

We only got big falls in waiting times after introducing competition for routine surgery. Fact. That is why the NHS reforms, to break down the old monolith, bring in new providers, allow patients choice, must continue. Money alone won't work; money and reform will, and if we stick with it, by 2008 we will for the first time in the NHS's history offer booked appointments at the patient's convenience and a maximum wait of 18 weeks from the GP to the operating theatre with an average wait of nine weeks - not the 18 months just to get off the consultants' list we inherited from the Tories but 18 weeks for the whole thing.

Selection at 11 still exists in many parts of the country, and Labour has done nothing to remove it. In fact, with the specialists and academy schools, it has continued to further it. Specialist schools can select some of their intake; academies are becoming massively oversubscribed because they're new and getting more money putting into them. Neither have yet been found to be improving standards when viewed on a basis with the schools they replaced. Instead of distributing the money fairly these schools are taking the pick over the "bog-standard comprehensives" loathed by Labour.

Every time he's introduced a reform he's wanted to go further. Did you want to make top-up fees even higher than £3,000 Mr Blair, when your education was free, even though you promised not to introduce them in the 2001 manifesto? Did you want to make foundation hospitals even more financially independent, even though they are having just as many problems without complete independence? Did you want to destroy the lives of even more single mothers by taking away their benefits? The numbers of those enduring long waiting times were dropping before competition was introduced.

The same adjustment to the modern world challenges traditional thinking on law and order. It is true: crime, overall, is down, burglary and car crime by big numbers. But it's not the point.

Respect is about more than crime. It's about the loss of a value which is a necessary part of any strong community: proper behaviour, good conduct, the unselfish notion that the other person matters. The roots of this are deep and are formed partly by the same forces of change at work in our economy: the break up of traditional communities and family structures, changing lifestyles.

The bonds of cohesion have been loosened. They cannot be tied again the same way. But, in a different way, they can. And, again based on my experience, I want to say how I think it can be done.

For eight years I have battered the criminal justice system to get it to change. And it was only when we started to introduce special ASB laws, we really made a difference. And I now understand why: the system itself is the problem. We are trying to fight 21st-century crime - ASB, drug-dealing, binge-drinking, organised crime - with 19th-century methods, as if we still lived in the time of Dickens.

The whole of our system starts from the proposition that its duty is to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted. Don't misunderstand me: that must be the duty of any criminal justice system. But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety.It means a complete change of thinking. It doesn't mean abandoning human rights; it means deciding whose come first.

I believe three things work. First, a radical extension of summary powers to police and local authorities to take on the wrongdoers. We will publish plans to do this by the end of the year. They will tackle, specifically, binge drinking, drug dealing and organised crime and develop existing laws on ASB.

Second, we need a uniformed presence on the street in every community. Officers on the beat is what the public have wanted for years, and they're right. I have seen teams of police and CSOs in action. It works. We want them across the whole of Britain over the next few years.

Third, give our young people places to go so that they're off the street. Invest in our youth services: more competitive sport in schools; give headteachers the full disciplinary powers they want; end the farce of half a dozen agencies all spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on problem families. Identify these families early, have them handled by one lead agency and give it whatever powers it needs to affect change or impose sanctions. And give local communities the powers they need to hold people to account.

Yes, the anti-social behaviour orders really have changed the criminal justice system. It's only in the last couple of years they have been fully implemented, and the results are there for all to see: the mentally ill, prostitutes, beggars, the disassociated of society, the different, they have all been targetted because of who they are. I'm not denying that ASBOs have worked in some cases, but they continue to be draconian as all Labour crime policy has been. The use of curfews meaning that law-abiding 16-year-olds cannot go out alone to the shops after dark without fear of being arrested is not what Britain should be associated with.

Blair once again gets the purpose of the criminal justice system utterly wrong; the system is meant to be neutral. It does not swing in either way. Deciding who comes first smacks of stacking the odds of the accused against the accuser, with all the problems that brings. If the summary powers involve on-the-spot uses of anti-social orders, then that must be opposed. Binge drinking is to be tackled at the same time as the government is handing out 24-hour opening licenses that will most likely change already no-go area town centres at weekends into permanent zones to be avoided. Joined-up thinking is not part of Labour's policy. Tackling drug dealing at the same time that cannabis is being reviewed as to whether it should become an arrestable offence again. Wasting police time is high on the agenda. There's still no direct evidence that police presence deters crime, but hell, I'd rather it'd been spent on more police than on ID cards, which are still going ahead.

The rest of the speech is mainly on terrorism and has all been said before. Notice what Blair didn't say: He didn't mention socialism. He mentions equality once at the end, but doesn't say how he attempts to achieve it. He doesn't mention the widening gap between the rich and poor. He doesn't mention the inflationary pay of those on the FTSE 100, as workers struggle on barely above the minimum wage. His whole arguments and repeated points for constant reform are tired. But Gordon Brown was no better on Monday. His vision is one only slightly less Blairite, but with the same pandering to business and the same private finance intitative schemes which have failed so spectacularly. Labour has become utterly moribund. The other two main parties are just even worse. The Lib Dems are moving to the right. Left behind are the Greens, Respect, UKIP, the nationalists and the BNP. All of them a wasted vote. If Blair's aim was to turn Britain into an effective one-party state, he has succeeded. If his intention was to make people feel a part of this one-party state, he has failed.

So where do we go from here? Today I feel utterly disenfranchised by a party which my father supported and campaigned for. Labour has become the party of big business. There seems to be little reason or even if there was, a way to stop it. Is there an alternative? Cherie Blair said it, but she was talking about her husband: "Darling, it's a long way in the future."

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 

Unionists react to IRA disarmament with predictable scepticism.

Let's face it, we weren't going to have Ian Paisley dancing around the maypole hand in hand with Gerry Adams just because General John de Chastelain confirmed that the IRA had completed its decommisioning, not only in front of him but also two independent church witnesses. They had already demanded photographs of the IRA destroying their arms caches, a call which was rightly ignored. Even so, the attitude the DUP has taken to the completion of one of their key demands, and which the IRA had vowed it would never take, has been completely irresponsible and shows their utter political bankruptcy.

The leader of Northern Ireland's largest unionist party claimed today there had been a "cover-up" over the decommissioning of IRA weapons after meeting the man in charge of monitoring the operation, General John de Chastelain.

Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist leader, said he was "shocked about what we learned" in the meeting with Gen de Chastelain, who announced yesterday that the IRA's entire arsenal had been put out of action over the past few weeks.

The decommissioning of IRA arms is considered a crucial step forward in the Northern Ireland peace process because unionists refused to join a power-sharing government with the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, while the IRA maintained its weapons.

But Mr Paisley and his party have been sceptical of the process, claiming that the IRA has hoodwinked Gen de Chastelain and his International Independent Commission on Decommissioning.

Asked whether he could see himself joining a government that included Sinn Féin, he said: "We will not be doing it."

