Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The four Johns

There is suspicion in some quarters that the Labour Party is grooming John Reid for the deputyship.

That’s a job I wouldn’t wish on Satan (although he’d probably be more than well suited for it, if he existed).

Some would compare Reid with the current holder of the poisoned chalice, John Prescott; others say it’s an injustice to mention them both in the same breath.

As for myself, well, I couldn’t possibly comment.

An acquaintance, who knows slightly less about politics than my daughter (aged 6) knows about John Locke, remarked that Reid is “pure John Bull”.

He was unmoved when I reminded him that the gentleman is a Scot.

Enough with the “Johns” already; bring on the dancing girls…

Margaret Beckett for P.M. anyone?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

J.R. for P.M.?

A beleaguered Tony (don’t talk about the war) Blair came under more fire than he could handle last month, when the Home Office admitted that over 1000 foreign offenders, who should have been deported, were allowed to walk free.

What to do?

Easy, old man: sack the Home Secretary.

Well, yeah… It doesn’t take a lot of education to work that part out, does it? I mean, our Tony’s pretty well versed in the scape-goat solution, isn’t he?

But, I can hear him ask, who do we get to clear up the mess?

Who better than the then Defence Secretary, Blair’s one time political “bullet catcher” and cabinet “hard man”, John “attack dog” Reid?

Many thought former Communist Party member Reid had overstepped his mark back in 2003 when he accused “rogue elements” inside the security forces of undermining the government, after Robin Cook quit as Leader of the House of Commons in opposition to the Gulf conflict.

However, his performance was successful in drawing fire away from the PM, who faced the third degree regarding the presentation of intelligence in the build up to the invasion of Iraq.

He’s currently being promoted as a possible contender to Gordon Brown for the premiership (when Tony finally decides he’s had enough – we have, certainly), and, personally, I think that’s no bad idea.

Here’s a prompt-card sized profile of the man:

born in Bellshill, Glasgow, May 8, 1947, the son of a postman and a factory girl;

attended St Patrick’s Senior Secondary School, Coatbridge;

BA (Hons) History, MA History, PhD Economic History, University of Stirling;

became a member of the British Communist Party, 1973, but left after a few years to become a professional Labour Party activist and TGWU delegate;

research advisor to Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock (1983 – 1985) and Labour Party research officer.

In the current Government he has held the posts of Junior Defence Minister (1997 – 1998), Junior Transport Minister (’98 – ’99), Scottish Secretary of State (’99 – 2000), Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (’01 – ’02), Labour Party Chairman (’02 – ’03), Leader of the Commons (’03 – ’03), Secretary of State for Health (’03 – ’05), Secretary of State for Defence (’05 – ’06).

Currently Home Secretary and, some would say Prime Minister in waiting.

But is he the hardest man in Britain?

Don't F*** with J.R.

John Reid, who took over the Home Office portfolio from Charles Clarke less than a month ago, vowed last week, in the face of mounting criticism over scandals and allegations of incompetence in the troubled department, that he would “f***ing well work 18 hours a day” to sort out the mess.

He spent the bank holiday weekend in France.

Don’t get me wrong; I like Reid (as much as anyone can “like” a politician), he’s pugnacious, straight talking and witty – and he’s a fellow Scot.

His timing might have been slightly out; in both practical and PR terms, perhaps “this was not the moment for him to pick”, as a Liberal Democrat spokesperson opined.

But I can imagine what he would say (privately, if not for public consumption) if challenged:

“The trip gave me much-needed time and space to do the f***ing paperwork necessary to put plans into action that will send all this sh*t to bed.

“And, besides, I needed to spend some time with my wife: I haven’t seen her in f***ing months.

"To sum up: f*** off!"

Tony Blair was also on holiday (although he’s not due back quite yet), leaving the other “John” – a.k.a “two shags” – to manage the country in his absence.

The deputy PM, famous for his lack of an Oxbridge education, and his past as a union delegate, was photographed playing croquette, and drinking something that looked like Champaign, on the front lawn of his mansion, not two hours after his boss’s departure.

More flack for Reid

Having just returned from a bank holiday break, John Reid is already bracing himself for another barrage of criticism aimed at the Home Office.

Lord Phillips, lord chief justice of England and Wales, told the Guardian that overcrowding in prisons is “absolutely fatal”, and that courts should refrain from handing out custodial sentences unless absolutely necessary for the protection of the public.

