Heroes of the response to the July 7 London bombings, the victorious Ashes cricket team and the architects of the London Olympic bid dominate the new year's honours list, vividly reflecting the emotional lurches of a turbulent 12 months.
In the world of light entertainment there are knighthoods for veteran singer Tom Jones, for services to music, jazz musician Johnny Dankworth and a CBE for Bruce Forsyth, whose honour had been leaked to a national newspaper, with friends complaining he should have been knighted.
There will be a return to Buckingham Palace for Dame Vivienne Westwood, once the grande dame of anti-establishment fashion, who famously twirled for the cameras and revealed she was not wearing any knickers when she collected her OBE in 1992. Celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal receive OBEs.
There is a gentlemen versus players divide in the England cricket team with OBEs for captain Michael Vaughan, coach Duncan Fletcher, and chairman of selectors David Graveney, while the 11 other players who helped regain the Ashes, including Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, get MBEs.
Leading those honoured for the response to the bombings are Peter Hendy, the Transport for London managing director for buses, Tim O'Toole, managing director of London Underground and Julie Dent, chief executive at the South-west strategic health authority in London. They all receive CBEs.
MBEs go to David Boyce, the station supervisor who went into the tunnel at Russell Square tube station, John Boyle, first on the scene at London Aldgate and William Kilminster, a London Ambulance Service paramedic. "These people showed immense strength of spirit and courage in the face of terrorism on our transport system," said a Downing Street spokeswoman.
Lord Coe, the chairman of the London Olympic bid, is made a Knight Commander of the British Empire while knighthoods are given to Keith Mills, chief executive to the bid, and Craig Reedie, a member of the British Olympic Committee.
The inventor of the iPod and iMac, Jonathan Ive, the Newcastle-educated vice-president of industrial design at Apple, is given a CBE. In the field of the arts, the playwright Arnold Wesker is knighted while Robbie Coltrane, Imelda Staunton and Jeanette Winterson are all given OBEs.
Six other women are made dames - Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission; Liz Forgan, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Guardian Media Group's Scott Trust; Daphne Sheldrick, the conservationist; Averil Cameron, Professor of Byzantine history at Oxford University; Suzi Leather, chair of the Human Fertilisation Authority; Anna Hassan, head of Millfields community school, in Hackney, east London.
FM Tashkent (Ambassador Craig Murray)
TO FCO, Cabxinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts
16 September 02
SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism
US plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism. Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.
The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.
Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.
Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim.
Again we are back in the area of the US accepting sham reform [a reference to my previous telegram on the economy]. In August media censorship was abolished, and theoretically there are independent media outlets, but in practice there is absolutely no criticism of President Karimov or the central government in any Uzbek media. State Department call this self-censorship: I am not sure that is a fair way to describe an unwillingness to experience the brutal methods of the security services.
Similarly, following US pressure when Karimov visited Washington, a human rights NGO has been permitted to register. This is an advance, but they have little impact given that no media are prepared to cover any of their activities or carry any of their statements.
The final improvement State quote is that in one case of murder of a prisoner the police involved have been prosecuted. That is an improvement, but again related to the Karimov visit and does not appear to presage a general change of policy. On the latest cases of torture deaths the Uzbeks have given the OSCE an incredible explanation, given the nature of the injuries, that the victims died in a fight between prisoners.
But allowing a single NGO, a token prosecution of police officers and a fake press freedom cannot possibly outweigh the huge scale of detentions, the torture and the secret executions. President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.
Karimov is a dictator who is committed to neither political nor economic reform. The purpose of his regime is not the development of his country but the diversion of economic rent to his oligarchic supporters through government controls. As a senior Uzbek academic told me privately, there is more repression here now than in Brezhnev's time. The US are trying to prop up Karimov economically and to justify this support they need to claim that a process of economic and political reform is underway. That they do so claim is either cynicism or self-delusion.
This policy is doomed to failure. Karimov is driving this resource-rich country towards economic ruin like an Abacha. And the policy of increasing repression aimed indiscriminately at pious Muslims, combined with a deepening poverty, is the most certain way to ensure continuing support for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They have certainly been decimated and disorganised in Afghanistan, and Karimov's repression may keep the lid on for years - but pressure is building and could ultimately explode.
I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the "War against Terrorism" and that Karimov is on "our" side.
If Karimov is on "our" side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last week was also another anniversary - the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than died on September 11. Should we not remember then also, and learn from that too? I fear that we are heading down the same path of US-sponsored dictatorship here. It is ironic that the beneficiary is perhaps the most unreformed of the World's old communist leaders.
We need to think much more deeply about Central Asia. It is easy to place Uzbekistan in the "too difficult" tray and let the US run with it, but I think they are running in the wrong direction. We should tell them of the dangers we see. Our policy is theoretically one of engagement, but in practice this has not meant much. Engagement makes sense, but it must mean grappling with the problems, not mute collaboration. We need to start actively to state a distinctive position on democracy and human rights, and press for a realistic view to be taken in the IMF. We should continue to resist pressures to start a bilateral DFID programme, unless channelled non-governmentally, and not restore ECGD cover despite the constant lobbying. We should not invite Karimov to the UK. We should step up our public diplomacy effort, stressing democratic values, including more resources from the British Council. We should increase support to human rights activists, and strive for contact with non-official Islamic groups.
Above all we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.
Fm Tashkent (Ambassador Craig Murray)
18 March 2003
SUBJECT: US FOREIGN POLICY
1. As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.
2. Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.
3. Uzbekistan's geo-strategic position is crucial. It has half the population of the whole of Central Asia. It alone borders all the other states in a region which is important to future Western oil and gas supplies. It is the regional military power. That is why the US is here, and here to stay. Contractors at the US military bases are extending the design life of the buildings from ten to twenty five years.
4. Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid - more than US aid to all of West Africa - is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov's vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He - and they - are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?
5. I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened (I see these are quoted in the draft EBRD strategy for Uzbekistan, again I understand at American urging).
6. From Tashkent it is difficult to agree that we and the US are activated by shared values. Here we have a brutal US sponsored dictatorship reminiscent of Central and South American policy under previous US Republican administrations. I watched George Bush talk today of Iraq and "dismantling the apparatus of terrorâ€¦ removing the torture chambers and the rape rooms". Yet when it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as peccadilloes, not to affect the relationship and to be downplayed in international fora. Double standards? Yes.
