Saturday, June 17, 2006 

Rewarding pure greed.

While the main controversy over the Queen's birthday honours list will be that the police man behind the Forest Gate raid, Andy Hayman, has been awarded a CBE for his response to the 7/7 attacks, there's another two or three awardees that are less than deserving of their relative honours.

Of those, Philip Green is the one that will anger the most. A bald oleaginous cunt of the highest order, he paid himself £1.2 billion last year. Oh, and he paid it to his wife Tina, who lives in Monaco, so he avoided that nasty business of having to pay tax on it. That amounts to more than the 11 million citizens of the African state of Malawi earned last year. Green is spending his money well though, it has to be said. He bought a portrait of fellow entrepreneur, fellow tax dodger and fellow cunt Mohammed Al-Fayed, the one who alleges that MI5 and Prince Philip murdered his son and daughter-in-law to be, who was of course also carrying his grandchild. He also purchased one of Madonna's tasteful gold Versace bags, presumably so when he has sex with his wife he can put it over his head and save her the indignity of looking at his face.

Also awarded a knighthood is Stelios Haji-Ioannou, owner of low cost airgroup EasyJet, and as a result one of the contributors to climate change. At least he was more graceful in accepting it than Green:
"I'm not sure at this stage that I deserve an honour which is usually reserved for those with a lifetime of business achievement," he said, adding that he wanted to accept the award in the spirit of entrepreneurship.

You're right. You don't deserve one.

Finally in the business category, John Sutherland, chairman of Cadbury Schweppes also receives a knighthood. Apart from peddling junk food, Cadbury Schweppes has also been trying its hardest to pay as little tax as possible into the UK's coffers. It took the UK to court over its demand for £8.64m from Cadbury Schweppes subsidiaries in Ireland, and partially won its case. It was also involved in the case of Marks and Spencer, who took the UK to the European court of Justice over not allowing companies to deduct foreign losses from its UK tax bill, something which a small number of other European states allow. Private Eye estimates that the effect of the group litigation orders over the franked investment income tax rules could cost the UK exchequer £5bn, or the equivalent of just slightly less than 4 more Green paychecks. As "Sir" Digby Jones, another knighted pork trougher said of Sutherland:
He has always maintained the Cadbury tradition of balancing business success with social inclusion and corporate responsibility all over the world."

Corporate responsibility in this case translates as giving as little money as possible to the tax authorities, and fighting to get a nice lump sum of it back by suing them later.

As with all honours lists, there's an idiot who shouldn't be getting one who was dreamt up by some civil servant who rather likes him for some odd. Last year it was Gordon Ramsay, the man whose only benefit to society has been the spread of constant swearing (yes, I know this post is rather full of it) and opening shitty restaurants. This time it's Gary Rhodes, another chef, who by coincidence is also a wanker with a suitably big mouth, but with a ludicrous haircut thrown into the mix.

It has to be said that most of the honours do go to the deserving, who have given years of service either to the state or to those around them. It's spoilt by those whose only benefit has been encouraging greed and lethargy.

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Sun-watch: M'luds crack down thanks to us!

The Sun is always quick to claim that it is personally responsible for subsequent changes in the law, or in this case, to seeming harsher sentences by judges following its campaign at the start of the week. As usual, the Sun's claim in the main is nonsense.

The main article highlights the sentencing of the two men who beat Jody Dobrowski to death to a minimum of 28 years in prison before they can be considered for parole - even though both men had already pleaded guilty. What the Sun doesn't mention until the end of the article is that although their guilty plea was taken into consideration, as it was in the cases involving Craig Sweeney and Alan Webster, what was also taken into consideration was that the men had set out to commit a hate crime, as the killing was aggravated by the men's homophobia. Also taken into consideration was the suffering inflicted on Dobrowski, who was beaten so badly that his family could not recognise him. The Sun also makes clear in its article that the judge told them that there was no guarantee they would be released after 28 years. This is in contrast to how they glossed over how the judge in the case of Craig Sweeney told him that it was "unlikely" that he would be released after five years. While the Sun mentions that one witness said that the men had told him that:

“We don’t like poofters here — that’s why we can kill him.”

it doesn't mentioned that they while they were beating Dobrowski to death they had shouted:

fucking queer, bastard, faggot and poof.

Which may be a bit strong for a "family newspaper" that nonetheless prints photographs of lovely ladies in few clothes on its third page with relish.

It does however print the words of Dobrowski's mother Sheri, who said:
Tragically, he will not be the last to suffer the consequences of homophobia in this society. This is unacceptable.”

Quite right. After all, it was only a few months ago that the Sun was talking about rear gunners, limp dems, biting pillows and Simon Hughes hanging around toilets, as they'd found a plaque which stated that Hughes had opened one such brick shithouse. While the Sun's homophobia against men is still there for all to see, they by contrast led with the news that an army lesbian couple were the first of those in the armed forces to get a civil partnership, and who could forget their shameless trouser rustling antics in claiming that two of their page 3 girls had fallen in love? While women being gay is fine, presumably because that's a red-blooded heterosexual male fantasy, men being gay obviously involves biting pillows and hanging around toilets, which isn't so attractive in the Sun's eyes.

