25 November, 2006


The Sunday Times highlights safety concerns about the RAF's ageing fleet of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft. In September, 14 service personnel were killed when a Nimrod crashed after a fuel pipe ruptured during mid-air refuelling. Earlier this month, the ST reports, a similar accident nearly caused another tragedy and the aircrews are not happy:

It is understood RAF crews were worried about the decision to allow the Nimrods to resume flying three days after the Afghan crash. A number of servicemen resigned after the crash and before the latest incident.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed last week that as a result of the second incident all mid-air refuelling has been suspended, severely curtailing operations by Nimrods, which overfly Iraq and Afghanistan from an RAF base in Oman.
icWales has been talking to Jimmy Jones, a former RAF flight trials engineer, who was the first to test the aircraft when it originally came into service. Mr Jones points out that the Nimrod was never operationally tested in a Middle East environment and neither was it designed for in-flight refuelling. Worrying reading, not made any less so by the article's bland assurances from the Ministry of Defence.

UAV: the jet fighter of the future?

The Times relates how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) played a key role in Operation Mountain Fury, the Taliban clearance programme in eastern Afghanistan.

American B1 bombers flew in at night to pound the mountain caves and, when the Taleban fled, the British Harriers struck.

A UAV flew silently overhead monitoring the mountainside with its infra-red sensors. These images were relayed to the Harrier pilots, who used the information to target the fleeing Taleban soldiers.

Now the Ministry of Defence is trying to tell us that UAVs are the future and will eventually replace piloted aircraft.
...the Ministry of Defence believes that the jet fighters of the future will all be unmanned.

It does not envisage buying any more manned fighters after the Joint Strike Fighter, or F35, reaches the end of its lifespan in about 30 years.
Obvious nonsense from the MoD in super cost-saving mode. As the Times points out, at the end of the article, the RAF does not agree.
There is no question that in 30 years the RAF will be relying more on unmanned platforms to drop bombs and fire guided missiles. However, this does not signal the demise of the human factor in the air force business. RAF chiefs and fighter pilots agree that the eyes and brain of a highly trained professional man or woman in the cockpit will still be required in plans for the future.

Loans, donations and expenses.

A new twist in the cash for honours saga: Assistant Commissioner John Yates and his team have taken an interest in the possible conversion of the loans into donations, in order to circumvent election laws. As far as I know, commercial loans can be kept confidential but donations have to be declared. The question which will keep the lawyers rich is: when is a money handed over a loan and when is it a donation? According to the Daily Telegraph,

A source close to the investigation said that the commercial issue was now the critical factor in whether the Crown Prosecution Service would recommend criminal proceedings.

"If these loans were not commercial it is a serious breach of the law," claimed the source. "Loans have to have repayment dates and have genuine interest rates. That is what the police are now studying."
Yates of the Yard is to ask the Electoral Commission to examine the problem. Legal anoraks may want to study the relevant legislation: the 2000 Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

Meanwhile,the Daily Mail is going big with the story that the perennially cash-strapped Labour Party is forcing Labour local councillors
to hand over hundreds of pounds each from their publicly-funded allowances to Labour slush funds for electioneering and party propaganda.

The scam - also under investigation by sleaze watchdogs – has been branded a "national disgrace", an "outrageous abuse of taxpayers' money" and an "affront to democracy".

News that their money is being used to line Labour's pockets will enrage council tax payers who have seen their bills soar as town halls have been starved of cash.

Council tax has more than doubled since Labour came to power.
The Mail has more on the financial details and, in yet another article, reveals that all the main parties have their snouts in the same trough.

Canterbury Tales.

In the Daily Telegraph, Damian Thompson speculates that Rowan Williams might not be remaining as Archbishop of Canterbury for very long. Dr Williams may step down after the formal schism expected in 2008, over homosexual priests, and be replaced by John Sentamu, the current Archbishop of York.

Sounds like a load of old Trollope to me.

David Southall 7

David Southall has begun giving evidence to the General Medical Council's fitness for practice panel. icWales and the BBC have reports.

It must be difficult for Southall to discuss the events of so long ago whilst suffering from memory loss. He cannot remember exactly how many SC (special case) files he created , nor receiving a letter requesting disclosure of the files, neither could he think of any risk created by taking a child's file with him when moved hospitals. I think the Americans call this sort of memory problem "taking the fifth".

However, Southall could remember that he created the special files to enable him to find out quickly "what as going on with the child." Nobody seems to have asked him why the hospital's normal filing system was not fit for that purpose. Moreover, nobody seems to have asked him if the files were kept secret because contained details of his controversial ghastly experiments.

Southall has already been found not guilty of one charge of serious professional misconduct in respect of respecting the privacy and dignity of a woman known as Mrs D, following “insufficient evidence." I think we can expect more of the same as the medical establishment closes ranks and looks after its own.

The hearing continues on Monday.

24 November, 2006

Beyond the veil:

Aishah Azmi, the Dewsbury teaching assistant suspended for wearing a veil in the classroom and subsequently given £1,000 for hurt feelings, has been sacked. From the Daily Telegraph:

When she was interviewed for the job by Geoff Smith, the headmaster, and again at a training day with male staff present she left her face uncovered. She was suspended from the 20 hour a week post in February for failing to obey the headmaster’s instruction to remove the veil when communicating with children and stay in contact with the school or submit sick notes.
Dos anybody spot the hypocrisy?

