Friday, July 27, 2007

Britain: Remembrance Day parade scrapped for first time in 60 years over 'health and safety' fears

Every year since 1945, the town of Horwich has held a parade to remember its war dead. But thanks to health and safety rules, there won't be one this year. And there are fears that Remembrance Day marches nationwide may be threatened by similar safety demands, which put severe pressure on budgets. Organisers in the Lancashire town have previously relied on brief and small-scale road closures put in place for free by the police, to clear the way for the event.

But this year, senior police officers said although they will still make no charge, a team of marshals must be employed to man the route at a cost of about 50 pounds a day. In addition, organisers will have to pay for each road they want closed. To make matters worse, Bolton Council has increased permanent road closure prices from 300 to 800 pounds this year. These costs could bring the final bill to 18,000 - making the November 11 parade too expensive to hold. Usually it would cost only a couple of thousand pounds.

Greater Manchester Police said the extra security is necessary because another force in the West Midlands was successfully sued when Brownies participating in a parade were injured by a car which drove into them while they were marching.

But Bernard McCartin, of the Royal British Legion's Horwich branch, warned that the cost of imposing further safety measures could affect parades across the country. Mr McCartin, 65, who served with the Royal Observer Corps in Lincolnshire, added: 'This is very disappointing, but there is not a lot we can do. "It is a mark of disrespect to every person who gave their lives for this town."

The former mayor of Horwich, a parade leader, added: "Several hundred people watch this event every year with all sorts of organisations from cub scouts to veterans taking part. "It is a further erosion of what we hold dear in the country." A spokesman for the Royal British Legion said it would be looking into the matter. "The issue of proposed local council and police charging to ensure the safety of Remembrance Day parades is of great concern. It is clear that a change of policy has taken place at local level."

Tory defence spokesman Dr Liam Fox said: 'This is a scandal. To hear that people cannot remember those who gave their lives for this country due to overzealous bureaucrats is crazy. "I'd hope the authorities will be reconsidering their application of the rules to ensure that the parade can go ahead."

However, Steve Rock, of Horwich Town Council, said it did not have the money to help to meet the bill. He said: "People will be upset, but the only way to fund it would be to raise council tax next year." The Horwich parade has been held since 1945. It passes through the town and ends at the war memorial. A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said the force did not charge for policing parades but warned that the local authority does charge for road closures. "To address this, the force has suggested a shorter route that would not involve closing roads and, therefore, not cost the organisers anything."

PC Phil Waring, events planner for Bolton, explained why the safety rules had been imposed. "There was an incident in the West Midlands where the police were successfully sued and, as a result, we have to follow new guidelines and make it safer for people."

Earlier this year, health and safety rules ended an annual duck race in Upper Dam, Lymm, Cheshire, which raised money for charity. The event was so popular that council officials insisted that organisers close a nearby road to meet health and safety requirements. But Warrington Borough Council refused to pay for the closure - and the Round Table, which organised the event, said it could not afford the 3,000 pound bill.


Official British vendetta against too-successful IVF doctor continues

They hate private medicine so attacking a high flyer -- even on legal technicalities -- turns them on

Britain's most successful IVF doctor was banned from running his own clinic yesterday after he was found guilty of treating patients without the correct licence. Mohammed Taranissi was stripped of the right to be the "person responsible" for his Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The decision means that Mr Taranissi, whose clinic boasts Britain's best IVF success rates, will be allowed to continue treating patients only if he appoints another doctor or manager to take legal responsibility for his clinic. If he fails to do so, the clinic will have to close after its temporary licence expires on August 9.

Mr Taranissi, who rejects the charges, said last night that he would appeal. If he does, the HFEA is likely to issue special directions allowing him to complete the treatment of existing patients while the appeal is heard.

The sanction is one of the most serious imposed by the authority's licence committee, and has been imposed only once before. Every clinic is required by law to name an appro-priately trained person as the holder of its licence. The person is required to take legal responsibility for the clinic's work and must be HFEA approved. The ruling follows an inquiry into claims that Mr Taranissi treated patients at an unlicensed clinic in 2006. The clinic, the Reproductive Genetics Institute, was Mr Taranassi's second in London. The allegations formed part of a BBC Panorama programme, over which the doctor has started libel proceedings. It is a criminal offence to perform IVF and some other fertility procedures without a licence from the HFEA, and the matter is also the subject of investigations by the police and the General Medical Council.