The paper additionally doesn't mention that while Dobrowski's family had concerns about the probation and parole system, as two weeks before Jody was killed, another gay man was attacked by the pair. This was while Scott Walker was out on licence. Their attack on Dobrowski occurred the day after Walker's licence expired. Unlike the Sun though, that blames everything and everyone other then the men, such as the judges, the probation service, the human rights act and the politicians, Jody's stepfather said that the blame lay with only two individuals, Walker and Pickford. A shame that such a refreshing statement wasn't mentioned.

The Sun then mentions two other cases that seem rather like a contradiction. While an illegal immigrant who was jailed for six months was recommended to be deported as soon as possible to save on the prison bill to the taxpayers, a man who indecently assaulted a 12-year-old girl in 1970s was sent to prison for 10 months, with the judge saying she felt obliged to jail him because of “current views about sentences”. What purpose is served sending a man who committed a crime such a long time ago at taxypayer's expense to prison for 10 months when he could have been heavily fined or placed on a tough community service order, working to pay back his debt rather than sitting in a cell for 5 months, is not explained. Deporting one man to save costs is therefore marred by another judge not showing mercy when she previously may have done. It's another example of judges being tougher when the topic is being raised by the media and causing controversy with politicians, as has been documented in the past.

Also revealed today is the fact that the actual time being served by lifers today is 50% higher than it was a decade ago, that number given life in the last 10 years has doubled, and that the courts are actually getting tougher. This no doubt will be ignored by the leader writers and populist public protecting crusaders in Wapping.

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Friday, June 16, 2006 

Guess the quote.

"Look at Blair and Reid and how they almost take pride in the rigid populism of their political thought. There is a new and profoundly unpleasant Blair agenda abroad - the Labour party is now increasingly given over to the worst of petty bourgeois sentiments, the thought that there is something clever in cynicism; realistic in selfishness; and the granting of legitimacy to the barbaric idea of the survival of the fittest."

Who do you think? George Galloway? Tony Benn? Some other far-lefty? Well, it's a trick question, as the above is adapted slightly from a real quote. It's taken from a letter sent to Michael Foot in 1982, with Thatcher and Tebbit changed to Blair and Reid, Tory changed to Blair, and then in the following sentence Tory to Labour. The writer of that letter? One Tony Blair.

Elsewhere in the letter, Blair admits to reading Marx, which is something he might not today, especially in the company of his new found friend Silvio Berlusconi, who often accuses judges of being left-wing stooges and communists in disguise, or indeed Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, who had involvement in the Reagan administration which called the Soviet Union the "evil empire". He castigates Thatcher for visiting economic madness on the country, something he has been happy to further entrench rather than slow. He states that the right wing of the Labour party is politically bankrupt, which certainly hasn't changed since his day. The difference is he's now a part of it. He also admits to being happiest addressing people who don't necessarily agree, but are willing to listen, which pretty much sums up his relationship with the majority of the Labour party. Most of it just hasn't fallen into "introspection", which he accuses the left of doing. Power and being pragmatic, something which he said tainted the right wing, has resulted in the current malaise which the Labour party is in.

Some things don't change though. Blair at the time recognised "in nuclear war we face a greater threat than any of our ancestors". Now he recognises it by sacking Jack Straw who described war with Iran as "inconceivable", and the plan by the US to attack it with nuclear weapons, reported by Seymour Hersh, as "nuts". He also notes that profound problems require profound remedies. Sadly that now means "choice", more privatisation, more reform and a rebalancing of the criminal justice system in favour of the victim, accompanied with a populism and relying on tabloid headlines that would make an 80s Tory blush. As Rudge said, history is just one fucking thing after another. Even back in 82, Blair was already New Labour.

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Sun-watch: Smearing and distorting on a grand scale.

The terror raid on the home of brothers Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair, involving at least 250 police officers, continues to raise as many questions about the media's involvement in the debacle as the police's brutal and cack-handed way of going about things. Since the beginning there has been an almost smear them and think about the consequences later mentality. The Murdoch papers have been at the forefront of this.

The Times on the Saturday alleged that at least one of the brothers had a criminal record. Neither do, although the Sun alleges that one of them committed offences while a juvenile.
On the Sunday following the raid,the News of the World led with the report that one brother had grabbed at the gun and shot the other, along with incredibly menacing black and white photos of one of the brothers. It also alleged that the police were looking for a device that would spray out cyanide, and that the brothers were about to leave the country. Indeed they were, as the whole family was about to leave on holiday. The gun story has since been denied by both their lawyers and the men themselves. The Sun then revealed that the brother's half-brother was a "vicious" armed-robber, and had supposedly also taken part in the extremist protest back in February where demonstrators had carried placards with "butcher those who insult Islam" and chanted that terrorist vengeance would be forthcoming. The half-brother was jailed in 2003. How much influence he could have on the brothers from inside is not explained. The Sun quoted a police source that the link the brothers had with him "totally justified" the raid in which one of the brothers was shot.

Yesterday the Sun splashed on the story that £38,000 had been found in the house, the only major find apart from a bottle of aspirin, despite taking the house to pieces, digging up the back garden and drilling the walls.
Police quizzed Mohammed Abdul Kahar, 23, and his brother Abul Koyair, 20, about the money during the week they spent in custody.