The Leeds Evening Post details the small fortune she is costing the council tax-payers of Kirklees:
Mrs Azmi was suspended on full pay of between £10,000 and £13,000 in February this year.
Her case was funded by Kirklees taxpayers to the tune of around £10,000, after she won backing from the Kirklees Law Centre.
The case is thought to have cost Kirklees Council's legal team around £20,000 to date and Ms Azmi has indicated in the past that she would challenge any ruling resulting in her being dismissed.
No doubt there will be an appeal, a court case and a visit to the European Court.

British fatality in Iraq (updated).

Another British soldier has lost his life in Iraq, the 126th. Sergeant Johnathan Hollingsworth is reported to have been a member of the Parachute Regiment undertaking a planned search and detain operation in Basra City earlier today. The Ministry of Defence:

The soldier sustained gunshot wounds during the operation and was evacuated to a nearby military hospital. Despite the best possible medical care, the soldier later died from his injuries.

The soldier was a member of the Parachute Regiment, on secondment to Headquarters Multinational Division South East, Iraq.
Update 25.11.06

The Times has a more detailed account of the action. The Daily Express quotes a Sun story (not on line) that the dead soldier was a member of the SAS. Obituaries will follow in a separate thread.

Update2: 15.12.06
Apologies for the late update, but it does seem that Sgt Hollingsworth was indeed a member of the SAS so, in line with normal MoD policy, no detailed obituary will be issued.


Olympic Games: going for plutonium?

The London Evening Standard says it has obtained documents showing that part of the proposed Olympic site is possibly contaminated by "high risk" material, including radioactive waste and other materials left over from the days when area was the used for oil storage,tar manufacture and various other chemical industries.

Once the remediation finally begins, it will be the biggest such job in Europe, involving two million tonnes of soil on a site that measures 3.24 million square feet.

The greenest techniques were promised, including soilwashing on site, introducing micro-organisms that "eat" contaminants and "cooking" contaminated soil at high temperatures to sterilise it.

However, natural or semi-natural methods are relatively slow and there is growing concern that the agency will be forced to adopt the costliest, most environmentally damaging procedure, known as "dig and dump". Dr Carey [of Greenwhich University] said: "Because they are getting so short of time, they might end up doing it the quickest way, which is just to dig up the contaminated soil and take it away but it would be a tragedy if they did that."
Soil removal will be expensive. The Standard reports a possible cost of over £80m.

NATO to discusss Afghanistan at Riga summit.

For some time, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO secretary general, has been telling anybody who will listen that, unless more coalition members allow their troops to be deployed in combat in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban could take control of the country and pose a serious threat to western nations by exporting Islamic terrorism. This week he has been talking to the Daily Telegraph about the possible consequences of the 50 caveats imposed by member states which prevent NATO deploying troops already in Afghanistan as reinforcements, however desperate the need.

I am absolutely convinced if we allowed Afghanistan to fall back into Taliban rule it would become failed state again and a black hole for terrorism training,” Mr Scheffer said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph at Nato headquarters in Brussels.

"Who knows that the terrorists are not going to hit nations that they have not yet hit.

”That’s why you see me very strongly motivated – that is the message I will give at Riga. What is our first priority? It is Afghanistan.”
Riga is a reference to this weekend's NATO summit in the Latvian capital, where the problems referred to in his interview are to be discussed by NATO heads of government, including President Bush.

Earlier this month, Scheffer discussed Riga at more length when addressing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NPA.) Here is a significant extract, relating to Afghanistan, from Scheffer's speech:
... in Afghanistan we have been tested like never before, including by suffering casualties. Our resources are stretched thin. And yet the demand for NATO will certainly grow further. So we must do our utmost to make sure that our Alliance continues to deliver....

NATO is about solidarity – and sharing burdens and risks. National caveats reflect a genuine and understandable concern of governments and parliaments for their soldiers. I know what it means having been an MP for 16 years. But – apart from restricting the ability of our military commanders to fulfil their mission - they also can be perceived as divisive. That’s why I urge you to engage with your governments in a discussion about the difficulties that caveats create. We all have to bear in mind, what these mean for our commanders in the field...

I hope they also bear in mind what it means for the troops in the field who are at the sharp end of those caveats' consequences.

Child Abuse 3: structural problems

In previous posts in this series I examined the over-arching theme of the need for structural reform of child protection policies in the UK through areas labelled medical research and the effects on individual and family. This post moves on to examine the statutory framework, that is, the roles of the legal system, the police and the social services. I do not claim to have given a detailed picture of the area of any of the issues involved, however, I hope the series serves as a rough sketch map, providing at least some illumination to help navigate a complex terrain. Once again I draw heavily on John Hemming's blog and his recent speech in parliament.