7. I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.
[Transcript of facsimile sent 25 March 2003 from the Foreign Office]
From: Michael Wood, Legal Advisor
Date: 13 March 2003
CC: PS/PUS; Matthew Kidd, WLD
UZBEKISTAN: INTELLIGENCE POSSIBLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE
1. Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.
2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing is article 15 which provides:
"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."
3. This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.
M C Wood
FM TASHKENT (Ambassador Craig Murray)
TO IMMEDIATE FCO
OF 220939 JULY 04
INFO IMMEDIATE DFID, ISLAMIC POSTS, MOD, OSCE POSTS UKDEL EBRD LONDON, UKMIS GENEVA, UKMIS MEW YORK
SUBJECT: RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE
1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.
2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.
3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.
4. In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.
5. I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture.
6. On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood.
7. Sir Michael Jay's circular of 26 May stated that there was a reporting obligation on us to report torture by allies (and I have been instructed to refer to Uzbekistan as such in the context of the war on terror). You, Sir, have made a number of striking, and I believe heartfelt, condemnations of torture in the last few weeks. I had in the light of this decided to return to this question and to highlight an apparent contradiction in our policy. I had intimated as much to the Head of Eastern Department.
8. I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear that without informing me of the meeting, or since informing me of the result of the meeting, a meeting was convened in the FCO at the level of Heads of Department and above, precisely to consider the question of the receipt of Uzbek intelligence material obtained under torture. As the office knew, I was in London at the time and perfectly able to attend the meeting. I still have only gleaned that it happened.
9. I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true - the material is marked with a euphemism such as "From detainee debriefing." The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.
10. I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact
11. The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;
"The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights."
While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.
12. On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer:
"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
13. Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless - we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.
14. I was taken aback when Matthew Kydd said this stuff was valuable. Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat. That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them. Furthermore MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment.
15. At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.
16. I have been considering Michael Wood's legal view, which he kindly gave in writing. I cannot understand why Michael concentrated only on Article 15 of the Convention. This certainly bans the use of material obtained under torture as evidence in proceedings, but it does not state that this is the sole exclusion of the use of such material.
17. The relevant article seems to me Article 4, which talks of complicity in torture. Knowingly to receive its results appears to be at least arguable as complicity. It does not appear that being in a different country to the actual torture would preclude complicity. I talked this over in a hypothetical sense with my old friend Prof Francois Hampson, I believe an acknowledged World authority on the Convention, who said that the complicity argument and the spirit of the Convention would be likely to be winning points. I should be grateful to hear Michael's views on this.
18. It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit.
19. This is a difficult and dangerous part of the World. Dire and increasing poverty and harsh repression are undoubtedly turning young people here towards radical Islam. The Uzbek government are thus creating this threat, and perceived US support for Karimov strengthens anti-Western feeling. SIS ought to establish a presence here, but not as partners of the Uzbek Security Services, whose sheer brutality puts them beyond the pale.
Now I don't know whether you would define that as rendition or not, all I know is that we should keep within the law at all times, and the notion that I, or the Americans, or anybody else approve or condone torture, or ill treatment, or degrading treatment, that is completely and totally out of order in any set of circumstances.Craig Murray's letter was sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth office, as well as the Department of International Development. Blair can theoretically get away with saying he may not have seen the above. Jack Straw however, as foreign secretary, cannot. So, has he said anything similar to the prime minister on this matter?
Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea. I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.While Straw was commenting on so-called "extraordinary rendition", is it really so outrageous and fantastic that Britain may be involved? After all, Straw wrote in a written answer on the 26th October 2004 on Uzbekistan and torture:
The UK abides by its commitments under international law, including the UN Convention Against Torture. The British Government, including the intelligence and security agencies, never use torture in order to obtain information. Nor would we instigate others to commit torture for that purpose. We are active in pressing other countries to live up to their human rights obligations and to deliver on human rights commitments they have made.No, perhaps they would not, but as Craig Murray's documents and letters make clear, they are more than happy to accept information obtained via torture and view it as valuable and valid intelligence.
Terrorists have tried to attack London 10 times in the four years since September 11, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, claimed yesterday, but he insisted the threat to the capital was disorganised and not part of an international conspiracy.
Mr Livingstone said eight attacks had been foiled between the attacks on New York in 2001 and the tube and bus bombings in London in July this year. Two attacks had been attempted since the July 7 deaths, he said, including the failed attempt to detonate bombs on the transport network two weeks later.
Mr Livingstone, speaking on BBC Radio 4, did not provide any further details about the attempted attacks, and his office referred further inquiries to the Metropolitan police.
The Met have been reluctant to disclose numbers and dates of foiled attacks for security reasons. Sir Ian Blair, the Met commissioner, did, however, disclose earlier this month that the authorities had thwarted several attacks since July 7, resulting in charges and some deportations.
President George Bush said two months ago that 10 al-Qaida plots had been foiled in the past four years, including three involving UK targets.
Lawyers acting for seven British residents detained in Guantánamo Bay have launched a court challenge to help secure their release.
They say Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, and Charles Clarke, the home secretary, are under a legal obligation to demand that the US frees the men. They should be treated in the same way as the nine British citizens who have already been released from the US detention camp in Cuba, their lawyers argue.
The seven concerned are Bisher al Rawi, Jamil el Banna, Omar Deghayes, Wahab al Rawi, Jahida Sayyadi, Sabah Sunnoqrot and Abubaker Deghayes. All were resident in Britain, some as refugees, before they were captured by the US.
Bisher al Rawi and Mr El Banna, two businessmen, were seized in Gambia in 2002 by CIA agents after being held by British intelligence officers in the UK before being released. Chris Mullin, a former Foreign Office minister for Africa, says they were seized by the Americans after a tip-off by the British authorities.
Bisher al Rawi and Mr Deghayes say British intelligence officers who questioned them in Guantánamo Bay said they would be released if they agreed to work for British intelligence.
Lawyers, led by Rabinder Singh QC, have drawn up an 82-page document asking for a judicial review of what they say is the failure by ministers to honour their legal obligations. They say ministers are wrong in claiming they have no legal right to intervene because the men are not British citizens.
Moreover, the fact that the US has shown no interest in trying them through military commissions shows Washington "has no interest in detaining them for the purpose of pursuing any criminal charges against them", their lawyers say.
The detainees were suffering serious violations of their human rights and there was serious risk they were also suffering abuse amounting to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.
