30 December, 2006

Cash for honours and holidays.

A bit of catching up to do after the Christmas break. The Cash for honours scandal rolls on. According to the Times, next in line to talk to Assistant Commissioner John Yates and his team are some of Tony Blair's Downing Street political staff: Jonathan Powell, John McTernan and and Ruth Turner.

Powell is a superior sort of personal assistant-cum-chief off-the-record spokesman, McTernan is the main Labour Party representative in Downing Street and Turner is some sort of political advisor. Exactly what they find to do all day is anybody's guess, but in the past they seem to have had occasion to receive, or perhaps even send, emails relating to the cash for honours business. It is such emails that AC Yates wants to talk to them about.

The Independent says McTernan was first up.

Meanwhile, the Blair family are on holiday at the Bee Gees' expense and certain MPs are not happy about it. Obviously there is no connection between the free holiday and the award of honours to the Blair's hosts, at least none that AC Yates has publicly expressed an interested in.

Saddam Watch: the execution

CNN has some film of the lead up to the execution; taking it as far as a rope going round his neck. I would think that is all the networks are going to show. Update: According to a news report from the BBC (Watch: Iraq TV images) the video ends with the rope around his neck and the Iraqis have not released the bit with Saddam swinging.

I cannot get the video to play in Firefox without switching to IE.

For the technically minded, TV Predictions says the execution was filmed using a Sony HD camera.

Update 31.12.06

Digg has what looks like a grainy mobile phone film of the execution. Ice Rocket has various links, including Uncomfortably Numb who supplies a translation for the phone film.

Exit stage down: Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein has finally has finally fallen through the trapdoor, at 03.00 GMT. Not that everybody is pleased. According to the Times, the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, is filled with horror. The BBC reports that Margaret Beckett, UK Foreign secretary, speaking for the UK government, does not approve of executions, even for mass murderers; she is joined by an exotic array: George Galloway, Ming Campbell and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Independent agrees with Human Rights Watch that Saddam's trial was flawed.

Amnesty International must be on holiday. No doubt they will be weighing in later today, as will their friends in the European Union.

Sure enough, Amnesty deplores it all and, Reuters reports, the European Union thinks all barbaric. "You don't fight barbarism with acts that I deem as barbaric. The death penalty is not compatible with democracy," said a spokesman for the Finnish EU presidency. Actually, being NATO free-loaders, the Finns do not fight anybody with anything.

Much more from the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.

29 December, 2006

The Fat Controller gets preferential NHS treatment.

On Christmas day, John Prescott went to hospital and had a kidney stone removed on the NHS.

Some other NHS patients are not impressed.

They have a point. Never mind Christmas, I know from experience that Friday is not a good day to be admitted to hospital. The people who work the scanners are strictly 9-5, weekdays only, unless you are a cabinet minister.

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NHS secrecy: looking after their own.

North Staffordshire NHS Trust is threatening to sue John Hemming, MP, for the cost of consulting lawyers over the David Southall Special Case files, which they are reluctant to release.

Mr Hemming is quoted in the Birmingham Post as saying:

"I have been writing to the hospital asking them to tell patients when there is a secret medical file. The hospital's response has been to pass the issue to their lawyers.

"Their lawyers have now threatened to sue me for the cost of the legal advice. This is complete nonsense. The hospital should obey the law. If they don't know what the law is then they should not try to get me to pay the legal costs of them finding out."
It is an old trick. Threaten legal action and then refuse to comment other than to say, as North Staffs NHS Trust did, "Our solicitors are dealing with this and it would be quite inappropriate to comment."

So, not content with killing people, the NHS now wants to do it in secret.

More from John Hemming's Weblog.

Update 29.12.06 @ 20:00
For some Friday evening surrealism, see the link to John Hemming's weblog (under 29th December). The Trust now says it is not going to sue the MP but, as far as I can make out, will only talk to him via their lawyers and will charge him for the lawyers' time, so that the money can be spent on officials' expense accounts patient care. Mr Hemming concludes,
So the response from the hospital is that they don't want to talk to me directly, but only through the lawyers and they want to charge me for the time spent by the lawyers on talking to me. I am not quite sure what planet this organisation is on.
Which planet? First identify your galaxy.

