Inexorable leftist gibbering from someone somewhere. || "Our press, which you appear to regard as being free ... is the most enslaved and the vilest thing." -- William Cobbett. || “Tridents (sic) are not weapons of mass destruction.” -- Nadine Dorries MP
Friday, July 31, 2009
Scum-watch: The hypocrisy machine.
The Sun's exclusive on Theresa Winters, the woman from Luton who has had all thirteen of her children taken into care and is now pregnant with her fourteenth, ticks all the paper's buttons. Broken Britain, scrounging feckless layabouts and of course the bourgeois journalists working for a "working class" newspaper sneering at their own target market. It doesn't really make much difference that I can't think of anything less feckless than being perpetually pregnant, and that yet again the paper is pushing for benefit reform by finding the most extreme case it can, regardless of how the kind of reform it demands would punish those who are deserving as well as those who "aren't". Combine this with the casual dehumanisation which infects all such stories, with Winters described as the "Baby Machine", leeches and slobs and you have a classic example of a newspaper providing its readers with a target they can hate without feeling bad about doing so.
The ire directed at the couple is based around how they've cost the taxpayer "millions" with their selfish ways, and of course how the benefit system encourages such behaviour (it doesn't; they've just abused it, but never mind). Yet when the BBC's Look East went round to their flat in an attempt to get their own interview, they were informed that they'd signed an exclusive contract with a national newspaper which prevented them from giving one. I can't obviously comment on whether such a contract involved the couple being paid for being abused and used as scapegoats by the Sun, but it seems doubtful that they would have done so unless their was something in it for them. Rather then than it being we have an underclass because we "fund it with handouts", which only someone who occupies an ivory tower from which they can't even begin to see the tops of the houses from could believe, it seems that the Winters will be able to rely on income from a national newspaper should she decide to go for baby fifteen. Encouraging and abetting such selfish behaviour? The Sun? Never!
The law has long needed to be clarified, if only to make it abundantly clear that only in extreme circumstances would any prosecution be attempted, as already seems to be the case. Surely the most likely example of when prosecution might well have been attempted was in the Daniel James case last year. James, a 23-year-old who was paralysed from the chest down after a scrum collapsed on him while playing rugby, was not terminally ill, as most seeking to die at Dignitas are. He had however attempted suicide before, and his parents, respecting his clear choice that he wanted to die, accompanied him to Switzerland. The CPS however decided that although a crime may well have been committed that there was not a public interest in prosecuting them.
All this though is still skirting around the issue. The terminally ill here that want to end their life shouldn't have to travel to Switzerland or anywhere else to do so; they should have the choice to do so in this country. The two things that are holding back a change in the law, which is still surely eventually inevitable, is that politicians are scared rigid of an issue which is both incredibly difficult and which there is no party political advantage to be gained from, quite possibly the opposite in fact. The other is the campaigners that obfuscate and deny the right of others in a similar position to them to even have the ability to say that they don't want to carry on. The likes of Lady Campbell seem to imagine that doctors who have repeatedly made clear they'd prefer not to put in such a position are just waiting to get the ability to stick a needle in the terminally ill and disabled and put them out of their misery. They also imagine that giving a person of sound mind the right to choose to die will somehow put pressure on all of those in a similar position to do the same, even though the safeguards that would be put in place would almost certainly prevent any such thing happening. It's much the same mentality which denies women the right to choose, that those making such a decision need to be talked out of it, that they themselves cannot possibly be in the right frame of mind to be able to make such a choice for themselves, hence they should be denied it entirely. Just like you will never stop those desperate for one from ending their pregnancy, you will never stop those who want to die from getting their way; as with everything else, it's the regulation and safeguards that are the key.
The right to die campaign is only going to grow as the world population inexorably ages. It seems likely that it will finally become as important a right as the right to life itself. The sooner we recognise that the sooner we'll end the stream of those that see the indignity of Dignitas as their only remaining option.
The Blair comparison is apposite, because as Jamie also quotes, we know full well that many of the highest Cameroons, and the other architects of "change" within the Conservatives also deeply admired Blair. They admired him because he won elections, because he wasn't beholden to his party, and because for a time he meant all things to all people. He was Teflon Tony. They even adored his wars, and still do to an extent, especially the true believers like Michael Gove, who share what you can either call his neo-conservative leanings, or his "liberal interventionism", which in the case of both Afghanistan and Iraq was nothing of the sort. The Labour party became so desperate, so the orthodoxy goes, that it turned to someone who was never a natural Labour politician to lead them to victory. The Conservatives, also desperate for victory, have equally turned to someone, who although has an unimpeachable Tory background, doesn't have the natural Tory face, who can do the compassion which Thatcher never had, and who isn't (yet) a laughing stock as John Major became.
As Dave Osler points out though, the Toryism which Simon Heffer yearns for only came into existence in the late 70s, being constantly built upon during the 80s. Whether you call it Thatcherism, Reaganonomics, neo-liberalism, the belief in supply-side economics and the associated trickle down theory, this was what truly made the break from the One Nation Toryism which the post-war party had up till then espoused. The real success of Thatcherism etc is that everyone in the West has pretty much adopted it, or at least the economic side of it. Even now that the ultimate conclusion to Thatcherism has been reached, with the worst recession since the great depression, and when those bastions of neo-liberalism, the banks, have had to be bailed out and either nationalised or nationalised in all but name, all still worship it, as the feeble attempts at reforming regulation shows.
We should however be clear that there was an almost Faustian pact between New Labour and the City. The banks and the hyper-economy provided the tax revenues which overwhelmingly funded the surge in spending on the NHS and education, as well as the sly, feeble attempts at redistribution that made some headway, then failed. Business could do business with Labour, and in return they funded their spending, even if they complained and tried every trick in the book at avoiding the taxman as much as they could. At the last election this philosophy had triumphed so successfully that the Tories were quibbling about amounts of money that Boris Johnson would describe as "chicken-feed". It was on other things, such as immigration and crime on which they was something resembling a difference between the two parties, although doubtless if Michael Howard had won there may well have been a drift from the manifesto, written by someone called David Cameron.
Now we're faced with much the same situation but in reverse. Whoever wins, cuts will have to be made, it's just where and how deep that the argument is over, even if Gordon Brown and others try to deny it. The Tories' promise that both health and international aid will be protected, with possibly education and maybe defence also joining the party. The other promises made were that inheritance tax would be raised from its current threshold to £1 million, and that marriage would be recognised in the tax system, helping to fix our "broken society", but even those now look uncertain, with Cameron maintaining it might well be difficult to achieve. Both of those things are naturally Conservative policies which the left would and should oppose, especially the former when inheritance tax ought to be one of the weapons used in bringing down the deficit. Dave Osler notes that the "Chloe" generation of New Tories tend to defend the NHS in its current state, and there's little to suggest otherwise from a survey the Guardian conducted with 66 prospective candidates in September last year, although it's slightly out of date due to the economic crisis then not being fully developed. What is noticeable though is their social Conservatism: while it has always been Labour that has led social liberalisation, whether it be on abortion, the legalisation of homosexuality etc, the Conservatives have come to accept the changes over time.
What exactly are we facing then, come next June perhaps? To begin with, there probably won't be much difference. They might, as suggested, have an emergency budget with 40 days and bring in cuts quicker than Labour would. What does begin to chill the blood however though is the promise of "austerity", as used by George Osborne, which only brings echoes of the post-war years and the early 50s. Why it should chill is because you know full well that Osborne and Cameron will not be those experiencing their "austerity", just as they have never experienced it before. Secretly, it's difficult not to feel that the Tories are gleeful at getting the opportunity to take a sword to public spending. Like with New Labour, they're unlikely to really hammer away for the first couple of years, but after that it's anyone's guess as to what they'll do, let alone if they get a second term. On crime and law and order, Chris Grayling's recent "nick their sim card and bike" gimmickry reminded everyone of New Labour's similar ideas which were derided. With welfare, they've promised much the same as Labour's plans again, except with bells on. We shouldn't imagine that we're going to return to Victorian values or back to basics, but what we are going to experience is new Blairism, as argued before. The Labour party was there to try to contain Blair's worst excesses, even if it failed miserably most of the time. With Cameron, and with a media already licking its lips in anticipation at the Tories returning, there will be no constraints upon Cameron. With Blair, we had an "ethical" foreign policy, a sop to "wets" like Robin Cook. William Hague has already made clear that they intend to return to realpolitik, and relegate human rights somewhat in their dealings with the likes of the Saudis and China, and with Liam Fox and Michael Gove in tow, it's difficult not to imagine that neo-conservatism proper won't rear its ugly head. We've already seen that Cameron has joined up with homophobes from Poland and other assorted oddballs in the European parliament; if that doesn't embarrass him, what will?
Heffer then is wrong. Cameron and his party will be Conservatives, but then we've had much the same under Brown and Blair. Cameron and co will just turn everything up a notch. It probably won't please the hardline Tory faithful, but they'll get used to it, just as Labour supporters hoping for a turn left did. The challenge will be for the left to create a truly alternative vision, which does offer a difference, something which for now is nowhere in sight, even as the best opportunity ever to make the case for it has appeared and also now seemingly, disappeared just as quickly.
The silly season, in case you haven't already noticed, has begun in earnest. Not that newspapers and news sites aren't normally stocked fully with churnalism, but it just becomes instantly more evident when there's next to no real news around.
In case then you wondering, the Wookey Hole witch is a publicity stunt. Even if they are paying the winner £50,000, that's nothing as to the free advertising they've received and will receive, especially when compared to how much it would cost to take out adverts on the same pages and same size as the stories themselves will appear. Likewise, the BBC story that "Swedes miss Capri after GPS gaffe" is almost certainly a similar piece of churnalism. It's plausible, as anyone could accidentally make a typo on their system and be guided to Carpi instead of Capri, but like the Wookey Hole story it makes for excellent publicity, even if it isn't as unbelievable as the benchmark, the "Cab, innit", girl. Not directly publicity seeking churnalism, but also designed to fill up the pages, is the Coca Cola carbonated milk launch, which is only happening in the US. Why then do we care over here? Because we haven't much choice.
It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the hailing of the first stage of Operation Panther's Claw as a success, not just because of the 11 deaths so far, but also because of the lessons which seem to remaining unlearnt from Iraq. Part of the reason might be due to the fact that it was the US army that made the similar mistakes time and again, but there can't be any excuse for us not to have recognised how the insurgents in Afghanistan are using exactly the same tactics as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq did.
