Saturday, February 10, 2007 

Human rights deja-vu.

Sometimes, you have to feel sympathy for government ministers, especially those responsible for bringing in the Human Rights Act, and who today have to defend it when the police and media jump to blame it for every single conceivable modern ill. It also brings an overwhelming feeling of deja-vu when you read the same old rubbish about it being perpetuated again and again.

Today, the Sun reports the Northumbria Police haven't even bothered to read the incredibly clear 18 articles which make it obvious that what they're refusing to do is not just allowed, but almost encouraged by the Act:
SENIOR cops are keeping details of suspected criminals who are on the run secret — to protect THEIR human rights.

Northumbria Police have released the names and pictures of five suspects they are desperate to trace.

But astonishingly, senior officers have refused to reveal details of the alleged offences.

Cops say they are sticking to Home Office guidelines and the Human Rights’ Act.

This comes only a month or so after the last Human Rights Act outrage, when Derbyshire police blamed the HRA for not producing photographs of two murderers who had absconded from open prison. This is a slightly different case, as it involves men who are only accused, rather than being convicted, but the HRA and the ACPO guidelines are still fairly clear.

The "offending" article is Article 8, the right to respect for family and private life:

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

And here's the ACPO guidelines (the PDF in full is available from here) on releasing photographs. Notice that there's no explicit advice on not revealing why a suspect is wanted:

Article 8 of the Human Rights Act gives everyone the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and correspondence, and publication of photographs could constitute a breach of this. The article does however allow the publication in accordance with law and as is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of public health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. However, the Act requires that action taken under it is proportionate, and this is a particular consideration in respect of the nature of publication (for example the geographical reach and longevity of publication).

There's absolutely nothing there to suggest that making public why someone is wanted in connection with a crime would breach the act. The real concern would be over whether the evidence against the person wanted is strong enough to lead to a prosecution; sending out wanted posters with someone's face all over them with the alleged crime, only for them to be later found not guilty, could lead to potential defamation of character cases. This though is nothing to do with the Human Rights Act, but with the libel laws. If the police are concerned enough to release photographs, then there's nothing to stop them naming what they're accused of.

Article 5 also doesn't provide any solace for someone wanted in connection with a committed offence:

c) the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so;

The entire thing is ridiculous, and it's down to Northumbria police reading the law wrong or just being far too cautious. They've already released the names and photographs of the wanted men, they're just refusing to say what they're wanted in connection with, and as anyone who watches Crimewatch will tell you, they've been doing both for years and haven't run into any problems yet.

As always, the opportunist politicians jump at the chance of getting their soundbites and names into the papers:

North East Conservative Euro MP Martin Callanan said: “This is yet another instance of the rights of suspected criminals being put before those of the law-abiding population.”

Really? Even without their alleged crimes being made public, they're still having their names and photographs published. It's not as if the police are refusing to do anything whatsoever.
A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “When deciding to release photos of people wanted on warrant there are strict criteria which must be met.”

Err? You've already released their photographs, so the strict criteria must have been met. Did someone not tell him what the "controversy" is all about, or has he got the wrong end of the stick?

The Sun article itself doesn't bother to mention that all the men are wanted for not turning up at court, as well as any other charges, as this article from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle makes clear. It also prints the mugshots of all six men, while the Sun only bothers to display the one of Casey. Northumbria Police's own page on the six men is here.

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Friday, February 09, 2007 

Policing the media police state.

One of the reasons I didn't comment on the release of the two men without charge from those picked up in the Birmingham anti-terror raids was because I wanted to see if any of the others were to be prosecuted, in line with the lurid details leaked out to the press about what those arrested had allegedly plotted to do.

Now that 6 others have been charged, one with intending to kidnap and murder a soldier, it puts the events of the last week into context. The briefings provided were still outrageous, revealing far too much and making accusations that cannot be proved (al-Qaida links, etc) before those arrested had even been in custody for 24 hours. We still don't know who was behind them, as the West Midlands police have repeated their annoyance at the leaks, and the Home Office has tried its hardest to ignore accusations thrown at it. The two men who were released without charge, apparently only being questioned for at the most, four hours, and without any mention of a plot similar to the one in the papers being given to them, deserve an explanation for their arrest and week long detention. Anyone else in their circumstances would be similarly angry, and that it was under suspicion of a such despicable crime only enhances the fury at being treated in such a way. The consequences of being accused, even if you're released quickly and your character has only been stained by the wider publicity of what occurred, are still palpable.

We should also still remember that those charged are innocent until proven guilty. The ricin case was an example of how terrorism charges don't always stick. You can also understand the fury of Abu Bakr, discovering only after he'd been held for a week that he was arrested under suspicion of plotting to behead a serving Muslim soldier and being some kind of al-Qaida sleeper member, in making his spurious claim that Britain is now a police state for Muslims. As others have pointed out, however glibly, Saudi Arabia is a police state for Muslims.