But neither would tell them where it came from. Last night a security source said: “It was a hell of a lot to have knocking around. The cash was in a bedroom, much of it in £50 notes.

“Urgent inquiries are being carried out to trace the source of the money and what it was intended for.”

Police were desperate to learn how Kahar, a postal worker, and Tesco shelf-stacker Koyair could have had such a vast sum in their house.


But neither they nor their lawyers made any mention of the £38,000.

Today the truth emerged, as the sister of the brothers' made a statement which explained why the money was there and made it look increasingly like a section of the press, in co-operation with the police, is determined to smear the entire family:
In a strongly worded statement, his sister Humeya Kalam said she had informed police about the money two hours after the raid took place. She said it was accumulated income which the family was reluctant to store in a bank because they felt that to do so would conflict with their religious beliefs. She said the money was kept in the basement of the house next door, which is owned by her and rented to a separate family.

"The story is incorrect in every way. It suggests that there is something sinister and unexplained in relation to monies found in my house," Ms Kalam said.

"The monies are neither sinister nor unexplained. I told the police that the money comes primarily from the monthly income from the rental of number 48, kept by my mother for safekeeping over the period of time in which I have owned the house, ie over approximately four years. My mother has never felt it right to keep this money in a bank account, or to hold savings in a bank; Islam prohibits the keeping of money in circumstances where interest is earned or where it is paid."

She added: "My mother has always held our savings in this way; in the same way savings were kept by her for me to buy number 48. Now in turn, I am providing my income from number 48 for my mother to keep in the same way.

"My brothers Kahar and Koyair each contribute from their wages every month to the money that my mother holds. Despite being told this by me, at Plaistow police station, and by my brothers entirely separately in Paddington Green station, the police have asked neither my mother nor my father any questions on this issue." She said her family felt there were people who wished "to believe the worst of my family and ensure that their slur reaches the widest audience."

So either the Sun believed what they were told by their source, which was a bunch of lies, or they participated in making up a large amount of their story from a small amount of truth told to them.

Since the beginning the Sun has wanted to believe the worst. When it seemed that nothing would be found and the police had made a mistake, based on erroneous intelligence, they brought the fact that their half-brother had a criminal record into the mix to make them look as though they had something to hide. They alleged he attended the extremist demo to paint them as likely sympathisers to the cause of radical Islam. They then led the paper with a story which was wrong on every single level, and which could have been explained by making just one phone call to the brothers' lawyers. Either they didn't bother, or they knew that it was likely that the story would fall apart if they did. This is of course the same newspaper that is read by a large number of plods, whose editor has admitted that police have been paid for information provided to it, and which was so behind Blair's plans for terrorist suspects to be held for a maximum of 90 days without charge that it called all the MPs that voted against the act "traitors".

Hardly anyone disagrees that if the police get credible intelligence which points to the likelihood of there being an imminent terrorist attack, or that a device is being stored, that they must take action. What is disgraceful is the way the police since the raid have briefed the media almost every hour, providing erroneous story after erroneous story. That the majority of the media, including the BBC (remember the reports on the ricin plot that never was?) has fell for so many of these whispers shows the way that so much of it has become a mouthpiece for Scotland Yard and Special Branch - only reporting what their sources tell them, not questioning them or anaylsing their information with the other facts on the ground. After all, no source likes having his material debunked. Some of the stories as a result have been nothing more than crude smears; there is no other way to explain them.

When another raid such as this happens, the first thought of many will be "here we go again". This will not be down to those who the Sun called traitors - it will be the result of a media only too willing to join in with the police in presuming guilt until proved innocent. They have a lot to answer for, but as we know, the Sun is answerable to no one.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006 

Saudi torturers, the ginger ninja and Reid.

Sometimes a cartoon manages to just sum all the issues of the day up. Saudi torturers can't be sued, John Reid talks bollocks and gets told by Blair's mate Charles Falconer that the judges aren't to blame, while the government gives in to the Sun campaign that the judges are to blame. Brilliant!

Related articles: Chicken Yogurt: It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.
Big Stick Small Carrot.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006 

And so it rumbles on: Blair ducks the blame, and the Sun continues to wail.

For those who still refuse to believe the influence the tabloids, and especially the Sun have on our politics, they'll have to find some way to explain the main exchanges between David Cameron and Blair at today's Prime Minister's question time. Blair adopted his usual tactic in response to Cameron rightly attacking John Reid for blaming everyone but the government's own decision to adopt the guidelines suggested by the sentence council; he blamed the Tories.

Now we're told that John Reid is going to tighten up the parole system. The tightening of the system is a good first step, but it must be on the basis that the protection of the public comes first. It should not just reject every prisoner coming up who has committed murder or other serious crimes; each case still needs to be judged on its merits, the behaviour of the prisoner in jail and his remorse and rehabilitation while serving his sentence. What should be changed is that those who still refuse to admit to their crimes, but have perfect behaviour records should be allowed out. At the moment those who deny their crimes are left to rot because of their refusal to admit their guilt. The few that do are those who are often genuinely innocent. The balance needs to be struck carefully but fairly.