After an hour spent discussing decommissioning with Gen de Chastelain, he said there was a "very big question" over what had taken place.

"The more spotlight is put on this, the more we discover there is a cover-up," he said. "When we came to any question which could unravel what needs to be unravelled and could put some light on these things, they refused to give us any answers."

He specifically asked whether the intelligence estimates of IRA weapons had been revised, and why improvised weapons had not been included on the lists.

"Part of the weapons that should have been decommissioned have disappeared, and the security forces admit they are probably in the hands of dissidents," he said.

Sinn Fein's deputy leader, Martin McGuinness, was flying to Washington today to try to regain political support shaken by the killing of Robert McCartney in Belfast in January.

A campaign led by Mr McCartney's widow, and claims of IRA involvement in last December's £26.5m raid on Belfast's Northern Bank, led to Sinn Fein leaders being snubbed at Washington's St Patrick's Day celebrations in March.

However, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, called confirmation of IRA disarmament "very encouraging for all those who support the peace process, the rule of law and a Northern Ireland free from sectarian violence".

Senator Edward Kennedy, the leading congressional supporter of Sinn Féin, also welcomed news of the IRA's disarmament.

"Hopefully, this dramatic and historic step toward peace will be embraced by the unionist community and become a new dawn for the peace process, so that the all-important restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly can take place as soon as possible," he said.

The Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain, said today that if the Independent Monitoring Commission gave the IRA the all clear in a report next January, talks towards a resumption of devolution should take place.

No one is denying that the IRA still has a long way to go. Its treatment of the McCartney family was indefensible. They need to disband fully, and stop the intimidation of families on some estates. They need to renounce criminality and not take the route of loyalist groups in fighting amongst themselves over drugs. But this is a huge step forward and should be acknowledged as such. Does Ian Paisley truly believe that two ministers, one whose father was killed by the IRA, have been tricked believingveing the IRA has destroyed its weapons when it did it right in front of their faces and even helped them?

The DUP, as I previously mentioned in my posts about the loyalist riots has a see no evil hear no evil approach when it comes to their own community. It only sees the nationalist community causing problems for its brothers. It ignores the feuds between loyalist paramilitary groups, who have made no mention of their intention to disarm. While the IRA and Sinn Fein have took action, the unionists have sat back on their hands and watched, and then criticised the final results. They have become the epitome of someone who was previously the centre of attention and calling the shots - once removed from such a position, they have become bitter and jealous, resorting to plotting. This is not just the politicians, it seems to be the majority of the loyalist community, convinced that the nationalists are receiving home improvements and getting an easy ride, while they have been left behind. This is not only nonsense, but ridiculous nonsense.

As Peter Hain says, power-sharing will not be able to resume until January at the earliest. Perhaps then Ian Paisley will have had to consider what is facing not only him but the country he has declared he will never surrender. He can decide whether his political legacy will be a historic sharing of power with Sinn Fein, leading to an outbreak of peace -- or he can decide to reject what has been achieved, continue in his navel-gazing and die having left the situation as it was. If the peace process then falls apart, it will not be because of the nationalists. It will be because of his party.

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Monday, September 26, 2005 

The Sun paid £30,000 to wife of suicide bomber.

The Sun has never been and never will be renowned for its high quality journalism. The newspaper that introduced the topless woman on its 3rd page to the world has always been racing to the bottom of the barrel. It's since been aped and beaten to the bottom of that barrel by the Daily Star and Sport, but continues to rule the roost. In a country that often finds itself staring into the abyss on a daily basis, it's still the highest selling and most read. The Sun hasn't broken any scandals recently (its sister paper the News of the Screws seems to get more than its share of late) but it's still the newspaper that many politicians fear and many love for its humour. Many of us also hate it because of the bile it preaches, how it betrays its working class readership and for its preaching of celebrity crap. For instance, today's front page features Sharon Osbourne confessing that she can't defeat bulimia. Fascinating.

All this said, you wouldn't expect the Sun, with its fiery right wing agenda and its attacks on "political correctness" to pay money to someone associated, however tenuously or dubiously to terrorism £30,000. That is exactly what it has just done.

There is no evidence or any question that Samantha Lewthwaite had any idea what her husband Jermaine Lindsay had been planning to do. She is free to tell her story and to earn money from it. That I do not question. What I do question is the Sun's rank hypocrisy. This is the same newspaper that for the last couple of years has been involved in a hate and vilification campaign against Maxine Carr, the girlfriend of Ian Huntley, who murdered the two Soham schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Maxine Carr was found guilty of perverting the course of justice. She was not involved in the murder of the girls, as she was away from home at the time. She believed his pleas of innocence, and has paid the price. It's very likely that she was living in complete fear of Huntley, terrified of him. There's been allegations that he had beaten her. Despite Maxine Carr serving her sentence and paying her dues to society, she has since not been left alone by the howling tabloid press, always looking for someone to scapegoat and blame. With the moor murderers, they had the figure of Myra Hindley to target, a bleach blonde whose police photo became an iconic image of "evil". She was never released from jail, mostly as a result of the hatred whipped up against her. Despite Carr's attempts to carry on with her life, with the creation of a new identity, she has not been left alone. There have been numerous falsehoods written about her. The latest, true or not, was in yesterday's Sunday Mirror which reported that she had visited the graves of Holly and Jessica to grieve for them personally. This was evidence to the Sunday Mirror that she somehow doesn't care about what their parents feel. I'm not sure how they reached that conclusion, but that's what was printed.

Carr had been a teacher's assistant at the school where Huntley also worked as a caretaker. She had known both the girls well. Whether the girls had called at Huntley's home to see her or whether he had met them is not known. Carr no doubt has been through hell since the girls were murdered and now has to face the rest of her life living with the regret that she lied to police and was unable to stop the deaths of two little girls. That is a life sentence in itself.

Maxine Carr herself was interviewed by the Mail on Sunday. She was not paid. The Sun no doubt had something to say about it at the time, but I'm not going to waste time searching for it. The Sun didn't feel it was necessary to mention in their story that they had paid Samantha Lewthwaite for her interview. You can imagine what the Sun might have said if it had been the Daily Mirror that had paid her for her story. No doubt there would have been cries of leftist apologism for relatives of murderers. The Sun greeted the arrests of the July 21st attempted bombers with the headline "GOT THE BASTARDS". Rebekah Wade is not only a piss-poor editor doing the bidding of a billionaire media megalomaniac, she is one that can't even see the craven hypocrisy of her treatment of those who have gone through similar problems.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005 

Moss watch Saturday.

Congratulations to the Daily Mirror on following up last week's scoop that Kate Moss scoops white powder into her nose with today's revelation that she also takes horse tranquilisers. Thanks for letting us know!

The Sun manages to not mention this thrilling developing story on its front page today, instead going with the gorgeous pouting surgically enhanced and certainly not fat Abi Titmuss, who must be modelling the new Marks & Spencer lingerie range, I assume. Who needs a news story related excuse for putting a woman in her underwear on your front page when you get a press release from a company through instead?