In a reference to Mr el Banna and Mr Deghayes, they say international law recognises refugees as particularly vulnerable, making their case even stronger.
The detainees' solicitor, Irene Nembhard of Birnberg Peirce, said yesterday: "The grounds of this claim point to British intelligence forces being complicit in both the seizure and interrogation of the detainees in Gambia and in Guantánamo Bay - what is now referred to as extraordinary rendition. Against this background, the subsequent refusal of the British government to seek the detainees' return and to deny any legal or moral responsibility to do so is reprehensible."
It was incomprehensible to the men's families that the foreign secretary refused to act in the light of the prime minister's comments in the Commons on November 22 2005 that the situation in Guantánamo Bay was an anomaly that ought to be brought to an end, she said.
Detainees held by the British army in Iraq have been involved in disturbances this week in protest at being held without charge or trial, the Guardian has learned.
The governor of Basra has made representations to the British after complaints by family members who say that their relatives have gone on hunger strike in the Shaiba detention facility south of Basra.
Families of the men say that they were prevented from visiting their relatives on Thursday and blocked the road to the base in protest. They say that when a few did gain access they heard allegations of beatings and of men being attacked by dogs.
Yesterday a British military spokesman confirmed that some of the "internees" had been involved in disturbances and had been on hunger strike but were now "getting fed". The men are suspected of being involved in insurgency or terrorist activity in the British-controlled area.
Sadiq Mahmoud Karim, visiting Qasim Mahmoud Karim, who has been in detention for 18 months, said: "Some visitors decided to block the main road leading to the base and not move till they were allowed to visit their relatives."
Lebanon yesterday became the third country to sign a deal with Britain that allows terrorism suspects to be deported back there. Under the deal, Lebanon, which has been accused of repeatedly breaching the human rights of its citizens, promises not to ill-treat anyone returned to it by Britain.
Amnesty International said Lebanon's human rights record continued to be of "serious concern". It said Islamist groups and opposition supporters had been detained without charge for political reasons and that there had been attacks on basic liberties such as freedom of expression and association.
The Foreign Office said a monitoring body would keep track of a suspect after deportation, but it is not clear which organisation would carry out this role. "We are in the process of identifying a suitable body, and discussions with the Lebanese authorities are ongoing," the Foreign Office said. It is also unclear whether any of the alleged terror suspects held pending deportation or subject to control orders are from Lebanon.
Mike Blakemore of Amnesty International said: "Torture, suspicious deaths in custody and the use of the death penalty are all matters of serious concern in Lebanon and it's dangerously misguided to expect countries with a known record of torturing people to respect bits of paper promising not to torture. So-called 'diplomatic assurances' of good treatment are frankly not worth the paper they're written on. The government should abandon this policy of trying to find a way around the international ban on torture and instead concentrate on condemning the torture of prisoners in places like Lebanon."
Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.
Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.
The network will incorporate thousands of existing CCTV cameras which are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to provide 24/7 coverage of all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts.
By next March a central database installed alongside the Police National Computer in Hendon, north London, will store the details of 35 million number-plate "reads" per day. These will include time, date and precise location, with camera sites monitored by global positioning satellites.
Already there are plans to extend the database by increasing the storage period to five years and by linking thousands of additional cameras so that details of up to 100 million number plates can be fed each day into the central databank.
Senior police officers have described the surveillance network as possibly the biggest advance in the technology of crime detection and prevention since the introduction of DNA fingerprinting.
But others concerned about civil liberties will be worried that the movements of millions of law-abiding people will soon be routinely recorded and kept on a central computer database for years.
The new national data centre of vehicle movements will form the basis of a sophisticated surveillance tool that lies at the heart of an operation designed to drive criminals off the road.
In the process, the data centre will provide unrivalled opportunities to gather intelligence data on the movements and associations of organised gangs and terrorist suspects whenever they use cars, vans or motorcycles.
The scheme is being orchestrated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and has the full backing of ministers who have sanctioned the spending of £24m this year on equipment.
More than 50 local authorities have signed agreements to allow the police to convert thousands of existing traffic cameras so they can read number plates automatically. The data will then be transmitted to Hendon via a secure police communications network.
Chief constables are also on the verge of brokering agreements with the Highways Agency, supermarkets and petrol station owners to incorporate their own CCTV cameras into the network. In addition to cross-checking each number plate against stolen and suspect vehicles held on the Police National Computer, the national data centre will also check whether each vehicle is lawfully licensed, insured and has a valid MoT test certificate.
Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.
Tony Blair today shrugged off the revitalised challenge from the Conservative party, telling reporters their "big idea" seemed to be to "try and become more like New Labour", as he set out a new year reform programme for his government.
"If you look at it for a minute, what is the dominant agenda at the moment in British politics? What's the big idea coming from the Conservative party? To try and become more like New Labour.
January's Palestinian parliamentary elections have been plunged into crisis after Israel decided to prevent Palestinians in Jerusalem from voting.
Israeli prime minister's spokesman Raanan Gissin told the BBC it was concerned that the Palestinian militant group Hamas might gain power.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the decision and said it would cancel the poll if voting in Jerusalem is barred.
This election will be only the second since the PA was established in 1995.
Press reports also suggest that head of Egyptian intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, who met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, is attempting to persuade Mr Abbas to postpone the vote.
Gen Suleiman has reportedly passed on a warning from the US and the EU that aid to the Palestinian Authority would be suspended if Hamas were to make big gains and become part of the future Palestinian government.
Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said that if there was no voting in Jerusalem, "there will be no elections at all".
"For us, Jerusalem is more important than any other thing," he added.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the 25 January election would be sabotaged if Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem were prevented from voting.
"If these elections don't take place, it will be a catastrophe for the Palestinians," he said.
"I know what the Israelis have on their minds. They don't want a partner. They want unilateralism."
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri has told reporters that his group wants the election held as scheduled.
Mr Gissin told the BBC that the Israeli government had changed its stance since last January's presidential election, when voting had been permitted.
Under special voting arrangements for East Jerusalem - which Israel has annexed and sees as its exclusive domain, while international law decrees it to be occupied territory - Palestinians have previously been allowed to vote in Israeli post offices.
Mr Gissin said these had been exceptions, and stressed the government would not help what he called a terrorist organisation, Hamas, come to power.
In October, Israel pulled back from a policy of opposing the participation of Hamas in January's elections.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said it was not in Israel's interest to oppose Hamas' participation.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had said earlier that his government would hinder voting in the West Bank if Hamas candidates stood in the election.