British fatality in Iraq: Sergeant Graham Hesketh (Updated)

The Ministry of Defence has announced the death of Sergeant Graham Hesketh in Iraq. The 127th fatality in Iraq occurred on 28th December.

The soldier, from 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, was taking part in a routine patrol in Basra City when the Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle he was travelling in was targeted by a roadside bomb. He was very seriously injured and airlifted to the Field Hospital at Shaibah Logistics Base, but unfortunately died later as a result of his injuries. There were no other casualties.
Obituary from the MoD:
Graham Hesketh was born in Liverpool on 1 December 1971. He grew up in Runcorn in Cheshire, where he went to St Chad’s Roman Catholic School.

Graham joined the British Army at the age of 17 in 1989 and served with the 1st Royal Tank Regiment in Germany for three years. He left the Army in 1992, but rejoined in March 1995 to serve with 1st Battalion The King’s Regiment, and was promoted to Lance Corporal the following year.

He was promoted to Corporal in July 2002 and posted to the Infantry Training Centre Catterick where he was an instructor to infantry recruits. He returned to his Battalion and was promoted to Sergeant in January 2005. The King’s Regiment merged into The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment on 1 July 2006 and he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion on 11 November 2006, serving as a Platoon Sergeant.

During his time in the Army Sgt Hesketh deployed on exercises to Canada, Jordan, Kenya, and Germany and spent an attachment with 1st Battalion The King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. He had deployed on operational tours to Northern Ireland, the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Throughout his varied career Sgt Hesketh always embraced, and was enthused by, new challenges - no matter how difficult or diverse. He was an extremely motivated and compassionate soldier who was fiercely determined. He was committed to those under his command, was completely selfless and a very effective leader.

Professionally, Sgt Hesketh was held in high regard by all those who knew and served with him. He was an enthusiastic and highly competent Platoon Sergeant who had a keen sense of humour and was always optimistic no matter what the circumstance. He will be remembered as being a great asset to the Battalion as a whole.

Off-duty he would divide himself between spending time with his close friends and giving avid support to Everton Football Club.

Graham was engaged to a soldier who is also serving in Iraq. He leaves behind two children, a 7 year old girl and a 3 year old boy.

British fatality in Afghanistan: James Dwyer. (updated)

The Ministry of Defence has announced the death of Lance Bombardier James Dwyer in Afghanistan on 27th December, the 44th British fatality of the campaign.

The soldier, from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, was killed during a reconnaissance mission in the desert to the south of Garmsir, in which a vehicle was involved in an explosion resulting in one fatality, one serious injury and two minor injuries. At this stage it is too early to say what caused the explosion but there were no Taliban in the vicinity and there was no follow on contact.
The Ministry of Defence also wrote:
James Dwyer was born and raised in South Africa before joining the Army in July 2003. Having completed his basic and specialist military training, he joined 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery in June 2004.

Upon successful completion of the Commando Course, he was posted to, and subsequently deployed on operations with, 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery Royal Artillery, based in Arbroath, Scotland.

Lance Bombardier Dwyer, known as ‘Doobs’ to his friends and colleagues, was a professionally outstanding soldier and had already shown the potential for a long and successful career in the Military.

He was enormously proud of being both a Commando and a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer. Respected by his superiors, peers and subordinates alike, he took his responsibilities very seriously and was always quick to mentor those less experienced than him.

James had proven himself a versatile and dedicated soldier whilst deployed on exercises both in the UK and Norway, as well as on operations in Afghanistan.

A bright and intelligent young man with an infectious sense of humour, Lance Bombardier Dwyer could be relied upon to be at the forefront of any activity. He had a passion for worldwide travel and the excitement of visiting new countries. He was also an enthusiastic sportsman; excelling at squash in particular, for which he represented both the Royal Artillery and the Army.

Very much a family man, James spoke often of home and was especially close to his sister, also a serving soldier in the British Army.