Arguably, the structural faults of the legal system in relation the child protection system can be encapsulated in one word: secrecy. Over this series of posts we have seen that the child protection system is too often lacking in transparency. As Hemming told the House of Commons,

One of the difficulties in obtaining information about the child protection system is the secrecy of social services. It is claimed that that secrecy exists to protect the child, but it is clear that it is maintained mainly to protect any professionals involved from allegations of misconduct. The intentions of the majority of the people involved are clearly good and many hard-working people care a lot about their clients, but a much smaller number cause great problems.
It is not just the social services who are secretive. Hemming illustrates the point by referring to: the secrecy imposed by the General Medical Council on the David Southall hearings "against the express will of the parents"; Heidi Frost, of which I can find no further details; the case of Clayton v Clayton; and Nicola and Mark Webster, which I referred to yesterday. As Hemming acknowledges, the government is currently reviewing the question of secrecy and the family courts and it is to be hoped that some moves will be made towards lifting the veil of secrecy which allows too many individuals to dragged into devastating problems by officials whom it not possible to hold publicly to account for their actions.

In addition to the secrecy, there is the obvious problem, which the blog has previously addressed, of the legal system being prepared to base prosecutions for serious crimes on statistical proofs rather than factual evidence, of which Marianne Williams and Sally Clark are examples cited by Hemming.

Moving on to social services, this seems to me to be crux of the problem. Social workers seem to see child abuse everywhere and carry their obsession into witch hunts in the tradition of the Puritan witchfinders. Hemmings refers to the Cleveland Enquiry, to which we can add the Orkney scandal. On the other side of the coin, as Hemming notes, the a fear of missing genuine cases can lead social services "to play safe and treat a normal situation as one where a child is at risk."

There is an obvious danger that social services' obsession with certain form of child abuse can lead to them missing obvious cases. Victoria Climbie is such an example. In her tragic case the problems were of social workers' inaction, in my view, something Haringey social services ineptly tried to cover up. As Hemming says:
In cases like that of Victoria Climbié, abuse is obvious and should not haunt the system, driving people to treat normal situations as abusive. Common sense is needed to bring balance back into the system. One key point about the Climbié inquiry was that it showed how social workers were busy chasing up the chimera of a few Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy cases and did not have the time to focus on a serious case of abuse, which was ignored.
Alas, common sense does not appear to be a particularly dominant characteristic of social workers. Essentially, this is a question which requires a detailed examination of social worker education and training.

Over this series of posts we have seen that the child protection system is too often lacking in transparency. Decisions affecting the lives of individuals and families are taken in secret and never have to be justified to those involved. Independent scrutiny leads to public accountability, which in turn gives individuals a degree of control over their lives. That is why I agree with the closing sentiments in John Hemming's speech:
The system in the UK has gone wrong in so many ways. It has not served children well. The biggest reason for that is the lack of independent scrutiny.

23 November, 2006

Conservative Tossers.

I thought the Tory party leadership had reached the limit of stupidity in publicly chatting up Polly Toynbee. I was wrong. The latest Conservative jape is this: sort-it.co.

Take the tosser test in order to help you, as the Daily Telegraph inelegantly puts it, "ignore your inner tosser." I wonder what David Cameron scored.

Marine Jack Cooper.

Jack Cooper was one of the servicemen seriously injured when four of his colleagues were killed at the Shatt al-Arab, Basra, Iraq. Marine Cooper is now out of intensive care. His local paper, the Oldham Advertiser, has an account of the horrific injuries the 19 year-old Marine suffered and the extensive treatment he has already endured. It is not known when Marine Cooper will finally leave hospital but it will be well into next year.

The Daily Mail reports that despite the pain, Marine Cooper still made it to the funeral of Corporal Ben Nowak, who as killed in the attack. Metro News also carries the story.

We can only wish Marine Cooper all the best for the future.

Hewitt police interview.

Patricia Hewitt, Health secretary, has gained, I think, the distinction of being the first cabinet minister to be interviewed by Assistant Commissioner John Yates and his cash for honours investigation team. The Guardian report has a rather useful summary of events in the scandal so far.

Meanwhile the BBC offered a £100 bonus to the first journalist to confirm that Blair is to interviewed over the affair. Tightwads, £100 hardly covers a journalist's dinner time drink. Then the press, including the Daily Telegraph, got hold of it and the BBC's senior management went into damage limitation mode, blaming everything on a less senior manager:

...the BBC described as "wholly inappropriate" an e-mail sent to Millbank [BBC news] staff by the manager, named by Labour as Gary Smith. A spokesman said the manager had been guilty of an "error of judgement" and insisted that its journalists would continue to cover the "cash for peerages" affair in a fair and balanced way.
Tags: , ,

Child Abuse 2: the individual and family cost.

Previously I identified three areas of concern arising from Professor David Southall's research related to Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP). I have since refined those areas into three sub-categories within the over-arching theme of structural reform of child protection policies in the UK: medical research; individual and family; and statutory, (legal system,police and social services). Of course, the distinctions are often blurred and, as in all such ideal type models, there is considerable over-lap, nonetheless it will serve to separate out the various strands sufficiently to allow a clearer picture to be drawn of a complex set of inter-locking issues.

Yesterday I dealt with the medical research strand, outlining David Southall's work and briefly placing it in the context of MSBP. This post moves on to draw attention to the effect of false allegations of child abuse on individuals and their families. On 16 November 2006, John Hemming made a speech in the House of Commons in which he drew attention to devastating effects that erroneous allegations of child abuse can have on individuals and their families.