"The entire West Bank is now becoming covered with phosphorescent yellow vests. A new ruling that will come into effect in Israel shortly will require every driver to wear this glowing garment when he leaves his car at night on the road. West Bank drivers, whose safety is especially important to Israel, have rushed to buy vests from the many peddlers on the sides of the roads: They know that they will be the first ones to get ticketed for violations. At the Qalandiyah checkpoint they cost NIS 15 each."Does that remind you of anything at all?
Speaking on BBC1's Sunday AM programme, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the prime minister should take up Mr Cameron's offer.
"He (Tony Blair) knows that the only way to get results in say education, is to give greater freedom to schools at the local level. He knows that is the right thing to do.
"The question is, is he going to carry on and do the right thing, even if it means relying on the support of the Conservative Party, or is he going to give in to these old prejudices of John Prescott and others?"Shadow education secretary David Willetts said Mr Prescott was fighting old "class war" battles and ignoring young people already denied a good education because of selection by house price.
He told BBC News 24: "The crucial question for Ruth Kelly will be 'is it full speed ahead with reforms as set out by the prime minister or is it lots of clever little manoeuvres to water down some proposals, and back-tracking?'"
He added: "We shall see whether she is serious about reform or engaging in a retreat under pressure from Labour's left wing."
"The question is, is he going to carry on and do the right thing, even if it means relying on the support of the Conservative Party, or is he going to give in to these old prejudices of John Prescott and others?"
David Cameron yesterday moved to exploit the leadership crisis that has engulfed the Liberal Democrats by appealing to the party's supporters and MPs to "come and join the new Conservative party" if they want to see Labour defeated. Speaking in Hereford yesterday, the Conservative leader said that the two parties shared many values and that he was now the natural leader of a "modern, progressive, liberal, mainstream opposition to Labour".
"Let me make one thing clear. I'm a liberal Conservative. So I believe it's time for Liberal Democrat voters, councillors and MPs that share these values and this agenda to come and join the new Conservative party," he said.
Mr Cameron's allies have been attempting to build links with Lib Dem MPs in the hope of persuading some to defect before the next election. In his speech Mr Cameron set out the importance of cutting into Liberal Democrat support to gain the 126 seats he needs to form a majority government.
The Conservatives are promising to create more good local schools. Parents will have the right to choose the best schools for their children, which means they will be able to send their child to an independent school for the cost of a state-funded education.
Headteachers and governors will have complete control over discipline in school, including control over admissions and exclusions. Heads will set minimum standards of behaviour and will no longer be forced to admit children excluded from other schools. The party will establish Turnaround schools for disruptive pupils - at a cost of £200m a year. Pupils will attend full-time and will only be readmitted to mainstream schools if their behaviour significantly improves.
The Connexions careers service will be scrapped and a new service created with strong business involvement.
Michael Howard has said that an incoming Conservative government would ask parliament to approve a limit on the maximum number of refugees allowed into the United Kingdom. A quota of around 20,000 a year would be set - even though it could mean genuine refugees are refused the right to refuge and asylum in Britain. Applicants for entry to the UK would be processed at offshore asylum centres.
The party intends to return cannabis to a class B classification to resolve current confusion.
Pledges to create 20,000 extra prison places to guarantee that sentencing will not be driven by capacity. Plans an end to the early release scheme that sees prisoners monitored by electronic tagging and believes community sentences should only compliment not substitute prison.
Wants to see the civil law provision that a householder will be only be prosecuted for "grossly disproportionate" action against a burglar extended into criminal law through a householder protection bill.
The Conservatives promise to spend £4bn of their £12bn worth of efficiency savings on tax cuts. They plan to spend £1.3bn of that on halving council tax for the over-65s and are believed to be considering raising the threshold at which low earners start to pay income tax and cutting inheritance tax and stamp duty further. Ten million workers would get tax relief on their pension contributions, using £1.7bn of the Tories' efficiency savings. The Tories have promised to abolish the 1% stamp duty on house purchases below £250,000. At the last Budget, the threshold was raised from £60,000 to £120,000. The Tories claim that lifting it to £250,000 will free more than 500,000 homebuyers a year from stamp duty, and leave 80% of house purchases unaffected by the tax.
The party supports free choice for NHS patients in terms of care delivery. Patients will have the option of going private, with 50% of their costs underwritten by the state. GPs will advise patients on the best hospital for their needs.
Tony Blair yesterday indicated that he may scrap or change a longstanding ban on tapping of MPs' phones brought in by his Labour predecessor at No 10 Harold Wilson.Is this really about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or is it about Blair's continued seeming loss of reality? Who is to say that Blair wouldn't like to have his opponents in parliament bugged? With the Campaign group of MPs' raising hell, and even former loyal ministers supporting the alternative education paper published this week which Blair arrogantly dismissed out of hand, he may well be feeling hemmed in from all sides, with a seemingly resurgent Tory party led by Cameron. Maybe I'm just clutching at straws and that such a ban would only be used against the Sinn Fein MPs who don't even sit in the house.
MPs were given a government guarantee that their phones would not be tapped by police or the security services, "whatsoever the circumstances", by Wilson in the late 1960s.
Prime ministers including Mr Blair have regularly confirmed to parliament that the rule remains in place. Although the ban, known as the Wilson doctrine, does not carry statutory backing, MPs must be told by the prime minister if it is to be changed.
Yesterday Downing Street appeared to take steps towards that in a written statement to MPs. In it, the prime minister said he had received advice about the implications for the ban of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, passed by parliament amid much controversy in 2000.
The statement said the new advice had come from Sir Swinton Thomas, the interception of communications commissioner, and that Mr Blair was considering "possible implications".
Last night a Downing Street official confirmed a decision on whether the Wilson doctrine would be changed was expected in the new year but refused to reveal details of Sir Swinton's advice.
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, yesterday called for the protection that MPs currently enjoy to remain in place. He has repeatedly called on the government to reveal whether any MPs have had their phones tapped.
In 2003 it was suggested in parliament that the phones of at least one Sinn Féin MP had been bugged.
After making the guarantee, Wilson became convinced in his second spell as prime minister that he was himself being monitored by the security services.
The home secretary, Charles Clarke, yesterday won an agreement across Europe to ensure that telephone and internet records are stored by telecoms companies for up to two years.
The deal, which won the backing of the European parliament yesterday, will mean that police investigating terrorism and serious crime will have access to the commercial traffic logs of all phone calls, text messages, emails and instances of internet use by suspects.