It was interesting to see how Abu Izzadeen, aka Trevor Brooks, was arrested yesterday, and not at home, as the Guardian reports, but near a tube station. It seems to have been another happy coincidence that he was arrested the morning after Bakr had given his widely reported interview. I'm not sure whether it's my own cynicism which is being too conspiratorial, or if anything is above a Home Office which under John Reid seems obsessed with news management. He's since been released on bail, and his case could yet prove to be groundbreaking, considering the limits of free speech.

For the Sun though, rather than pointing out calmly that Abu Bakr is mistaken, and that his treatment was at the least less than subtle, it's instead a great opportunity to attack the BBC for daring to air Bakr's views:

IT sometimes seems the BBC would prefer terrorists to succeed than for an innocent man to be briefly held without charge.

I don't call the best part of a week briefly. Being held briefly happens when you're the Sun editor and you've smacked your husband, and the police come to the conclusion that both had just had too much to drink. Being held under the Terrorism Act, then not being questioned about anything to do with terrorism, warrants an explanation.

In their politically correct bubble, intelligence is always flawed and anti-terror action is inevitably heavy-handed.

Well, Bakr's innocence certainly proves otherwise, doesn't it?

So the release of two suspects held over the alleged plot to behead a British Muslim soldier was a gift from heaven.

For 24 hours, BBC bulletins repeated the ludicrous claim by one of them that, for Muslims, Britain is a police state.

Yes, it was ludicrous. But his interviews were entirely legitimate journalism, and provided the place for a man angry about his treatment to voice his concerns. This is what we call free speech. The Sun doesn't seem to like it when it's something other than their world view being voiced on the TV screen.

The truth is that these suspects were swept up in a legitimate raid by police who had reasonable grounds for suspicion — and freed after questioning.

Quite true. But not without the men being held for far longer than they would have been if they had been arrested for any other reason, and also not without a judge seeing the evidence against them was so slim that he refused to extend their detention any longer.

That is not the action of a police state. Far from being too harsh, our police may have been too soft.

They should have cracked down sooner on the increasingly assertive minority who pay lip service to liberty but preach murder in the mosque.

Action should have been taken to prevent forced marriages and honour killings which, unforgivably, take place on British soil.

And this from a newspaper which claims to preach tolerance. More does need to be done to tackle extremism, such as ensuring that foreign preachers and others aren't ranting about their grievances in mosques, but the police certainly aren't the people to do that. The mosque itself is also all too frequently viewed as the place where radicalisation takes place; most of the evidence suggests that it's more to down personal research and meeting the like-minded than imams brainwashing worshippers through their foaming at the mouth.

Why the Sun has brought in forced marriages etc, only the leader writer knows. Forced marriages and honour killings have nothing whatsoever to do with what's happened in the past week, and linking them into a leader about the wider implications of a terrorism raid only helps further the wrongly held belief that a whole community, or even a religion, is under scrutiny.

And marches over Danish cartoons by rabble-rousers calling for death to British soldiers should have been broken up on the spot.

Maybe so. We don't however know how the protesters would have reacted, and the most egregious of those who took part are now being prosecuted anyway. The police probably took the right decision at the time in the circumstances. A similar demonstration now would likely result in a different response.

It is time the BBC woke up to a dangerous truth.

Britain is at war with radicalised young Muslims who are willing to commit atrocities against a country which has offered them a home.

The BBC should stop sneering.

And give the police all the support they need to stop them.

No, we're not at war, unless we're also at war with criminals. We're not killing those who are willing to commit atrocities, as the Sun puts it, we're arresting them and treating them like anyone else who plots murder or preaches racial hatred. Ken Macdonald had it exactly right, and suggesting that this is a war only dignifies those who claim to be soldiers.

As for the BBC, they have in the past given too much air-time to the likes of Anjem Choudrary. It gives the impression that such people in some way reflect the wider Muslim community, when it should be obvious they do nothing of the sort. On this occasion the Sun has as usual took its wider contempt for public service broadcasting and the emphasis on impartiality, not to mention making clear that those not even yet charged are innocent until proven guilty, and used it to bash reporting it doesn't like. The difference between the two is that the BBC is accountable, while those who provided the Sun with such lurid headlines (as well as those who wrote them) last week certainly aren't.

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Littlejohn-watch: Beyond parody.

Last time we looked in on the musings of Richard Littlejohn, the Daily Mail's star white-van-man hack, he told us that the death of 5 prostitutes was no great loss. Today he's decided to go one step further: he's justifying, or attempting to at best understand the motives of a terrorist. Not of the Islamic variety, carried out as it is by brown uppity mouth-breathers, but of the motorist kind:

Be honest, until you heard that a woman had been injured, how many of you suppressed a cheer at the news someone had sent a letter bomb to the company which runs London's congestion charge?

Or that a similar device had turned up at a firm which is involved in providing digital speed cameras to the Government and local councils?

Even after we learnt that two men were treated for blast injuries, I'll bet that there were still plenty of motorists who thought: serves the bastards right.