In January the HFEA obtained warrants to search both clinics, saying that the doctor had failed to provide it with information needed to investigate the allegations. The raids were ruled illegal by the High Court this month, and the authority agreed to pay most of Mr Taranissi's costs. That judicial review did not consider the substance of the charges against Mr Taranissi, and had no bearing on the HFEA's regulatory action. The authority's licence committee met on July 13, and announced yesterday that it was satisfied that Mr Taranissi had committed a "serious breach" of the law by treating patients at an unlicensed clinic. "The committee considered that the clinic [the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre] is a successful one, much appreciated by patients, and Mr Taranissi is a dedicated physician," it said. "However, the committee did not think he had taken sufficient cognisance of the legal requirements of a person responsible to continue to act in that capacity."

The authority has offered the centre a six-month licence, provided that a new person responsible is found. Mr Taranissi was not seeking a new licence for the Reproductive Genetics Institute. Members of the HFEA's executive had argued that the licence should not be renewed at all. Mr Taranissi questioned whether three weeks was sufficient time to appoint a new person responsible, but said that he welcomed the decision to offer a licence. "We are pleased to have been told that we can continue to work, and my priority now is my patients," he said. "The last few months have been extremely distressing for all our patients and staff. The new licence is not for as long a period as we had hoped for, but we are confident that this will be extended and that we can put the unpleasant past behind us and concentrate on doing what we do best.

"The current situation follows the events in January of this year when the chief executive of the HFEA gave what was later described by a High Court judge as `seriously defective' and `highly misleading' evidence to a magistrate in order to obtain warrants to raid our clinic. The High Court subsequently found that these warrants had been unlawfully obtained and we are similarly confident that the grounds for this latest decision will be shown to be wrong.

"HFEA regulation imposes a huge bureaucratic burden on those licensed by them. The HFEA have asked that we appoint a new person responsible to work with me as medical director of the centre. We have made a number of new appointments in the last two months to assist with this regulatory burden and the other requirements of new European legislation."


Britain: Radiation phobics exposed as nutters

People who believe that mobile telephone masts are causing them to feel unwell are deluding themselves, according to a study at Essex University. The three-year study, one of the largest of its kind, found that such people do experience symptoms when they know that they are exposed to radio waves, but they cannot detect when the waves are turned on and off, disproving their belief that they are “radiosensitive”. In double-blind trials -- in which neither participants nor experimenters knew whether the signals were on or off -- no health effects were detected. The finding adds to earlier research suggesting that radiosensitivity is an illusion.

Professor Elaine Fox said that radiosensitivity complainants had genuine symptoms, but phone masts were not the cause. In the past, she said, similar symptoms were reported in relation to TV sets and microwave ovens. It appears that about 4 per cent of the population claim to experience symptoms and tend to project them on to new technologies. The project was designed to investigate whether the effect was caused by phone masts.

Volunteers who claimed to be radiosensitive were matched against those who did not. Both groups were told when the signals were being switched on and off. The radiosensitive group reported headaches and malaise, but the team concluded that the symptoms were triggered by the knowledge of exposure. The researchers then conducted the double-blind trials. If radiosensitivity were a real phenomenon, alleged sufferers should have been able to detect changes and report symptoms. They did not.

Two of the 44 sensitive individuals, and 5 of the 114 controls, judged correctly when the mast was on or off in all six 50-minute tests -- exactly the proportion expected by chance. Professor Fox said: “Belief is very powerful. There are real, clinical effects.” David Coggon, of the University of Southampton, said: “This is consistent with earlier research in suggesting that symptoms of electrosensitivity are psychological in origin.” The study was funded by the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme, with half of the money provided by Government and half by the mobile phone industry.


Britain: History education too haphazard

Children must be taught landmark dates in chronological order from primary school, to give them a common sense of British history and identity, Ofsted tells the Government today. Far from knowing the order of key events, such as the Battle of Hastings or the signing of Magna Carta, pupils have no overview of history and cannot answer the “big questions” it poses, the schools’ inspectorate has found. Not only are key events in British and world history overlooked, but without a sense of the order in which they occurred, students cannot make any connections with the periods that they have studied.