Mr Clarke said: "This agreement on retaining communications places a vital tool against terrorism and serious crime in the hands of law enforcement agencies across Europe."
The new EU directive will make it mandatory for telecoms firms to keep phone and internet data for a minimum of six months but will not cover police access to the content of calls or emails, and will be subject to strict data protection. Mr Clarke said yesterday he would however urge EU governments to make it mandatory to store data for up to two years. He had made the issue a key element of the British presidency of the EU; it proved highly controversial, with Germany, Ireland and other countries raising concerns about privacy and cost.
The deal will mean that the voluntary agreement with the telecoms industry in Britain will now become mandatory across the EU. At present in Britain, emails, text messages and internet data are kept for six months. Telephone details, including numbers dialled, the time and duration of calls, and location of the mobile, are kept for 12 months.
Even details of calls that are connected but go unanswered will be archived on the grounds that they could be signals to accomplices or used to detonate a bomb.
Mr Clarke said yesterday the EU member states would each decide on how long the data should be kept, and whether they would reimburse telecoms firms. The UK contributes £6m a year to national costs.
There was also flexibility in the ruling to ensure new forms of data are covered.
Yesterday, the Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford said it amounted to a green light for mass surveillance: "Ordinary citizens could find details of their movements, acquaintances and favourite websites circulating in Whitehall."
The lord chancellor branded as "ridiculous" yesterday claims that the prosecution of a peace campaigner for reading out the names of British soldiers who have died in Iraq showed that free speech was threatened.
Maya Evans was last week given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay ��100 costs after being prosecuted under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which limits protest around Westminster, for reading the names by the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said the law "was a simple measure to avoid disorder around parliament".
Sir: I am really sorry that my constituent Maya Evans was convicted under Section 122 of the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (report, 8 December).
On the face of it, it looked to be an overreaction on the part of the prosecutors but be that as it may, it would be wrong to say that the legislation is unnecessary. Its purpose is not to deny protest but to ensure that such protest is possible.
Historically all sorts of protests have taken place around Parliament, but with the current terrorist threat it would be easy to mask a terrorist atrocity under the guise of a legitimate demonstration. The easy solution would have been to simply ban such protest - as the media indeed claim is the purpose of the Act - but that was not the Government's intention.
Ms Evans's prosecution is unfortunate and appears to have been somewhat zealous, but to suggest it is an attack on free speech is bizarre. Such a right must be, and indeed is, protected by this legislation.
MICHAEL FOSTER MP
HASTINGS AND RYE
I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom."
The terrorist threat to the UK has intensified so much since July 7 that Scotland Yard gets high-grade intelligence on suspects almost every day, in contrast to the monthly reports it received before the London bombings, the UK's most senior police chief said yesterday.
Sir Ian Blair, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, told a Metropolitan Police Authority conference on terrorism, where relatives of the July 7 victims were among hundreds of delegates, that cells were plotting further attacks.
"The level of threat has intensified and continues to intensify. The terrorists are here and they are going to go on attempting to kill people like you and people like me," he said. "The sky is dark. You may argue on the current legal position or British government's position, but we are in a different place than before the opening of this century.
"There are currently people in the UK as we speak who are planning mass atrocities and who will use suicide as a weapon. That's a different place to where we have been in my lifetime."
He said there had been a 75% increase in counter-terrorism operations by his officers since the July bombings. Three conspiracies had been thwarted since July 7, which had resulted in charges and deportations, he said, although he declined to comment further owing to ongoing court cases.
"Before July 7, my service and the security services believed themselves to be absolutely flat out against international terrorism," he said. "We are now further flat out than we could have ever imagined ourselves to be."
Referring to high-grade intelligence reports, Sir Ian said: "Andy Hayman [the Met's assistant commissioner in charge of anti-terrorism] would expect to get, before July, maybe one every month. Now, it's almost daily." The UK terrorist threat level has remained at "severe general" since late August and security chiefs believe that London is a prime target.
he said that there was no evidence that US "extraordinary rendition" flights had passed through the UK. "Careful research has been unable to identify any occasion ... when we have received a request for permission by the United States for a rendition through the United Kingdom territory or airspace."Perhaps so. But this entirely ignores a simple fact. The US hasn't asked anyone's permission. Both Poland and Romania, countries which supposedly housed secret CIA prisons, have said they had no knowledge of the US using their soil for such purposes. Are all the countries in Europe, all of which have said they have little or no knowledge of what America has been up to lying about what has gone on? Probably not. What some do know however is that they can get away with lying about what they do know. Jack Straw has managed to use this to his advantage.
"I have no doubt of the good faith of the foreign secretary in this matter, but the truth is that the British authorities simply don't know whether extraordinary rendition is taking place using British airfields," he said. "The sooner we have a system of inspection, the better."I am willing to bet that the British authorities know full well about these extraordinary rendition flights. If the government doesn't know, and the Department of Transport doesn't know, then I find it very difficult to believe that MI5/6 also do not. Whether they have been telling the government or not is a different matter. If they have, then Jack Straw needs to consider his position. If not, then MI5/6 needs to explain itself.
Karen Buck, the aviation minister, told Sir Menzies that this "indicates that if these aircraft landed in the UK they were either not involved in civil commercial transport or were stopping for technical purposes, for example to refuel".Karen Buck is being very careful, and for good reason. In another article in last week's Guardian, there was this:
The British government is guilty of breaking international law if it allowed secret CIA "rendition" flights of terror suspects to land at UK airports, according to a report by American legal scholars.So now Karen Buck is denying even that permission was given to the aircraft to refuel. Obviously they just landed, refueled and went on their way without anyone noticing, no contact with control towers, and without anyone asking who they were. Is this government now so arrogant that it thinks that we will believe this? This is a classic example of spinning, of distorting the original question and answering in such a way as to conceal the truth. I also find it outrageous that the Conservatives have not asked any questions or got involved in this at all. Instead it has been the Lib Dems and the media who have run with this and tried to get answers out of the government. The answers we have got are deeply unsatisfactory. They are, I believe, lies and carefully crafted misinformation. Jack Straw knows full well what has been going on, and if he didn't, he does now. He should drop the bullshit and apologise, instead of covering up for the Americans and their continued breachings of international law.
Merely giving permission for the flights to refuel while en route to the Middle East to collect a prisoner would constitute a breach of the law, according to the opinion commissioned by an all-party group of MPs, which meets in parliament for the first time today.
