Monday, October 17, 2005 

Last entry for a few days.

I'm going away and will not have internet access until next Monday night. Updates will either resume then or on Tuesday. Have a good one.

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Clarke plans to privatise probation board services.

It almost makes you wonder if they'll eventually run out of things to privatise.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is to announce legislation this week to abolish local probation boards so he can take over their statutory powers and put their services supervising 200,000 offenders out to private tender.

The Guardian has learned that the plan could see private companies such as Group 4 managing dangerous offenders and advising the courts on whether to send offenders to prison and when they should be released. The decision to "market-test" probation services is believed to be the first time that an entire group of public sector professionals has been threatened with privatisation.

According to a letter from Mr Clarke to John Prescott leaked to the Guardian, the home secretary spells out that his plan to "market-test" the probation service means that the public probation service "could be left with no contracts and would therefore cease to exist" in some parts of the country.

In the letter dated September 30 2005 Mr Clarke told the deputy prime minister that he wants to "move towards a world where open contracts and tendering for all offender management services, including interventions and custody, are the norm". He says the decision to take over the probation boards' "exclusive duty to deliver probation services" will enable him to "contract directly for both prison and probation services with a range of providers from the private, not-for-profit and public sectors. This represents a radical change for the probation service."

The contracts will specify how the new providers should manage dangerous offenders, plan offenders' sentences, and engage in local partnership activity. They will also specify the level of qualifications and training of staff.

It is believed his plea to Mr Prescott, as chairman of the cabinet's domestic affairs committee, was successful in securing a slot in the parliamentary timetable for his legislation in early December. An announcement is expected to be made this week taking his management of offenders bill off the "reserve list" and getting it on to the statute book by next summer.

The move marks a speeding up of the development of the National Offender Management Service [NOMS], which has had a troubled birth in bringing together the prison and probation services.

Harry Fletcher, of the probation officers' union, Napo, said last night: "This is an extraordinary proposal which will lead to massive resistance and industrial action. If implemented it will mean privatisation of the probation service. We could have the absurd situation of Securicor or Group 4 writing court reports and recommending prison to boost numbers. It could also mean private companies advising the parole board on early release and indeed on sentencing matters."

The services run by the probation boards that would be offered to private correctional companies such as Group 4 GSL and Premier Prisons include:

· advising the courts on the most appropriate sentences for each offender and on parole decisions

· ensuring community punishments, such as community work orders, are carried out and offenders are supervised and rehabilitated

· supervising prisoners released on licence including sex offenders and those convicted of other serious violent crimes.

They also have statutory duties in relation to victims, children, local crime and youth offending teams.

Out of all the ludicrous privitastion fantasies of both Labour and the Tories, this has to rank pretty much right at the top. As Harry Fletcher says, we've already got private companies running both some prisons and delivering suspects and inmates both to court and then to prison, resulting in a few well-publicised cases of criminals both absconding and being released by mistake. This will no doubt intensify as such groups squeeze employees to gain greater profits out of the misery of others. Will such people be interested in rehabilitating those who are back out in society, as probation officials and boards do? Or will they be more interested in seeing them back in the jails that they also run, grabbing more money from the government?

Also worthy of note is that they such firms may well be able to influence the parole board and sentences. Wouldn't such companies like both longer sentences and then longer times on parole, with the offender tagged and under surveillance of the same company? You can almost imagine the likes of such security firms as Group 4 and Securicor smacking their lips in anticipation of such a situation. Private firms are also much more likely to acquiesce to public pressure over sex offenders or tougher sentences. While the government can make unpopular but right decisions and get away with it, private firms that have to engage fully with the public and with their shareholders are at a disadvantage which could lead to an even further clampdown on crime, even though most statistics show levels of burglaries at historic lows.

We cannot let the government continue to get away with privatising everything in sight. While we should never assume that the public sector is better for running everything, it needs to remembered that some government responsibilities need to handled in-house for the good of the country. Probation services and prisons are such departments that need to be in the hands of the public sector. As has often been noted, a country is not judged on how it treats its free, normal and wealthy citizens, but on how minorities, the imprisoned and impoverished are. On this basis, Britain is one country which still has a long way to go.