The other newspapers may well have had other Kate Moss stories on their front page, but I've lost the will to live already.

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Christian school expels girl because her parents are lesbians.

Reading this, you'd be forgiven for skimming it and assuming that it happened in some bible belt state in the US. This actually happened in Canada, not a country you usually associate with Christian moralistic bible thumping:

A 14-year-old girl has been expelled from school because her parents are lesbians.

The superintendent of Ontario Christian School, Leonard Stob, wrote to Shay Clark's biological mother, Tina Clark, this week saying Shay had been expelled because the family did not meet admission policies, which required that at least one parent did not engage in practices "immoral or inconsistent with a positive Christian lifestyle, such as cohabitating without marriage or in a homosexual relationship".

Ms Clark and her partner have been together 22 years and have two other daughters, aged nine and 19.

I'm assuming this is a private school, in which case they can obviously decide who to admit and who not to. Even so, it's still pretty depressing when you consider it's the child that's being taught, not the parents. If you're a teacher and don't happen to like some of the kid's parents when you meet them at an open evening, you don't expel their offspring the next day. It's all well and good not liking homosexuals because you base your morals on what you think a book written thousands of years ago says, but don't take it out on kids they've either adopted or had through IVF treatment. The kid didn't ask to be born, after all.

Edit: My source for this article, the Grauniad, has made me look stupid. They wrongly headlined it as happening in Canada. This actually took place in Ontario, California. Apologies.

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Guardian's saturday comment section.

For those of you who spat your museli all over your sandals this morning on reading Norman Johnson's second column in the Grauniad, if you haven't realised yet, it's a spoof. The Harry's Place blog seemed to think rather grandly that it was based on them, but it's obviously an attack on David Aaronovitch and his leftist-warmonger crap which filled G2 for a couple of years before he left for his more natual home at the Times, and no doubt a higher salary. It's not good enough to be an obvious spoof, and it's a rather Guardian-in joke which not that many people are going to get. It's certainly no Craig Brown, who while you always know that his works are spoofs, they come frightingenly close to the real thing. Today's mention of Paul Wolfowitz was excellent, though.

Still, it's nice to see that Aaronovitch pissed off just as many people who work for the paper as he did the readers. As to who the author is, some on the aforementioned Harry's Place blog seem to think it's Catherine Bennett. No insult to John O'Farrell, who used to write a satirical column weekly, but I think it's too literate for him. A.L. Kennedy perhaps?

Back a couple of pages from Norman Johnson, and you have Marina Hyde, who on her second week writing on showbiz seems to be getting more entertaining, especially her making fun of the Evening Standard in a similar way to the Moss dross I've been following. Never mind that though, check out the picture of her. Is she not a simmering sexpot if you ever saw one? I can see why Piers "Morgan" Moron did and continues to do the dirty with her.

For those too lazy to click:

I meant Harry's Place, not Bar. Durrrr.

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Friday, September 23, 2005 

Foreign insurgents in Iraq count for less than 10% of the actual number, report says.

As barbaric as the resistance or insurgency is in Iraq, don't let yourself be fooled that they are all foreign militants who have traveled to Iraq to commit jihad against the yanks.

The US and the Iraqi government have overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, "feeding the myth" that they are the backbone of the insurgency, an American thinktank says in a new report.

Foreign militants - mainly from Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - account for less than 10% of the estimated 30,000 insurgents, according to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The report came as President Bush said a pullout of US forces would embolden America's enemies, allowing the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden "to dominate the Middle East and launch more attacks on America and other free nations".

The report says the presence of foreign fighters is cause for alarm "particularly because they play so large a role in the most violent bombings and in the efforts to provoke a major and intense civil war". The CSIS disputes reports that Saudis account for most of the foreign insurgents and says best estimates suggest Algerians are the largest group (20%), followed by Syrians (18%), Yemenis (17%), Sudanese (15%), Egyptians (13%), Saudis (12%) and those from other states (5%). British intelligence estimate the number of British jihadists at about 100.

The CSIS report says: "The vast majority of Saudi militants who have entered Iraq were not terrorist sympathisers before the war; and were radicalised almost exclusively by the coalition invasion."

The average age of the Saudis was 17-25 and they were generally middle-class with jobs, though they usually had connections with the most prominent conservative tribes. "Most of the Saudi militants were motivated by revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country. These feelings are intensified by the images of the occupation they see on television and the internet ... the catalyst most often cited [in interrogations] is Abu Ghraib, though images from Guantanamo bay also feed into the pathology."

In terms of fighters entering Iraq, Syria is clearly the biggest problem, the report says, but preventing militants from crossing its 380-mile frontier with Iraq is daunting. "Even if Syria had the political will to completely and forcefully seal its border, it lacks sufficient resources to do so." Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has spent $1.2bn (£670m) over the past two years and deployed 35,000 troops in an effort to secure its border.

During the past six months this has led to the capture of 63 Saudis trying to cross into Iraq but also 682 Iraqi intruders and smugglers. The smuggling included explosives destined for Islamist groups in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries.

It's good to see that this report destroys quite a few myths and repeated statements from the USuk coalition. They've blamed Syria constantly for the amount of fighters entering Iraq, while they know full well that Syria is unable to control its border. That's just one consequence of the humiliation Syria has gone through over the past few years, as Bashar al-Assad has seen power slip away from him. The days of hoping that he would be a reformer have long since passed. The possibility of the forthcoming UN report into the assassination of Rafik Hairi pointing the finger directly at Syria could be the catalyst which results in the regime collapsing. With all its problems in the Middle East at the moment, it's not something which the United States will instantly cheer and relish.

Also destroyed is the presumption that it is mainly Saudi fighters who have been fuelling the insurgency. Turns out that the highest percentage is most likely Algerians, who are well versed in rebellion, having fought against the state and then each other. It's also the same country which Britain is currently negotiating with, in the aim of deporting "extremists" there.

Most of all though, it shows that the vast majority of fighters are from within Iraq itself. Whether it is former Ba'athists, disillusioned Sunnis or radical Shias is a moot point. These are not just terrorists, they are those who have been against the occupation from the beginning. It's easily forgotten that the beginning of all the problems in Fallujah was when soldiers indiscriminately shot at protestors after they had took over a school as a base, not when the contractors were lynched.

The war in Iraq has been a disaster. That this can still not be admitted, or that ministers still profess that things are getting better is shameful. If anything, the electricity and water supply is now worse than under Saddam. It took a lot of propaganda, disinformation and lies for the war to be "justified". It will take the truth for withdrawal of all foreign troops and end of the occupation.

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Moss dross continues yet again.

Congratulations to the Mirror, Daily Star and Guardian who all felt that Kate Moss was applicable to put on their front pages today. Trebles all round!

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Thursday, September 22, 2005 

Clarke considers compromise over terror laws, while Ian Blair takes his turn to spout drivel.