It's even more worrying when the tactics are so alarmingly simple. Whenever the US would launch a "major" offensive, aimed at ridding a certain area of the various fighters both allied and non-allied fighting against them, only the hard core tended to stay to fight. The rest simply left, and then either returned once the soldiers had moved on, or instead engaged in classic guerilla tactics, planting IEDs at night, ambushes etc. This pattern only ceased once the tribal elders and other insurgent groups grew tired of al-Qaida and the other Salafis' brutal tactics and launched the salvation councils/Awakening groups, which along with the "surge" helped to bring the casualties, both of Iraqi civilians and of American troops down. Even then and even now pockets of resistance remain, and Mosul, as well as parts of Diyala province, remain highly dangerous.
The change of tactics in Helmand, from clearing areas of insurgents to now attempting to hold the ground, with the help of the Americans, is a partial recognition that the past policy has failed badly. The insurgents just waited until the troops left and then came back. The problem is that unlike in Iraq, there is no real support from the civilians or other groups to help with the holding of ground. Poll after poll shows that the Afghans prefer the international presence to the Taliban, but on the ground that doesn't turn into enthusiasm for it, let alone armed support. There are no Awakening councils to be formed, and the presence of the coalition, which will undoubtedly increase the risk to civilians, who got out along with the insurgents when Panther's Claw was launched, will exacerbate the problems. Already one soldier has died in the "holding" phase: hitting and running, along with the ubiquitous IEDs, is now likely to be the order of the day.
As Conor Foley points out and as David Miliband today recognised, to imagine that in our present shape we can militarily defeat the Taliban is madness. Up to 80% of those fighting are not the religiously motivated, but either criminal groupings or other insurgents not linked to the Taliban or al-Qaida. Some of these can be either dealt with or bought off: the ceasefire with the "Taliban" in Badghis is encouraging, but whether it will last or not is another matter. The other problem with such deals was shown in Pakistan, when the truce in Swat with the imposition of Sharia law led to the Pakistani Taliban moving to within 100 miles of Islamabad. What has to be dropped is the repeated rhetoric that what "Our Boys" are doing in Helmand is helping to "break" the "chain of terror", an idea that is utterly fatuous and which may well spectacularly backfire. Ministers still though, despite David Miliband's attempt at honesty today, find it difficult to defend a war which they know full well if anything only increases the threat to us, not decreases. Until they come straight, support is only likely, quite rightly, to keep going down.
As for the worst tabloid article prize, I really may as well rename it the weekly Amanda Platell prize. This time she's outraged that the Church of England is giving its blessing to families who've had children outside marriage (the fiends!), that Chloe Smith, winner of Norwich North, is nothing more than a Dave Dolly with no experience whatsoever, that Tony Blair has dared to show his face when our brave boys are dying in Afghanistan, and that Kate Middleton can't hold down a proper job. Oh, and that Ulrika Jonsson is looking stunning, hence she must have had a face lift along with surgery on her breasts. If you've spotted a pattern here, you're not the only one. Surely it can't be that dear old Amanda is jealous of the looks of the elegant Smith, leggy brunette Middleton and blonde Jonsson while her own are falling apart? And of course, writing a weekly column that puts Glenda Slagg to shame is obviously a "proper job". and
The Liberal Democrats especially must be bitterly disappointed and wonder what they did wrong. There were no real scandals among their expenses, they could claim to be the true heirs to Gibson's politics and punish Labour for getting rid of their popular incumbent, and yet they lost close to 3,000 votes, mainly to the Greens and possibly Craig Murray, but also probably to the Tories.
As for the Greens, the claims that they could win the seat turned out be hot air, although ordinarily a vote of 3,350 would be a cause for celebration. In truth their main target is Norwich South, which they hope to win next year along with Brighton and Hove. If they do, they'll be overthrowing Charles Clarke, which will be an extra cause for breaking out the (organic) champagne. Similarly, UKIP must be ecstatic with their performance, which must surely be one of their best parliamentary results in terms of votes, if not the best, getting an impressive 4,068. Likewise, although Craig Murray is disappointed with his result, 953 votes is a spectacular result for an independent, especially one who was completely ignored by the media, and to beat the BNP into 7th place is no mean feat. Most amusing though is the Libertarians, who received a grand total of 36 votes, behind the Monster Raving Loonies. Who knew that turning the country into an Ayn Rand style fantasy isn't popular?
It seems fairly pointless to try extrapolating anything from this result, as the chances of it being repeated next year seem doubtful. Voters that won't have bothered turning out for a by-election most likely will make the effort come the general election, and the parties outside the main three will almost certainly be squeezed except in their strongholds, especially as the fury over the MPs expenses is slowly forgotten. The question remains just how badly Labour is going to do, rather than how well the Conservatives will - whether it becomes a 97 style wipeout, or a result which the party can recover quicker from. Frankly, it both deserves and needs a 97 style wipeout for it to come to its senses, but the pain that will cause is still difficult to imagine.
Quite why Desmond brought what was such a trivial claim for libel against Tom Bower remains unclear. Bower's QC, Ronald Thwaites, who has somewhat acquitted himself after his disgraceful performance representing the Met at the Jean Charles de Menezes health and safety prosecution, said in court that the real reason was because Desmond's ego couldn't allow him to described as a wimp, "ground into the dust" by Black, even if it was in a book that was unlikely to be read by many in a passage that was hardly remarkable. Others however believe the real reason was to ensure that Bower never had a chance of publishing a supposedly finished manuscript on Desmond himself, provisionally titled Rogue Trader. If it's as damning as Bower's other works, and when you have such a target it's hardly likely not to be, Desmond has far more to fear from that than from claims that Conrad Black had "ground him into the dust".
Surely the only thing that ensured Desmond had anything approaching a chance of victory was our ridiculous and damaging libel laws, where the defendant has to prove their case rather than the accuser theirs. Everyone in the media world knows how Desmond operates: he is a bully, a born liar and someone who surrounds himself only with sycophants and those he has total trust in. Only someone with a personality like Desmond, where the slightest insult can result in a feud lasting for years, could be thin-skinned enough to take offence at being described as a pornographer. Desmond made his money in softcore pornographic magazines, having obtained the licence to publish Penthouse in the UK in 1983. From there he built an empire thanks to his diversifying into most of the more acceptable fetishes, with among his more famous titles the likes of Asian Babes and Skin and Wriggly. This led inevitably to satellite and cable channels broadcasting much the same content, although his channels show the softcore variants of the produced smut; whether he actually owns the companies which produce the hardcore versions is unclear.
For a man who yearns for respectability and to take his rightful place amongst the establishment, owning wank rags and jazz channels is usually a no-no. While decidedly last century, one way to acquire that sort of status is to purchase a newspaper, and while the Daily Star is hardly what most would describe as an educational read, and the Daily Express has been in decline for half a century, his purchase of both ensured that he had finally entered the world of not just business but also political power. Some of course at the time questioned whether such a man should own a newspaper which used to be the biggest seller in the world; happily, a donation by Desmond of £100,000 to the Labour party ensured that no obstacles were placed in his way.
Most modern proprietors of newspapers, like Desmond, deny that they would ever influence anything which their employees write, let alone tell them what to. In court, Desmond's QC Ian Winter said that it was "difficult to think of a more defamatory allegation to make". Most proprietors of course don't have to tell their journalists what to write, for the simple fact that they already know how they think, what their interests are and how to defend them, as Rupert Murdoch's editors do, although Murdoch at least admits that the Sun and News of the World's editorial line is directly influenced by him. Desmond, while also using that kind of influence in the newsroom, is both more brutal and direct. David Hellier, a former media editor on the Sunday Express, described how Desmond was seen in the newsroom "virtually every day between five and seven o'clock" and would regularly demand editorial changes. Any casual reader of Private Eye will have noted down the years Desmond's regular appearances in the Street of Shame, often ordering journalists around and insulting them on their appearance. One more memorable episode was when Desmond apparently told Express editor Peter Hill that his current front page was "fucking shit". Hill, fed up with Desmond's constant interference, finally lost his temper and left, leaving the deputy to redo the paper. Most notoriously, Desmond punched the Express's then night editor, Ted Young, in the stomach after his failure to run an article on the death of an obscure 60's musician. Desmond settled with Young the day before the case was due to go to an industrial tribunal for a six figure sum. Young was prevented from giving evidence in the High Court by Justice Eady, but thankfully his testimony was not needed.
Perhaps the most damning evidence however was given by the person who wrote the offending article which led Black to sue Desmond and consequently "ground him into the dust". Anil Bhoyrul, one of the former Mirror journalists involved in the Viglen shares debacle which was another stain on Piers Morgan's character, wrote the "Media Uncovered" column in the Sunday Express between 2001 and 2003 under the pseudonym Frank Daly. Despite supposedly being a witness for Desmond, Bhoyrul made clear that he was directly influenced in what he wrote by what Desmond "liked and disliked", which was made clear to him by the editor Martin Townsend in phone calls on a Tuesday. Bhoyrul boasted of how he "got a pretty good feel for who, you know, to be positive about and who to be negative about. The impression I got over time was that Conrad Black and Richard Desmond were not the best of friends." Bhoyrul was hardly exaggerating: he wrote around 27 hostile pieces about Black, and attacked the owner of the Independent, Tony O'Reilly, in much the same fashion when Desmond was in dispute with him.
Then there was just the sort of in the public domain knowledge which made Desmond look like an idiot. Three days after Desmond had threatened a business contact down the phone, telling him "[he'd] be the worst fucking enemy you'll ever have", the Sunday Express ran a defamatory article about the contact and his hedge fund, Pentagon Capital Management. When Desmond had to settle the libel claim from Pentagon, a statement was read out in open court that "Mr Desmond accepts that it was his comments in the presence of Sunday Express journalists that prompted the Sunday Express to publish the article." Yet Desmond denied when questioned by Thwaites that he had complained to the editor about his predicament, or in front of the journalists. Unless Desmond was committing perjury, he presumably only agreed to that statement in the libel settlement to get it over with.
Whether in the long run much will come of Desmond's humiliation, apart from the possible publication of Bower's biography, is difficult to tell. Undoubtedly his enemies at the Mail will tomorrow have a field day, as will the others that despise Desmond, but readers of his own papers would never know that he had even lost his claim. The article in the Express doesn't so much as mention it, merely setting out that Desmond "set the record straight", while even more mindboggling is his claim to that it was "worth it to stand up in court". Certainly, the estimated costs of the action, £1.25m, is only about a week's wages to Desmond, but to someone with his sensitivity to criticism and determination to be seen as a honest, generous, philanthropic businessman, he must be secretly devastated. Most damaging to Desmond though is certainly Roy Greenslade's conclusion that he is an even worse newspaper owner than Robert Maxwell was. Greenslade should know: he was Mirror editor under Maxwell (His book, Press Gang, is also a fine post-war history of the British press). Although Desmond has clearly not defrauded the Express in the way which Maxwell did Mirror group, he has stripped it of assets in a similar fashion. The Guardian describes how while Greenslade was giving his evidence, Desmond gripped the table in front of him tightly, while his wife asked whether he was OK. That might yet be nothing on what he does tomorrow when the papers quote Greenslade in an approving fashion.