I was so excited that I fell out of my chair. Who wouldn't sympathise with such a worthy cause? If there's one section of society that deserves everything it gets, it's the office and council workers that sort out the incoming mail. Bastards!

Don't worry though dear reader, Littlejohn isn't suggesting that such methods are worthy of support. No, he utterly abhors what has happened:

Let me say for the record that no protest, however legitimate, which inflicts physical injury on another human being can ever be justified.

The current wave of bombs directed at a range of targets, from the DVLA in Swansea to the laboratory which controls the national DNA and fingerprint databases, is clearly the work of a madman.

That's all right then. I was worried for a second there.

Police are proceeding on the theory that whoever is responsible could be motivated by a hatred of Britain's burgeoning surveillance society, the technological manifestation of our Bully State.

They are? I thought they were working on the theory that it was a highly disgruntled motorist, possibly of the same radical bent as "Captain Gatso", the self-styled moniker of a man who probably likes to think of himself as a modern day superman. Unfortunately, we'll never discover whether he also wears his pants outside his trousers.

And this is where Littlejohn's trousers fall down. He's attempting to conflate what seems to have been the actions of a idiot angry about being caught breaking the law in his car, with the general loathing for the loss of civil liberties and the rise of the surveillance society.

I've remarked before that this column is all that keeps me from wandering the streets with a Kalashnikov, firing at random, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

That explains a lot. Personally, I blog to take my mind off other things, to remind myself that life isn't all just one monotonous binge of meaningless twaddle, and it's surprisingly reassuring. Littlejohn writes to stop himself from killing other people. We're kindred spirits.

Many of us fantasise about a random act of retaliation, which is why we cheer on Captain Gatso, the masked avenger who takes a chainsaw to speed cameras.

Better that he takes out his anger on inanimate objects than on others, I suppose. If Littlejohn writes to stop him from committing murder, does Gatso attack cameras for the same reason? Are Littlejohn and Gatso related? We should be told.

But we wouldn't dream of stuffing a Jiffy bag full of explosives and sending it to the headquarters of Capita, or any other organisation, where it would be opened inevitably by a young secretary or someone on work experience in the post room.

No, that would be taking things too far. Better to vent your spleen in a national newspaper about whores, Guardianistas and queers, right?

Having said all that, I don't mind admitting that I wouldn't lose much sleep if those wicked dupes, like Red Ken The Terrorist's Friend, who help glorify politically motivated murder and make common cause with killers, were to find themselves on the end of a bombing.

Completely different to cheering on the actions of a man who takes out road cameras that may well save lives and enforce speed limits on otherwise dangerous roads, or at least initially believing that sending a bomb to office workers is "serving the bastards right".

What separates us from the letter bomber is our innate respect for the law and human life.

Hello? You're the same person who wrote just a month ago that five dead prostitutes was no great loss?

But we can all empathise with what drives him over the edge.

I can empathise with a Palestinian who straps a bomb belt to himself and then explodes on a bus. I can understand that he lives under stifling occupation. I know that resisting what you believe is an oppressive state, when those around you are being killed, can lead to acts of murderous revenge. But it won't do me any good, him any good, the people he kills any good, or the Palestinians or the Israelis any good. It will only further the calls for revenge from the other side. It will only lead to a solution being even further away from being grasped.

This situation isn't even close to being comparable to such intractable and controversial issues as Israel/Palestine, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, or even Iraq. This is the petulant action of a man who thinks that sending explosives through the mail is somehow striking a blow against the wider government machine for daring to attempt to regulate the roads. I agree that some speed cameras are probably there simply to earn extra revenue. CCTV cameras on every street corner, even where crime is next to non-existent, piss me off. This government's dilution of civil liberties, the imposition of a 1km zone around parliament where protests have to be authorised, are all legitimate grievances, as it were.

The answer to this however is not to send what are essentially crude fireworks through the post. It's to protest. It's to get involved. It's to raise your voice. It's to vote against those who are enforcing these outrages. Burning some poor person's hand is only going to make you look like an lunatic, undermine the very nature of your cause, and lead to Richard Littlejohn trying desperately to come up with a way to feel your pain, while still condemning it.

Maybe the maniac who is sending out letter bombs was just like the rest of us until he snapped.

I hope they catch him soon. He's a dangerous man, who has already harmed enough innocent people. But will anyone in authority pause to consider the root cause of the grievances which drove him to this madness?

Not a cat in Hell's chance.

No, probably not. Same as the government rightly dismisses other grievances which some sections of the community might also think have driven others to madness. Motorists? Radical Islamists? They're all the same really.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007 

A dog's breakfast made of Straw.

"Look, Jacques! That woman's wearing a niqab!"

In a way, having Lords reform back on the political agenda is a good thing. The Lords ought to be a reminder that for all our democratic progress, the second chamber of parliament is still a place where patronage and the hereditary principal still rule the roost, only being slightly less laughable than the hideously protected and overblown monarchy that also still shadows over modern Britain.