One reality check, and one from someone who's starting to seem increasingly deranged:

Charles Clarke said today he was seeking a compromise with opposition parties on his proposals to detain terrorist suspects without charge for 90 days.

In an interview published today in the New Statesman magazine, the home secretary said he was willing to consider limiting the timescale for detention in light of opposition from both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Mr Clarke also alluded to revelations of his own reservations on the matter, when an early draft of a letter to his opposition counterparts was accidentally released. The first draft of the letter to the Conservatives' David Davis and the Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten was more equivocal than the one which was eventually delivered.

Today Mr Clarke said: "I'm convinced the three months is fine. But because David [Davis] and Mark [Oaten] had raised doubts, I was uncertain quite how to word the covering letter. "Will we compromise? We will seek to do so. My preference is to work on a basis of compromise and agreement if we can. But if Mark Oaten wants to say there is no case for extending the time beyond 14 days, I couldn't accept that.

"But you could have a slightly different argument about timescale."

However, Mr Oaten yesterday specifically said the Liberal Democrats were not prepared to "barter" on the matter. Mr Oaten dubbed detention without trial for three months "internment" and said he would oppose all of the government's anti-terrorist bill if that section was not dropped.

He said, "I'm not going to get into a barter [with Charles Clarke] My starting point is we don't need to extend it beyond 14 days. We are not going to barter about 1 month or two months ... "

Today the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, also attacked the idea in his speech to conference. He said: "There can be no consensus on detaining people for three months without charge. This proposal undermines our most basic rights and eats into our most cherished freedoms. If we undermine the foundations of our legal system then we let the terrorists win."

Liberal Democrat peers in Blackpool have suggested that the home secretary would find it very difficult to get his legislation through the House of Lords if he did not compromise on detention without trial and drop the new offence of "glorifying" terrorism.

In his New Statesman interview, the home secretary said he believed that the 90 day period was still justified, because the police and security services needed longer than the present 14 days because of the difficulty of obtaining forensic evidence.

Sir Ian's comments came on the same day as he announced plans to bring soldiers into police firearms units and give officers powers to confiscate driving licences or issue antisocial behaviour orders. His plans provoked alarm among civil liberties groups, but he won qualified support from the Home Office by suggesting that officers should be given radical powers to deliver justice on the spot.

Addressing the Police Superintendents' Association conference in Warwickshire, Sir Ian said he believed the police service should be "bold enough to explore whether certain functions can be carried out by people on short-term contracts, partially warranted only to do a certain type of the police job, whether that be surveillance officers, underwater search, financial investigators, mounted branch or, even, firearms officers.

"Could we bring staff directly in from the armed services, give them a certain amount of basic training and clear instructions as to their firearms duties, so they would be partially warranted, on a fixed-term contract, to undertake only those duties?" In clarification afterwards, the Met said those recruited would be "people leaving the armed services with proven firearms skills" who would be deployed as firearms officers following "a small amount of additional training".

On giving police officers powers to impose interim Asbos or suspend driving licences, Sir Ian said: "Some antisocial activities can be very difficult to deal with through the normal criminal justice system because it takes so long ... but we have to be careful about this. I don't want to see this as a massive widening of powers."

His remarks on pay set him on a collision course with rank and file officers by demanding the abolition of the body which negotiates salaries on a national basis. He told delegates: "We should press for the abolition of the Police Negotiating Board and move towards regional agreements around pay and conditions."

The director of the civil liberties group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, accused the commissioner of behaving like Judge Dredd, the post-apocalyptic policeman-cum-executioner in the comic 2000AD. "This is more like summary justice, which has no place in a democracy," she said.

A Home Office spokesman said Sir Ian's ideas were "part of the ongoing debate we are having about workforce modernisation and the police service".

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, criticised the idea of using soldiers. "There's a vast difference in the way police and soldiers are trained and their roles are very different. The army are trained to cope with war zones. London is not a war zone."

The Liberal Democrats seem to be the only party (that actually has seats in parliament at least) that has principles left. Despite their rather opportunist opposition to war, with their pledge of support to the troops, they have come into their own recently in demanding changes to the government's worst excesses. They helped knock the control orders bill down to size. Now hopefully they will stop the affront to liberty which is the planned 3 month detention. It's good to see that Charles Clarke recognises that there's almost no way he will get away with trying to force the measure through parliament. What I don't believe is claim is that it was him that was coming up with the wording of the letter sent to his opposite numbers. The draft which was sent has the fingerprints of a certain Mr Blair or one of his "advisors" all over it. The glorification clause must also be dropped, because it is utterly unenforceable, a restriction on free speech, and already existing laws can be used against the worst offenders or sympathisers.

Meanwhile, "Sir" Ian Blair seems to be a little worse for wear after his obviously unfortunate dose of reality which was dealt him thanks to his officers murdering Jean Charles de Menezes. His idea of recruiting army soldiers was shown to be a disaster by the events of July the 22nd. That he should consider extending such use of soldiers and even SAS men further shows how little he has learned, despite his professions that he thought about resigning. The police and the army are completely different cultures. Secondly, on the "interim" ASBOs idea, it smacks of the idea of taking "yobs" directly to cash machines to pay their fines. It didn't work and was a ridiculous idea, as is this. As with ASBOs, such interim orders would hit the mentally ill, prostitutes, beggars and the different in society. Such further marginalisation does not solve anything. As for taking away drivers licenses for reckless driving, it's the kind of idea that sounds good on paper but when actually carried in practice could result in people losing their jobs for a moment of silliness, which we all have.

Sadly, Blair's namesake is more and more keen on cracking down on "anti-social behaviour". Of course, this doesn't extend to bar and pubs being allowed to stay open for 24 hours, or for supermarkets to do the same when selling alcohol. Expect ASBO interim orders to be introduced and also used instead of actually arresting or cautioning youths who happen to just be loitering around "with intent". Blair is only interested in quick fixes now. His term is coming to an end, and he couldn't care less about the state of his party once he's gone. It makes a mockery of his slogan while shadow home secretary to be tough on crime and even tougher on the causes of crime. He's only ever tried to deal properly with the former.

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Moss dross continues.

Guess I shouldn't have opened my mouth. I can't remember which newspapers had Kate Moss on their front page today, but at least one of the mid-market tabloids did, as well as the brilliant expose detailed below. Congratulations Sun on your superb banner boost splash!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005 

Kate Dross: for fuck's sake.

Yes, amazing as it may seem, Kate Moss snorts cocaine. In other news, Pope Benedict has admitted that he has on occasion been known to pray to God.

Seriously, it's incredibly depressing to see the blowback and media hype from the Mirror's incredible expose that a model has been dabbling in illegal substances. She's been dropped as the marketing face of H&M, Chanel and Burberry. It's pretty odd that they thought she was appropriate even though she's dating the junkie Pete Doherty, formerly of the Libertines and a complete and utter fuck-up who should take the Cobain way out as soon as possible. Who honestly cares?