(Other sources for this apart from the links include the latest Private Eye, 1241, and its report on the trial on page 9.)
As might have been expected, Private Eye (1241) has some additional information on the phone hacking scandal:
"... There was, however, one bit of evidence he [Nick Davies, at the Graun's appearance before the Culture committee last week] omitted. A file seized by the Information Committee from private investigator Steve Whittamore in 2003, which was later obtained by lawyers for Professional Footballers' Association boss Gordon Taylor, included a personal request for Whittamore to trace someone's address via his phone number. The request came from Rebekah Wade when she was editor of the News of the Screws.
Davies was asked to keep quiet about this by the man who accompanied him to the committee hearing, Grauniad editor Alan Rusbridger, who feared that the skirmishes between the Grauniad and News International would turn into all-out war if there were any mention of the flame-haired weirdo who has now become NI's chief executive.
This may also be why the Guardian has yet to reveal that the secret payment of £700,000 in damages and costs to buy the silence of Gordon Taylor was not a mere executive order. It was decided by the directors of News Group Newspapers Ltd, the NI subsidary which owns the Sun and the Screws, at their board meeting on 10 June last year. If their involvement were revealed, it could cause grave embarrassment for the directors of News Group Newspapers Ltd - not least one James Murdoch."
The latter more or less came out yesterday, when we learned that James Murdoch had known about the settlement and agreed with it. The Wade revelation is though entirely new, and while there is no indication that Wade was using Whittamore for anything specifically illegal, it is an example that editors at the Screws knew about the "dark arts" and even personally used them. That makes it all the more ridiculous that both Andy Coulson and Tom Crone were so ignorant about what was happening all around them. It's also surprising that Wade herself was so tenacious in accusing the Graun of being "deliberately misleading" when they had such information on her; either she knew they wouldn't dare use it, as PE suggests, or she decided to try to tough it out. Either that, or she didn't know.
By far the best comment on yesterday's reprise of Manuel from Fawlty Towers was from Peter Burden, who also interpreted their body language.
The News of the World stance appears to have now changed three times. First it was to deny nothing; then it was to deny everything; now it seems to be know nothing. The four men were remarkable reticent, or remarkably ill-informed, perhaps deliberately. The only real fire came when first Tom Crone objected to Tom Watson's presence on the committee (under the "hated" Human Rights Act!), as he's currently taking legal action against the Sun, then Kuttner objected to Philip Davies, as he had connected Kuttner's resignation with the Guardian's revelations.
Predictably, all involved denied knowing anything about the phone hacking; all could be blamed on those who had since left, or those who are still at the paper strangely don't seem to be able to remember anything about it. The junior reporter who wrote the email which Davies revealed last week couldn't remember much about it, and was currently in Peru, Neville Thurlbeck couldn't remember receiving it, and there was no trace of the email on the NotW email system. The more cynical might imagine that was all very convenient. Thurlbeck was only supposed to be involved in the Taylor story with a view to door-stepping Taylor to confirm it. Coulson, later on, confirmed that he couldn't remember anything about a story involving Taylor.
Alongside the denials and non-denials, new information that did come out was that both Mulcaire and Goodman received payments along with their dismissals. You would have thought that being convicted of criminal offences while doing their job would have enabled them to be fired for gross misconduct, but apparently the payments were made in line with employment law and certainly not to buy their silence. James Murdoch, if not Murdoch himself, knew about the settlement with Gordon Taylor. Adam Price, who had discovered a story in the paper by-lined as by Goodman and Thurlbeck had a direct line that could only have come from Prince William's voicemail. Coulson of course couldn't remember the story, and Crone doesn't remember "page 7" stories, while Goodman's lawyer said in court nothing was ever published as a result of the voicemail hacking.
Some of the denials though were just ridiculous. Crone claims that he hadn't even heard of Mulcaire until Goodman was arrested, had never heard of phones being hacked and had never heard of payments for illegal activity. He seems to have been the only other person in Fleet Street, along with Andy Coulson, to have been so ignorant, who also had never met Mulcaire or spoke to him.
The frustrating thing about the whole story and investigation is that the suspicion is everything the Guardian has alleged is true and more besides, but it's simply impossible to prove. The police investigation seems to have based purely on getting a conviction on the count of hacking the royals, despite also looking into, if not prosecuting the other allegations and suggestions that numerous others were also hacked, or at least looked into the possibility of being hacked. Goodman and Mulcaire have been the fall guys for what was almost certainly a culture of contempt for the law in the News of the World newsroom. The ends justified the means, and through the silence and paying off of all involved, it's impossible to prove beyond what we already know. Coulson looks certain to survive, and the damage done to him seems to have been only slight. Tabloid culture also seems likely to remain unchanged, as ever.
It probably says something about the mounting cynicism concerning the war in Afghanistan that even the Sun, by far the most ardent supporter of our presence in Helmand province, has been moved to commission a justificatory article on the "chain of terror". As you might have expected though, to call the arguments made piss poor, utterly confused and easy to rebut would be an understatement.
To begin with, Oliver Harvey seems to be confused exactly where it is and who it is we're at war with. It is Afghanistan or Pakistan? Is it the Taliban or is it the Pakistani Taliban, who for the most part are entirely separate? This extends to Harvey's geographical knowledge: he claims that Malakand is near to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border when it is in fact quite some distance from it. This is an attempt to link Mohammad Sidique Khan and Omar Khyam to the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban; the problem here is that there is no link. Khan and Khyam, if trained by any particular grouping, were most likely trained by individuals with links to al-Qaida. Khan might well have left for Pakistan with the intention of fighting in Afghanistan; he left behind a video for his daughter which made clear he wasn't expecting to return. The fact that he did rather undermines any links he had with the Taliban, who are fighting only in Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than having worldwide ambitions.
Next we have just the word of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama to convince us that somehow British troops in Afghanistan do make us safer:
Gordon Brown made his remarks last week as the war in Afghanistan entered a particularly grim phase, with 17 British soldiers killed already this month.
The PM argued the sacrifice made by our troops - 186 have died since operations began in Afghanistan - was vital and that to stop fighting the Taliban would make the UK "less safe".
Justifying the UK military presence in Helmand, he said: "It comes back to terrorism on the streets of Britain.
"There is a chain of terror that links what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain.
"If we were to allow the Taliban to be back in power in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda then to have the freedom of manoeuvre it had before 2001, we would be less safe as a country."
US President Barack Obama agreed, insisting: "The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much, if not more, of a stake in than we do.
"The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States."
Government officials state around three quarters of the most advanced plots monitored by MI5 have Pakistani links.
They said the security service is aware of around 30 serious plots at any given moment, suggesting that at least 21 of them are tied to Pakistani groups.
Again, we're meant to take it that Afghanistan and Pakistan are inseparable. Yet we have no military presence in Pakistan, and nor does the United States. The only thing that comes closest to it is the incessant drone strikes on alleged high profile militant targets. Afghanistan and Pakistan might be connected, but our military offensive is not, despite the recent AfPak change in emphasis by the Americans. The fact remains the al-Qaida doesn't need the freedom of manoeuvre it had in Afghanistan up to October 2001, both because it has something approaching that freedom in Pakistan and because its ideology has gone global, just as it hoped it would. 9/11 was mostly planned in Germany, having been first proposed years before by Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, just as 7/7 was mostly planned in this country. While attending a training camp is still integral to those who go on to become terrorists, most information can now be found and accessed through the internet. Furthermore, the fact that so many of these plots have roots in Pakistan is not always to do with how they can be linked back to the Taliban or al-Qaida there, but simply because so many of the Muslims in this country originate from Pakistan and have support or themselves support relatives back there.
And Afghanistan provides the bulk of the heroin on Britain's streets - with the profits funding Taliban guerrillas.
A staggering 93 per cent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan - two thirds of it from Helmand, where British troops are fighting and dying.
Taliban chiefs often "tax" narcotics gangs ten per cent for providing security.
Afghan police chief Lt Col Abdul Qader Zaheer, 45, told me last year: "If it wasn't for heroin there wouldn't be a war here. It pays for Taliban guns."
Of course, this omits the fact that the Taliban themselves first almost eradicated the poppy crop. They only turned to it once they needed to. It also fails to acknowledge that solutions to the poppy crop, such as buying it to be turned into medicines have been ignored or rejected. That the Sun also objects to even the most timid moves towards liberalisation of the drug laws also means that the opportunities that legislation offers are completely off the table. Heroin itself though has nothing to do with our presence in Helmand - we're not fighting a war against drugs in Afghanistan - this is just another distraction.
The tentacles of jihad linking Britain and Afghanistan begin on the Helmand frontline.
One dead Taliban fighter was found with an Aston Villa tattoo. The discovery suggested the insurgent was from the UK and followed news that RAF radio spies picked up Brummie accents while listening in on Taliban "chatter" over the airwaves.
These UK-born fighters arrive through the mountainous and sieve-like border from Pakistan - the same desolate, lawless region where Khyam and Khan received their bomb-making masterclass.
We've dealt with these same, unconfirmedand impossible to verify claims before. There probably are some Brits fighting in Afghanistan, but if there weren't fighting there, they probably would be somewhere else. In a way, this actually gives some credence to the claim that we're safer due to our presence in Afghanistan - fight those jihadists who want to do battle with their own countrymen outside the actual country rather than here. This isn't though the government's case - their case is that through defeating the Taliban and preventing al-Qaida from returning they're making us safer, which was dealt with somewhat above.
It is believed Khan filmed his "martyrdom" video in Pakistan. In it, he glares at the camera with his hatred of the West clearly evident and declares icily: "We are at war and I am a soldier."
Pakistan is the next link in the chain of terror. British jihadis receive not only weapons training there but are also further radicalised by preachers of hate at madrassas or religious schools.
Khan's fellow 7/7 murderer, Shehzad Tanweer, is said to have worshipped at Islamabad's notorious Red Mosque.