He also slated drug rehabilitation in the community, saying that some users were deliberately breaking the law in order to get on prison help programmes (from what I’ve heard about the availability of hard drugs inside I can think of other reasons for wanting to get nicked, but that’s another story).

“Short sharp sentences” were pointless, he added, and better hospital provision should be made for offenders with mental health problems.

On community sentencing, however, he remarked that some alternatives to prison lacked a “significant punishment” value.

The comments fly in the face of the government’s stance on the use of prison and come after he visited Brixton jail last week and spoke to inmates and staff.

The Prison Reform Trust’s Juliet Lyons said: “Prisoners and prison staff are standing in the wreckage of a system treated like a political football by all those determined to talk tough on crime.”

What do you think John, fit for purpose, or…?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Mirza Tahir Hussain

It was nearly dusk when Mirza Hussain reached Rawalpindi.

He had arrived in Karachi the previous day and had stayed overnight there, setting off before noon to visit relatives.

The 18 year old British-Pakistani was a long way from his home in Leeds, where he had lived since migrating to England with his parents as a boy.

He had been educated and brought up there and had trained in the British Territorial Army.

His ultimate destination was Buhbar, a village in Chakwal district, about 56 miles south of Islamabad.

Mirza had been born there and he looked forward to spending Christmas with members of his family, some of whom he had not seen in many years.

The only way to get there from Rawalpindi, however, was by taxi and, initially, he could not find a driver willing to take him.

Tired from his journey, and apprehensive at the prospect of having to spend the night in a strange city, he eventually became involved in a conversation with Janshir Khan, who agreed to take him to Buhbar for 500 rupees.

It was a ride that was to change the young man’s life forever.

As they approached the village of Mandra, Khan allegedly stopped the car and made a sexual proposition to Mirza.

When the youth refused, the driver produced a gun and assaulted him.

In the ensuing scuffle the firearm went off and Khan was shot.

Mirza kept his head and did what any innocent person would have done had the incident occurred in England.

He drove to the nearest police station.

But, as he was soon to discover to his cost, the police in Pakistan do not operate the way they do in England and Mirza was immediately arrested.

When Khan later died, the boy was charged with his murder, tried, convicted and, in September 1989, sentenced to death by the Session Court.

Upon appeal in November 1992 the High Court in Lahore revoked the death penalty in the light of allegations that the police had fabricated evidence and introduced false witnesses.

The case was returned to the lower court for retrial but Hussain was again convicted.

This time he received a life sentence.

A second appeal was made to the High Court and on May 20 1996 he was acquitted.

Pakistan, however, operates a dual legal system; as well as the secular court, which acquitted him, there is also the Islamic, or Sharia, judiciary.

The following week, as he awaited his release, the case was referred to the Federal Shariat Court on the grounds that the offence with which he had been charged – “haraahbah, or robbery with murder – came under its jurisdiction.

On August 1998 the Shariat Court found
Tahir Mirza Hussain
guilty by a split 2-1 verdict and he was again sentenced to death, despite the fact that the system under which he was tried requires an eye-witness or a confession, and the prosecution had neither.

Abdul Waheed Siddiqui, the dissenting judge, said that Hussain was “an innocent, raw youth”, who knew nothing of “the mischief and filth in which the police of this country is engrossed”, and that the police had fabricated evidence in “a shameless manner”.

Mirza has been detained in Islamabad’s notorious Adiala jail for 18 years and was due to be hanged on June 1, two days before his 36th birthday.

After direct appeals by the UK Government and the European Parliament, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has intervened and a fresh stay of execution has been granted, allowing the condemned man’s family another month to negotiate a “blood money” deal.

However, even if that is possible, Mirza will remain in prison indefinitely.

Kahn’s family have reportedly rejected a previous offer of £18000 made six years ago.

Fair Trials Abroad

Friday, May 26, 2006

"Slippery Slope"

Let’s imagine a small town somewhere out in the weeds. Let’s call it “Raggedy End”, or “Shimmering Stone”, or “Dodgy City”, or…I’ve got it – let's call it “Slippery Slope”.

Now let’s take it out of the world of imagination and into reality, into the big city, into the centre of our lives. It exists, a city within a city, a world within our world.

In Slippery Slope, the detectives are home; the potential for gradual deterioration of moral inhibitions, the perceived sense of permissibility for deviant conduct is the air they breath.