Supermarket chain Asda is to challenge Tesco's mounting dominance with a new chain of discount food stores across the country. Britain's second biggest grocery chain, which is part of the US Wal-Mart empire, will announce plans for hundreds of the new-look stores next week.
The stores will be a direct challenge to Tesco's Express and Sainsbury's Local convenience stores which have been so successful in recent years.
This intensification of competition in the sector is also likely to reignite the debate over whether the big supermarket chains are changing the face of Britain's high streets - squeezing out small, local operators who are unable to match the buying power of the big chains.
They will be one of a series of initiatives designed to mount a more effective challenge to the dominance of Tesco, which now has a market share of more than 30%. In the past 12 months Asda's trade has stood still. Asda's new outlets have yet to be named, though the first will be opened in Northampton next month. The supermarket group has been developing the concept using the codename "Project Disco".
In size terms, the new stores are likely to average 7,000-10,000 sq ft - slightly larger than Express and Local outlets. Until now Asda has sold food and clothing only from superstores of 80,000 sq ft and larger. The new stores are understood to have been modelled on a successful French chain called Leaderprice.
The aim is to create the cheapest chain of food shops in town, undercutting even discounters such as Aldi and Netto. A source close to Asda said: "Store managers will be given the power to fix prices at a local level in order to ensure Asda is charging the lowest prices in the area."
Asda intends to find high street and retail park locations for the new chain and it is understood that the company is prepared to open some stores next to Tesco outlets in order to mount a direct challenge and lure away Tesco shoppers. The new stores are the first significant initiative from chief executive Andy Bond, who took over at Asda this year.
Asda's Mr Bond and Mr Fitzsimmons are likely to insist their new venture is not a move into convenience stores and will instead label them "community" discount stores.
The chair of the commission investigating the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes today said it was "likely" its findings would be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Mr De Menezes, a Brazilian national, was shot seven times in the head by armed police officers at Stockwell underground station, in south London, who thought he was a suicide bomber.
The handing over of the report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission could lead to criminal charges being brought against the officers.
Asked whether the report would be handed over, Nick Hardwick, the IPCC chair, said: "I think that is likely."
Charges are brought against officers when the IPCC submits a report to the CPS and the prosecution service decides there is a case to pursue.
Mr Hardwick said the IPCC had to decide whether its findings indicated criminal offences might have taken place. The CPS would then have to decide whether to bring charges against any of the Scotland Yard officers involved.
Mr Hardwick quashed rumours that some of the CCTV tapes from the platform where the shooting happened were missing. However, he refused to say whether one or more of the cameras had not been working properly on the day of the shooting.
The senior investigator, John Cummins, admitted to "problems with the equipment" but did not elaborate.
It is not known which offences the IPCC would ask the CPS to consider if the report were handed over.
The IPCC chair also revealed that the investigators had not interviewed Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner. He refused to confirm whether a statement had been taken from him.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "It is inexplicable that Sir Ian Blair has not been interviewed. The public expect a full and thorough investigation in a case like this, and it would be no reflection on Sir Ian to be interviewed.
"There is a fine balance to be struck between protecting the safety of the public, operational priorities of the police and natural justice. The public expect no stone to be left unturned in this inquiry.
"The last thing anyone wants is to encourage conspiracy theories about a cover-up."
Mr Hardwick admitted the delay in the IPCC taking over the investigation had been damaging to the public's perception of the inquiry. It did not begin its investigation until Wednesday July 27 - five days after Mr De Menezes was shot dead. Sir Ian Blair had written to the Home Office to clarify the role of the IPCC when the matter related to an ongoing anti-terrorism investigation.
Mr Hardwick refused to comment on whether Sir Ian had tried to delay the IPCC's involvement.
The wife of a passenger shot dead after apparently claiming he was carrying a bomb on a plane desperately tried to tell air marshals her husband was mentally ill and had not taken his medication before they opened fire, killing him.
Passengers on board the American Airlines jetliner at Miami airport described seeing Rigoberto Alpizar, 44, run from his seat and down the aisle with his screaming wife and an undercover air marshal wearing a Hawaiian shirt in close pursuit.
"She was chasing after him," Alan Tirpak, another passenger on board, told CNN. "She was just saying her husband was sick, her husband was sick." After following him part of the way down the aisle the woman returned to her seat saying she needed to get his bags. "She just kept saying the same thing over and over, and that's when we heard the shots."
James Bauer, the agent in charge of the Federal Air Marshal Service field office in Miami, said that before Mr Alpizar ran off the plane he had "uttered threatening words that included a sentence to the effect that he had a bomb".
But several passengers, including Mike Beshears, said they did not hear Mr Alpizar say anything. "He just was in a hurry and exited the plane," he said.
Ellen Sutliff, who was sitting near Mr Alpizar, told CNN he had appeared agitated even before he boarded the plane, and that his wife, Anne, kept trying to reassure him: "We just have to get through customs ... We're going to be home soon, and everything will be all right."
Asked about the apparent discrepancy in the accounts between passengers and the air marshals, an official at the Department of Homeland Security told the Guardian that every passenger on board the plane would be interviewed. "We have to wait for the investigation, but there may be situations where what they heard would depend on where they were sitting. But the air marshals have confirmed to us that they overheard him say he had a bomb in his bag," he said.
PAGE 3 stunners Becky Rule and Melanie Boorman have something to tell their millions of male fans today: They are in love — with each other.
The gorgeous pair are the first in Page 3’s 35-year history to fall for another topless babe.
They sealed their blossoming romance during a recent Sun photoshoot on Majorca.
And from now on, they will appear TOGETHER on Britain’s favourite glamour page.
LOVESTRUCK Page 3 beauties Becky Rule and Melanie Boorman have lifted the lid on their first night of lesbian lust with each other.
The busty pair got it on during a baking hot night in Majorca.
They shared a hotel room on the Spanish island during a Page 3 modelling job with four other babes.
But it took a few glasses of wine before the pair — who first met just two weeks before — finally plucked up the courage to reveal their true feelings.
Becky, 24, said: “All us Page 3 girls went for a meal on the second night of the trip. Mel and I spent the whole time flirting. She kept telling me I was her perfect woman.
“When we got back to our hotel she threw off her clothes before diving naked into the swimming pool.
“I was so excited — I just stripped and jumped in after her.”