This is more nonsense - the idea that jihadists go to Pakistan to be "further radicalised" is specious. They wouldn't have gone in the first place if they weren't already somewhat committed to the cause. If anything, this further undermines the case for presence in Afghanistan: if all the radicalisation, training and hatred is going on in Pakistan, why are we in Helmand province? How does being there make us safer than stopping what goes on in Pakistan would?
We're then treated to some boilerplate rabble-rousing from a cleric whom Harvey had the privilege to meet:
The Islamist radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan make no effort to disguise their aim to introduce Sharia law to Britain. In the dusty Pakistani town of Kahuta, a cleric was happy to tell me last year of his desire to bring beheadings and stonings to our shores.
Imam Qari Hifzur Rehamn, 60 said of Britain: "Non-believers must be converted to Islam. Morals in your society, with women wearing revealing clothes, have gone wrong.
"We want Islamic law for all Pakistan and then the world.
"We would like to do this by preaching. But if not then we would use force."
The Imam of the town's religious school, where kids as young as nine are taught jihad or holy war, added: "Adulterers should be buried in earth to the waist and stoned to death.
"Thieves should have their hands cut off. Women should remain indoors and films and pop music should be banned.
"Homosexuals must be killed - it's the only way to stop them spreading. It should be by beheading or stoning, which the general public can do."
Again, this fails to even begin to back up the case for our presence in Afghanistan. If Harvey had met this imam in that country perhaps he might have a point - but he didn't. The idea that those taught similar things are suddenly going to be any sort of threat to this country except as an irritant is ludicrous - if they can't even begin to impose their beliefs on Pakistan, how are they meant to do it in a country thousands of miles away?
But the US-led coalition has vowed to stop the radicals from governing the desperately poor nation again and fermenting an ideology of holy war against the West.
The final link in the jihadi chain is a return to Britain.
Khan slipped back into the UK in February 2005. Just five months later he detonated his rucksack bomb at Edgware Road Tube station, murdering six people.
On the sun-baked plains and river valleys of Helmand today, our forces - some just 18 - are locked in deadly combat with a resilient Taliban army.
The prize in this bloody war, and the legacy for those brave soldiers who have returned here to heroes' funerals, is to snap the chain of terror for good.
Except there is no such thing as a Taliban "army", just as there is no such thing as one Taliban. This so-called "chain of terror" cannot be snapped by an army based in just one province, with just less than 10,000 soldiers on the ground, in a country which has been at war for almost 30 years. It would require an army at least 10 times that size to have even the slightest chance of controlling the whole of Afghanistan, let alone Pakistan, which this piece invokes repeatedly. The Soviets had over 100,000 units on the ground post-1980 and they couldn't manage it. How can such a fragmented coalition as Nato currently is even begin to?
The article doesn't even begin to consider any alternatives, let alone any counter-arguments. It can be argued that our very presence in Afghanistan in fact makes us less safe: it makes us a target for reprisals whereas if we were not involved we would not be. 9/11 and 7/7 did not occur in vacuums; they did not happen simply because "they hate us". The chain of terror would have breaks in it if we did not involve ourselves in battles in which we have no dog in. It would not completely remove the threat, but it would decrease it exponentially. That the Sun doesn't even start to imagine the opposing side even exists speaks volumes.
Thanks to my glorious religious upbringing, an upbringing so successful that instead of inculcating the fear of God in me it instead made me a God mocker, I can't approach the "terror threat level-o-meter" without thinking of Revelation. It brings to mind the four horsemen, the seven seals, the pouring of bowls, the moon turning to blood, the whore of Babylon and the 1,000 year reign. There are, of course, dozens of different interpretations of Revelation, as well as those that dismiss it as either the hallucinations of a madman or drug-inspired similar visions. I, belonging to a well-known sect which preach expressly that the end is nigh, was only taught the strictly literal interpretation; indeed, there is an entire book dedicated to "understanding" Revelation, which was relatively recently updated to take account of "changes" to the interpretation. Also connected in is the "King of the North and King of the South", both of which are mentioned in Daniel, and also taken literally. During the Cold War the King of the North was Russia, while the South was the United States, or rather the "Anglo-American" world power; since the Soviet Union's collapse they have hedged their bets and said they don't yet know who the King of the North will be.
Some of the more independently theorising members (something which itself is not often encouraged) believe that the King of the North may yet turn out to be radical Islam. This fits in with the belief that the Wild Beast of Revelation 13:1-18 is the United Nations, and that at some point in the near future the United Nations, probably prompted by war between the South and North, will attempt to eradicate all religion except for the chosen sect, which will then be turned on once all other belief has been stamped out, heralding the beginning of Armageddon proper. That this entire utterly bizarre interpretation gives the United Nations the sort of power which some of its members could only dream of, and that members of the UN keep attempting to get it recognise religious defamation as well as the other varieties makes no difference to the true believers: it's simply going to happen.
Waiting for the apocalypse and for the four horsemen to appear is much like the sort of belief required to think that the brown trousers-o-meter actually means something. In a long predicted move, the level of threat has been lowered from "severe" to "substantial", although why has not been explained. In fact, those making the decision have gone out of their way to say that there'll be no change in actual resources being used to ensure that the level doesn't have to rise, and that rather gives the impression that they're doing it simply because you can't in a democracy where there hasn't been an attack in four years forever keep up the impression that exploding Muslims are just around the corner or over the hill. Even politicians and terrorism "experts" eventually get weary of maintaining that the sky is perpetually dark, and that death, famine, war and conquest will soon be clippity-clopping along the High St.
You can't however not notice that it still is a step change from the last few years, where scaremongering was the order of the day and where there was talk of 30 plots and 2,000 individuals ready to heed their own call of duty. What's happened to those 30 plots and those 2,000 individuals? Few of those plots have been publicly broken up, as we're sure to have heard about them had they been, and while the courts have been relatively busy dealing with those charged with terrorism "offences", the numbers don't come close to the magic round number which was pushed around. It might simply be that like the intelligence which suggested that Pakistani students were ready to go with their own attack, it was wrong; it might be that the security services are telling lies, having enjoyed years of plenty after their own years of famine which were the mid-90s; or a cynical "expert" on the BBC suggests it might be to underline just how fabulously the troops in Afghanistan are doing in protecting us from terrorists here, yet not even the politicians themselves believe their own lie, and Gordon Brown has after all said himself that the crucible of terrorism is Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
Whatever the reason, it's one we should embrace, even if the "threat level", then not publicly declared, was similarly lowered before 7/7 occurred. Now that the threat isn't so severe, any further legislation on terrorism should be even more rigorously opposed, and the target should be set on repealing control orders, bringing the detention limit back to 14 days, lifting the Kafkaesque ban on some "suspects" not being informed of the evidence against them, and campaigning for investigations into our role in rendition and the potential "outsourcing" of torture. Fear, whether it's of the end of the world or of terrorism, is what makes numerous individual worlds go round.
As for the worst comment piece, we are spoilt for choice. There's Toby Young, who doesn't think much of Bruno, and who fails to realise that it's not just satire, but also spoof (Brass Eye's paedophile special comes to mind, which the lacking in humour also were disgusted with), the Sun's leader comment, which is at its scaremongering and Muslim-bashing best even when it's praising them:
Who could possibly have portrayed all Muslims as fanatics, I wonder?
Winner though yet again has to be Amanda Platell, who can't help but compare the stiff upper lip of two mourning women with that of our politicians, cowardly spineless bastards who are leaving our brave boys to die by penny-pinching, and then also declares that Iain Duncan Smith has proved that marriage is the be all and end all, and anyone that disagrees is simply biased. Oh, and then there's her "hilarious" gag that she didn't realise that Hazel Blears had left the country (the smallest bird, geddit?) before finally ending by ridiculing Harriet Harman. Also be interesting to know how much Platell gets for her dirges, considering she criticises Boris Johnson for getting £250,000 for his column.
All of which is remarkably sane when compared to his previous activities within the UK section of the 9/11 Truth Movement, where he wasn't just someone who believed that it was an inside job, but that there weren't any planes involved at all:
It's that time of year again when the press, politicians and fools like me with too much time on their hands try to make sense of the 195 page Crime in England and Wales document (PDF), which contains both the results of the British Crime Survey and the police's own records. For those unfamiliar, the two compliment each other: the BCS ensures that offences not reported to the police are still recognised, while the police's figures are especially authoritative when it comes to the most serious crimes, as well as providing a snapshot, in these New Labour days of targets, of what they're currently being ordered to focus on.
Both the BCS and police figures, predictably then, show a decline. Violent crime fell by 4% on the BCS, although it was not statistically significant, while it fell by a further 6% according to the police figures, accelerating the falls of last year. As for those all important knife crime figures, apart from a statistically insignificant rise of 1% on the BCS where knives were used in violent incidents, it fell again on all the main measures with one further exception, as it did last year, despite the media coverage which gave the impression that every teenager walking the streets was tooled up and waiting to shank the first person they came across. Murders involving knives declined from 270 to 252, although attempted murders went up slightly from 245 to 271. Robberies involving knives similarly declined from 17,058 to 16,701. Admissions to hospital as a result of assault by sharp object, recorded by the NHS, also fell by 8%. Likewise, gun crime also declined, according to the police figures, by 17%. Firearm injuries also fell by 46%.
Crime as a whole, depending on which you prefer, has either remained stable, according to the BCS, or declined by 5% according to the police's figures. The most interesting differences, and perhaps most revealing, are on burglaries, theft from the person and robbery. Most presumed as a result of the recession that such "property" crime was likely to rise, with those who were previously just making ends meet perhaps being forced into far more desperate measures. Instead, if you were to rely just on the police figures, the only very slight confirmation of that "known known" was that burglaries rose by a not statistically significant 1%, although across the country the figures vary massively. The BCS however, while confirming that burglaries remained stable over the past year, found that there was a 25% rise in theft from the person, compared to a 12% decline in the police's figures, with robbery also down by 5%. The figures on bicycle theft perhaps explain the difference: the BCS saw a 22% rise, while the police figure remained stable. It seems that most no longer expect the police to do anything about the theft of a bike, and that they'll also expect they'll never see it again regardless, hence they don't bother to report it. Other explanations are that some don't report the likes of pickpocketing because they're too embarrassed to do so, or by the time they realise they've been robbed think there isn't a point in doing so. Clearly however this is a cause for concern: it's these life affecting sort of thefts that most influence a person's view of crime, and if people don't believe the police can do anything about them their entire faith in the system is liable to break down.