News editors, please note that there's just a few more important stories going on than what's currently in a pathetic model's nose. There's a hurricane heading towards New Orleans again, Iraq is a disaster zone, Britain is under attack not by terrorists but by lawmakers, the government is too cowardly to revalue council tax and stop the poor from paying too much, Uzbekistan is accusing the foreign media of supporting Islamists and conducting a Stalinist show trial, Tesco is continuing to destroy small businesses across the country and what do we get on our front pages? A model that can't even manage to take drugs in private. Get over this shit.

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Horrific failings by prisons, courts and prosecution service.

I opposed the recent plans to introduce double jeopardy (trying a suspect who has already been acquitted of the same crime again) and to reveal the criminal record of the accused as evidence in the prosecutions case. I did this on the basis that those who have changed their behaviour but are known by police could be brought in if they are in the wrong place in the wrong time. The revealing of their past in court could therefore result in miscarriages of justice. Although Ian Huntley was convicted for the murders of the two Soham schoolgirls, it was revealed afterwards that he had been accused of rape before and for having sex with underage girls. There now comes this case which shows that if the revealing of the criminal record had been allowed in the past, this man may not have been able to continue to commit such horrific crimes:

Details of how a killer and serial sex offender attacked women and children over 40 years were revealed for the first time yesterday following the conclusion of court cases in Britain and Northern Ireland. And, as the full history of Robert Howard emerged, it was announced that he could be questioned about a series of unsolved murders of women in the Irish Republic.

Howard, 61, was jailed for life in October 2003 for the murder of Hannah Williams, a 14-year-old with learning difficulties, but reporting of the case was restricted until outstanding sex charges were dropped this week at Belfast crown court. Howard strangled Hannah with a 12-metre rope and dumped her body at a disused cement works in Northfleet, Kent. She went missing in April 2001 but was not found until a year later.

It can also be revealed that this June a jury found Howard not guilty of the murder of Arlene Arkinson, 15, who was in Howard's car the night before she disappeared in 1994. Yesterday Arlene's sister claimed that Howard would not have been cleared of the killing if the jury had known of his past convictions. Kathleen Arkinson said: "The law has to change." Arlene's body has still to be found.

Howard is thought to have committed his first sexual offence aged 20 in 1964. He attempted to rape a six-year-old girl in London after he broke into her bedroom, pretended to be a doctor and told her to undress. In March 1969 he broke into a house in north-east England and tried to rape a young woman. When she escaped he pursued her into her garden where he tried to strangle her. He was sentenced to six years for aggravated burglary.

In March 1974 he was sentenced to a further 10 years after being convicted in Cork of raping a woman aged 58 who was bound with a sheet in her own bed.

In 1993 he lured a 16-year-old girl to his flat in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, where he drugged, stripped and repeatedly raped her over two days while keeping a noose tied tightly round her neck. His victim, who escaped through a bathroom window, claimed he threatened to kill her. He said the teenager had consented, and he was convicted of a lesser charge of having unlawful sex with a girl under 17.

In 1994 he drove Arlene Arkinson, as well as his girlfriend's daughter and her boyfriend, to Bundoran, Co Donegal, for drinks. He dropped the couple off at 2.30am promising to take Arlene home. She was never seen again. He also held a woman in her 20s captive for several weeks. In March 1995 he moved to Drumchapel, Glasgow, but was hounded out after a newspaper exposed his past.

At Northfleet Hannah Williams had played at his home in the months before she went missing.

It has to be asked why he was continually let out to reoffend. It also has to be asked why the judges in the cases did not impose heavier sentences, or even life imprisonment as it became clear what a menace this man was to vulnerable women. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a liberal when it comes to imprisonment. I don't believe that prison works. What I do believe is that there are some people so dangerous that they need to be locked away, for life if necessary, from the general public. This man was one of those people. That he wasn't identified as such is a scandal. Obviously the revealing of past cases would not have mattered in this case, as he was imprisoned despite him being found not guilty of the murder of Arlene. The least he could now do is admit that he murdered Arlene and reveal what he did with her body.

This case doesn't change my feelings that in general past convictions should not be revealed in court before the jury decides on their verdict. I do however feel that circumstances are constantly changing. If the change in the law results in people such as Robert Howard being locked away, then I would happily support it. At the moment however, it will still affect those who should always be viewed as innocent until proven guilty.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005 

British army and Ministry of Defence spinning Basra incident.

Just what on earth actually did happen in Basra yesterday? Almost every news account I come across seems to be different. Here's the Guardian's account:

British troops used tanks last night to break down the walls of a prison in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and free two undercover British soldiers who were seized earlier in the day by local police.

An official from the Iraqi interior ministry said half a dozen tanks had broken down the walls of the jail and troops had then stormed it to free the two British soldiers. The governor of Basra last night condemned the "barbaric aggression" of British forces in storming the jail.

Aquil Jabbar, an Iraqi television cameraman who lives across the street from the jail, said dozens of Iraqi prisoners also fled in the confusion.

In a statement last night the defence secretary, John Reid, said: "I am pleased to be able to say that the British servicemen who were seen being injured in the graphic photographs are being treated for minor injuries only and are expected to return to duty shortly. We remain committed to helping the Iraqi government for as long as they judge that a coalition presence is necessary to provide security."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We have not had confirmation of the full details of this. We've heard nothing to suggest we stormed the prison. We understand there were negotiations."

In a day of dramatic incidents in the heart of the British-controlled area of Iraq, the two undercover soldiers - almost certainly special forces - were held by Iraqi security forces after clashes that reportedly left two people dead and threatened to escalate into a diplomatic incident between London and Baghdad.

The soldiers, who were said to have been wearing Arab headdress, were accused of firing at Iraqi police when stopped at a road block.

In another incident an angry crowd attacked a Warrior armoured personnel carrier with petrol bombs. A British soldier was forced to flee from his burning vehicle.

Muhammad al-Abadi, an official in the Basra governorate, told journalists the two undercover soldiers had looked suspicious to police. "A policeman approached them and then one of these guys fired at him. Then the police managed to capture them."

Senior British officials said the Iraqis who attacked the Warrior armoured vehicle had prepared their petrol bomb attack before the incident involving the two undercover soldiers. The origins of the attack on the Warrior, they say, lay in events the previous day when about 200 members of the al-Mahdi Army, a militia headed by the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, made a show of force in Basra, blocking roads in the city and demanding the release of their local commanders.

So, 2 "undercover" British soldiers allegedly fired at a police roadblock, who were then captured and taken to the local lockup. A major incident nonetheless, but possibly a misunderstanding, right?

Here's the wire story from the Xinhua news agency:

BAGHDAD, Sept. 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Iraqi police detained two British soldiers in civilian clothes in the southern city Basra for firing on a police station on Monday, police said.

"Two persons wearing Arab uniforms opened fire at a police station in Basra. A police patrol followed the attackers and captured them to discover they were two British soldiers," an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua.