This is the dark side of the criminal justice system, where cops rest, where they can internalise the conditions in which they work, conditions that don’t measure up to the rigours of the usual comfort zones, the ones we normal people are accustomed to.

In Slippery Slope cops can be cops. Undercover work, false identities and crime inducement are everyday activities, like taking the kids to school and mowing the lawn. Here, making false promises to hostage takers and kidnappers is something everyone does every day.

Feeding disinformation to the media, interviewing witnesses with a hidden agenda, employing deceptive techniques when interrogating suspects, making all kinds of excuses to avoid responding to “impossible to solve” crime reports, trading days off, selling desirable work assignments… all quotidian aspects of life in Slippery Slope.

Imagine being a cop: you don’t earn enough money but you’ve got a lot of power.

So you learn how to play the game, how to angle yourself into cases requiring court appearances (for the overtime opportunities they create, get it?); how to strain the truth in order (at first) to protect loved ones and crime victims to whom you’re sympathetic, how to bend that skill towards more entrepreneurial activity.

“Come on, all the guys do it, it’s called being a cop, for feck sake, what you gonna do?

You come across more cash on a drugs bust than the gross national product of some small countries; you’re gonna hand it over?

No way, my friend, I’ll tell you what you do, what you gotta do.

It’s called the “four way shakedown”.

First you secure the cash, use some of it to make sure your buddies are sweet; then you seize the product; then you sell the product; then you arrest your customers for buying the product…

That’s what cops do, son, and in Slippery Slope you don’t have to feel bad about it, any of it.

Routine invasion of privacy via surveillance?

It’s like going to the bathroom.

Behaviour inconsistent with norms, values or ethics?

What norms? What values? What do you mean by “ethics”?

Forbidden acts involving misuse of office for gain?

Oh yeah!

Wrongdoing, violations of departmental procedures?

Only way to get the job done, son.

Unfair “breaks” to friends or relatives?

Well, if you can’t help your buddies…”

Corrupt Immigration Chief illegal

The senior immigration officer, James Dawute, suspended from his post at Lunar House in Croydon over allegations that he offered asylum in exchange for sex with a Zimbabwean teenager, was given British citizenship despite being an illegal.

This new IND scandal broke just hours after Home Secretary John Reid was forced to issue a "humiliating" apology to a Commons Home Affairs Select Committee after figures he gave to MPs regarding the foreign prisoners fiasco proved to be false.

He is said to be "furious" at the latest failings by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, declaring yesterday that it was "not fit for purpose".

Shortly before Mr Reid took on the Home Office brief a small amount of cannabis was discovered in his home during a security sweep...

I bet you could find a use for it now, eh John?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Go, Go Tony, Go Go Go!

Tony Blair is now in a position where he desperately needs opposition support to pass legislation, a political analyst has told Sky TV.

His flagship schools reform bill was passed at its third reading by a huge majority of 324; but only thanks to the Conservatives.

Philip Cowley of Nottingham University said: “That is a terrible position for a Prime Minister of any party to find himself in.”

An opinion poll by the Guardian and ICM showed current support for the Conservative party standing at 38%, just four points below Labour.

And Blair’s position within his party continues to disintegrate following disastrous local election results and scandalous revelations of sleaze, malpractice and ministerial incompetence.

Labour parliamentarian Ian Davidson told Reuters that, while the PM “has been a great vote winner in the past… the reverse is now true”.

“Part of our current unpopularity is a widespread feeling that his shelf life is over,” he said.

How long can this fiasco continue?

Blair must stand aside; not in mid-2007, as many expect, but now, before the Conservatives gain an unbreakable hold on popular opinion.

Reuters: pension age to rise.

Security dossier "mislaid"

A folder listing ways to assasinate the Prime Minister (it actually suggested a number of attack scenarios) and other members of the Cabinet was "left in a hotel", reports the Times.

Included were "secret" plans to protect Tony Blair from an al Qaida-style terrorist attack.

I know they're supposed to be facing a back-bench rebellion but this is a bit drastic, isn't it?

Human wrongs?

Some right-wingers (and yes, I would include Tony Blair in that category) have of late encouraged the - already widespread and intensifying - belief that international commitments on human rights threaten the UK’s public order and foreign policy mechanisms.

The recent political melee over released foreign offenders and illegal migrants, for example, as well as continuing threats from terrorism and organised crime, have fuelled high-level calls for the amendment – or even repeal – of the Human Rights Act.