As last year, the impression of the public when it comes to crime is hugely at odds with the statistics. 75% this year believed that crime had increased nationally, while only 36% thought that it had increased locally. Similarly, 51% thought that they lived in an area with lower than average crime, 39% thought they were about average while only 11% thought the crime in their area was higher than nationally. Even more striking were the figures when it came to knife and gun crime: 93% thought the former had gone up nationally, incredibly unsurprisingly, while 86% believed the latter had. In fact, as we have seen, both had fallen, but you can hardly blame anyone for thinking the opposite when there was so much attention on the number of youth murders in London, which now seem to have been a blip (although the schools only break up this week), however distressing and troubling a blip.
All of this just reinforces the fact that when tabloids, especially the likes of the Sun portray the country and especially the cities as places where the "yob" is in charge or "mob rule" pervades, all they do is make people ever more fearful for no good reason. The chances of becoming a victim of crime remain historically low, even though it increased this year from the lowest since the BCS began of 22% to 23%, down from 40% at its peak. While we shouldn't be complacent, it remains the case that unless we want even more radical policies, either liberalisation (i.e. drug decriminalisation) or an increase in draconian punishments, the crime rate now looks likely to have stabilised, and the scaremongering accordingly ought to be brought into touch.
What are we to make then of Neil Lewington, the latest in a string of neo-Nazis to be convicted of terrorism offences? There is one constant between Robert Cottage, Martyn Gilleard and Lewington, which is either reassuring or worrying, depending on your view: despite their world view, whether it be imminent race war, or the intention to try to start one, all were only interested in "small" explosive devices. Gilleard had film canisters with nails wrapped around them, intended to be used like grenades; Lewington went instead for tennis balls which he "converted" into shrapnel bombs. Neither was suddenly going to become the next David Copeland, although it appears that Copeland was someone that Lewington admired, along with the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh, the latter being the most "successful" of the three.
Lewington was arrested, somewhat fortuitously on his way to meet the latest woman he had contacted either over chat lines or the internet, having verbally abused a train conductor and then urinated on the platform at Lowestoft station. In his bag were two of his converted tennis balls, which were deemed "viable" explosive devices. Whether he was actually intending to attack somewhere with them is unclear; other female witnesses said that he had boasted to them of making such devices. He might just have been taking them along on his date to show them off, and his refusal to answer any questions has not shone any light on anything in the case at all.
While much about him is shrouded in mystery, what does seem clear is that he was the archetypal loner, a social failure, an alcoholic, who probably blamed everyone other than himself, especially the "non-British", while he fulminated in his room, still living with his parents at 42, although he apparently hadn't spoken to his father in 10 years. Unlike Islamic extremists, where the internet has been key, both in providing them with information for bomb-making and the kind of social encouragement and moral support which leads to them putting thoughts and prejudices into action, Lewington doesn't appear to have had a computer at home, although he may have had a laptop at some point, and must have used the internet elsewhere to meet some of the women who gave evidence against him. Indeed, he also doesn't seem to have been an actual member of any far-right or neo-Nazi organisations (there appears to be confusion over whether he belonged to the National Front), although he had some material from the Blood and Honour grouping, which mixes music with white nationalism. The other main find was the "Waffen SS UK Members Handbook", which doesn't seem to be recognised by anyone with any expertise on neo-Nazis, and may well have been of Lewington's own creation, even if the material within bore resemblance to some of the manuals distributed by the likes of Combat 18.
Most puzzlingly of all, it doesn't even seem that his defence bothered to put much of one up. They called no witnesses, produced no material, and Lewington himself didn't give evidence. David Etherington QC seems to have simply depended on the "lonely, pathetic fantasist" angle, which might well have washed prior to Copeland and prior to 9/11 and 7/7, but not now. It makes you wonder whether perhaps this was to protect others that Lewington was associated with, yet there was little to no evidence that he was connected with anyone. Again, this depends on perspective: are the loners the most dangerous, or is it those who have connections with formed organisations that provide the crucial confirmation that their views aren't lonely or strange?
Whatever the case, and however serious Lewington was, few are going to quibble with the custodial sentence he is undoubtedly facing. More worrying is that, as pointed out, this is only the latest in a series of such prosecutions. While mainland Europe in the past had problems mostly with left-wing terrorism, something that we avoided, having our fill provided by the IRA, we now seem to face twin threats from jihadists, and although they are diametric opposites in ideological terms but actually have much in common when it comes down to it, race war baiting neo-Nazis. In essence, they want the same thing but target the opposite communities: jihadists want Muslims in Western countries to face isolation, humiliation and suspicion to such an extent that they themselves become radicalised; neo-Nazis aim to get a response from those they target similar to that which triggered the race riots of 2001, fomenting the race war which they believe they will emerge triumphantly from. Both are deluded, both are dangerous, but we only focus on the former rather than the latter. That ought to change.
At the weekend the News of the World was unequivocal. According to their leader column, the phone hacking story was almost completely baseless. There were no inquiries, no charges and no evidence. It quoted Andy Hayman, the former Metropolitan head of counter-terrorism, to suggest that the police inquiry had looked into everything alleged, and that Goodman was the only journo who had accessed voicemail messages. In an act of extreme chutzpah, it even called on the Guardian to practice what it preached when it said that "decent journalism had never been more necessary".
All eyes were then on the Commons culture committee, where first Tim Toulmin of the Press Complaints Commission, then Nick Davies, the journalist who broke the story last week and Paul Johnson, Guardian News and Media's deputy editor were to give evidence. As it turned out, Graun editor Alan Rusbridger also turned up, perhaps to underline just how seriously the paper is taking both the story and the investigations triggered by it.
Toulmin, as evidenced by a log of his evidence, hardly did the Press Complaints Commission any favours. It seems remarkably relaxed by the allegations made by the Graun, as it has been from the beginning. The very fact that the PCC, despite claiming to investigate such allegations, cannot demand that those covered by it hand over documents or interview those who have since left the newspaper industry behind, as Andy Coulson had, undermines any attempt to get to the bottom of such indiscretions.
Davies then did the equivalent of setting the session alight. Far from not having any new evidence, as the News of the World had claimed, he distributed two documents (huge PDF, nearly 50 meg) which directly named two News of the World employees who clearly did know about the phone hacking carried out by Glenn Mulcaire. It also quickly became clear why Davies and the paper had not previously released this evidence: Davies said it was both NI's statement at the weekend which had prompted them to, which he said one source had told him was "designed to deceive", and that they had wanted to protect the NotW's lower journos from being treated in the same way as Clive Goodman was. The first is a transcript, heavily redacted by the Graun, by a NotW hack of the messages intercepted from Gordon Taylor's voicemail. The email, which is seen from Mulcaire's Yahoo account, opens with "[T]his is the transcript for Neville". Davies identified this Neville as none other than Neville Thurlbeck, the senior Screws journalist also responsible for the Max Mosley "Nazi" orgy which cost the paper so dearly last year. The second is a contract, between Mulcaire and the NotW, with Mulcaire known by the name Paul Williams, which promises the private investigator £7,000 if a story can be formed around information which he provides on Gordon Taylor. The contract is signed by Greg Miskiw, the former assistant editor of the paper.
This raises significant questions for both News International and the police. Quite clearly, while Mulcaire is the link between both examples of hacking into voicemails, other journalists were involved. Why then, despite the police being well aware that Gordon Taylor had been specifically targeted and that NotW hacks other than Goodman were complicit in that hacking was Goodman the only one who was actually charged? Were charges actually considered against Thurlbeck, for example, as well as the unnamed journo who put together the transcript of Taylor's messages? Why were charges also not considered against Greg Miskiw for promising Mulcaire payment should a story be developed as a result of his breaking the law?
We also learned today, in emails released between the Home Office and John Yates, that Yates' review of the evidence in the case was nothing of the sort. All he was asked do to by the Met commissioner was to "establish the facts and consider wider issues that arose in the reporting from the Guardian". In other words, all he did was look at the conclusions reached and repeat them. He even makes clear that this was not a review.
As for the NotW itself, this makes the following three sentences from its leader at the weekend even more laughable:
So let us be clear. Neither the police, nor our own internal investigations, has found any evidence to support allegations that News of the World journalists have accessed voicemails of any individuals.
Nor instructed private investigators or other third parties to access voicemails of any individual.
Nor found that there was any systemic corporate illegality by any executive to suppress evidence to the contrary.
Finally, this brings it all back to Andy Coulson. If the assistant editor knew, and was commissioning Mulcaire to conduct such trawling expeditions, then are we really meant to believe that Coulson himself didn't know? If he truly didn't, as he and the NotW have persistently claimed, then the reason seems to be because he didn't want to know. Yet as editor of the paper he was the person ultimately responsible for what those below him got up to. Either way, he was the person in charge when those below him blatantly and deliberately breached the law in attempts to get stories which were clearly not even slightly in the public interest. David Cameron should be once again continuing his chief spin doctor's position.
All nations have their ways of referring to their glorious, and also inglorious, dead. Those who we often find ourselves sided against prefer "martyrs", or shaheeds. We, on the other hand, like "heroes", and even our supposed neutral news organisations sometimes slip into describing them as such, as ITV did last night. It isn't of course fair to focus on the language used to describe the dead when there is little other way to eloquently express the loss when asked to do soon after being informed of the death of loved ones, but when two soldiers are described in almost exactly the same terms, it also shows the fatuity underlying the deaths. Relatives talked in one case of "pride", as if there was something especially noble in dying for a cause which only just less than half the country believes in.
As ever, the Sun remains the most shameless in its boilerplate depictions of those who have laid down their lives for something which it seems only politicians, newspapers and the usual belligerents can find the words to start to justify. "The magnificent eight" it starts one sentence with, which can only bring to mind the way that al-Muhajiroun described the 9/11 hijackers: the magnificent nineteen. Not that the two groups are in any way comparable, but it remains the case that such hyperbole only does disservice to those who were far more modest about what they did than those wishing to lionise them.
It's worth remembering that although we have been in Afghanistan since October 2001, it was only three and a half years ago that British forces were sent to Helmand, in what has turned out to be one of the most ill-briefed and disastrously commanded missions in recent British military history. Supposedly predicated on reconstruction, then defence secretary John Reid hoped that the 3,300 soldiers deployed would be able to return, job done, without "firing a single shot". Since then around 4 million bullets have been expended. From the very beginning there has been two connected failings: a lack of suitable equipment, and a lack of anywhere near the numbers required to be able to hold the ground that the Taliban is either forced to retreat from or which it gives up, only to return to later. Even now that there are approaching 10,000 troops, having finally withdrawn from Iraq, there are still almost certainly nowhere near enough to be able to convince those who they are supposed to be protecting, the Afghan civilians, that they can vote in the elections in a month's time free from threats.