The girls then chatted naked in a Jacuzzi with two other Page 3 babes — before Becky and Mel collapsed into bed.
Mel, 23, said: “We pushed our beds together and shared our first kiss. Then we spent the night together. It was sensual, erotic, beautiful and fun.”
Becky added: “When we got back to our hotel room after flirting in the Jacuzzi we took one look at each other and pushed our single beds together. That was when I knew for sure we both wanted to make love to each other.
“Both of us were topless and we jumped under the sheets to kiss and cuddle. But then I just couldn’t keep my hands off Mel.
“I kissed and stroked her breasts and she ran her fingers up and down my back. Then I slowly teased off her g-string and kissed her all over her body.
“Both of us were just so hot for each other. I felt like I was going to explode with desire.”
Mel, a former secretary, added: “What started off as a cuddle became much more. We just wanted each other badly.
“Our first night as lovers was perfect. I just couldn’t get enough of Becky.
“When we woke up the following morning I turned to her and said, ‘Let’s just stay in bed all day and only get up to order pizza.’ I was so happy.”
But the girls’ budding relationship took a turn — as Mel worried what her 27-year-old boyfriend would think about her new love.
She said: “Blokes always say that girl-on-girl action is their fantasy — but when it involves their girlfriend they’re not always so keen.
“I didn’t want him to think I had cheated on him and so told him about my feelings for Becky straight away.
“It was tough to begin with — but he has now accepted our relationship.
“I’m so lucky that my man understands how special she is to me.”
The two beauties had secretly fancied each other since first meeting on a photoshoot for a men’s mag.
Brunette Mel, of Morecambe, Lancs, said: “I remember the first time I laid eyes on Becky like it was yesterday.
“She had the most amazing breasts — just like a Fifties pin-up girl.
“I thought, ‘I’ve met a modern Marilyn Monroe’ and just couldn’t wait to talk to her.
“Becky was so much fun — she was flirty and outrageous.
“We chatted about boyfriend problems and laughed non-stop.”
For blonde Becky, Mel’s crystal-blue eyes and perfect rear left her spellbound.
Although she hasn’t given up on finding the perfect fella, she said: “I like girls with dark hair and blue eyes — and Mel has both. She looked like a goddess.
“But beneath that innocent look I thought there could be a cheeky minx trying to get out.
“And I couldn’t keep my eyes off her bum. It was perfect.”
The girls, who from now on will appear TOGETHER on Page 3, have both slept with women before — but there is not a shred of jealously between them.
Becky, from West London, said: “When you’re with the right woman everything falls into place.
“I slept with my best female friend on my 20th birthday and it was a good experience. You can have a real laugh with girls.”
The lusty babes — both firm favourites with our readers — have plenty in common away from the bedroom.
They love rock bands Led Zeppelin, The Stone Roses and The Cure.
And they would choose gangster films as their choice for a cosy video night in.
Becky said: “We brought out the best in each other from the start.
“Mel is so classy — she likes visiting her parents in France, skiing and going on country walks.
“I like being wined and dined but have a real bad-girl streak that makes me behave like a little devil.
“We fitted together perfectly.”
The appeal court voted last year that if evidence was obtained under torture by agents of another country with no involvement by the UK, it was usable and there was no obligation by the government to inquire about its origins.
t also means the home secretary, Charles Clarke, must re-examine all cases where evidence from abroad has been obtained by torture.
Commenting on the ruling, Mr Clarke said the government did not condone torture in any way, so the Law Lords' decision was "hypothetical".
"We accept this judgment, which will have no bearing on the government's efforts to combat terrorism: we have always made clear that we do not intend to rely on or present evidence ... which we know or believe to have been obtained by torture," he said.
The detainees, most of whom have been in custody since 2001, were held under Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, which was passed soon after the September 11 attacks in the US.
With the backing of a coalition of human rights groups, they challenged a ruling by the special immigration appeals committee (SIAC) that the Home Office had "sound material" to back up the decision that they posed a threat to national security.
The panel said all eight cases should be sent back to SIAC to be reconsidered.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice who headed the panel, said English law had regarded "torture and its fruits" with abhorrence for more than 500 years.
"The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of third-party torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice," he said.
The human rights groups welcomed the announcement. Amnesty International, which led the coalition on the detainees' behalf, said the decision meant the government must reaffirm its ban on torture and evidence obtained by torture.
An Amnesty spokesman said: "This is a momentous decision. The Law Lords' ruling has overturned the tacit belief that torture can be condoned under certain circumstances.
"This ruling shreds any vestige of legality with which the UK government had attempted to defend a completely unlawful and reprehensible policy introduced as part of its counter-terrorism measures."
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of civil rights group Liberty, said: "This is an incredibly important day, with the Law Lords sending a signal across the democratic world that there is to be no compromise on torture.
"This is also an important message about what distinguishes us from dictators and terrorists. We will not legitimise evidence obtained by torture by using it in our justice system."
Amnesty International is now calling for an end to the deportation of alleged terror suspects to countries where they are at risk of torture.
That's alright then. While one part of me has very little sympathy for anyone who applies to be on a reality TV show, as they should know full well what they are possibly getting into, the other part thinks of the increasing dangers and long-term damage to their personal psyche as they are effectively humiliated in front of the nation for over a week. This isn't the same as Big Brother, where they can win the game or public affection by either being nice or being nasty, in this they don't have much of a choice. Still, while the show will no doubt make stars of some talentless berks, it can boast that it already has a talentless berk hosting it in Johnny Vaughn. As a lot of reality shows are hit in the ratings due to their terribleness (Celebrity Wrestling, etc) it seems that companies still can't resist commissioning such potentially dangerous tosh. Maybe they ought to take a hint from Channel 4's recent new "quiz", deal or no deal, which is all down to luck and involves genuine tension, all without hurting anybody. Then again, that's not exactly going to excite the front pages of the tabloids, is it?Several months ago, the channel advertised for "thrill seekers" to take part in a new reality TV show. A hundred applicants were invited to London for an interview before being put through a series of psychological tests to ascertain how suggestible they were.
Although the term space cadet is slang for someone who is distracted from reality, Shirley Jones, the show's executive producer, insisted the contestants were "not stupid people".
"Suggestibility is a psychological term that has no link with intelligence or gullibility. People who have a creative mind tend to be quite suggestible. All the tests we did have been done in conjunction with a psychologist," she said.
In Egyptian myth, Apophis was the ancient spirit of evil and destruction, a demon that was determined to plunge the world into eternal darkness.