However, as an EU report testifies, our Government is not quite the slave to international conventions that those voices would have us suppose.

It has yet to implement the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which provides a minimum 30 day “recovery” period for victims.

This is intended to be an important “breathing space”, in which they can escape the influence of criminal gangs and work towards co-operation with the authorities.

With reference to the United Nations optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, it has reserved the “right” to recruit soldiers from the age of 16.

And British workers are not protected by the UN’s international convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families, which ensures basic rights when working abroad.

We don’t have too many human rights in this country; on the contrary, we have too few.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A producer calls

What do detectives do?

Yeah, I know: they put away the bad guys, right?

But that's not really what I mean.

What I'm asking is: what do detectives do?

I'll tell you: they watch TV, that's what detectives do.

A "predatory paedophile", a "serial sex offender of the worst
kind", rapes and sexually assaults young women and twelve year old
girls in a string of attacks spanning almost ten years and is only
brought to justice when the case is taken up by the BBC's
Crimewatch show

And guess what: the guy is under their noses all the time, in fact
he's one of their own, a prison officer who uses his uniform as an
emblem of trust to lure his victims into his clutches.

Sometimes he even pretends he's a police officer.

For ten years he gets away with this.

My point is elementary, dear Watson: if you're a victim of crime
don't waste time calling the cops; cut out the middleman...

Call the BBC.

Click here for the story by Reuters

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Government to expel AIDS patients

The Government is generously extending monetary aid to Africa in order to "make poverty history".

Well done.

But at the same time plans are being made to deport hundreds of HIV/AIDS sufferers back to Africa, where levels of the disease are already out of control and antiretroviral drugs are scarce.

In countries such as Nigeria, the Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, where most of them are from, they will have no hope of medical treatment.

They will effectively be sent home to die.

The Terrence Higgins Trust says that if they were allowed to remain in Britain receiving antiretrovirals for five years then the treatment should by then be available in their home countries.

But the Government's position is that to allow them to remain on medical grounds is to risk Britain being flooded with so called "health tourists".

Stolen passports

In the past two years more that half a million UK passports have been lost or stolen.

Whilst the Government, in crisis over a succession of immigration disasters, presses assurances that "not all lost or stolen documents will be used in connection with fraud", it's clear that a large number, perhaps the majority, will have fallen into the hands of criminal organisations and will be made available to people smugglers and terrorists.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg says it's a warning of the abuses likely to be seen with ID cards.

A friend suggested that didn't make sense because "ID cards will be biometrically encoded, rendering them useless to anyone except bona fide holders."

But what if someone steals my identity without my knowledge, then registers for an ID card in my name before I do?

His biometric details will then be attached to my identity: he will have the ultimate proof (eg the ID card) that he is me.

Moving targets are harder to hit

Desperate to divert attention from the Immigration and Nationality Directorate after officials admitted they had no idea how many illegals were in the country, the Home Office has said figures will be released next week showing that Tony Blair's deportation targets have finally been hit.

The PM has pledged to deport more failed asylum seekers per month than the number making new claims.

However, there is evidence of a pogrom against "soft targets", with a surge in the number of "visible" foreigners with established links with this country being rounded up to boost the figures.

These are people who have complied with requirements to report, and who are working.

Many have indeed been picked up at their places of work and detained prior to deportation, without even being allowed to return to their homes to collect belongings.

Meanwhile the 1000 or so illegals, many of them career criminals, who should have been deported on release from prison but were instead given travel warrants and sent on their way, have melted away.

Maeve Sherlock, Refugee Council chief executive, said: "The process of who gets removed and who doesn't can be very arbitrary..."

No. I'm afraid I disagree: it's not arbitrary at all; removals priorities are set: you "remove those who have claimed asylum and have failed".

And if the easiest ones to round up are those who are "visible", having played by the rules, openly working and reporting regularly, then why waste time and resources chasing the hard cases?

Such, it would seem, is the current attitude of John Reid and his officials; if they're on the list out they go.

They came for Alejandrina Guard in the early hours.

She and her husband, Mark, a British national, were asleep.

Without even being allowed to dress she was bundled into the back of a van and driven away.

A week later she was on a flight back to Mexico.

She had lived in this country, married to Mark, working and paying taxes, for five years.

Initially here on a tourist visa, after their wedding they had applied for leave for Alejandrina to remain, but they heard nothing until the night they came and took her away.

Adnan Kos fled Turkey after his father was murdered because he took part in human rights marches.