Combined with this we have a political class that simply cannot even begin to be straight with the British public about why the war is being fought, let alone why it should be fought. The poll for the BBC and Guardian shows that the vast majority know the reasoning for why the war is being fought: 80% saying that it's part of the fight against al-Qaida, 78% helping the Afghan government against the Taliban. The problem with this is that these justifications are facile and only half-true. It begins with the false perception that the Taliban and al-Qaida are one and the same thing; they are not. In 2001 al-Qaida were simply the Taliban's guests, and ones which supposedly some of the main benefactors of the regime. Only when both were pushed out towards the Af-Pak border did the two begin to merge somewhat, forced to band together in order to survive. The emphasis on Iraq allowed both to build themselves back up, hence the situation we are now in. They can still though be separated again, and the more moderate elements of the Taliban can be dealt with.
As has become ever more clear over the last few years, the real problem is not Afghanistan, it is Pakistan. Pakistan's ISI created the Taliban and only very recently has that support seemed to have finally come to an end. As long as there is another safe haven, both for the Taliban and for al-Qaida over the border, wasting a single drop of blood is a waste of time. It took the Pakistani Taliban moving within 100 miles of Islamabad for the government to finally wholeheartedly launch a campaign which has either seen the group routed, or, more likely, as happened in Iraq and in Afghanistan, merely fallen back so that it can once again engage in guerilla warfare, the only way in which it has a chance of winning.
Yet it is the very weakness of Pakistan as a coherent state that also makes the war in Afghanistan unwinnable. Even though the chances of Pakistan either collapsing or being overrun by Islamic extremists have been vastly exaggerated, if Pakistan cannot have sorted itself out having had 50 years to do so, the possibility of turning a nation which has been at war with itself and invaders for over 30 years, where there are five different ethnic groups, six different languages spoken and whole sectors controlled by warlords and distinct fiefdoms is negligible.
Despite knowing every word of this, our politicians, regardless of party or affiliation, all profess in public that either progress is being made, the war is being won or it can be won. The very least they must do is set out something approaching a strategy which is achievable, whether it's building the Afghan army up until it isn't just renowned for those in its ranks marijuana intake, establishing something like government control over areas which are currently no-go zones, or simply declaring victory in Helmand, even if it isn't close to being won. There has to be honesty, but expecting that from either of the main parties is like waiting for Godot. We owe something to those who have lost their sons and daughters, but once that has been achieved, we simply have to get out.
Speaking of which, the worst tabloid article of the weekend is once again only too easy to award to the Sun, the paper which supports Our Boys by ensuring that ever increasing numbers of them provide target practice for an enemy which will never be defeated in the way in which the paper proposes.
To go from denying almost nothing to denying everything is quite a step change, and one which could yet turn out to be disastrous for News International. Wade's letter is especially laughable, and further evidence perhaps of why she has long been shielded from the public eye, something she won't be able to do once she becomes chief executive. Notably, Wade informs Wittingdale that Colin Myler, Andy Coulson's replacement as editor of the NotW and Tom Crone, the paper's longstanding legal counsel will appear before his committee, and not just to give evidence but "refute" the Guardian's allegations that voicemail hacking was endemic at the paper. The fact that Myler hadn't been working at the paper prior to his appointment as editor doesn't inspire confidence that he'll be an any better witness than Les Hinton was previously. As for Tom Crone, if his presence is meant to inspire dread in the committee, they should remember that it was he who advised Mazher Mahmood to pursue George Galloway for publishing his image on the net following his failure to entrap him, while his performance at the Max Mosley trial as the paper's counsel helped the paper to its defeat. Myler himself also gave evidence that hardly helped the paper's case.
Wade goes on to claim that the Guardian has "substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public". That is a very serious allegation to make, and one which Wade provides no evidence to back up. It's also rather hilarious, making you wonder whether News International is so peeved because that's their job. Even those of us who are severe critics of tabloid journalism as a whole, and especially Wade's work, would baulk at alleging that she has deliberately misled readers on stories such as that involving Alfie Patten. The hypocrisy and irony also keeps on coming, as Wade complains that the Guardian is "repeating allegations by such sources as unnamed Met officers". If it wasn't for unnamed police sources, the Sun wouldn't have published such brilliant exclusives as the claim that Rochelle Holness was dismembered while alive, which is unbelievably still uncorrected on their website, or that Janet Hossain was found dead wearing S&M gear, both of which were untrue and hurtful beyond belief to the relatives who were trying to come to terms with their loss.
Next, she claims that both the Guardian and television coverage of Nick Davies' initial report has "deliberately or recklessly" combined references to the Peter Taylor and Prince William voicemail hacking with the revelations in the Information Commissioner's two reports, and that there is no connection between the two. This is inaccurate on both points: most of the references made to the ICO reports have been clear, while even if there is no direct connection between the two separate cases, the work of Steve Whittamore is an example of just what the tabloids and some broadsheets have been up to, and undermines the claims made by the NotW that Clive Goodman was just one bad apple, when at least 19 separate NotW hacks made use of Whittamore.
The News International statement is rather more robust, although still full of holes and in places deliberately pulls its punches. It also seems as if the NotW itself was kept well abreast of the police investigation, and robustly claims that it's the police that confirm that the Guardian's allegations are inaccurate. Even tonight though it has began to fall apart, following further responses from the Graun. The statement claims:
Apart from matters raised in the Mulcaire and Goodman proceedings, the only other evidence connecting News of the World reporters to information gained as a result of accessing a person's voicemail emerged in April 2008, during the course of the Gordon Taylor litigation. Neither this information nor any story arising from it was ever published. Once senior executives became aware of this, immediate steps were taken to resolve Mr Taylor's complaint.
From our own investigation, but more importantly that of the police, we can state with confidence that, apart from the matters referred to above, there is not and never has been evidence to support allegations that:
News of the World journalists have accessed the voicemails of any individual.
News of the World or its journalists have instructed private investigators or other third parties to access the voicemails of any individuals.
There was systemic corporate illegality by News International to suppress evidence.
It goes without saying that had the police uncovered such evidence, charges would have been brought against other News of the World personnel. Not only have there been no such charges, but the police have not considered it necessary to arrest or question any other member of News of the World staff.
Considering then the NotW admits that Peter Taylor's voicemail was illegally accessed, why weren't the journalists involved in the tapping of Peter Taylor's phone considered for prosecution as Mulcaire was, when Goodman had no involvement in it? Is it because he informed them that he intended to take his own legal action and so they left it at that or otherwise? The situation remains that News International's relationship with the police is incredibly cosy. The fact also that it took far longer for NI to look through the evidence before making their statement than it did for Yates of the Yard furthers the suspicion that the police have no intention of endangering that relationship unless forced to.
Based on the above, we can state categorically in relation to the following allegations which have been made primarily by the Guardian and widely reported as fact by Sky News, BBC, ITN and others this week:
It is untrue that officers found evidence of News Group staff, either themselves or using private investigators, hacking into "thousands" of mobile phones.
It is untrue that apart from Goodman, officers found evidence that other members of News Group staff hacked into mobile phones or accessed individuals' voicemails.
It is untrue that there is evidence that News Group reporters, or indeed anyone, hacked into the telephone voicemails of John Prescott.
It is untrue that “Murdoch journalists” used private investigators to illegally hack into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including: tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills.
It is untrue that News Group reporters have hacked into telephone voicemail services of various footballers, politicians and celebrities named in reports this week.
It is untrue that News of the World executives knowingly sanctioned payment for illegal phone intercepts.
This is instructive as much by how it words each denial as the denial is itself. It is perhaps untrue that "thousands" of phones were hacked into; maybe it was only hundreds and the Guardian's source exaggerated slightly. It might be that there were attempts to hack into thousands of phones, rather than that thousands were successfully compromised. It also might be untrue that journalists personally hacked into mobile phones; after all, they had Mulcaire and doubtless others paid handsomely to do that for them. What exactly was Mulcaire doing other than blagging and hacking which made him worth £2,000 a week, with extra for specific work? No hack other than star columnists and the executive staff themselves would earn such massive remuneration. Similarly, if John Prescott's voicemail wasn't hacked into, or wasn't even attempted to be hacked into, how did the Guardian know specifically which month it was said to have been done, unless their source was expert at covering his tracks? The next denial is the most remarkable of all. No one claimed that the NotW hacked into voicemail messages in order to get access to personal data; they had other private detectives who blagged their way in to do that.
All of this is potentially setting NI up for a massive fall. They must be pretty damn certain that the Met's investigation doesn't contradict their denials, and that the investigation is not going to enter the public domain, because if it does, one imagines that the Guardian will do a rerun of their Jonathan Aitken front page, except with the headline changed from "He lied and lied and lied" to "They lied and lied and lied". Instead, they must be incredibly confident that all that's going to come of this is some further legal claims by those named, in which they will only pay out again in return for silence and confidentiality.
The statement then rehashes Wade's comments about the ICO investigations:
The report concerned the activities of a private investigator who, between April 2001 and March 2003, supplied information to 32 newspapers and magazines including, incidentally, the Guardian's sister newspaper, The Observer, which according to the Information Commissioner was ninth worst "offender" out of the 32. The information supplied was deemed to be in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.
The Guardian though made no attempt to hide the fact that the Observer had featured on Richard Thomas's list, unlike the Sun, which unsurprisingly didn't so much as mention the IC's revelations. The Times meanwhile printed part of the list, while making no mention of the fact that its parent company also owned the Sunday Times and News of the World, while snipping the list so that the Sun didn't feature on it.
Perhaps the most revealing part of the statement is left until near the end:
Since February 2007, News International has continued to work with its journalists and its industry partners to ensure that its journalists fully comply with both the relevant legislation and the rigorous requirements of the PCC’s Code of Conduct.
Since Feburary 2007. In other words, NI is making no attempt to defend Andy Coulson, who isn't so much as mentioned. If there was funny business going on, it was his fault and no one else's, and our executives are blameless. Speaking of which:
Finally, we would like to make it clear that despite the Guardian suggesting otherwise, the departure of Managing Editor Stuart Kuttner has no connection whatsoever with the events referred to above. The Guardian were informed of this position from the outset and chose to mislead the British public.
In the end, it might come down to who you're more likely to believe. Is it News International and the News of the World, which we now know repeatedly did what it previously denied it, and attempted through cosy confidentiality to deny the public and other potential victims from knowing about its payouts, or is it the Guardian, whose original report has at least partially now been fully vindicated by NI themselves? I know what my choice is.