The two soldiers were using a civilian car packed with explosives, the source said.

He added that the two were being interrogated in the police headquarters of Basra.

The British forces informed the Iraqi authorities that the two soldiers were performing an official duty, the source said. British military authorities said they could not confirm the incident but investigations were underway.

Now they're attacking a police station with a car packed full of explosives. What would 2 undercover SAS soldiers be doing attacking police stations with cars of explosives, hmmm?

This is the latest BBC report:

The Iraqi government has launched an inquiry into the events that led the British Army to stage a dramatic rescue of two UK soldiers detained by police.

Both men were members of the SAS elite special forces, sources told the BBC's Richard Galpin in Baghdad.

The soldiers were arrested by police and then handed over to a militia group, the British Army says.

Iraq's interior ministry ordered the police force in Basra to release the soldiers but that order was ignored.

Defence Secretary John Reid told reporters that a delegation of six British military personnel, including a legal officer, had been sent to the police station to ease the release of the men.

Mr Reid said surveillance had established the men were being moved to another location, while at the same time an angry crowd posed an obstacle to the departure of the six-strong team.

The British commander on the ground, Brigadier John Lorimer, ordered British forces to move into the police station to help the team.

Almost simultaneously, a separate operation was staged to rescue the men from the place where they had been moved to.

It is understood force was also used in this operation, although there were no casualties as the Shia militia holding the British soldiers fled.

The episode saw a wall flattened at the police station by a British armoured personnel carrier, but Mr Reid said the coalition was still going "in the right direction" in terms of its overall strategy in Iraq and said this incident was merely "local".

Basra governor Mohammed al-Waili said the men - possibly working undercover - were arrested for allegedly shooting dead a policeman and wounding another.

Richard Galpin said al-Jazeera news channel footage, purportedly of the equipment carried in the men's car, showed assault rifles, a light machine gun, an anti-tank weapon, radio gear and medical kit.

This is thought to be standard kit for the SAS operating in such a theatre of operations, he said.

The arrests sparked angry protests from locals in which British vehicles were attacked and set on fire.

Seems like the soldiers captured were definitely SAS members, and that the BBC itself may well be trying to spin why they had "explosives" in their car. Apparently what they had is typical SAS kit. Without seeing any pictures I obviously can't comment. What I can say is that this entire operation stinks and that the government has lied from the very beginning. We've had no explanation as to why these two soldiers were undercover, apart from the rumour they may have been trying to track down insurgents that have recently seemingly perfected roadside bombs. Did they fire at a roadblock or a police station? Why did they do so? Had they infiltrated an insurgent group and were trying to prove themselves, or was this something much more sinister? Whichever it was, the army was very keen to get these two soldiers back as soon as possible. Are the claims that they had been handed over to a Shia militia credible, or more spin to make their use of force to break into the prison look better? Even if they were, it seems unlikely that the militia would have done anything stupid enough to hurt or kill them, as the British army has seemingly turned a blind eye to militias infiltrating or joining the Basra police force, despite Sunday's incident with the Mahdi army.

Whether we'll get any answers is doubtful. What is obviously nonsense is this pathetic statement put out by the army, which I'm not going to bother pasting. One thing though. Does the below look like minor damage to you?

Also, why did the government request that the photos of the two soldiers be pixellated?
Naturally, the Guardian and I would guess the rest of the British media very kindly decided to do what the government requested. Thanks again to RI for providing the uncensored image.

Here's some more minor disturbance photos that show that the UK has won hearts and minds and obviously shouldn't consider withdrawing any time soon:

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Monday, September 19, 2005 

Met chief faces own inquiry into his comments on murder of de Menezes.

This isn't going to go away any time soon:

Britain's most senior police officer is to face an official investigation into whether he told the truth about the shooting dead of an innocent man who was mistaken for a terrorist, the Guardian has learned.

Witnesses have told the Independent Police Complaints Commission about events inside the Metropolitan police on July 22, the day Jean Charles de Menezes was killed at Stockwell tube station. It is believed their testimony raises questions about a claim by Sir Ian Blair, the Met police commissioner, that he did not know that the wrong man had been killed until 24 hours after the shooting.

The Guardian has learned that a senior Met officer has told the IPCC of his concerns that senior colleagues knew or suspected on the afternoon of July 22 that the wrong person had been shot. Investigators have also received the names of other officers at the top of the Met who by the afternoon of the shooting feared the force had made a mistake.

Mr de Menezes was gunned down in a tube carriage by firearms officers who believed he was about to detonate a device. The officers were operating under a shoot to kill policy which allows them to open fire without warning. The IPCC was investigating how Mr de Menezes came to be wrongly identified as a terrorist and then shot, but has decided to widen its inquiries to include Sir Ian.

In an interview last month in the News of the World, Sir Ian said that for 24 hours he believed his officers had shot the right man. The newspaper quoted him as saying: "Somebody came in at 10.30am [on Saturday] and said the equivalent of 'Houston we have a problem'. I thought 'That's dreadful. What are we going to do about that?'" Straight after the shooting, Sir Ian wrote to the top civil servant at the Home Office saying that the police should conduct the inquiry, not independent investigators. Sir Ian told the News of the World: "The key component was that at that time, and for the next 24 hours, I and everybody who advised me believed the person shot was a suicide bomber."

Sources have told the Guardian that by just after 4pm on July 22 senior officers were discussing possible consequences of the shooting. The officers knew the name of the shot man and the fact that he was a Brazilian national. Sir Ian had defended the shooting at a press conference at 3.30pm that day, though senior officers believed there was a significant likelihood that the wrong man had been killed. The commissioner told reporters: "This operation was directly linked to the ongoing terrorist investigation. As I understand the situation, the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions."

I already felt that it was highly unlikely the "Sir" Ian was not aware for 24 hours that the wrong man had been shot. However, this is perhaps one part of the case where we should hold our scepticism for now. It has been reported that senior officers at the Met were unhappy with appointment of "Sir" Ian to begin with, feeling that he was too "politically correct". True or not, this may well be the start of a whispering campaign against him. As in the courts, we should treat "Sir" Ian innocent until proven guilty. He was not in charge of the operation, did not fire the bullet, and may well have been handed faulty information or kept out of the loop. The case may be damning, but until the already discredited IPCC report arrives, it would be too easy to cast stones. If it turns out to be a whitewash, similar to Hutton, then will be the time to start hurling.

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Blair and Murdoch, the not so odd couple.

One is the prime minister of the United Kingdom, an Oxbridge educated barrister. The other is an Australian who has risen from reasonably humble beginnings to head one of the largest media empires in operation. One is meant to be a socialist, head of a party which for decades fought for the working man. The other is a major force behind conservatism, fights for complete domination of the media and has enriched himself and his family for decades while showering the public with propaganda. You would think that they would have nothing in common. You'd be utterly wrong.