Second, as Marcel Berlins recommends, when someone's guilt is so obvious, like in the cases of Alan Webster and Craig Sweeney, then they should not have reductions in their sentences simply for pleading guilty. Their crimes have rightly outraged opinion, without the Sun leaping in and blaming the judges for simply do what the guidelines set down for them to do. Ministers such as John Reid, as the Guardian leader argues, should also damp down the scorn of the likes of the Sun rather than encouraging it. Both men received life sentences, whether they are eligible for parole after 5 years or 8 years respectively. There is no guarantee that they will be released by parole boards, and considering that both were convicted of second serious offences, there is little hope of them being released any time soon. At the same time, the Sun should also recognise that the lives of these men will shortly be hardly worth living; they will no doubt be assaulted, have their food tampered with and be treated as the scum they undoubtedly are.

The Sun's leader today recognises none of this. It refuses to admit that prison fails those who are sent to them; those who enter it young come out as career criminals. It protects society, but it fails those who have originally failed.

But the PM must tackle the nonsense which says life does NOT mean life.

Which idiot dreamed that up?

The Tories’ policy of honesty in sentencing is about right.

It states a convicted criminal must serve the sentence dished out by a court.

Not half.

Or a third for pleading guilty.

The PM should also order the building of new prisons — urgently.

Prison works and the figures prove it.

There must be no excuses for early release into a society already plagued by thugs, killers and perverts.

Justice must not just be done. Justice must be seen to be done.

Life should not always mean life. Life imprisonment for a first crime means that the defendant has no chance of repentance, of reforming or being rehabilitated. As a result we condemn that person to a life of abject pointlessness. As much as those affected by that person's crime no doubt want punitive punishment, if we condemn all those who offend once then most of the country's population will be locked away. Forgiving but not forgetting, as long as the offender regrets his offence and is no longer a danger to the public should be the order of the day. No one questions that those who commit a second serious offence should face a much more punitive, if not life sentence. The Sun's demand that life should always mean life should be rejected.

Then we're back yet again to the building of more prisons. Despite the prison population fast approaching 80,000, despite figures from the Prison Reform Trust which shows that overcrowding as it currently is raises the reoffending rate by more than 10%, and the simple fact that the building of more prisons will simply result in yet more being incarcerated, there is no evidence that prison works, no matter what the Sun says. As the Prison Reform Trust additionally states, non-violent women, shoplifters, petty fraudsters and those awaiting trial should not be in prison. As Jonathan Freedland points out, neither should the estimated 5,000 who have serious mental health problems. As a result of there being so few mental health hospitals, and there being so few beds, they are instead left with little to look forward to other than going in out of prison for the rest of their lives. Care in community fails them.

The Sun's campaign against judges is also fundamentally flawed. The average sentence now served by a mandatory lifer is 14 years - higher than 10 years ago when Michael "Prison Works!" Howard was Home Secretary. Judges are increasingly passing down harsher sentences. Blair pointed out at question time that over 1,000 indeterminate sentences have been given since April 2004. Those sentences mean that those convicted are so dangerous that only when they are considered no longer a threat to public safety will they be released, or considered by parole boards. None so far have been.

The Guardian leader gets it right:
The current hysteria does little to protect the public and much to destroy public confidence in the criminal-justice system. It substitutes the rule of the lynch mob for the rule of law. It is time for the government to call off the dogs.

As does the interviewing of those directly harmed by Alan Webster and Craig Sweeney's crimes. While their input is valuable and shows the hurt caused, neither have properly known what they were talking about. The grandfather interviewed on Newsnight last night couldn't even get Blair's well-known slogan "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" right. Only when the cases are discussed rationally does good government and sentencing come as a result. At the moment rationality is thrown out the window in favour of finger-pointing and distortion. The government must move to make a good system which is working, however much the Sun screams, better. In the current atmosphere that is impossible.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006 

Continuing the theme: Shameless.

The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas comforts Huda Ghalia, who lost all her siblings to the Israeli shell.
Shameless is the only word that can describe the cover-up initiated by the Israeli army once one of its shells hit the Gaza beach, killing 7 people. If there hadn't been a news crew quickly on the scene, and the disturbing sight of a girl screaming as she saw the dead bodies of her relatives, then they might have got away with blaming Hamas from the start.

Instead they've decided to shift the reality of what happened gradually over a few days. Their cover-up has been helped by the continuing barrage of Qassam rockets which have hit the nearby Israeli town of Sderot, one of which badly injured a 61-year-old school caretaker. The stupidity of the launching of the rockets has only succeeded in diverting the attention of the Israeli public from the massacre which occurred due to the badly fired shell, yet that won't stop the militants from continuing to do so. Except, err, according to the Israeli Army, it wasn't a rocket after all. It was actually a mine, planted by Hamas to stop the Israelis from coming ashore on the beach. Why Hamas would suddenly decide to do some even stupider than the firing of Qassam rockets, and something they've never done before, isn't explained. It's just the truth, OK?

Not that the Israeli side of the story stands up the slightest amount of scrutiny. Shrapnel find out at the scene of the deaths included a piece stamped with "155MM". Obviously planted by the Palestinians. The crater at the scene itself matches those which feature elsewhere on the beach where shells have hit. The army admits that one of the six shells fired at the same time went missing, but claims that the deaths occurred 8 minutes after it fired the shells. One can only assume that the shell was briefly abducted by a passing alien spacecraft, only for it to be torpedoed at the beach from the craft a few minutes later.