In a way, it's surprising that the "phone hacking" story has only gone nuclear now. The only real new information Nick Davies provided yesterday was that the News of the World had to pay out to three different people after their messages were intercepted, about which News International must be absolutely seething; that potentially "thousands" of celebrities and politicians had their voicemail illegally accessed; and that, perhaps in good faith, News International executives misled a parliamentary select committee, not to mention also the Press Complaints Commission and the public.
While most are only following this story back to when Clive Goodman was found, with the help of the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, to have intercepted the messages of Prince William, as well as other flunkies in the royal household, it in fact goes further back to the arrest of Stephen Whittamore, a private detective who was used by almost every national tabloid, as well as a few broadsheets, to gain information not just from cracking into mobile phones but also from national databases which he had more than a knack of blagging into. Whittamore, for reasons known only to himself, kept a complete database of every request from every newspaper and from every journalist, a database which was then seized by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, and released back in December 2006, albeit sans the details concerning the journalists themselves. The News of the World wasn't even top of the list, although there were still 19 journalists making 182 separate transactions. Top was the Daily Mail, clearly Whittamore's top clients, with a staggering 58 separate hacks or employees making a total of 952 requests for information. The ICO's reports, What Price Privacy? and What Price Privacy Now? (both PDFs) went into further details on the extent of blagging.
The most comprehensive account of Whittamore's arrest and subsequent trial was in... Flat Earth News by none other than Nick Davies. Davies dedicates an entire chapter in the book to what became known in various newspaper offices as "the dark arts". Some, it must be stated, have used "the dark arts" quite legitimately in stories which were clearly in the public interest, especially during the 90s. Equally clearly however it soon got completely out of control, and the laziest of journalists turned to these "private investigators" as their first port of call, even just to gain home addresses which were otherwise freely available. The key difference between Whittamore and Goodman and Mulcaire is that they were prosecuted under different legislation. Whittamore was tried under the Data Protection Act, having breached and blagged his way into numerous national databases, including the police's, which was his undoing, while Goodman and Mulcaire, having only been identified as gaining access to mobile phone voicemail boxes, were tried under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The then Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, had wanted the law tightened so that journalists caught using private detectives to access national databases would face a potential jail sentence; this was fought off through lobbying by Associated Newspapers, News International and the Telegraph group, which remarkably today said nothing about the Guardian's new revelations, although tomorrow it does have a follow up.
It is then ridiculous that this is the Graun out to get Andy Coulson in some sort of pact with Labour, as some Torybloggers have claimed, especially considering just how critical the paper has been recently of Gordon Brown. Rather, this is simply good old-fashioned journalism by Nick Davies, following his investigation up to the bitter end, and having found an uncannily good source that told him about the payouts to Gordon Taylor and others. It's also remarkable that News International has not denied a single thing about the Guardian story, instead simply stating that they are bound by the confidentiality of the settling of the cases.
What does stink however, and is even more remarkable has been the Metropolitan police's amazingly fast review of the evidence, which established in double quick time that there was no need for a reinvestigation, and that John Prescott's phone, as alleged by the Graun, had not been one of those hacked into. Before passing judgement and looking into potential conspiracy theories, we should note that we're still uncertain just how far the Met's investigation into the hacking and blagging which was going on in Wapping went. Nick Davies on Newsnight made his own thinking clear on John Yates' statement, suggesting that they had narrowed it down specifically to that which Clive Goodman was involved in, or at least had so that they wouldn't have to look again. Instead, as the papers revealed during Gordon Taylor's civil action suggested, the police appear to have conducted a thorough investigation into what had been going on as a whole, and this uncovered the at least hundreds of examples, if not thousands as the Guardian has said, of phones being hacked into.
To treat Andy Coulson with some fairness which he perhaps doesn't deserve, it's unfortunate that this entire mess has been raked over now. It was utterly laughable from the very beginning that he didn't know what was going on right under his nose; the simple fact that Mulcaire was being paid such vast sums of money for his work, over £100,000 a year, far in advance of what the hacks themselves would have been earning, and this in an organisation in which the ultimate authority is notoriously parsimonious about how his money is spent, makes a nonsense of the idea that he didn't know what he was doing. What should have happened back in January 2007 was a complete audit of the press by its regulatory body, a thorough investigation in which it demanded to know just how widespread such practices were, and from which specific guidelines, if not legislation, would be drawn up to stop the casual breaking of the law in search of such petty and not in the public interest information. Instead it almost seems as if there was an agreement between the PCC and the News International that as long as Andy Coulson also went, it would say nothing and everything could return to normal, as Roy Greenslade insinuates might well have happened. This was just a one-off, even if the Steve Whittamore raid proved comprehensively that it wasn't.
Indeed, if we were being fair this wouldn't be about the News of the World, Murdoch or Coulson at all. This would about a press that is getting ever more desperate as its condition weakens. Perhaps the excesses which it once resorted to, especially during the 80s, are not quite being plumbed, although the Alfie Patten case, the Sunday Express's Dunblane story and now this all certainly come close. The one thing that is now needed is confirmation that these practices, except in cases of the utmost public interest, have ceased. The PCC has shown itself to be woefully inadequate to confirm just that. Self-regulation, at least in its current toothless form, has failed. If Coulson wants to save his job, he perhaps ought to be telling his boss that those hated privacy laws might now be needed after all.
Since the allegations first emerged that this country had been complicit in the rendition and torture of those picked up in the so-called war on terror, we've almost never had a complete picture of what happened when, why and how. The closest we've came to was the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, associates of Abu Qatada who were visited prior to leaving the country to travel to Gambia by MI5, and where they were picked up by the CIA and taken to Guantanamo Bay. It later transpired that Bisher al-Rawi had in fact been providing the police and intelligence services with information on Qatada; once Qatada himself was in custody, it seems al-Rawi was disposed of.
Thanks to David Davis, we now have the fullest account of just how complicit both the police and the security services have been in such practices, almost outsourcing torture in the case of Rangzieb Ahmed. Using parliamentary privilege to get round reporting restrictions and the secrecy which the government has easily imposed on the trials of the men alleging that they were tortured, he detailed how despite knowing that Ahmed intended to travel first to Dubai and then onto Pakistan, they let him leave the country. This was a man who they knew was almost certainly a terrorist, and whom they had evidence on which later convicted him as one, yet they let him go to what has since been called the "crucible of world terrorism". There was a method to their madness though: they suggested once he had arrived that Pakistan's inter-services intelligence arrest him. That was their exact message: they "suggested" that the ISI might be interested in him.
The ISI was happy to oblige. Once they had arrested Ahmed, both Greater Manchester Police and MI5 supplied the ISI with questions to which the ISI was more than willing to provide answers. Ahmed's torture, compared to perhaps that which Binyam Mohamed underwent, was mild by comparison. He had just the three fingernails removed, which an independent pathologist confirmed were removed whilst he was in the custody of the ISI, was beaten with wooden staves the size of cricket stumps, and whipped with a 3ft length of tyre rubber. He was, like the others who allege they were tortured, visited by officers from both MI5 and MI6, except this time, after telling them he was being tortured, they didn't return. The policy it seems, after the first allegations were made that intelligence officers had visited those who had been tortured, was that officers would not return if they were explicitly told by the person they were questioning that they were being tortured.
After 13 months in Pakistani custody, Ahmed was deported back to the UK and was convicted last December of being a member of al-Qaida and of "directing terrorism". The attempts by his legal team to have the case thrown out on the basis of the complicity of the police and the intelligence services in his torture failed, having been held in secret. His conviction does not diminish the fact that we felt the need for this man to be tortured, despite the fact he could have been arrested before he left the country, where it was quite possible he could have disappeared. His conviction also appears to have purely been down to the information acquired whilst he was in this country; his torture it seems added absolutely nothing. It seems instead to have been almost vindictive, plotted by MI5 and the police, presumably safe in the knowledge that the government wouldn't allow what they were doing to leak out. Unfortunately for them, it has.
David Davis in his statement to the Commons pointed out that the United States has somewhat attempted to wipe the slate clean when it came to their complicity and use of torture against various "terrorist suspects", even if no one responsible for putting the policy into action has been brought to justice. Instead here we still have ministers and ex-ministers completely denying that they would ever condone torture, when they quite clearly must have known what was going on, and if they didn't, they should never have been in the job in the first place and it would suggest that we have intelligence services that are completely unaccountable even to those ostensibly in charge of them. Quite obviously, there needs to be, as Davis called for, a full judicial inquiry into all the alleged cases of rendition and torture that have come to light down the years. It is also equally clear that like the Bush administration, the current government will never admit willingly that it has colluded and indulged in such medieval practices. That might just be the best possible reason that the current lot, Her Majesty's Willing Torturers, if you will, should be kicked out at the first possible opportunity.
We're getting into one of those periods again when the Sun decides it's time to go after Labour's record on the criminal justice system. This is one of those dividing lines where the "hawks" think that Labour hasn't been harsh enough, i.e. the Sun, other tabloids and the Tories, although I doubt they'll be much difference should they get into power, and the "doves", i.e. the likes of bleeding hearts like me, who think that Labour has legislated far too much and imprisoned far too many even while crime, according to the official statistics (and replicated across the Western world) has fallen to levels last seen in the early 80s.
Last week we had the claim that Britain was the most violent European country, while also claiming that also included the United States and South Africa, where there are other 20,000 murders a year. This was based upon highly incomparable figures released by the European Commission, which were then compiled by the Conservatives, who sent them on to sympathetic newspapers. The actual data on which these were based either hasn't been released publicly, or hasn't been by any of the organisations involved in compiling it - there's nothing on the EC site, nothing on the Eurostat site, and nothing on the Tories' site, making it impossible to even begin to verify the claims.
Today the Sun is stunned, stunned to learn that "life" doesn't mean life. Alongside the obligatory report on Michael Jackson's funeral, the front page shrieked about how "Lifers do just 9 years". Those who don't bother to read the story, or the further explanation provided in the paper might be surprised to learn that this doesn't include those convicted of murder, as they might imagine. They instead do an average of 16 years. Rather, those sentenced to life imprisonment but convicted of manslaughter, violent rape or armed robbery and released from prison in 2007 served an average of 9 years, based upon the 146 who were allowed out. This is hardly surprising, as those sentenced to life are always given a minimum term which they must serve before they can apply for parole. What the Sun doesn't mention, and which is often glossed over in the tabloids when reporting such "shock, horror" figures, is that those sentenced to life imprisonment remain on licence for the rest of their lives - if they commit another crime after being released they are immediately recalled to prison. This of course doesn't always happen - as the other figures released yesterday, which amazingly revealed that up to 1,000 people meant to have been recalled instead made a run for it, suggested. The vast, vast majority are though, and if the Sun has a problem with the time served by "lifers", it ought to take it up with the judges who originally set the term, not the prison and probation system which then have to work with those limits. It also notes that 6% of mandatory lifers were then convicted of another offence after being released, which seems remarkably low considering that up to 67% of those sent to prison are recidivists, having previously been behind bars.