He claimed asylum on arriving in Britain and had lived here for seven years, holding down a full time job.

He and his partner, Viv Keenan, mother of his 17 month old son, were planning to be married and were looking for a larger flat; the future looked bright.

But it all came crashing down in February when immigration officers payed him an early morning call.

He too was deported a week later.

Why do the authorities pick on people like these, people who have made lives here, who have worked, lived by our rules, paid taxes?

The answers, of course are blood simple: because it's politically expedient and because they can;
because the Home Office can't be bothered to track down the "harder cases", even if some of them are murderers or rapists.

Perhaps Adnan Kos and Alejandrina Guard should have played it a little closer to their chests; maybe they should have lied about their names and other personal details; perhaps they should have gone underground.

Perhaps more people like them will do so in the future.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Death by tourism

Abiodun Abe, a former post office worker with indefinite leave to reside in the UK, met Elizabeth Alabi when he returned to his native Nigeria for a holiday.

Their relationship blossomed and Ms Alabi - Ese - began to vist Mr Abe regularly at his home in Essex.

She was careful never to overstay her six month tourist visas.

In September last year, pregnant by Abe, she became ill and was told she couldn't fly home to Nigeria, as was her intention.

After giving birth to twins in February her condition worsened and she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, enlargement of the heart; her only hope was a heart transplant.

But new rules, brought in to quell negative public reaction to so called "health tourism" and media fuelled panic about immigration levels, decreed she had virtually no chance of receiving a donor heart.

When the case was taken to the High Court and her lawyers asked for a judicial review of the rules it was pointed out that her visa had expired.

Her case was adjourned and inquiries began into the legitimacy of her application for exceptional leave to remain in the country.

Last Friday doctors said that even if a heart became available and she was at the top of the list, it was too late.

She was too ill to survive the procedure.

On Monday night Abe took the twins to see her in the hospital. "She was a strong person and she tried to hold on," he said. "She gave the babies a kiss and touched them."

Later that night as he carried his and Ese's children upstairs to bed, the phone rang.

Ese was dead.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said:

"Whilst no person is wholly excluded from receiving an organ, priority is given to those who are entitled to NHS treatment. We believe this to be a lawful, fair and reasonable way of allocating organs."

Elizabeth Alabi was not British; she was not an EU citizen; she was not a citizen of a politically relevant country.

But neither was she a "health tourist" - she was simply unfortunate enough to fall ill here.

Source: Independent

Labour and the hard line

"Rattled" by the deportation row, which lost Charles Clarke his job and put Government immigration policy under extreme pressure, Tony Blair said yesterday that "the vast bulk of foreign prisoners should be deported whatever the dangers in their home nations".

He made it clear that generalisations about countries being unsafe will no longer constitute grounds for the avoidance of deportation, citing the fact that people were now being deported to Iraq and Afganistan.

To the suggestion that the government could face challenges in the European Court of Human Rights, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research Nick Pearce replied that the Human Rights Act should not be confused with making moral choices.

He said the judgement whether to "put somebody on a plane to be tortured or killed" was "a harsh one to make".

Thursday, May 18, 2006

MPs flying free

FOUR senior Conservative MPs received more than £50,000 of free travel from an offshore company, an investigation by the Times has revealed.

Michael Ancram, the former deputy leader, Richard Spring, the party vice-chairman, and the Shadow ministers Caroline Spelman and Mark Simmonds flew across four continents from 2002 to 2004.

Mr Ancram’s flights and hospitality amounted to £33,000 in gifts from an aviation company based in the Atlantic tax haven of Bermuda.

The MP has told the Electoral Commission that the business is owned by Lord Ashcroft, the former party treasurer.

Although the law insists that donations must be declared to the commission within 30 days, the MPs have been spared having to repay the money.

The commission also decided against calling in detectives after accepting that none of the four had deliberately concealed the benefits.

Blair's dodgy nuclear dossier

At PM's questions Wednesday Tony Blair told the House (when he could get a word in) that failure to upscale nuclear energy technology would constitute a "dereliction of duty".

Below is the view of Tony Juniper, Director of environmentalist pressure group Friends of the Earth, which I received in an email today from The Backbencher.

"Many people believed the energy review to be a sham: a cosmetic exercise setup to frame the PM's personal preference for new nuclear stations as a respectable and carefully thought through choice. This impression would be conveyed, the cynics suggested, by going through the motions of analysing information from different stake holders and giving the impression of having engaged in an open and fair discussion with all the different interests and

"The theory that the energy review was an elaborate and expensive sham has just been proved correct.