Professionals have avoided scrutiny through secrecy and continually made errors that would have been picked up had matters been considered in public. It is very clear that too many children are taken into care and there are a number of reasons for it. There is the simple failure of the system where the system gets the facts wrong.
In this respect, Hemming drew attention to the cases of Gina and Tim Williams, and Mark and Nicola Webster.

Even accepting as Hemming says, that these "two cases came about from the actions of almost certainly well motivated physicians", it raises deep concerns about the operation of a system which imposes such unnecessary suffering on individuals. Clearly the system needs to be reviewed but structural reform of the Social Services is a subject for another post.

Hemming then moves on to less than well motivated doctors, including the case of Ben Hollisey McLean (scroll down to 2nd post, by Penny Mellor). In perhaps the most disturbing passage of the speech, Hemming continues,
There are also cases such as that of Ben Hollisey McLean, in which the threat of child protection proceedings was used to force him into dangerous medical research. I have evidence of the threat of child protection proceedings being used to silence parents. Indeed, parents have been forced to admit that they harmed their children—when they did not—simply to keep them. When parents are caught in the Catch-22 world of social services it is one of the most pernicious and invidious aspects of the system, and it provides a reason why it is difficult to get clear understanding from the research.

Roy Meadow, who followed in the tradition of Matthew Hopkins, and David Southall, who shared that ancestry and that of Joseph Mengele combined, should have to account for the misery that they caused. Even if their motivations were good, the consequences will hang over many people’s lives for decades. The witch hunts, where mothers are alleged to have killed their children and are then required to prove their innocence against unfounded medical opinion, need to stop now. That does not require a change to the law, but it does require a change to procedure.
Something has obviously gone badly wrong is a system which treats individuals in such an appalling way and destroys their lives and their families. Lemming concludes that,
We clearly need to separate out the child protection function from the supportive function of social services—under “Every Child Matters” it is being reorganised slightly anyway—and link child protection to the police rather than the local authority. The police are generally much better at handling such issues.
Which leads on to the legal aspect of the problem which I shall address at a later date. The above is by no means a full outline of John Hemming's speech. Given the constraints of length, here I have drawn attention only to certain passages selected because they help illustrate the effects false, or mis-, diagnosis of child abuse can have on individuals and their families. Many other examples of the individual consequences of the system's failures could be given, even from Hemming's speech, such as Yvonne and Tammy Cooper, Victoria Climbié and some not named. Indeed, the cases referred to here are only illustrative the tip of the iceberg.

Firing blanks

Under the headline, "Cheap bullets put lives of paratroopers at risk", the Daily Telegraph has the all too believable story of cost cutting from the Ministry of Defence putting soldiers lives at risk. According to one Para, the cheapo ammunition, bought as a cost saving measure, was "crap".

A Parachute Regiment officer involved in the fighting said: "The ammo we had was rubbish. It just kept jamming. At one point we refused to go out because it was so bad. Eventually we managed to scrounge some Canadian rounds.

"If we had not got that ammo we would certainly have lost a lot of people."

After the protest, senior technical officers tested five different batches of ammunition. They were all defective.

Beckett on Iraq.

That's that then. Margaret Beckett, Foreign Secretary, has signalled that British troops could be out of Iraq by next spring. Yesterday, in Parliament, Beckett said,

We expect Najaf to be the next province to be transferred to Iraqi control, in December. In our own area of responsibility, we expect Maysan to follow in January. And the progress of our current operation in Basra gives us confidence that we may be able to achieve transition in that province too at some point next Spring. There is therefore a clear forward perspective - notwithstanding the very obvious difficulties Iraq faces. It demands our wholehearted attention and unwavering support.
The Foreign office has the full text of the speech.

Both the Guardian, and the Times resport that the speech was cleared beforehand with Downing Steret and link the time-scale of the possible withdrawal with the time-scale of Tony Blair's departure from office.

The Daily Telegraph is not impressed and discerns political rather military logic in Beckett's speech.
It might seem incongruous that the Foreign Secretary should be talking about British forces relinquishing responsibility for security in Iraq when the killing of civilians has reached an unprecedented level.

But a minister as durable as Margaret Beckett is nothing if not sensitive to the prevailing wind, and on both sides of the Atlantic that is blowing strongly against the continuation of the present policy.

22 November, 2006

Pakistan army raids in Quetta.

Afgha.com has a story, with links, that a number of Taliban have been arrested in Pakistani army raids in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. According to Dawn there has been 47 arrests, all recent arrivals in the country.

Police raids would continue to arrest any Taliban who come to Pakistan illegally," the CCPO [Capital City Police Officer] Quetta said, adding that all the arrested suspects had been booked under the Foreigners Act and were handed over to authorities concerned for interrogation. "At the moment, I cannot say if there any wanted Taliban leader among the arrested suspects," he said.
After interrogation, the detainees will be returned to Afghanistan. Afgha.com links the action to pressure from Afghanistan and Tony Blair. Maybe, but it is perhaps more likely that internal Pakistani political imperatives are at work.

Nein und abermals nein!

It is official. Despite repeated requests from NATO and the US ambassador, Chancellor Angela Merkel, celebrating her first year in office, has said Germany will not allow its troops to be involved in the conflict in southern Afghanistan. The Toronto Star:

The German military is fulfilling "an important and dangerous task" in the north by providing security and helping reconstruction, Merkel told parliament.