It's therefore dispiriting that Labour's latest proposals for reform are so ineffectual and pathetic. Jack Straw, trying not to fall in the trap that befell one of his predecessors' as leader of the house, Robin Cook, has grasped desperately around for compromise but has instead fell on creating a dog's breakfast that is just as likely, if not more, to suffer the same treatment.

Straw's proposal is that the house be 50% elected, 50% appointed; the last of the hereditary peers would go; the remaining appointed members will not be forced out; 30% of the new appointed members will be nominated by political parties, with 20% by a new independent body; the chamber will be slimmed down to 540 members from the current more than 750,
and the bishops will be allowed to stay.

It may be a revolution, but it's going to be a revolution in slow motion.
As the Guardian leader points out, due to the fact that none of the current life peers will be told to get their coat, the natural wastage from deaths means that it's unlikely any at least partial-elections will take place until 2014, with 50% of the chamber not being elected until 2024. Trotsky may have believed in permanent revolution, but New Labour's adaptation seems to be of a revolution which doesn't get started until those in the way of reform have died rather than been overthrown; it's preserving the status quo while pretending to do otherwise.

By calling for just half of the chamber to be elected, Straw has undoubtedly managed to ensure that his reform will be scuppered. The Tories, amazingly enough, have come out in favour of a fully elected second chamber, although if they get in at the next election with a large majority and with no reform having happened, they may well change their minds. In the 21st century, for any house of parliament to not be both democratically accountable and elected by the people is to be contempt of them. For a government that cannot crow enough about how it respects the power of the consumer and their right to choose, whether it be in the public services or elsewhere, to suggest that they cannot be trusted to fully elect a second chamber is,
as this older Grauniad leader argued, risible. It's all well and good to try and reach a compromise, but surely if parliament cannot reach an agreement that says at the very least 75% of the members of the new house must be elected, then it's not worth trying at all.

Leaving 50% of the chamber to be appointed means that political patronage is not going to go away, just that the prime minister himself will no longer be able to create peers. This might prevent a repeat of Wilson's
Lavender List, but instead just gives the same power to political parties, where unless a vote is carried out on their nominations, the current situation will just continue, which will hardly inspire confidence that a repeat of the cash-for-honours inquiry will be an impossibility.

For it is cash-for-honours than now hangs heavily over the whole debate. It was cash-for-honours that re-energised Labour's desire to reform the second chamber, trying to prove that there really was nothing funny, let alone illegal going on, honest guv. For Blair, it's a chance to point to something else in his wider legacy. Look, at least I got some sort of reform through, that's got to be worth something, right? Unless he's changed his mind in the intervening 3 and a bit years, then Blair still doesn't really want a hybrid chamber at all;
last time he was in favour of a fully appointed house, leaving Robin Cook on his own to put forward the case for at least some proportion to be elected. In the event, MPs rejected all the options. This is what Straw wants to avoid this time round, but with such woefully unambitious plans, perhaps this is why Blair seems to be supporting them; he wants history to be repeated.

The way around this is that if MPs again fail to decide on any reform, and reject Straw's attempts for them to back a preferential system of voting that at least gets some reform voted through, is for the options instead to be put to the nation in a referendum. Seeing as the Lords themselves are unlikely to resemble turkeys voting for Christmas, and that Labour's manifesto isn't strong enough to force through reform via the parliament act, what better way would there for the argument to be settled once and for all than through the ballot box? Sure, the turnout will probably be low unless it's done on the same day as the next general election, and we all know how the wider public loves debating the intricacies of the reforming of the House of Lords, but at least it would give some wider legitimacy to whichever reform is decided upon, rather than leaving it to the whims of our elected representatives, who are unlikely to take on board the views of their constituents on such a matter. It would be next to impossible to make a bigger mess of it than Straw has.

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View from the afternoon.

Yes, it's predictable, sentimental and rather sad, but isn't that what this blog is all about?


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Wednesday, February 07, 2007 

Sun in doing the right thing shocker?!

I hold my hands up: the Sun's obtaining of a copy of the video of the friendly fire death of Lance Corporal Matty Hull is the scoop of the year so far, and was a rare example of the newspaper proving it can on occasion be a force for good, responsible journalism, as well as being a propaganda vehicle for Mr Murdoch.

The withholding for more than 3 years of the tape, for reasons which are now only too obvious, highlights the contempt in which the American military establishment holds their supposed allies. Two inexperienced pilots, through their own ignorance and likely poor training, attacked UK troops even though they could clearly see the orange panels on the vehicles which identified them as coalition forces. They were also less than helped by the unclear and inaccurate information provided by the US forces on the ground. The tape though also shows the anguish of the two soldiers once they had realised what they had done; it's right that they should be ordered to give evidence at the coroner's inquest into Hull's death, but whether further disciplinary action is required is far less clear cut.