"Before the analysis is complete, Tony Blair has announced its conclusion. And guess what? It's the answer the cynics said he would come up with: that we need a new generation of nuclear power stations. The PM claims to have seen a draft of the energy review - though no one else has - and apparently made up his mind on the strength of it.

"If the draft he has seen is the same rather sparse graphics published with his carefully worded statement on the Downing Street website, then the conclusion must be that the review is not finished, not by a long way. The graphics show what we new before the review started: that we have some serious challenges in relation to energy supply and climate change, and that we need to do something about it.

"The point of the review was to find a real answer to the question of what to do, not simply to ask the question again and then come up with the answer the PM first thought of. If Blair has had some other briefing from ministers leading him to pre-empt his own review, then he must publish that information immediately."

What makes me think that's going to be one hell of a long wait?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Dutch MP: update

In my previous post on the Hirsi Ali story I wrote that immigration minister Rita Verdonk was launching a full investigation.

She was as good as her word, and yesterday informed the Tweede Kamer (House of Commons) that the Somali-born politician's naturalisation had been improperly granted and that she had six weeks to appeal.

The hard line minister cited a 2005 Dutch Supreme court ruling that passports found to be issued under false names were automatically invalid.

However, according to a report by Dutchnews in English Wednesday morning, she has been forced into a U-turn by the House, who say that her conclusions about the case were too hasty.

In a motion proposed by her own party late last night and supported by the CDA, D66, PvdA, Groenlinks, SP and Christen Unie, she was requested to naturalise Ms Hirsi Ali as soon as possible.

Verdonk said that she must reapply using her real name and details so that she can be given "refugee status", on which basis she will then be permitted to reapply for naturalisation.

Ms Hirsi Ali told the New York Times yesterday that she planned to leave the Netherlands.

Meanwhile 26000 failed asylum seekers are due to be expelled.

So much for the statement that "Laws and rules are valid for everyone".

Loans for peerages

The Lords watchdog responsible for vetting potential peers only found out that some nominees had made loans to political parties by reading about it in the newspapers...

Full story

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

MPs fold under Yard pressure

The Commons Public Administration Committee has capitulated to Scotland Yard's insistence that parallel investigations of "loans for peerages" alegations be delayed.

MPs yesterday demanded the right to question witnesses, including Lord Levy, the Prime Minister's personal fund raiser, as early as next week.

But police, supported by Whitehall officials, who feared that MPs could damage the eight week Scotland Yard investigation, argued that he should be formally interviewed by detectives first.

The police needed time to collate the evidence and a week was not enough, one source said.

"The question has to be asked whether this is an orchestrated move by MPs to protect their own, and avoid scrutiny," they added.

The Committee, which holds a one vote Labour majority, refused last night to back down.

But in a statement to the Press Association on Tuesday afternoon Tony Wright, Labour's Chairman of the Committee, said that MPs would conduct no more interviews until September.

Deputy assistant commissioner John Yates, in charge of the police investigation, had told the Committee earlier that "a number of people" had been interviewed under caution.

Four peers in waiting, Chai Patel, Sir David Garrard, Sir Gulam Noon and Barry Townsley, have removed themselves from Tony Blair's honours list after revelations that they had given secret "loans" to Labour.

MPs clash with police on loans for peerage inquiry

Reports from war zone a scam

Western news media are deceiving the public, according to Rageh Omaar, the former BBC broadcast journalist known for his cool-headed reports from Baghdad during the early days of the invasion of Iraq.

The reporter, dubbed The Scud Stud by the New York Post, was the victim of a whispering campaign by UK Government officials concerning undue influence on his reports by Iraqi information ministers.

Now he maintains that televised reports from the war zone should carry a "health warning":

"When a broadcaster says Rageh Omaar, or X, reports now from Bahgdad it's actually not wholly true, as I haven't shot the pictures because it's far too dangerous and I haven't been to the different areas because it's too dangerous."

Much of the footage viewers see has been shot by anonymous Iraqi freelancers, he says, whilst the western journalists have been held back in the protected Green Zone.

"Unless you explain those circumstances you run the danger of participating in what I think is a small fraud," he adds.

We say that no "fraud" is small.

Of course, anyone with even a GCSE in Media Studies knows that TV news footage is manipulated.