"We don't want to raise questions over the success of this mission in the north under any circumstances, and I see no one who would seriously want to jeopardize the relative security that we have achieved in the north," she added. "About 40 percent of the Afghan population lives in this region.''

"The Bundeswehr will continue to take responsibility there within the framework of its mandate, but I do not see any military commitment that goes beyond this mandate," Merkel said.
What if the Taliban brings the conflict to the Germans?

Olympic fantasy.

This is just getting silly.

The Daily Telegraph plucks a figure of £10bn out of thin air.

Even dafter, Ken Livingstone says the 2012 Olympic Games in London will make a profit.

Child Abuse 1: A brief account of Dr David Southall's research.

After further research, I think I am now in a position to join up the dots sufficiently to create a coherent narrative of David Southall's journey from medical research to the GMC's disciplinary committee. I do not claim this post is either an authoritative or exhaustive account and would, therefore, welcome any corrections or amplifications. However, I am satisfied that it is a coherent basic outline of events which clears up the major confusions I had when I first read of Professor Southall's case.

We are dealing with one small corner of a much wider field of medical research known as Sudden Infant Death (SID), or cot death. The sudden, unexpected death of a significant number of babies under the age of about one year old has long baffled medical researchers. In 1977, Professor Roy Meadow, claimed to have identified a pattern of behaviour in which some mothers deliberately harmed, or even killed, their children. Meadow labelled such behaviour Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy.

It will be convenient to deal with Meadow at this point. Despite its wholly theoretical nature, over the ensuing decades Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy became accepted as a proven fact by the medical community and was even used by the legal system to convict individuals of murdering their children. In other words, the legal yardstick of proof beyond a reasonable level of doubt was replaced by statistical probability, as determined by experts such as Meadow in so-called "expert testimony" to the court. Meadow's statistical evidence has since been discredited and some of the convictions have been recently squashed by the Appeal Court. Hopefully, it is doubtful that any similar convictions will follow or that Meadow, or any one like him, will be giving such so-called expert testimony in future.

Returning to the 1980s, to be fully accepted as valid, any scientific research has to be capable of being repeated ( in the jargon, replicated) in order to show the results were reliable and not a freak outcome. Meadow's work presented obvious difficulties in this respect, not least persuading potentially infanticidal mothers to allow themselves and their babies to be observed, to see if they were actually harming or killing their children. Here David Southall enters the story. As far as I can work out, Southall decided to solve this particular problem by installing surveillance equipment so he could secretly observe mothers and their babies. In itself, that raises serious ethical research issues relating to an individual's privacy but Southall did not stop there.

Southall kept records of his dealings with parents in secret files, known as SC, or Special Case, files. It is not entirely clear exactly what was in the SC files. The parents involved are still trying to gain full access but it seems probable that they detailed his suspicions of child abuse based on no evidence stronger than his opinion. Indeed, Southall seems to have seen Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy everywhere. Notoriously, after seeing a television programme, he accused Sally Clark of infanticide by MSBP, a piece of arrogance which, after Clark's aquittal on appeal, led to Southall's first visit to the GMC disciplinary panel, in 2004. For reasons known only to themselves, the GMC were content with a ruling that Southall should not be allowed to work in child protection for a period of three years. In its (pdf) response to the ruling, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health seemed to be more concerned that doctors should be able to continue making unfounded allegations than with any miscarriage of justice for which Southall was directly responsible.

Opinion-based serious accusations are bad enough but there is more. As far as I can tell, Meadow's work, on which Southall's secret surveillance sought to build, only interpreted the observed behaviour of the mothers involved. In the mid 1980s, Southall decided to take the next logical step and attempt to identify any medical factors which might contribute to SID (cot death). A laudable aim but with obvious difficulties in finding a of supply babies in the act of dying, in order to measure their responses. Southall solved the problem through not asking for parental consent and simulating the required environment by depriving the babies of oxygen and feeding them CO2. These experiments were codenamed Protocol 85/02. According to John Hemming, MP, (23rd August 2006) who has taken an active interest in the case, Southall does not appear to have published any results from the case. It is most unusual for any research not be published but it seems a reasonable assumption that the results are hidden somewhere in the SC files. Southall appears to have continued this line of research into the 1990s, with the ethical approval of his hospital (scroll down to "Commentary: Ethical approval of study was warranted").

Despite the disturbing nature of Southall's experiments, as John Hemming has observed, (15 November 2006) the GMC seems to be more interested in other, "relatively minor issues rather than the major issue of doing harm to patients (particularly babies) through dangerous research." Those relatively minor issues relate mostly to Southall's manner of dealing with records. There, for the moment things stand, with Southall's GMC hearing in progress. If this post either saves other people time in piecing together what happened or introduces readers for the first time to the nightmare innocent individuals found themselves suffering, it will have served its intended purpose.

The price of war

In coverage of the visit of Derek Twigg, defence minister, to Headley Court, a military rehabilitation centre, the Daily Telegraph focuses on the terrible price being paid by our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Daily Mail, the Guardian, have also been to Headley Court.

RAF Headley Court was established after the Second World War with money from the "Royal Air Force Pilots and Crews Fund", a public collection as a tribute to the deeds of the RAF.