Those who deserve both barrels instead are the higher-ups who decided in the first place that the two pilots were not guilty of misconduct; the Ministry of Defence officials who lied to Hull's family and relatives, telling them that there was no recording of what happened, only recently revealing that there in fact was, and the US military for refusing to allow the tape to be shown to the coroner's court without further negotiations. As so often happens when leaks such as this happen, the video has now been seen across the globe, when instead the tape would have only been played at the inquest; the MoD has succeeded only in demonstrating the way in which it treats soldiers and their families who put their lives on the line for so little in return, while the Pentagon, if any more proof was needed, showed how it thinks only of its own and no one else.

While the Sun deserves the credit for actually obtaining the video, if it hadn't been for the coroner Andrew Walker being both so outspoken and so determined to get to the truth of what happened, the video may never have emerged. The video also raises further questions of just what Blair has got in return for his handing over of foreign policy to Washington. Not only has the war made the world more dangerous, inflamed tensions throughout the wider Middle East and resulted in the deaths of at least one hundred thousand Iraqis, he can't even claim that our soldiers' payment through blood has meant the US military respects our own legal institutions more than it did when the Bush administration so arrogantly rejected the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Speaking of which, everyone seems to have forgotten the two Iraqi civilians, waving white flags, who were also shot down by the two pilots. Along with the hundreds, if not thousands (or more) killed due to mistakes at best and trigger happiness at worst, there were and will be no inquests into their deaths. That the shells which hit the Scimitars and Spartans were of the 30mm depleted uranium variety which some scientists increasingly fear are responsible for increased cases of birth defects and cancers in Iraq only enhances the blow. Justice for the Iraqis will be a lot longer in coming, even in the case of Matty Hull.

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Iain Dale is a lying liar.

I've been monitoring the on-going blogging civil war, but haven't felt the need to join in or further comment mainly because I have very little to add. That, and some of it bores me to tears, but finally Tim's digging at both Guido and Iain Dale himself has resulted in Dale coming well and truly unstuck:

Here, much to Iain's annoyance, James Oates names my "comprehensive demolition" of Guido Fawkes as his blog of the week. James then goes on to say:

"(Guido) is a nihilist, effectively... and I really think that's what Tim Ireland is pointing out..."

Then Iain Dale interjects with this:

"Well isn't Tim Ireland one as well?"

Now technically, it could be argued that Iain was merely asking if I was a nihilist; not stating a fact, merely asking a question... but let's pop back to Iain's denial, less than 24 hours later:

"I never said anything of the sort. Seeing as until I just looked it up I hadn't got a fucking clue what a nihilist is, I'm hardly likely to call you one, am I?"

But Iain did say something of that exact sort, and any reference to the dictionary would have been completely surplus to requirements because he threw the same word back in a guest's face just the night before!

An apology would surely not go amiss, Mr Dale.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 

Someone save us from these idiots.

Unity has already said a lot of excellent stuff on this subject, but this is possibly the most ignorant and idiotic scheme this government could have come up with. As you might have guessed, it's to do with sex offenders and paedophiles:

Sex offenders could be forced to register their e-mail addresses and chatroom names, the government says.

Home Secretary John Reid said he may make paedophiles put online identity details on the Sex Offenders Register.

Mechanisms would be set up to "flag up" approaches by them to sites popular among youngsters, he told the BBC.

As if the case yesterday of the three men who were given indeterminate sentences for plotting online wasn't worrying enough (yes, they needed to be dealt with, but the sentences given for talking about kidnapping, rape and murder when no offences other than possessing child pornography took place and when the men had not even met were out of all proportion with other comparable cases) then this comes along. Surely Reid and his advisers realise that you can get a new email address and change your alias on a myriad of sites within a matter of minutes?

Apparently not.

He told the BBC: "If we did that we would then be able to set up mechanisms that would flag up anyone using those addresses or those identities to make approaches and contacts through some of the very popular internet spaces which are used by kids."

Right. Say for instance a paedophile used the alias "lensman" (I've stole this from the film Hard Candy) in chatrooms, was convicted of a sex offence and was put on the register. Under Reid's plans "lensman" would therefore be potentially flagged, probably through NetNanny type programmes or voluntary ISP schemes, and as a result would either be blocked or a warning would be flashed up. Not only would this not stop "lensman" from changing his alias, but others who used this alias would then be potentially flagged as being untrustworthy at best. Most internet aliases used are far from original, and potentially hundreds, if not thousands of users across the world can use the same one. "lensman" is an example of this. Browsing just a couple of user sites, we come across different lensmans. Here's one on MySpace. A different one on Another from YouTube.

Online paedophiles also usually use names that are likely to appeal to those who they're targeting. As a result, children themselves could come under suspicion or have their own use of the internet limited. This may be an attempt to make the internet "safer", but it's also one which potentially cripples it.

It's a scheme that is so utterly unworkable that you have to hope that some of the more technologically savvy among the Westminster village point out just how ridiculous this is. It doesn't help however when you have so-called "experts" talking rubbish:

Child internet safety expert John Carr, of children's charity NCH, said: "This is a very welcome move.