The sad thing is that the initial Israeli response was so encouraging. They called an end to the shelling, and said they "regretted" the deaths. It made you wonder whether something good might come out of the horror caused. Instead things have just returned to business as usual. The Palestinians fire their pitiful rockets; the Israelis respond with hellfire missiles which kill militants they allege are travelling to fire them, with innocents usually getting caught up in the resulting explosion. Add in to the mix the fact that the new Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is visiting various European capitals, hoping to drum up support for his unilateral disengagement plan, and the need for the demonised Hamas to be responsible for the deaths of innocents becomes apparent. The only thing that will come out of it will be more hatred, more deaths and more buck passing. An initial tragedy becomes even more tragic, and the deadly farce continues.

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Sun-watch: Sycophancy will get you places.

Oh dear oh dear. The Sun is fuming after the German tabloid Bild (more or less the German version of the Sun) wrote some rather nasty things about David Beckham's family.

Germany’s biggest newspaper plumbed new depths in their attack on innocent family members of an international sports star.

Of Joanne, they wrote: “Dear me, she is chubby. Arms, bust, bum, all very British. Joanne is the sort of girl who drinks sangria on the beach in Majorca. And then dances on a table with her top off.”

They also accused her of not working but of being a “professional sister”.

Of Becks’ mum they said: “Mama-ham, Sandra, 50 - the superstar mother with the peasant smile.

“Ex-hairdresser, a Robbie Williams fan. After the divorce from Beckham’s dad Ted a kitchen fitter, she’s single again.”

“Beckham, who gets a salary of 8.5million euros a year, bought her a house in Loughton, Essex. In the same place, the little sister lives.”

The poisonous piece tried to be clever by describing the Beckham group at the game with the introduction: “As delicious kicker David Beckham, 31, sang the English national anthem God Save the Queen, he displayed his closest family on the stage next to him.

“Curtain up for the Beckham family ... trophy wife Victoria, 32, we already know.

“With England flags on her behind, litres of cola and popcorn under her arms, Popham (her nickname in Germany) planted herself directly near to her two Zwerge (dwarfs).”

Even then the articles could not lay off having a pop at defenceless Romeo, who has long hair.

It claimed one person asked a Bild journalist: “What’s the name of the daughter Beckham.

As I'm sure you're aware, the Sun has never ever published a critical word of Beckham's wife, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. The following is simply a figment of Private Eye's imagination:

On January the 15th 2004 Victoria Newton, the Sun's piss-poor showbiz editor revealed that she had received a copy of Posh Spice's "top secret" rap album. According to Newton, "Victoria murders the Beatles and massacres George Michael... rubbish... torture... embarrassing." For those more worried about the looks of Mrs Beckham, on the 25 March 2004 Newton compared a photo of Posh with one of Geri Halliwell, describing Victoria as "stick-thin... doing her lady of lesiure routine." The Sun's sister paper, the Times, also ran a rather less than pleasant article by Julie Burchill which began: "Why do I hate Posh? Let's count the ways, because few things are as much fun as kicking a bighead when they're down." Indeed.

The Sun asks at the end of the article:
While the England players’ wives and girlfriends include stunners like Posh Spice, Coleen McLoughlin and Cheryl Tweedy, can anyone name a partner of the German footie stars?

Apart from the fact that most England fans aren't much interested in the German team or German football in general, they have a point. After all, the Sun would never have been critical of any of those gorgeous stunning birds, would they? Coleen McLoughlin wouldn't be the same shopaholic queen of chavs that the Sun was printing photographs of as she left numerous shops, would she? The Sun's changing views on McLoughlin have nothing to do with sucking up to Rooney (Coleen's boyfriend) after they settled his libel suit out of court with the paper, or the fact that the Sun now wants to get behind "our boys". Cheryl Tweedy is the fiancee of Ashley Cole. That would be the same Ashley Cole accused of being a "rear gunner" and having a gay orgy by both the News of the World and the Sun, despite never having the guts to directly accuse him. As for Tweedy (for it is she), was it really only a couple of years ago that she found herself in court for punching a toilet attendant and calling her a "black bitch"? At the time the Sun referred to her as Cheryl Seedy, but that's all forgotten now.

Another insider said: “David and Victoria are furious. They thought this was all about football and didn’t come to Germany expecting to be ridiculed.”

Obviously not. Rather than leaving the families to get on with England's preparations though, the Sun's "Woman" section promises:
The World Cup footie gossip
We're watching the stars' wives and girlfriends
And while Joanne Beckham may be "Arms, bust, bum, all very British", the same can't be said for the current inhabitants of that other Sun obsession, the Big Brother house. The "life" section whets your appetite for the paper's coverage with:
The Big Brother babes in bikinis
Fame-hungry wannabes who flashed flesh
Still, maybe this will make up for the way the Sun got burned over their previous criticism of the England team, still probably in the memory of both the stars and coach. After an especially poor performance from goalkeeper David James a while back, the Sun printed a picture of a donkey and asked readers to phone in asking which they'd prefer to see between the two posts. The England team responded by refusing to speak to any reporters from the paper.

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Sun-watch: Shameless Page 3.