The MoD has more.

21 November, 2006

Profesor Southall: 6

The case of Professor David Southall before the General Medical Council continues with disturbing reports of a mother from Swansea's experiences with Southall. The mother, identified only as Mrs H, was suspected by Southall of of being a danger to the child's health, as a result of which Child H was made a ward of court.

Southall is accused of breaching confidentiality by unauthorised copying of a letter concerning his suspicions to a doctor not related to the case. He is also "...accused of tampering with medical records, keeping secret medical files and abusing his position in relation to four children."

The secret medical records are the files known as SC (Special Case) files in which he seems to have recorded his unfounded suspicions. Mrs H. has been trying, with only partial success, to find SC files relevant to her son.

icWales has the full story. I cannot help wondering why only the local press has picked up on a GMC hearing with obvious national implications.

John Hemming (19 November) has more on Sudden Infant Death.

Tessa Jowell's maths.

Tessa Jowell has been telling the House of Commons that the Olympics will now cost £3.3bn instead of the original forecast of £2.37bn; the extra money is to pay for bonuses when it is ready on time. (Ananova) There is an obvious discrepancy between £3.3bn and the £5bn expected by most observers or the £8bn suggested by the Observer last weekend. How to explain the maths?

As the Guardian reminds us, clever, Mrs Jowell is not counting:

  1. at least £1bn in regeneration funds;
  2. extra security costs;
  3. a contingency fund;
  4. an huge tax (VAT) bill.
In fact, it is becoming evident that nobody has the slightest of idea of what it is all going to cost in the end. The BBC has more on costs and on Jowell

Frank Field on cash for honours.

A senior Labour backbencher has joined in the cash for honours fun and games. Frank Field has always been something of a loose canon. Now, he is criticising the police for enforcing the law. Field has been telling the Daily Telegraph something that everybody knows but which, at this time, could cause the government political embarrassment. Honours, Field said, have been sold for centuries. He complained,

"The amount of police effort being expended on this is ridiculous. These police officers would be doing a much better public service if they were put to work trying to stop innocent people being blown up by terrorists.

The police investigation is utterly out of proportion. There was no complaint made to the police by a party leader. It was just a publicity stunt but the police bit and they should not have done so."
True, honours have always been sold but it has been done much more subtly than Blair's blatant disregard for the law. It is equally true that the police could be doing better things with their time, perhaps protecting the public from street robberies, but since they refuse to patrol the dangerous streets, this investigation at least gives them something constructive to do.

One final point. Since when have party leaders had a monopoly of reporting suspected crimes to the police?

Losing the War on Terror.

For the moment at least, all is not going well for the west in the War on Terror. In both the Iraqi and Afghanistan theatres, the local tides appear to be turning in favour of the Islamic terrorists. At best, Iraq seems to be fracturing into a loosely federal solution, almost certainly to be followed sooner or later by a three-way war civil war between Sunni, Shia and Kurd provinces. In Afghanistan, the Taliban, secure in their newly "conquered" power bases in western Pakistan, seem likely to come out of the forthcoming Afghan national jirga with some sort of formal role in the governance of Afghanistan.

Outside the main combat theatres, the news is just as bad for President Bush. The weakening of the President's authority by the recent Democrat election success has left the president increasingly isolated, both at home and abroad. In the US, the Democrats, with support from the predominantly anti-Republican media, want to withdraw from Iraq but are not quite sure how to achieve this. The Iraq Study Group is reported to be considering a phased withdrawal from Iraq. Moreover, even the Pentagon is not sure how to proceed. Quite shortly, Bush will have make a decision on what comes next. The President's decision will not be made any easier by the UK government, which has signalled its abandonment of the "Bush Doctrine" in favour of returning to the old ways of appeasement through accommodating terrorist states, for example Iran and Syria.

Iran and Syria, buoyed by the recent relative successes of their client Hezbollah in Lebanon, appear to have partly pre-empted Prime Minister Blair's suggestion that they should be persuaded to become partners in helping solve Iraq's insurgency problem. The Independent reports that President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran has invited Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President, and Syrian leader Bashar Assad to a meeting in Teheran to discuss ending the violence in Iraq.

The two neighbours have the most influence on events in Iraq, Iran through its close ties with leading Shia militias that control swaths of the country, especially in the south; and Syria because of its role as conduit and safe haven, for terrorists and the Sunni insurgents.

The summit has clearly been deliberately timed to coincide with the reshaped political debate here after the Democratic mid-term election triumph, and the announcement of policy reviews by the Pentagon and the White House
From a European perspective there is the added danger of defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq leading to Islamic extremists making more and more demands on western society which the politicians will feel unable to resist for fear of a French-style intifada. The simple fact is that surrendering to extremist only encourages them to make further demands. The War on Terror is a war in defence of west and that is why the west cannot afford to lose.

Missing sex offender found.

Last week I posted a story that the Home Office and Police had lost at least five dangerous paedophiles and had been reduced to issuing internet wanted posters in an attempt to find them. One of them has since given himself up to police. One down, four to go. The Sun sees this as a victory for child abuse campaigners.

Gunner Lee Thornton's Iraq Diary.