"It will mean that we can extend the Sex Offenders Register regime into cyberspace and that will be a great comfort to many people."

It may be a comfort, but it's a false one. It's full of more holes than Wolfowitz's socks.

Prof Allyson MacVean, director of the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety at London's Metropolitan University, said police should be able to search sex offenders' homes and computers.

"Internet addresses are so easy to make up and it doesn't give any sense of who the person is or where their location is," she told the BBC.

She said this was why the police needed access to sex offenders' computers without needing to apply for a warrant.

Now we're mixing up sex offenders and paedophiles again. Believe it or not, there's a difference between the two. If the police are so concerned about some predatory paedophiles using the internet, then they should be banned from using the internet altogether at their homes. This would be easy enough to do with the help of BT. It wouldn't stop them using internet cafes, the houses of friends or libraries, but it would be something of a reassurance.

Update: To be slightly clearer, blocking broadband is easy. BT could have a list of numbers where broadband shouldn't ever be enabled. Blocking dial-up and the numerous numbers of different ISPs would be more difficult. Offenders could try and get a new number in order to get around this, and we'd have to depend on BT's bureaucracy to stop it. It could also be got around by using a mobile phone as a modem, as Vodafone I think are offering now, if at extortionate prices, or simply by using a mobile phone for the internet, although the technology doesn't come close to that provided by PCs. Lastly, those banned from the internet could attempt to steal a nearby person's unsecured wireless connection, if one was available.

None of this is to take the civil liberties arguments into blocking the use of the internet entirely, and whether such banning would constitute punishment after a sentence has been served into consideration.

End Update.

It's already far too easy to smear someone as a paedophile. This scheme would not just make it easier, it would also mean that it would be next to impossible to prove your innocence if you're unfortunate enough to share your internet alias with one of these modern day witches.

I'll leave the final words to Unity:
The entire proposal is a complete shambles and clearly advanced and put forward by people who haven’t got the first fucking clue how the internet really works.

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Scum-watch: It's a laugh riot!

There is a serious side to the story mentioned in today's Scum leader, so before we get to the humour, we may as well look into it a little more. Colin Cook, a teacher who was sacked for misconduct from the King Fahd school in Acton (The Telegraph report (see below) mentions a website for the school, but Google fails to find it) has claimed that the books the children are taught from are racist, and that the school itself is promoting Wahhabism. Here's the Grauniad report:

A Saudi-run school in London uses textbooks which describe Jews as monkeys and Christians as pigs, according to papers filed with an employment tribunal by a former teacher.

Teaching materials used at the King Fahd school in Acton, west London, translated from Arabic for an unfair dismissal claim against the school, say Jews "engage in witchcraft and sorcery and obey Satan", and invite pupils to "name some repugnant characteristics of Jews" and to give examples of worthless religions, such as Judaism and Christianity.

Colin Cook, 57, a British convert to Islam who taught English at the school for 19 years until he was dismissed last December, said pupils had been heard saying they wanted to kill Americans, that 9/11 was good, and that Osama bin Laden was a hero. He is claiming £100,000 compensation for unfair dismissal, race discrimination and victimisation.

The school was originally set up to educate the children of Arab diplomats, but most of its 750 pupils are now British Muslims. It teaches Wahhabism, the dominant faith in Saudi Arabia, which is an extreme form of Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Qur'an.

Mr Cook's solicitor, Lawrence Davies, said he was taking the "extraordinary step" of issuing a statement because British pupils were being put at risk. "We are concerned at the fact that these racist textbooks are being taught in a Saudi-funded school to British pupils and to date no school inspection by Ofsted has identified this appalling practice."

The teacher, who earned £35,000 a year, says he blew the whistle to Edexcel, the examinations body, after children were allowed to refer to their annotated texts in an English language exam in breach of the rules. The school denies his allegations and claims he was rightly dismissed for misconduct. His tribunal hearing is expected to be held later this year.

It is of course worth wondering why Mr Cook didn't feel the need to raise this issue before he was sacked, but his allegations do deserve further investigation. If found true, the school needs urgent reform, if not closure. It is also worth questioning though how Ofsted appears to have missed all of this going on in their midst.

Ofsted inspected the school in March last year, and produced a middling report on the school. Its main findings were:

King Fahad Academy is a satisfactory school with some good features and some that do not completely meet regulatory requirements. Its curriculum, although in a state of change, provides its pupils with a balanced education and opportunities to develop their intellect and skills. The quality of teaching is mostly good, and, in each school, there is a trend towards improved quality with increasing ages of pupils. Pupils’ achievement and progress reflect the quality of the teaching. The rapid changes to the curriculum have been introduced to bring it more in line with the needs of all its pupils. The introduction of the International Baccalaureate curriculum has required a change in the languages used for teaching and learning. These developments have been accompanied by major changes in staffing, along with disruptions of administration and of the timetable. This has led to concerns in the last year amongst pupils and parents. The school has sought to improve communication and the provision of information for parents. It sets a high priority on pupils’ welfare, health and safety.