A fitting name, astronomers reasoned, for a menace now hurtling towards Earth from outerspace. Scientists are monitoring the progress of a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered last year that is potentially on a collision course with the planet, and are imploring governments to decide on a strategy for dealing with it.
Nasa has estimated that an impact from Apophis, which has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036, would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the Earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere.
And, scientists insist, there is actually very little time left to decide. At a recent meeting of experts in near-Earth objects (NEOs) in London, scientists said it could take decades to design, test and build the required technology to deflect the asteroid. Monica Grady, an expert in meteorites at the Open University, said: "It's a question of when, not if, a near Earth object collides with Earth. Many of the smaller objects break up when they reach the Earth's atmosphere and have no impact. However, a NEO larger than 1km [wide] will collide with Earth every few hundred thousand years and a NEO larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every hundred million years. We are overdue for a big one."
Apophis had been intermittently tracked since its discovery in June last year but, in December, it started causing serious concern. Projecting the orbit of the asteroid into the future, astronomers had calculated that the odds of it hitting the Earth in 2029 were alarming. As more observations came in, the odds got higher.
Having more than 20 years warning of potential impact might seem plenty of time. But, at last week's meeting, Andrea Carusi, president of the Spaceguard Foundation, said that the time for governments to make decisions on what to do was now, to give scientists time to prepare mitigation missions. At the peak of concern, Apophis asteroid was placed at four out of 10 on the Torino scale - a measure of the threat posed by an NEO where 10 is a certain collision which could cause a global catastrophe. This was the highest of any asteroid in recorded history and it had a 1 in 37 chance of hitting the Earth. The threat of a collision in 2029 was eventually ruled out at the end of last year.
Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer from Queen's University Belfast, said: "When it does pass close to us on April 13 2029, the Earth will deflect it and change its orbit. There's a small possibility that if it passes through a particular point in space, the so-called keyhole, ... the Earth's gravity will change things so that when it comes back around again in 2036, it will collide with us." The chance of Apophis passing through the keyhole, a 600-metre patch of space, is 1 in 5,500 based on current information.
New maps show that the Earth is rapidly running out of fertile land and that food production will soon be unable to keep up with the world's burgeoning population. The maps reveal that more than one third of the world's land is being used to grow crops or graze cattle.
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison combined satellite land cover images with agricultural census data from every country in the world to create detailed maps of global land use. Each grid square was 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) across and showed the most prevalent land use in that square, such as forest, grassland or ice.
"In the act of making these maps we are asking: where is the human footprint on the Earth?" said Amato Evan, a member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison research team presenting its results this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
The current map shows a snapshot of global land use for the year 2000, but the scientists also have land use data going back to 1700, showing how things have changed.
"The maps show, very strikingly, that a large part of our planet (roughly 40%) is being used for either growing crops or grazing cattle," said Dr Navin Ramankutty, a member of the Wisconsin-Madison team. By comparison, only 7% of the world's land was being used for agriculture in 1700.
The Amazon basin has seen some of the greatest changes in recent times, with huge swaths of the rainforest being felled to grow soya beans.
"One of the major changes we see is the fast expansion of soybeans in Brazil and Argentina, grown for export to China and the EU," said Dr Ramankutty.
This agricultural expansion has come at the expense of tropical forests in both countries.
Meanwhile, intensive farming practices mean that cropland areas have decreased slightly in the US and Europe and the land is being gobbled up by urbanisation.
The research indicates that there is now little room for further agricultural expansion.
"Except for Latin America and Africa, all the places in the world where we could grow crops are already being cultivated. The remaining places are either too cold or too dry to grow crops," said Dr Ramankutty.
The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has defended US treatment of terror suspects and refused to either confirm or deny the existence of CIA-run secret prisons in eastern Europe.
Ms Rice said European countries should trust the US because information gathered by the CIA had "prevented terrorist attacks in Europe ... and other countries".
She added that the US would use "every lawful weapon to defeat these terrorists".
Reading out a statement at Andrews air force base in Maryland before leaving on a trip to Europe, Ms Rice said: "We cannot discuss information that would compromise the success of intelligence, law enforcement, and military operations. We expect other nations share this view."
"The US does not use the air space or airport of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee when we believe he or she will be tortured," she said.
"The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture."
Immersion in sewage, ripping out fingernails, sleep deprivation, cigarette burns and beatings with electric prods - these are some of the torture methods used by China's police and prison officers to extract confessions and maintain discipline, a United Nations investigation has found.
Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said yesterday that abuse of suspects and prisoners remained widespread in China. Treatment was far worse than international norms, despite recent signs of improvement.
Mr Nowak's investigation was the first ever permitted by China and, as such, represents a breakthrough in human rights. Despite this, he said he had been obstructed by security officials, who intimidated some victims and their relatives or prevented them from seeing him.
However, he was able to visit prisons, detention centres and "re-education" labour camps in Beijing and the troubled regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as interviewing academics, justice officials and detainees. Among the prisoners, Mr Nowak said he observed a "palpable level of fear and self-censorship", which he had not seen in missions to other countries.
Human rights groups say brutality and degradation are common in Chinese prisons, where many of the victims are from the Tibetan and Uighur ethnic minorities, political dissidents, followers of the banned Falun Gong sect and members of underground churches.
Although China outlawed torture in 1996, its definition of illegal acts - those leaving physical marks - is so narrow that interrogators can employ a wide range of methods contravening UN standards. Suspects are manacled in contorted positions, deprived of sleep and subjected to psychological torture. Some techniques have been given names, such as "reversing an aeroplane", where a victim must remain standing, bent double, with arms splayed upwards and backwards.
Faced with suicide bombings, claims of Iraqi death squads, and kidnappings, the Pentagon has come up with an innovative solution to solving the problems in Iraq: buying good news. Using defence contractors or intermediaries posing as freelance reporters, the military has been paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by a military propaganda unit lauding the US mission.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the articles are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers where they are often presented as unbiased accounts by independent journalists. Records obtained by the newspaper indicate the US has paid to publish dozens of articles since the operation began this year, with headlines such as "Iraqis insist on living despite terrorism" and "more money goes to Iraq's development".
One military official told the LA Times the military has also bought an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, both used to channel pro-American messages. The propaganda offensive is said to have caused unease among some senior military officials at the Pentagon and in Iraq, especially when the US is promising to promote democratic principles.