The BBC and Downing Street were striving yesterday to avoid reopening old wounds after Rupert Murdoch said the prime minister had criticised the corporation's coverage of Hurricane Katrina as "full of hatred for America and gloating".

Downing Street signalled embarrassment as well as irritation over the widespread publicity given to Tony Blair's remark to the media tycoon, while senior BBC executives tried to play down the impact of the comments, made in a telephone call to Mr Murdoch last week.

Speaking on Friday night at a seminar hosted by former US president Bill Clinton, Mr Murdoch said: "Tony Blair - perhaps I shouldn't repeat this conversation - told me yesterday that he was in Delhi last week and he turned on the BBC World Service to see what was happening in New Orleans. And he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles." Mr Murdoch, who regards the BBC as elitist and commercially unfair, has often used his newspapers to attack the broadcaster. His son James, chief executive of BSkyB, again criticised the corporation on Friday at a television industry conference in Cambridge.

Senior BBC executives yesterday refused to comment on Mr Murdoch's speech, saying they had received no official complaint from No 10, but privately greeted it with anger and incredulity. Nevertheless, most were relaxed about its impact, given the outpouring of public support that followed the Hutton report. "It says more about Blair's relationship with Murdoch than it does his relationship with the BBC," one executive said.

The BBC senior executives took the polite and low-key approach to such a ridiculous statement. That National Union of Journalists was not so subtle.

The NUJ has attacked Tony Blair for comments he reportedly made about the BBC over the weekend, saying his criticism of the corporation's coverage of Hurricane Katrina "exposed his contempt for public service broadcasting and the BBC in particular".

The NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said the suggestion that the BBC's coverage had been "full of hatred for America and gloating", revealed the prime minister's "craven devotion to President Bush ... only eclipsed by his craven devotion to Rupert Murdoch".

Mr Murdoch revealed Mr Blair's alleged comments at a seminar hosted by former American president Bill Clinton on Friday.

Mr Murdoch reportedly said: "Tony Blair - perhaps I shouldn't repeat this conversation - told me yesterday that he was in Delhi last week and he turned on the BBC World Service to see what was happening in New Orleans. And he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles."

The NUJ said the comments showed that the prime minister was trying to curry favour with Mr Murdoch.

"Tony Blair's criticism of the BBC for exposing the divide between rich and poor in the US and the slowness of the emergency services to provide relief to the poor of New Orleans is beyond contempt, " Mr Dear said.

"Tony Blair has deregulated broadcasting to serve the interests of Rupert Murdoch. His latest attack on the BBC shows he is still doing Murdoch's bidding."

Both the BBC and Downing Street are trying to distance themselves from a possible fallout.

"We have received no complaint from Downing Street, so it would be remiss of us to comment on what has been reported as a private conversation," said a BBC spokewoman.

Yeah, I'd say that's pretty much closer to the truth. For a start, if Blair really did say that, he's even more out of touch than I thought he was. The American networks were also being just as critical of the relief effort, although the BBC was perhaps quicker to become frustrated and report on it. Secondly, I'm not sure in what sense Murdoch is using the phrase "our troubles". Just a reminder, Rupert. You're not American. You only became an American for tax purposes. Land of the free, etc. Blair is not going to forgive the BBC for the 45 minute report any time soon. Neither is he going to forget the interview with Jeremy Paxman at the election, which even I thought was over the top, nor the Question Time session when he was greeted with booing and also left with it howling around him. That the BBC is anything more pro-government than say, Channel 4 news is, is not the point. The BBC is publicly funded, and any questioning of his policy or investigations from now on may result in the charter now being drawn up dramatically changed.

Murdoch is dying to be able to gain an even bigger strangehold on the media in Britain. It's long been rumoured that he wished to buy into Channel 5, although the time has probably passed for such a move now. The Ofcom rules on impartiality and balance prevent him from turning Sky News into Fox News Britland. If Murdoch can get some more feathers in his cap before Blair steps down in favour of Brown, he'll try as hard as he can.

The real issue though with Murdoch and Blair has been the huge influence which his newspapers have had on the government. Ever since the 1992 election with the boast that "IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT" for the Tories, Labour as a whole has been completely craven towards the Sun and the Times. When the Sun switched to supporting Labour in 1997, it was a huge coup for Labour, whether it did any more to help their victory or not. The Hutton report itself was leaked to the Sun the day before it was published, with the source of the leak never properly identified. It's also highly rumoured that Blair gained the support of the Sun for this year's election thanks to him agreeing to hold a referendum on the European constitution, which is now unlikely to be held.

While Blair will no doubt be embarrassed in the short term by Murdoch's loose lips, it won't make any difference towards his position or devotion to courting Murdoch at every turn. While the Sun and Times are unlikely to change support or attack him now before the hand-over to Brown, Blair realises the more sycophantic he is, he may well be able to get him some kind of corporate job with News Corporation when he leaves politics. Blair doesn't care about the Labour party any longer; it always just his host for his own ambitions. Expect him to dump it as soon as he no longer needs it. If the Labour party has any sense left in its collective mind, it'll be sooner rather than later.

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Saturday, September 17, 2005 

Taking the piss - CCTV installed in school toilets.

Parents have protested to Ruth Kelly, the education secretary, after security cameras were installed in a secondary school's lavatories.

Staff at Westhoughton High, near Bolton, Lancashire, say the measure is necessary to combat vandalism, smoking and drug-taking.

But more than 80 parents have signed a petition demanding the removal of the CCTV cameras, and have asked Ms Kelly to intervene.

One parent, Carol Galloway, described the move as "an invasion of privacy". Bolton council said the school was seeking to "reassure parents about why it is necessary to have cameras in place".

Just imagine for a second that this wasn't in a school. Say it was in a busy shopping mall. The security and management of the mall installed CCTV in the toilets because they said that vandalism, smoking and drug-taking occurred in there. Not only would there be universal outrage, those behind the scheme would possibly get sacked and for good reason. While Britain has taken the constant surveillance of nearly every street in the country in its stride, I can't imagine anyone daring to defend putting CCTV in toilets.

That the school has decided to take such a measure shows how obviously disconnected the leadership of the school is from its own pupils. Any teacher will tell you that if you respect your students, they will respect you. This measure removes any notion of that. Instead of taking the option of positioning a member of staff near the toilets, who could monitor how long people were in there and possibly what they had been doing, they've decided to install a constant monitor of exactly what they're doing in probably the one place that most people consider to still be private.

That it's none of the school's business if the kids are smoking is obviously irrelevant. I never saw the point when I was at school of punishing children for smoking. It was their decision, they knew perfectly well what they were doing. They could have informed the child's parents if they caught them doing it. Instead they put them on "report", constantly monitoring the child's behaviour even if it was exemplary, and gave detentions. That this was completely hypocritical as it was well-known that many teachers smoked on school property didn't matter. Drug-taking is a different matter if it is occurring on school property. I only ever witnessed people smoking weed or coming back to lessons completely stoned, and they caused little harm generally. That said, drug taking and possession/selling is obviously more heinous than simple smoking. It needs to be dealed with. Unfortunately, the government is currently encouraging random testing, even though it's a private matter if it doesn't happen at school. The invasion of those at school's privacy climbs year on year, as more schools also adopt random searching for weapons.