The report does however particularly praise the school's work on citizenship, which rather goes against some of the allegations made by Cook:

The citizenship programme has many strong features. It is designed to raise pupils’ awareness of issues relating to themselves and others; these include the cultural and linguistic diversity of society, poverty and British institutions.

The report in full is available here (PDF).

This isn't however the first time that similar allegations have been made. In 2004 the Telegraph especially highlighted what it was told was poor teaching of girls:

A London school funded by the Saudi Arabian government is facing complaints from parents that it is teaching British children "fundamentalist" Islam while giving girls an inferior education.

The King Fahd Academy in Acton, west London, named after the current Saudi ruler, devotes up to 50 per cent of lessons to religious education and teaches almost all classes in Arabic, with boys and girls following different curricula.

An additional piece of information may also provide the explanation to why some of the pupils may have been espousing support for terrorism and bin Laden:

Among those who currently attend the academy are the children of Abu Hamza, the cleric from Finsbury Park mosque who was arrested last week after the United States applied for his extradition on terrorism charges.

Anyway, on to the giggles:

SOME of the things happening in Britain today beggar belief.

A teacher claims in a legal statement that an Islamic school in West London is teaching five-year-olds to calls Jews “apes” and Christians “pigs”.

These children are also allegedly being told Osama bin Laden is a hero and killing Americans is good.

So while the Government and The Sun urge tolerance and understanding among communities, children are having their minds poisoned in a London classroom.

Ahahahahahaha ahahahahahahahhaha ahahahhahahahahahahahahahahah ahahahahahahahahahahaha.

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Monday, February 05, 2007 

Are you still here?

It's starting to look as if Blair's days truly are numbered. The Sundays, as they are wont to do, were full of speculation over loans for peerages, with the News of the Screws being unusual in actually producing a political story claiming that Levy, Turner and Sir Christopher Evans, who donated £1m, are all to be charged, with Blair being questioned for a third time, possibly under caution. While believing anything at all in the Screws is foolhardy (just look at this pack of lies and propaganda about the Birmingham terror arrests), today's Times (the website has a hideous trendy new-look, complete with a close to unreadable tiny font) has followed it up with backing some of the Screws' claims, while carrying John McTernan's denials that the information had come from him.

If any of the above happens, then Blair's position would finally be untenable. In a way, if this is how it happens, then it will be the cliche that his reign will come to an end with a whimper rather than a bang. Looking back, it's obvious now to everyone that Blair should have been kicked out over Iraq, and he might well have been had the establishment not found favour in the choice of Lord Hutton as the presiding judge for the inquiry into Dr David Kelly's death. The media themselves, and indeed, us, additionally deserve some of the blame. While we cried whitewash, few of us demanded that Blair should resign, with even less of the newspapers doing so. As ever, the Murdoch empire may have much to answer for in that regard; the unstinting support of the Sun for the prime minister, which continues to this day, has to have had some bearing on the length of his stay. We the electorate though should not be let off the hook: we had the opportunity in 2005 to get rid of the lot of them, but the Tories didn't help matters by conspiring to be an even worse alternative than New Labour.

Some still though hold the view that Blair hanging on until after May is in the interests of everyone. Jackie Ashley, usually one of the more perceptive, if unashamedly Brownite commentators on the Grauniad, has fallen for it:

Two odd thoughts this morning. Tony Blair should not quit. And things are actually going rather well for Labour. No, I haven't taken leave of my senses. Having called for Blair to hang up his boots on several occasions, mainly because of the disaster that is the Iraq war, I don't believe he can walk off just now. To do so - despite the support for that idea from many in his party and, overwhelmingly, from the public - would be an admission of guilt over the loans-for-peerages affair. He, like the rest of us, must wait to see if there are more developments from Scotland Yard.

It may well be seen as that, but if he does go now and he isn't personally charged, then he can claim to have been vindicated. If he stays and any of his staff or Levy are charged, then he will have to go anyway, and in disgrace. Unlikely as his being charged is, if it that happened then he could have possibly the most ignominious history of a prime minister yet written. If there's one thing we know Blair wants, it's at least something of a legacy, and unlike Churchill, he isn't going to be able to write it himself.

Besides, his staying just further entrenches the current impasse in politics. Some are calling it a crisis, but it would be better described as a deep trough which politics has fallen into, thanks to Blair's imminent departure and the loans for peerages inquiry. Everyone is waiting for either the former to occur or for the second to end. Until either happens, everything at the moment seems inconsequential by comparison.

Yet for now this is for the birds. Gordon Brown is not pushing him to stand aside immediately, and there is nobody else with the heft or willpower to make Blair bring forward his own timetable. Furthermore, a Blair resignation this month or next would actually make life harder for his party. It isn't all farewell speeches. Even some of his harsher critics say he is needed for the final push to get the Northern Ireland parties back into a reconstituted assembly before the deadline of March 26. Once that is done, it would be sensible to announce to Labour's national executive committee exactly what his timetable will be, almost certainly involving stepping down after the May elections. That way he takes the rap (and rightly so) for the May election results, and still leaves time for the new leader to bed in well before the autumn conference season.