All of this overlooks that not only has the prison population vastly increased under Labour, but that sentences have been getting longer, as a past Prison Reform Trust report found. A report released on Monday by the Howard League for Penal Reform reached much the same conclusions and called for a reduction in the prison population, for some prisons to be closed and for local authorities to take control of the prison system, as well as for a major expansion in community sentencing as opposed to short, worthless, if not downright damaging sentences which are currently keeping the prisons full and which have expanded massively under Labour.
This is naturally diametrically opposed by the likes of the Sun. That isn't "tough"; that's "soft", just like Labour have been, and as today's editorial states:
This doesn't of course take into consideration that this was the first ever complete audit of those meant to have been taken back into custody and dates back to 1984 - 13 years of which Labour can hardly be blamed for, although that hasn't stopped either the Sun or the Tories. The real blame here lies with the police for not chasing warrants or being given the resources to do so, not with the criminal justice system itself.
No wonder, when convicted criminals are let off with non-custodial sentences or let loose on licence after serving half their time.
"Let off" - doesn't even give a chance to either fines or community sentences. The reason why so many are now serving half their sentence, or even just a third is down to the continual demands for harsher sentencing and more prison places; continual growth in places simply isn't possible without planning restrictions being rode over and greatly annoying those in the vicinity of the new establishment. This was the case when the Sun called for Connaught Barracks to be turned into a prison - the local community predictably went up in arms and saw off any chance of it happening.
The average "life" term is a derisory NINE years! Some thugs might consider that a price worth paying.
Well, no, it isn't, as its own story makes clear. The idea that anyone will consider the potential prison sentence they will receive before carrying out a crime which will attract a life sentence is to give credit to them which they almost certainly don't deserve. 9 years in prison is hardly a walk in the park, regardless of how often the Sun claims our jails are "cushy".
Now the Justice Department admit hundreds of prisoners who have broken their licence have done a runner.
They include 19 murders, two convicted of manslaughter and 26 sex offenders including 12 rapists.
The government claim this is because of their crackdown on licence breaches.
But most people will believe a different explanation... that releasing violent offenders early puts us all at risk.
Except as noted some these date back to the 80s, and they don't include just those released early, but those released on parole at the end of their term who have then re-offended. The Sun, by such repeated attacks, helps ensure that there can be no change in the policies on law and order between the two main parties. We urgently need to put a stop to the war on crime in its current form, just as we do all the other so-called wars.
Presumably then the editor should be handing in his notice? Despite the tough words, the PCC has no powers whatsoever to enforce anything other than the publishing of its ruling. The Scottish Sunday Express editor, Derek Lambie, remains in his job this evening, under the main Sunday editor, Martin Townsend. The News of the World editor Andy Coulson fell on his sword after it transpired that he had presided over the "hacking" into the phone of Prince William, even though he denied having any knowledge of how Clive Goodman (who by coincidence now works for Express sister paper the Star) had obtained the story. Considering that Lambie directly presided over Murray's story, and placed it on the front page, he ought now to be also looking for new employment.
Interesting how out of the hundreds of quangos which David Cameron could have chosen to pick on, he decided that Ofcom was the main one that just has to be cut down to size. True enough, Ofcom is one of the most prominent and one of the most expensive, yet Peter Wilby draws our attention, while dealing with the question of the next Sun editorship, to something currently causing much anger in Wapping:
If we ever stop believing in the justice of that fight, we surrender all that we won in centuries creating the foundations of Western civilisation.
But are we making the fight harder?
Slack and lazy immigration and visa controls could be allowing into Britain the very people intent on arranging the deaths of our troops.
If we don't control our borders properly, we place our fighting men and women in even greater danger.
Afghanistan is the front line. But the war is also fought here by terrorists who sneak into Britain. We must redouble efforts to secure our borders.
Err, except every single attack or attempted attack by Islamic extremists in this country has been carried out either by British citizens or by those who were here perfectly legally, and there is no suggestion whatsoever that this is about to change. Still, let's kill two birds with one scaremongering stone: both illegal immigration and terrorism.
Let us also remember today ALL the lives laid down by troops protecting us from terrorism.
Colonel Thorneloe and Trooper Hammond were separated by rank but united by courage.
On such brave and selfless soldiers lies the responsibility of protecting Britain and our Allies from those who would blow us to pieces.
See, there I was thinking that the troops were there in Afghanistan working on reconstruction and helping the Afghan people, not on protecting "us" from terrorism. This is significant for the fact that their presence increases the threat to us, rather than decreases it. You really have to hand it to the Sun for attempting to tell us that black is in fact white and that white is actually black.
It's worth remembering that none of the main three parties oppose the utter lunacy which is our current policy in Afghanistan, where we serve as target practice for an enemy that is not going to be defeated unless we swamp the entire country with troops, which is not going to go away not matter how many years we spend there propping up a regime which we actively dislike, and where the only thing that makes this even approaching a "good" war is that most civilians seem to prefer the occasional 500lb bomb being dropped in their vicinity over the wearying tyranny which the Taliban and various other warlords impose. No amount of counter-insurgency theories or theorists are going to make the difference when you face an enemy which has been fighting for nigh on 30 years, and is not going to suddenly stop no matter how many hearts and minds you win or how many of them you kill. The sooner our politicians realise that this war is even more unwinnable than the Iraq one was, where the insurgents themselves eventually turned on the most brutal amongst them, the sooner the body bags of all our soldiers will stop being brought back.
Toothless, useless, the Press Complaints Commission strikes again.
To get an idea of just how useless the Press Complaints Commission is, you only have to look at its non-investigation into the Alfie Patten disaster. You would have thought that they might just have something to say about how the Sun, the People and the Sunday Mail had almost certainly paid his family for personal interviews which led to some of the most invasive and potentially damaging intrusion into the private lives of children for some years, only for it to subsequently turn out that, oops, Alfie wasn't the father after all.
Today the Commission announced that it is to do, well, nothing. To be fair, that isn't quite what it's done. Because of the restrictions imposed by the High Court, which prevent the families of both Patten and Chantelle Steadman from being approached, the PCC supposedly has been unable to determine exactly what was paid, what was expected in return for that payment, how the families intended to use the money, how concerned the newspapers were about the children's welfare and the circumstances surrounding the original mistaken identification of Alfie as the father. It has instead elaborated on its guidelines on payments to parents for material about their children, which while welcome, is not for a moment going to stop this happening again.
While it's unfortunate that the families themselves cannot tell their side of the story, this is letting the opposite side completely off the hook. Is the PCC a regulator or is it not? A regulator with any teeth would have demanded that the newspapers themselves reveal what was promised, and just how, if the reports of the Sun setting up a trust fund for the child are accurate, it was intending to deliver the payment. It isn't clear that this information was sought at all; instead, it seems the PCC was relying purely on the families to inform them of what deals were made.
What the papers did provide the PCC with, predictably, was their arguments on how it certainly was in the public interest for them to claim that a 13-year-old who looked more like 8 had fathered a child:
The newspapers argued that the articles involved the important issue of the prevalence, and impact, of teenage pregnancy within British society. By identifying the principals involved and presenting them in a particular way, the story dramatised and personalised these issues in a way that stimulated a wide-ranging public debate, involving contributions from senior politicians (which included the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition). The newspapers said that they were fulfilling an important duty in publicising to a large audience a social problem that is perceived to be widespread. Their position was that the case was, on the evidence available at the time of publication, an exceptional example of the problem.
This is all true. This however doesn't take into account the fact that it was not in either Patten or Steadman's best interests for the entire world to know intimate details about their lives, with their parents making the decision for them based presumably on the fact that there was money offered in exchanged. There was only a story because of how Patten looked; 13-year-olds being fathers is rare, but not that rare. 15-year-olds being fathers and mothers however, is not a story at all, as in this case it subsequently turned out to be. Some might think it should be a story, and that it's a sad reflection on society at large when it isn't, on which they might have something approaching a point, but that isn't the issue here. Most damningly, the newspapers don't seem to have taken any real interest in how their stories would affect the children, and in the case of the People, doesn't seem to have decided that how Patten had to be begged, almost forced to come and speak to them might have suggested that they shouldn't be running such reports.
The Sun especially must be laughing at the weakness of the PCC. To say they profited from the story would be an understatement: almost purely down to the Patten report, which went around the world at the social horror of a baby himself becoming a father, they sky-rocketed to the top of the ABCe tables, becoming the most popular UK newspaper website for Feburary, with over 27 million unique visitors. However much they promised to pay the Patten family, they must have surely more than made their money back. For a newspaper editor who has dedicated herself to campaigning for child protection, either for Sarah's law or for "justice" for Baby P, Rebekah Wade seems to have completely lost her moral compass over Patten, and the only organisation which could have punished her has spurned its opportunity.
What possible purpose is served by the refusal togrant parole to Ronnie Biggs? The only conclusion that can be reached is that this is pure political grandstanding by Jack Straw, designed to win favour with the more punitive tabloids. It's also an insight into the similarly ridiculous way in which the prison system works. While Biggs was clearly guilty of his part in the Great Train Robbery, those convicted of murder who reject their guilt cannot be considered for parole and so are destined to spend their entire life behind bars until they do so, as Sean Hodgson almost did, until finally proved innocent by newly discovered forensic evidence.
As Biggs has apparently refused to show repentance for his crime and has not taken part in the courses which those looking to be released usually have to pass before their parole is granted, he looks set to languish in a cell until he dies, which might not be that far in the future. According to his family, Biggs can no longer speak, cannot walk and at the weekend broke his hip after a fall. Keeping a man in prison in such circumstances is the heighth of stupidity, as not only can he not receive the help that he obviously needs, but he also doubtless takes up extra resources which could be better used elsewhere. The prison system is overcrowded enough as it is, without also having invalids who now only seem to be inside because of the perniciousness of a government minister. It would be different if Biggs' crime was similar in proportion to that of say, Ian Brady's, still refusing after all these years to reveal where his final victim was buried, but despite the huge amount seized in the robbery, no one suffered to anywhere near the extent to which it would be appropriate to inflict a similar amount of suffering on those guilty. Jack Straw seems to be just playing to the gallery yet again.