The damning assessment of pupils’ understanding and the way history is taught in England’s schools, particularly primaries, comes after academics and historians have called repeatedly for a review of the way the subject is taught up to the age of 14. “History is taught in all primary schools, but we are recommending that the syllabus is looked at to promote a coherence in what’s being taught – a core, with some local discretion,” said Miriam Rosen, Ofsted’s director of education.

Dr Rosen acknowledged that history had been squeezed in some primaries, because of their need to raise standards in the three Rs. “We quite understand why schools have focused on literacy and numeracy, but we think they are beginning to see they can link history teaching to make sure it’s not lost and that there’s still a focus on the core subjects,” she added. Her comments appear to be at odds with the latest proposals by the Government to allow schools to teach themes such as creativity and cultural understanding, rather than individual academic subjects, such as history and science, at secondary level.

In History in the Balance: History in English Schools 2003-7, the inspectors targeted their criticism mainly at the education of 7 to 11-year-olds, “which continues to disappoint”. While the teachers themselves often had not studied the subject beyond 14, they were also poorly trained in history and tended to jump from one topic to the next, the inspectors found. They cited one primary, where eight-year-olds studied the Romans one term, learnt how children coped in the Second World War the next and finished with Ancient Egypt.

Although the National Curriculum calls for pupils to develop a “chronological framework” and to make “connections between events and changes in the different periods”, the inspectors said this rarely happened in practice. “Consequently they often have little sense of chronology and the possibility of establishing an overarching story and addressing broader themes and issues is limited,” they wrote.

The inspectors praised history teaching post14, but noted that only 32 per cent of pupils study it at GCSE level and even fewer post16. Although 66 per cent achieve A grades at GCSE, a third of A* grades are from independently educated pupils.

The report echoed concerns aired by academics and historians, including Kate Pretty, principal of Homerton College and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who said that Britain was losing a sense of shared identity, because children were not being taught basic general knowledge in primary school. “It’s not secondary school that instills the deficit, but primaries. It’s the primary view of the great stories in the past, like Alfred burning the cakes, Magna Carta, Columbus sailing the ocean blue – all that sort of stuff,” she said. “The little tiny stories that make up the common thread which you can pull on, we’re expecting students to somehow implicitly know. It’s not about A-level knowledge of a particular subject, but a general web of understanding that binds us to a past. That seems to me is being lost somewhere in all of this.”

The report comes as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority proposes allowing schools from next year to teach themes such as creativity and cultural understanding rather than individual academic subjects from the ages of 11 to 14. The curriculum watchdog is already piloting a new GCSE syllabus in 70 schools where periods of history are replaced by themes including “conflict and its lasting impact” and “people’s diverse ideas”. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said he agreed with many of the points raised by Ofsted, which had been addressed in the revised secondary curriculum introduced last week. “The new curriculum has strengthened the requirement that all pupils need to have a good chronological understanding of history. This is compulsory at primary Key Stages too,” he said, adding that they would improve the training of primary teachers.

However, Michael Gove, the Shadow Children’s Secretary, said the report underlined the dangers of the new curriculum. “The changes Ed Balls [the Education Secretary] announced last week would mean more of the flabby, woolly, ‘theme-based’ teaching this report warns us about,” he said. “Ofsted underlines the importance of rigour and giving pupils a proper connected sense of what went on in the past. Ed Balls’s plans for five-minute lessons and writing Churchill out of the past are the complete opposite of that, and won’t give the next generation the understanding it deserves of our national story.”


Big Macs ferried in after rioting inmates run amok in British immigration detention centre

Rioting foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers were fed McDonald's takeaway meals by prison staff during a 60million pound orgy of destruction which wrecked an immigration detention centre. Fearful that the human rights of inmates would be breached, staff ferried sackfuls of Big Mac meals with fries and soft drinks from a nearby branch of the fast-food chain. The revelation came in a damning official report into the riot at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow Airport last November. More than 500 inmates awaiting deportation wrecked and burned down much of the site, and it took riot squads almost two days to regain control. The report also reveals:

* Walls and doors in the centre were so flimsy that inmates kicked them down with ease, especially after they were soaked by the sprinkler system;

* The fire brigade got lost because there were no signposts to the centre;

* CCTV cameras were easy for rioters to destroy - meaning control room staff had no idea what was going on;

* Increasingly desperate calls to the Prison Service headquarters begging for help were ignored for an hour.