Northern Ireland is almost a done deal; as Peter Hain has rightly made clear, if Sinn Fein and the DUP can't now reach agreement on power-sharing after Sinn Fein abandoned one of its longest standing principles on not co-operating with or recognising the police, then they still don't deserve to be able to govern themselves. It can be argued that Blair might have to do some additional prodding, if Hain can't manage it alone, but if he was to go beforehand this could be handled by Brown or Bertie Ahern, if necessary.

If Blair was to go now, then the election process could still be conducted in time for the May elections. It would be more than possible for the campaigning for that to be merged with the campaigning for the local elections, with Brown and his opponents (it might turn out to be just John McDonnell; John Reid is tainted, Charles Clarke probably couldn't get enough signatories, while David Miliband and Alan Johnson have made clear they're not interested, and neither is well enough known anyway) making their own cases for just why Labour should be supported even in a time of flux. It's tempting for Blair to stay and to take the blame for the likely disaster, but the mood in the country is that he should go now. If he did, it's still conceivable that the mood could change. The longer he stays, the more everyone's reminded of just why he hasn't gone yet.

What Labour really needs is a medium-term plan for dealing with the appalling damage caused by the cash-for-honours row, and the erosion of trust it has brought. There is a rising revolt against Jack Straw's latest plans for a part-elected, part-appointed House of Lords. Last week's cabinet meeting was a long way from rubber-stamping the plans, and that's before the rest of the Commons and the Lords themselves get a look in. Whatever the intellectual case for a mixed chamber - or indeed an all-appointed one as set out by David Steel on this page - suspicion of undue influence and malign patronage is fixed in the public mind. We need to go all elected, ending for ever the chuckles about cheque books and coronets.

What better arena could there be for discussing and debating all of this than the election process for both leader and deputy leader? This is potentially a great opportunity for involving the Labour membership in a far greater democratic say in what policies should be taken forward than ever is allowed at the annual conference.

What is clear is that Labour needs a new constitutional deal that ends this dismal history of political sleaze. It doesn't matter if it comes this month or after May. But it can be done, a new political tone can be set, and many in the party want it. That surely is rare good news for Labour.

The one thing Ashley misses out is that the sooner it happens the better. Both for Labour and the country. Everyone is just waiting for Blair to do the decent thing, but then it could be argued we've been already spent 9 years doing just that.

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Scum-watch: Keeping enemies from our streets.

Hard to know whether this is cheerleading of the government's potential new drive towards 70/90 days, or simply a rebuff to a man who the tabloids have been building up, but either way, the Sun's not going to let John Sentamu get away with his criticism of such measures:

THE Sun admires John Sentamu, the first black Church of England Archbishop.

But his claim that holding terror suspects for 90 days without charge will make Britain a tyranny like Idi Amin’s Uganda is ludicrous.

Upping the limit from 28 days wouldn’t turn us into a police state.

It would simply give detectives enough time to amass evidence in cases often more complex than a normal criminal investigation.

Which is exactly why they were given 28 days only just more than a year ago. A "normal" criminal investigation can only be stretched out to 96 hours at most without the suspect being charged. 28 days already gives them up to 672 hours. 90 would give them 2160, or the equivalent of a six-month prison sentence. 90 day detention without charge might not turn us into a police state, but it would be a menacing reminder of the very measures which police states resort to. Besides, there has yet to be any evidence presented that anything more than 28 days is needed, or if even 28 days would be needed if the police had the proper resources available in order to crack encryption on hard drives etc. The police talk of hundreds and hundreds of gigabytes of data is meant to blind people with statistics, especially when it involves burnt cds and dvds which can be checked quickly.

Britain is facing its greatest threat since the Nazis.

Oh, we've reached the point of the Nazi threat now. Previously it was back to the level of threat posed by the Soviet Union, now we're apparently once again stuck in 1940, waiting for the Nazis to invade, except this time the Wehrmacht armies are suicide bombers and the Luftwaffe are terrorists making their explosives in the toilets of planes.

In fact, this comparison is an insult. Sixty million died in WW2, over 400,000 British servicemen among them. To suggest that the Islamic extremist terrorist threat, which has so far resulted in the deaths of 52 people in this country, could conceivably achieve similar casualties is both to give too much credit to a rag-tag band of non-aligned backward fantasists and to belittle the sacrifice made on all sides by ordinary men and women to crush Nazism. (It's best not to even bring the Holocaust into the equation.)

Police should not have to race against the clock to keep enemies off our streets.

That's right. Everyone arrested under the Terrorism Act is a enemy, and the evidence only has to be found for that to be proved. The Sun could not have done more to prove Sentamu right.

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