Obsolete is thoroughly fed up with all the crap over Heather Mills and the obscene way the tabloids have leapt at her once she's weak, but this couldn't be passed over.

You might have realised that these Sun-watch posts aren't based on actually reading the newspaper. After all, you might catch something doing that. I go by the coverage on the website. That's how I missed this absolutely staggering case of shamelessness.

“GORGEOUS” AMI, 19, from Birmingham, posing in The Sun dressed only in skimpy Ann Summers knickers, says she feels sorry for Paul McCartney, a Beatle, “after sordid new revelations about his wife Heather emerged”. Quoth gorgeous Ami: “He must be reeling – it’s bad enough finding your wife posed for porn pictures, but even worse to know she had sex after.”

It makes you wonder whether they actually do this on purpose to get a rise out of idiots like me. Either that, or those who work on the Sun are completely and utterly shameless, the same as they were back in the days of Hillsborough. Oh, and we've had the "views" of "Ami" before.

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Monday, June 12, 2006 

Sun-watch: Cowardly naming and shaming, and burying yet more bad news.

One thing Obsolete cannot claim to have experienced is what it must feel like to go through a trial, then watch the perpetrator get what you think is an unreasonably light sentence. Such a thing must be shocking and even more damaging on top of the original pain caused by the crime. Today the Sun, in yet another campaign against what it sees as madness in the criminal justice system names and shames judges which it says have been unduly lenient in passing sentences.

For anyone who doubts how much power the tabloids have over the government of any day, let alone this one, the Sun's campaign has already reaped a result. John Reid, the Home Secretary has announced that he intends to request the Attorney General refer a case involving a man indecently assaulting a three-year-old girl to the court of appeal. The man was sentenced to life imprisonment, but could possibly be freed on parole after five years, even though the judge said that this would be "unlikely". He was also placed on the sex offenders register for life. The family called the sentence "an insult".

The Sun's campaign was developed after a similar case. Alan Webster was also sentenced to life imprisonment, but was given a minimum sentence of six years, after which he would eligible for parole. He was jailed for raping a 12-week-old baby, and photographing himself while in the act. He had previously also indecently assaulted a teenager. The attorney general sent the case to the court of appeal, especially after the Sun fumed at the short sentence. They demanded that life mean life, but the man's sentence was only extended to a minimum of eight years. The chance of him being released after those eight years are still small, as those crimes which gather a lot of public attention often result in the convicted serving a longer sentence, especially if the tabloids were following the case with interest to begin with.

The sad thing about the Sun's campaign is that it has some excellent and correct points which should be adopted, but it overshadows all of them by its use of such emotive and angry language, and Rebekah Wade's favourite method of doing things, which is the name and shame. The Sun names and prints the photographs of the ten judges which it alleges have given overly lenient sentences.

There a number of problems with the Sun's inflammatory attack. The first is that judges cannot respond and give their side of the story. They are barred from doing so, and can only reply once they have retired. As a result, the Sun's naming and shaming is cowardly, as they know full well that judges cannot respond to its ferocious attack. The second is that it seems unlikely to achieve anything; for the government to now act against the judges would be seen as appeasing the Sun over matters which it has no right to interfere in. The criminal justice system is separate from the legislator for obvious and numerous reasons. The third is that unless the Sun has had a reporter at each of the cases which they point to, they have not heard the whole of the evidence. Only the judge, the barristers, the accused, the jury and those in the public gallery have. The only other way they could have seen all the evidence and countering arguments, as well as the judge's summing up and sentencing if they didn't have a reporter is if they have read the full transcripts. It's unlikely that the Sun has done that in all of the cases it mentions. The judge sits through it all, abides by the decision of the jury and then decides on the sentence. There is no problem with criticising judges, and it's quite right that newspapers should be allowed to do so, but it's something that politicians should not, and the newspapers should also acknowledge that they may not have all the facts behind the case. The judge does.

One of the judges who the Sun names is Stuart Fish, who has since retired. The Sun didn't bother asking him for a response, or if it did, it hasn't bothered printing it. The Daily Mirror did. He said:
To be regarded as unduly lenient would be a big surprise to one or two people I know are doing 20 years, two at 17, three at 15 and a 74-year-old man doing 12 years. It's a matter of balance.

He has a point. The Sun in most cases is only pointing out one sentence which it regards the as being lenient. The judge may have been involved in numerous other cases in which he may have unduly harsh, especially if it later turns out that the convicted is innocent, but that's something the Sun isn't going to crow about. This is why the pointing out of one sentence without knowing the full background is a road to disaster. The criminal justice system and judges are on the whole doing an incredibly difficult job reasonably well. Such campaigns only sow disillusionment and make people feel that they are being failed, whether they are or not.

The Sun's campaign then is based around the following:
TODAY, The Sun demands...