The official Home Office investigation blames the riot partly on the huge pressure on the centre after last summer's foreign prisoners scandal. Hundreds of foreign national criminals were rounded up after being released from Britain's jails without being considered for deportation. Of the 501 men in the detention centre at the time 177 were foreign prisoners awaiting deportation - a volatile group who had 'nothing to lose'. The riot was triggered by inmates watching a TV news bulletin reporting criticisms of Harmondsworth from prison watchdogs. Fires were started and inmates began smashing CCTV cameras and attacking staff, who were unable to contain the violence.

As control room managers lost their grip, staff were ordered to retreat and seal the gates, as police arrived to guard the perimeter. Thirteen riot squads entered the centre next morning but took more than 24 hours to regain control.

During the day a row broke out between senior officials over whether to send food in for rioters. Those who favoured starving inmates into submission were overruled, as managers ordered that 'minimum needs of food and drink' must be supplied. "In the early stages food came from McDonald's," according to the report by senior civil servant Robert Whalley. Yesterday the Daily Mail tracked down a worker at the West Drayton branch of McDonald's who recalled Harmondsworth staff placing a huge order for 3.59 burger meals. He said: "I remember prison officers turning up and ordering around 100 Big Mac meals with fries and fizzy drinks. For a couple of hours they kept turning up with big bags, filling them up with meals and then ferrying them off in Securicor vans and then they'd return for more."

The Home Office was last night unable to provide details of the cost of the emergency supplies. The cost of dealing with the riot and rebuilding large parts of Harmondsworth is expected to top 65million pounds.

Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: "This situation required a fast response, and all they got was fast food. "We now know that this dangerous incident happened because the Government was forced to mix foreign prisoners with failed asylum seekers. Because of prison overcrowding, this is still going on."

Lin Homer, chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, said work was under way to 'expand and strengthen' removal centres. The Home Office said that five detainees had been charged and remanded in custody in connection with the riot.


Latest on the Lancet agitprop about Iraqi deaths

What fun! Courtesy of Michelle Malkin, there is a scholarly paper here by a statistical mathematician which finds that the "600,000 Iraqi deaths" paper published in 2004 in Lancet is internally inconsistent. Using the paper's own figures, the statistician shows that the authors cannot conclude anything from their "research".

The original paper was so out of line with normal survey methodology that those of us who are experienced in survey research pointed that out long ago but it is interesting to see the same point absolutely demonstrated. It is another example of Lancet prostituting their medical reputation to make political points. They obviously did not do a proper peer review on the paper before they accepted it and that may well be because they were so out of their field that they did not know how to do a proper review of a survey research paper. They should stick to medicine.

It may be noted that the authors of the paper refuse to release their raw data -- a most unusual thing for scientists to do. It suggests that the "research" was a fraud from beginning to end -- rather like the Mann "hockeystick" finding in climate science -- a finding that the IPCC no longer mentions!

Something Michelle seems to have overlooked, however, is that there seems to have been an attempt by Lancet to redact what they originally published. The paper Michelle cites is a version that says only 100,000 Iraqis died. Whereas the original paper said that 654,965 Iraqis died. Is this an admission? Does even Lancet now concede that they goofed? The plot thickens!

British navy not to be scrapped after all: "The go-ahead was given yesterday for the construction of two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers as big as the QE2, but the Royal Navy will have to wait until 2014 for the first one - two years behind previous projections. Under government planning announced nearly ten years ago, the two new large aircraft carriers for the Navy were supposed to come into service in 2012 and 2015. The ageing and smaller carriers they are replacing, HMS Invincible, HMS Ark Royal, and HMS Illustrious, were to be taken out of service by 2013. However, senior defence officials said the new in-service date for the first of the large carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was now expected to be 2014, and the second ship, HMS Prince of Wales,in 2016. In the past the Government insisted that the 2012 date for the first carrier was "nonnegotiable". The delay means that the current carriers will stay in service for longer to prevent a huge gap in the Armed Forces' expeditionary capability."

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