In early September,22 year-old Gunner Lee Thornton, of from 58 (Eyre's) Battery, 12th Regiment Royal Artillery was killed in Iraq. His parents have now published a diary he was keeping whilst in Iraq. The online version of the local paper in Thornton's home town, Blackpool Today has a report and short extracts.

Gunner Thornton talks of failing army equipment, mistrust of Iraqi civilians and the sinking morale of peacekeeping troops. Facing stonings by villagers and the ever-present threat of sniper or mortar attack from insurgents, Gunner Thornton wrote: "I don't trust the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police or the people, this is pointless."

On a rare day off, August 17, he said: "All I have done all day is think of home. I hate this place I really do. It is just not worth dying for, I wish Tony Blair could see that."

In another entry, he says: "Why can't they stop bombing each other, then we can go home."

The former Palatine schoolboy kept the harsh realities of war from his parents in his letters home, but let it all out in the diary.
He constantly notes having to wait for help to arrive while out on patrol because armoured vehicles had broken down.

After a particularly hard day he penned: "Dear Tony, Give the army better equipment and stop putting our lives at risk, thanks Thorny."
I am sure that more of the diary will be in the press over the coming weeks.

Tags: ,

20 November, 2006

US asks Germany to do more in Afghanitsan.

Several German newspapers are said to be reporting that America has requested Germany to make troops available for combat operations in southern Afghanistan.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine, Zeitung newspaper quoted a high-ranking US defense official as saying that German troops based in the relatively peaceful north must be able to move to the south at short notice. The unnamed official said allied commanders should be able to call the Germans in the morning, asking for a battalion, and it should be there by the evening...

...The US State Department meanwhile has confirmed President George W. Bush has raised the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said there will not be any change to Germany's Afghanistan mandate.
As was to be expected, no change in Germany's attitude, but I suppose the US had to go through the motions. NATO remains as fatally flawed as ever.

Talking with the Taliban.

In early November, analysing the future prospects for peace in Afghanistan, I speculated that the Taliban was likely to play some sort of role in the forthcoming national jirga. It now seems that they will. According to Afghan.com, President Karzai is making conciliatory noises, offering to deal with the Afghan, not the foreign, elements in the Taliban but, as the headline puts it, sans clemency for Omar.

President Hamid Karzai has said that genuine Afghan Taliban are welcome to their country but the people will not accept non-Afghan (Taliban).

...Asked whether he would invite Taliban self-styled Amir-ul-Momineen Mulla Omar to talks, Karzai said they were ready to hold peace talks with all. At the same time, he said clemency for Omar was not possible.

For the sake of peace, we are willing to do anything," said the Afghan leader, but added that those who had committed crimes against the Afghan people in the past and were continuing to do so would have to face the courts.
Quite how NATO governments will receive a negotiated settlement involving the Taliban remains unknown but I expect they will quickly get over any political embarrassment caused by their rhetoric about defeating the Taliban. One possible outcome for the west would be that, following a negotiated settlement, the Taliban (sans Omar or not) might temporarily suspend their military campaign and sit back waiting for the last vestiges of political will in the majority of NATO governments to evaporate The wait might not be very long, requiring no more than a few suicide bombers to push NATO out of the door. Within NATO, the US, Canada and the UK would then be left even more isolated. Indeed, given rising domestic opposition to British, Canadian and even American military involvement it might prove politically impossible for those governments to continue with any policy based on military intervention. Such an outcome would be a defeat for the coalition and a remarkable victory for the Taliban.

Blair in Afghanistan.

Tony Blair is in Afghanistan, where he has been holding talks with President Karzai and visiting British troops in Helmand. The media are giving conflicting messages of what Blair said. The BBC has a report and video, which interprets Blair's remarks as, "British troops will remain in Afghanistan until their job is done". The Guardian has a different emphasis: although the prime minister said the fight against the Taliban was a "generation-long struggle", he did not expect British troops to remain that long. The Times merely reports a continuing commitment. It sounds like classical Blair ambiguity and we shall have to wait for the press conference transcript to see what he actually said. Downing Street can be lethargic about updating its website, so do not expect anything today.

Update 21.22.06
The transcript of Blair's press conference with President Karzai is here.

The Daily Telegraph focuses on Blair's visit to the troops at Camp Bastion but notes cryptically that:
Mr Blair thanked the troops but there was no mention of when they might come home. British officials privately estimate that forces will be in the country for 10 to 15 years.
That appears to be a figure plucked out of thin air. The press, as evidenced above, seems to take the government line, that it is simply a matter of keeping British troops in Afghanistan until the Taliban is defeated. However, the reality of Afghan politics is much more complex. In fact, much will depend on how the national jirga works out, an issue to which I will return later today.

French EU plans

Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency has said that the UK needs to choose between Europe and America. The Daily Telegraph says she had plans for new EU constitution, to be embedded in a new treaty.

Britain would be asked to sign up to the new treaty, but if it rejected calls for increased protectionism, an EU foreign minister, convergence on tax rates and moves to create a European army, then France and her allies would agree a treaty among themselves..
The EU constitution is dead in the water since the French and the Dutch peoples rejected it but that will not stop the Euromaniacs trying again and again until they get their way.

Europe or America? As they say in polite society, F the French.

Saudi corruption probe (Update)

The Times says that Saudi Arabia is threatening to suspend diplomatic ties with the UK unless Tony Blair stops a police investigation into corruption in certain defence contracts.