# Suspension for bad judges

# 'Name and shame' lists of judges suspended or disciplined published by the Government

# Abolition of Court of Appeal double jeopardy rule

# Increased deadline to appeal against a lenient sentence to three months

# Judges are made to tell victims they have the right to appeal a soft sentence

# Elected public prosecutors and community judges

What exactly makes a bad judge? How is he judged so to speak? Once that is sorted out, there should be no problem for that point to be put into practice. Name and shame lists are typical of the Sun - they make for easy sledgehammer journalism. The names of judges who are suspended or disciplined are usually published anyway - although if there are concerns over a judge in a certain area of crimes in which he deals, they are occasionally "barred" from presiding over those cases. In those circumstances it would be better if they were not named. The abolition of the double jeopardy rule, as described by the article, should rightly be got rid of. Ditto for the deadline. It is not the judges' job to inform victims of the right to appeal - that should come down to either the police or the prosecution lawyers, as they are also likely to know whether the sentence is "soft" or not. The judges' job is to preside and sentence, not advise victims. The Sun does not explain why elected public prosecutors or community judges are necessary, so I can't comment on that point.

The Sun's leader, as usual, is full of straw men and bilious outrage and little else. The article by the political editor is by contrast well-argued. This is just pure crap:

HOW many more rapes, stabbings, shootings and assaults must there be . . . before judges understand they are there to protect the law-abiding public, not the ruthless criminal?

The same old, often brought up argument. Tony Blair has often talked of re-balancing the criminal justice system, and such talk is dangerous talk. The criminal justice system is balanced - it protects both sides equally, or it should do. If it doesn't at the moment then something must be done. Just arguing from one side of the fence, demanding that the courts only protect one side helps nobody.

Why do they never impose a maximum sentence — even for offences like child rape that make the blood run cold?

The maximum sentence is life imprisonment, and in the case that the campaign was started on that was the sentence given. Judges also give a recommendation of how long someone should serve before they can come before a parole board - which is what so angered the Sun when the judge in the baby rape case decided 6 years. The man would have to have made it through 6 years in prison to start with as the lowest of the low, then have to make an application to the parole board, who would have to decide whether to even see the man before he actually came before the board. Maximum sentences would mean that the prisoner would have to be freed after that time has been served - even if he is still a threat to society. This is why the government has brought in the indefinite detention part of the criminal justice act - which can dangerous prisoners locked up. The Sun ignores this.

Even worse, some judges seem to be lenient towards the most abhorrent criminals in society.

And why has Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer refused to suspend arrogant beaks who think they are a law unto themselves? The last time it happened was back in 1983.

As things stand, these cosseted M’luds are utterly unaccountable to the public at large — or even the Government.

The only way a High Court judge can be sacked is by a long Parliamentary process and with the consent of the Queen.

We now know more than 200 of our so-called “top judges” have been rebuked for giving an easy ride to very nasty criminals.

Between them they delivered 339 duff rulings which were rightly challenged by Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith and branded “unduly lenient” on appeal.

The Sun willfully gets the figures wrong here. 339 "duff" fulings were referred to the court of appeal, but of that number 109 were considered harsh enough. 220 were lengthened. The judges are accountable to the public - as the fact that sentences can be referred to the court of appeal to be lengthened shows, as does the Sun's naming and shaming. The judges cannot respond, but that doesn't matter when it comes to selling newspapers and the Sun's ideological attacks. The Attorney General has been critical of judges giving low sentences to those convicted of sexual offences against children, but that isn't good enough or harsh enough for the Sun's liking.

They include short jail terms for perverted attacks on children — the nastiest sex crime of all.

Yet out of 2,000 complaints against individual judges, just 28 resulted in disciplinary action.

It is true one reason for short sentences is overcrowded prisons — but that is because the Government refuses to build new ones.

And even the nation’s only prison ship scandalously lies empty.

The Sun doesn't say whether those complaints were made either by those convicted of crimes or those who had cases brought on their behalf by the crown - but I suppose any statistic will do to further the point. All those complaints were no doubt investigated - although it does make you wonder if only 28 resulted in action. Then we come on to the old chestnut which is the building of new prisons. The Sun doesn't seem to want to discuss where these prisons will be built, how much they will cost or who they'll be run by, it just wants some up sharpish. This is ignoring how long they take to build in the first place, which is at least a couple of years.

Oh, and the prison ship, the favourite of the Sun's anecdotes which makes the government look soft. The reason it "scandalously" lies empty is because it was condemned by the chief inspector of prisons back in 2004.

Anne Owers says HMP Weare, which is moored at Portland, Dorset, is "literally and metaphorically a container", and although notionally a training prison it has no space for workshops, and not enough for exercise or education.

The chief inspector says that significant money needs to be spent just to keep it seaworthy. She says that the prison ship, used as a troop ship in the Falklands war, and then a floating prison in America, was a temporary solution to what was envisaged as a temporary problem.

The ship was meant to be a "temporary overcrowding measure". As a result of continuing draconian criminal justice campaigns, it was in use for 8 years. Weare was replaced when a private-run prison in Peterborough was opened.

It is also true that judges must administer the law as laid down, sometimes bizarrely, by ministers.

Nobody, for instance, understands why sentences are automatically halved for good conduct or slashed in return for a guilty plea.

Or why hardened villains are put in open prisons — only to flee.

Again, the Sun is being willfully stupid here. Sentences are halved for good conduct because what point is there behaving and taking part and work and education once in jail if the prisoner gets nothing back in return, except for the small wage given for work? They are also slashed for guilty pleas, and not always in all cases, because it saves the taxpayer the cost of a full trial, involving lawyers and additional police work, as well as the time of witnesses and the jury. Why else would those who stubbornly refuse to admit their guilt when they are clearly guilty decide to plead that way? As for hardened villains being put in open prisons - only those usually reaching the end of their sentences, or those convicted of offences where they are considered of little risk to the public are placed in them. Anyone who does flee is usually swiftly caught - and has their sentence extended and moved to a closed prison for their trouble.