I always felt that school was simply a lesser form of a totalitarian dictatorship. You had little say in any of the matters of running the school. Mine had a "student council" which relied on elections, which were blatant popularity contests. It didn't matter if those elected were too shy or idiotic to even take notes or then stand up in front of the class and say what happened. This was democracy in action.
Another thing that annoyed me was the hypocrisy of some of the teachers - the typical kind who demanded you take off your coat in the dead of winter while they sat there in theirs, sipping hot tea from their mug with a daft slogan on it. The many who always considered you guilty until proven innocent, for whatever misdemeanors which may have occurred. The humiliating experience of having to go and a piece of paper saying what time you had arrived if you were so much as two minutes late. This time was then how long you would spend in detention, added up over the week. This is not to say that schools are full of little angels who obey every command. Mine was full of uncooperative shits who would have tested the patience of Ghandi. It's simply that some teachers came in who already had a trench warfare mentality; that treating you like dirt would somehow make you fear them. It didn't work, and never has. Most of the above is simply counter-productive.

This installation of CCTV is from a similar school of thought. It ignores that students sometimes use toilets as havens as well as places to smoke, roll joints and throw wet toilet paper at the ceiling. Some would sit in there at lunchtime to be alone or avoid other people. I never did that, but I often left the school when I didn't have a lesson and went and sat in nearby public toilets. I could read in peace without anyone bothering me. As Michael Moore said in Bowling for Columbine, it sucks being a teenager and it sucks having to go to school. When schools treat you as a threat rather than as someone to teach, what do they honestly expect?

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Friday, September 16, 2005 

Was Clarke overruled by Blair?

Seems the Charles Clarke definitely had doubts over the possible imprisoning of terrorist suspects for up to 3 months. Was he then overruled by the Dear Leader who demanded that he follow the requests from the security services and police?

Signs emerged today that Charles Clarke shared opposition doubts about the detention without trial of terror suspects for up to three months, as proposed yesterday in his draft anti-terrorism bill.

Close examination of the letter the home secretary sent his opposite numbers by email yesterday showed that in an earlier draft Mr Clarke had himself been unsure about acceding to the police request for longer detention periods. Both Liberals and Conservatives immediately objected to the proposal on receiving the letter.

Mr Clarke's doubts were revealed by the accidental inclusion of an earlier draft in an "annex" to the letter. In a version of the letter later released to the press this annex had been removed. However, the slip will reignite speculation, fuelled by Sunday newspaper stories recently, that the prime minister regards Mr Clarke as too soft on civil liberties, and may replace him in a future reshuffle.

By the time the letter was sent, Mr Clarke had hardened his stance to agreeing with a three-month detention period - putting the onus on the opposition to make the case against.

The three-month issue - dubbed "internment in all but name" by Amnesty International yesterday - was the main sticking point in reaching cross-party consensus on the bill, which will be introduced when parliament returns in October.

In the first draft of his letter, Mr Clarke said: "I think the case for some extension is clear, though I believe there is room for debate as to whether we should go as far as three months, and I am still in discussion with the police on this point."

But the correspondence actually sent reads: "It may be that you are convinced by the case for some extension but feel that three months is too great an extension. I would be interested in your views on this particular point."

Is Charles Clarke going to turn out to be another critic of government policy when/if he leaves the cabinet? It was rumoured when he was promoted to Home Secretary following David Blunkett's resignation that he had been firmly against the introduction of ID Cards; he soon rectified that rumour by continuing with Blunkett's campaign to get them through parliament as quickly as possible. That still doesn't explain what his personal view is though. In recent weeks there have been persistent reports that Blair is not happy with Clarke's performance, that he is "too soft". That this is nonsense doesn't matter; the tabloids loved Blunkett until he became an easy scapegoat for their hatred of Labour before the election. The Daily Mail especially put the knife into his back. The tabloids this time are not supportive of Clarke. That Clarke still seems to have some doubts about the way the new terrorist laws are being seemingly drafted by Blair is encouraging - what's depressing is that he seems to be failing to have much input on them.

As well as this, yesterday's annoucement on the offence of "glorification" has today been further clarified:

The government's proposed anti-terrorism laws published yesterday are so widely drawn that anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates" any terrorist act committed over the past 20 years could face a sentence of up to five years in prison.

But the small print of the draft terrorism bill published yesterday shows that the home secretary is preparing to go even further and draw up a list of historical terrorist acts which if "glorified" could mean a criminal offence being committed.

A Home Office spokeswoman said 9/11 was such an example; it would become a "listed event", the appropriate ban lasting longer than 20 years. However, the 1916 Irish Easter Rising would be exempt.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said the offence of "glorification" was so broad it meant the home secretary was now acquiring powers to determine which historical figures were terrorists and which freedom fighters.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, said the power was needed because the "celebration of despicable terrorist acts over the past weeks has only served to inflame already sensitive community relations in the UK". But he acknowledged that the proper exercise of freedom of speech meant the offence had to be carefully drawn. His proposals came as it emerged that the Crown Prosecution Service was preparing guidelines for "intelligence-only" interviews, whereby terrorism suspects could give information which would not be used against them. Senior prosecutors are convinced that this, plus other measures such as intercept evidence and plea bargaining, would strengthen their hand against international terrorism and organised crime.

An earlier draft of the letter made clear that powers allowing the police "to close down places of worship used to foment extremism" had been dropped.

Two other measures outlined by the prime minister - refusal of asylum to anyone who connected with terrorism anywhere in the world, and a maximum time limit on extradition cases - were also absent from yesterday's package.

Making the gloryifying of historical terrorist attacks a criminal offence smacks of countries which make Holocaust denial an offence. There is no doubting that such people are misled, stupid or willing to make others think that the opposite to the truth is the actual reality, but what is the point of wasting time legislating and then prosecuting such people? I'm not sure whether Holocaust denial falls under incitement to racial hatred in this country, but even if it does the point stands. Why can we not tackle these people through debate and summaries of the facts? Also as mentioned yesterday, the UN can't even decide what an act of terrorism actually is. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

What is good to see is that some of the most extreme measures which the Dear Leader previously outlined have been quietly dropped or sidelined for the moment - hopefully for good. Closing down Mosques on reports of extremism is only going to enflame the situation around the country. As the Finchley Park debacle showed, the Mosque there was reclaimed while the likes of Abu Hamza just went outside and carried on their preaching in the street, solving little. The refusal to asylum of anyone associated to "terrorism" would have been an unworkable mindfield that may have condemned some to death at the hands of despotic regimes. The government seems to have seen sense on that point. Hopefully the government, with opposition from civil liberties groups and other political parties, will yet see sense on other measures of this draconian and mostly unnecessary bill.

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