The day after the Sunday Times (and my original post), the Guardian has run the story in more detail.

The Serious Fraud Office is interested is an alleged slush fund, said to be operated by BAE systems to grease Saudi palms in connection with defence contracts under the so-called al-Yamamah agreement. Several British individuals have been arrested in connection with the affair.

The Saudis do not seem to appreciate that, at the moment, relations between Blair and the police are a little strained , especially on the question of bribes.

For the government's part, it is a mess entirely of their own making. Ministers enthusiastically supported the laws which make such payments illegal, preferring self-righteous moralising to a realistic appraisal of how business is done with these filthy rich , but backward, Arab countries. Consequently, thousands of British jobs are at risk.

19 November, 2006

MI5 warning of al-Qaeda sleeper threat.

On Friday, I discussed a Spectator article in which security sources were quoted as saying that the head of MI5's recent speech had been intended, in part, "to prepare the public for a terrorist success", which is increasingly seen as inevitable. Now, the Spectator's sister publication, the Sunday Telegraph has "learned" that al-Qaeda is sending some of its trained British volunteers back to the UK, where they will keep a low profile as "sleepers". The volunteers are too valuable to al-Qaeda to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan so,

...MI5 and MI6 are working on the assumption that they are being ordered to return to their communities in Britain with instructions to establish secret, autonomous cells and to conduct independent terrorists operations without any direct input from al-Qaeda's high command...

...MI5 fears that it is impossible to estimate how many British Muslims have attended training camps over the past decade or how many are back in the UK planning attacks...

...A security source said: "We may see people who have been ‘blooded’ in Iraq, who are experienced in weapons handling and bomb making, arriving back in this country and they may cause a problem."
The ST then goes on to discuss precedents, including Dhiren Barot.

Despite the mounting evidence that a serious terrorist atrocity in the UK is almost certain to occur in the near future, there are still many on the left who regard Manningham-Buller and MI5's attempts to defend Britain from Islamic extremism a nothing more than "racism".

Life Front line Afghanistan (updated)

From the Daily Telegraph. A report and a slide show giving a soldier's eye view of front-line Afghanistan. The pictures of soldiers relaxing reminding us that they are ordinary human beings doing remarkable things.

Update 19:11:06@19:15

Some more observations on being a solider in Afghanistan. The Guardian has been talking to men of D Company, Household Cavalry.

Cash for honours and Labour debts.

The cash for honours row rumbles on. Friday was dominated by the letter from Assistant Commissioner Yates to the House of Commons public administration committee. Today, the Sunday Telegraph says that Yates' published letter was a "beefed-up" version of a previous letter which the committee rejected "for failing to provide enough information."

Exactly why a House of Commons committee should demand any details of an ongoing criminal investigation is open to question. It is not impossible that the Labour dominated committee was trying somehow to defend the Prime Minister by compromising any evidence that might be used in any future trial. Equally, as the ST speculates, they may have been trying to influence to course of the inquiry.

Either way, the ST makes a big thing of something obvious to anyone who has followed events:

The Sunday Telegraph has discovered deep antagonism between police investigators, the committee and Downing Street.
My, these London based journalists are sharp. The article also gives a table of the Labour party's debts to various individuals, along with the dates of due payments. It seems Labour is having difficulty meeting the payments.

Afghanistan troops denied protection by MoD

The Mail on Sunday is saying that Brigadier John Lorimer, a senior army commander due to command British troops in Afghanistan next year, cannot have the armour he wants. This is despite an assertion by Tony Blair that the army will get all the equipment it needs.

A senior Army source told The Mail on Sunday last night: "The denial of John Lorimer's operational requirements shows how empty Blair's words were.

"The Taliban are certain to launch a major offensive in Helmand next spring and the Brigadier wanted the extra armour to protect his men. No chance, as his requests were rejected in their entirety.

"Officers in 12 Mech Brigade see this as as a dereliction of duty by Defence Ministers. Lorimer still hasn't been given an explanation. One can only assume it's to do with lack of availability, equipment shortages and cost-saving."
Scandalous, yes. Surprising, no. I will add the MoD's response when they get it on line.

Update 20.11.06

From the Mod Defence News
A newspaper reports that the army officer who will command British troops in Afghanistan next year, Brigadier John Lorimer, has been told that a request for additional equipment and troops has been denied. No decisions about the force package for Afghanistan in 2007 have been taken and no requests have been turned down. Brigadier Lorimer said:

"Suggestions that I am angry or frustrated are simply not true. I have conducted my reconnaissance and made recommendations. I am perfectly happy that those are being considered in the normal way and I am closely involved in that process."
A classic non-denial denial.

More Olympian overspending

Yesterday's figure for the Olympic budget was £5bn (not £5b over budget as I originally wrote, for which apologies). According to the Observer, a report by the London Assembly's budget committee says the 2012 London Olympics are likely to cost £8bn. Any advance?

The £8bn figure is considerably higher than the £5bn revised budget for the event produced just last week. It is based on evidence given by official bodies and key figures involved in funding and delivering the event, such as the Olympic Development Authority. There have also been recent revelations about how the cost of providing security and regenerating London's East End for 2012 is soaring.