Above all, why should a prisoner whose sentence is increased on appeal receive a discount for the “trauma” of re-sentencing?

This I don't disagree with.

But judges have plenty of leeway when it comes to sentencing.

Look at the shining example of Judge David Calvert-Smith. He locked up the killer of John Monckton for 36 YEARS.

More must follow his example. Today The Sun vows to go on naming and shaming the judges who let down victims and their families.

We demand harsh punishment for judges who favour thugs and their own liberal consciences – while failing our society.

Indeed, judges who favour thugs should obviously lock-up all criminals for life, or 36 years. That's a nice round number, isn't it? The Sun would have a lot more credibility if instead of demanding name and shaming and constant punishments actually considered that prison fundamentally doesn't work, that most crime has been falling for a decade, according to both Home Office figures and the British Crime Survey, and that community penalties are often the best option for non-violent offenders. Those who does use violence or commit sexual offenders do deserve harsher sentences - but they should be proportionate to the crime and to the circumstances surrounding it. The Sun's demand that sentences just be harsher ignores the nuance and differing nature of each case. Prisons at the moment are full of those who are mentally ill, who would be better cared for in hospitals, but there are no places for them. Those who have drug problems or addiction are sent to prison but can't always get on rehabilitation programmes. The Sun's campaign amounts to wanting the government to interfere in something which it should only issue guidelines for. Judges need to be accountable, but newspapers do as well.

And on that note, in line with the post on Friday, there is no mention today in the Sun of the suicide of the 3 men at Guantanamo Bay. More bad news buried.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006 

Blair must go.

The News of the Screws has managed to obtain a copy of the first IPCC report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Its findings are damning.

The dossier, leaked by Whitehall insiders, reveals that some of Sir Ian's senior officers KNEW de Menezes was innocent and definitely NOT a suicide bomber just hours after he was killed. But they failed to tell their boss until the next day.

The report also reveals how officers:

USED the Prime Minister's name in a bid to stop the IPCC probe,

FAILED to pass on alerts from the undercover team that they were tailing an innocent man,

DELAYED five hours in deploying ‘specialist' firearms cops who could have taken him alive,

DOCTORED a Special Branch log of the surveillance operation leading to the shooting, as revealed by the News of the World in January, and

FOULED up orders to frontline men, ordering that the suspect be "stopped" which was tragically interpreted as "kill him".

I've mirrored the report here, as the Screws has no archive.

Most damaging to "Sir" Ian Blair will be the revelations that he immediately tried to stop the IPCC from investigating the shooting. While there is nothing to suggest that he was already aware that an innocent man had been shot, his decision, including mentioning the prime minister, could have resulted in vital evidence being destroyed or damaged. While he was overruled later in the day, the IPCC was still not allowed access to the scene of the shooting until much later in the day. While Blair will argue that he was simply trying to keep resources free to hunt the seeming remaining failed bombers of the previous day, if he had allowed the IPCC to start their investigation at once, the damaging smears and wrong witness statements that emerged may never have occurred.

The other revelation is that the report confirms that senior officers knew that an innocent man had been shot, apparently by 9:45pm on the Friday night. Their excuse for not informing Blair is according to a Whitehall source, that Blair takes bad news very badly. This clears Blair, who has always maintained he was not informed until the Saturday morning. It also clears Brian Paddick, who has since been moved, for daring to suggest that officers other than Blair had known that de Menezes was innocent. Their decision not to inform Blair on the Friday night allowed the following morning's newspapers to speculate wildly, and in the event, wrongly.

The report also seems to spell the end of Cressida Dick's career. She apparently ordered the CO19 team to "stop" de Menezes, as they arrived after he had entered the Stockwell tube station. Another officer says that she also added "at all costs". If that is true, then it seems that the C019 team were only following orders. As de Menezes had already entered the tube, the officers took that order to mean to kill him. This was despite de Menezes already been held down, that he was never ordered to stop, that at least one officer in the special branch team had said that he was not the suspect Osman, and that he had not been acting suspiciously, however much the police will now crow about de Menezes apparently having recently used cocaine.

No one in the report comes out well. It still leaves many questions. Why did the Special Branch team follow him but not stop him, apparently having already determined that he was not the suspect, to make absolutely certain? Why were their concerns not communicated to the higher-ups? Why was he allowed to get on and off the bus, when the station he normally went to get on the tube was closed? Why were the witness statements such as those that claimed he had been wearing a heavy coat, that he had leaped the barriers, and that he had a belt with wires coming out of it not corrected much sooner? Some of those questions might be answered in the full report, which will hopefully be released in full after this leak. What seems certain is that both Ian Blair and Cressida Dick cannot remain in their jobs. Whether anyone will be prosecuted remains to be seen, and to judge from the part of the report we now have, there seems little would be achieved from prosecuting the officers that shot de Menezes, who were following cocked-up orders from a team that seemed to be panicking. Dick and Blair may not be so lucky.

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