However, I share Rageh's concern that if the media don't face up to the importance of clarity they will lose what legitimacy they have, and then we may find our only sources of information are "Official Government Reports".

Which would you prefer?

Rageh Omaar: The Scud Stud aims for truth

MP lied in asylum bid

Some say she should be expelled from parliament; her political rivals demand she should also be stripped of her Dutch citizenship and deported.

This is exactly the line Hirsi Ali's own party, the right-wing VVD, has taken on immigration.

The party has introduced tough new citizenship criteria and is at the head of a drive to expell 26000 failed asylum seekers.

It has said that any foreigner found to have lied should be prohibited from holding Dutch citizenship.

She admits lying in her asylum application in 1992 but maintains this was already public knowledge when she was chosen as a VVD candidate in 2002, adding that she is the victim of a political vendetta.

Rita Verdonk, VVD Minister for immigration, last night said a full investigation had been launched.

"Laws and rules are valid for eveyone," she insisted.

Well, that remains to be seen, doesn't it, Ms Verdonk.

But don't think we're going to let you forget you said that if it transpires that "laws and rules" are more "valid" for some than for others.

Read the full story by Isabel Conway in the Independent.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Corruption and the "detectives"

Some people like analytical definitions; they want to know absolutely what a thing is and what it isn't, in what partcular context it should be considered and "is this a lexical or a conceptual definition", before they comment on it.

For me a corrupt action is any act that involves the use or abuse of authority - power - to further private or institutional advantage.

OK, we could add that it may be "internal" as well as "external", ie it may simply involve a couple of police officers covering up a piece of evidence; it may be a backhander from a contractor to a hospital administrator, or an extra-marital liason between a cabinet minister and his secretary.

And it need not involve illegality: corrupt acts may be approved at a higher level or even tacitly encouraged.

I repeat: a corrupt action involves the use or abuse of power to further private or institutional advantage.

That's the concept.

So let's look at some lexical definitions.

Morally depraved; wicked. Yeah, true: an act that causes or ends in an unjust effect is morally reprehensible.

Influenced by or using bribery or fraudulent activity. Yup, that's a common or garden one.

Harmed (esp. made suspect or unreliable) by errors or alterations.

Now I like that last one; it expands our concept somewhat, enabling us to say that corruption isn't just about people in positions of power lining their own pockets or bending the rules to make their organisations appear more efficient; it introduces incompetence into the picture.

In the UK, where ostensible bulwarks between Law and Government are in fact hegemonic myths, the Law has a hell of a lot of power, and where there is power you will also find corruption (malpractice, incompetence, whichever most aptly correlates to the base concept).

That police corruption is an institutional reality and not merely a matter of a few rotten apples in an otherwise sterile basket is backed up by eleven key findings in a 1999 academic paper commissioned by ACPO.

The first is that police corruption is pervasive, continuing and not bounded by rank; numbers ten and eleven testify that reform tends not to be durable, and that continued vigilance and scepticism is vital.

That's the word from the police horse's mouth: police corruption exists in the UK and they need watching.

However, whilst this blog is concerned with law enforcement agencies (globally), how they work, when they get it wrong and when they get it right (oh yeah, good cop / bad cop - I mean, let's be fair, right?) Watching the Detectives is not only about cops.

The "detectives" are also the politicians and the bureaucrats who determine law and order policy (worldwide) and the judges and lawyers who apply it in the courts.

And they are the managers and rank and file staff of the so called "public services"; the administrators of health trusts and education authorities; the CEOs of the big corporations; the doctors, teachers, social workers.

Finally, but by no means of least importance, they are those who own and control the media.

Watching the Detectives is not exclusively a "big issue" platform.

Small injustices, fed by corruption, malpractice or incompetence, often the result of bad government at a ministerial level, occur evey day.

Fathers are denied access to their children, mothers are denied financial support from errant fathers, abused children are denied their rights as members of a so called "caring society" due to incompetent, uncaring or simply overworked social workers, children with behavioural problems are excluded from school instead of being given the help they need, men and women fall foul of the system simply by defending themselves and their own when the law fails them...

The list goes on, and it's often in the smaller stories that the big picture comes into focus.

So if you've suffered an injustice at the hands of the police, an employer, a council or corporation or any powerful oprganisation, or you know of a story that you think should be published, email me using the link in the sidebar.

Meanwhile I'll keep on watching the detectives.

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