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Iranian bombs - oh sorry, we meant IRA bombs.

Remember Tony Blair accusing Iran of helping insurgents to attack British troops? Well, according to the Independent, he got the first three letters right.

Eight British soldiers killed during ambushes in Iraq were the victims of a highly sophisticated bomb first used by the IRA, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The soldiers, who were targeted by insurgents as they travelled through the country, died after being attacked with bombs triggered by infra-red beams. The bombs were developed by the IRA using technology passed on by the security services in a botched "sting" operation more than a decade ago.

This contradicts the British government's claims that Iran's Revolutionary Guard is helping Shia insurgents to make the devices.

The Independent on Sunday can also reveal that the bombs and the firing devices used to kill the soldiers, as well as two private security guards, were initially created by the UK security services as part of a counter-terrorism strategy at the height of the troubles in the early 1990s.

According to security sources, the technology for the bombs used in the attacks, which were developed using technology from photographic flash units, was employed by the IRA some 15 years ago after Irish terrorists were given advice by British agents.

"We are seeing technology in Iraq today that it took the IRA 20 years to develop," said a military intelligence officer with experience in Northern Ireland.

He revealed that one trigger used in a recent Iraqi bombing was a three-way device, combining a command wire, a radio signal and an infra-red beam - a technique perfected by the IRA.

Britain claims that the bomb-making expertise now being used in southern Iraq was passed on by Iran's Revolutionary Guard through Hizbollah, the revolutionary Islamist group it sponsors in Lebanon.

But a former agent who infiltrated the IRA told The Independent on Sunday that the technology reached the Middle East through the IRA's co-operation with Palestinian groups. In turn, some of these groups used to be sponsored by Saddam Hussein and his Baath party.

The former agent added: "The photographic flashgun unit was replaced with infra-red and then coded infra-red, but basically they were variations of the same device. The technology came from the security forces, but the IRA always shared its equipment and expertise with Farc guerrillas in Colombia, the Basque separatists, ETA and Palestinian groups. There is no doubt in my mind that the technology used to kill our troops in Basra is the same British technology from a decade ago."

Still, a little bit of debunking doesn't harm the story a week or so after the event. Just the original smear is enough for the tabloids to get on the case - especially when it affects "our boys" as British soldiers are often quaintly referred to. With Condoleeza Rice in Britain for talks with the Dear Leader over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme, the rhetoric continued, with Jack Straw repeating the story that Iran was supplying insurgents with such technology.

Such insistence on blaming Iran doesn't hold up to any scrutiny, even if the bombs did not orignate from the British security services or the IRA. Hizbollah doesn't need Iran to pass on such weapons to the insurgents. It has to be remembered that many see the US and UK as doing dirty work for Israel in Iraq, removing a dictator who channeled funds to Palestinian groups. Iraq always has been a threat to Israel, the only Arab country in recent times to have dared to actually launch missiles at it. Hizbollah's hatred of Israel, and its success in forcing the IDF out of Lebanon means that insurgents in Iraq are likely to find willing allies within their ranks, whether the organisation is turning to politics or not. If the US and UK are slowly building up support for a similar piece of regime change in Iran, then such smears as this we all become all too frequent, as we saw before the Iraq war.

Update: Private Eye claims this story is bullshit and a myth sourced from a disgruntled former soldier. I'll leave this here for now, true or not.

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Joanna Lees - attractive brunette helps court case publicity.

DARWIN, Australia--
As the court case against Bradley Murdoch, accused of killing Peter Falconio, fiancee of Joanna Lees begins, newspapers and broadcasters across Britain were overjoyed at being able to put a highly attractive woman in their reports.

Said one hack, "No one really cares about what happened to this girl's boyfriend, but there's nothing that perks up the news desk like an excuse for putting a fruity brunette on the front page of the paper".

Paul Dacre is 69.

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Moss dross: It's OK everyone, Pirelli is keeping their contract!

Interesting to note that to illustrate this thrilling breaking news story they had to use a photo of Kate Moss in a state of near undress, but that's journalism for you.

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