Monday, July 16, 2007

Is Scotland now run by racists?

In the recent elections for the Scottish parliament, the Scottish National Party (SNP) emerged as Scotland's governing party. As I pointed out recently here however, "nationalism" is usually a snarl word these days. The National Socialist German Worker's Party (Hitler's party) is probably responsible for that. And SNP supporters do call themselves nationalists on occasions.

So is Scotland now run by Nazis? A prominent Scottish public servant seems to think so. We read:

"A top civil servant who once compared the SNP to the Omagh bombers has quit weeks after the Nationalists' win in the Holyrood election. Susan Dalgety, one of the key officials in charge of the Scottish Executive's Malawi initiative, has walked away after Labour's defeat last month. She has refused to comment on whether her departure is linked to her describing the SNP as being full of "oddballs" and "out-and-out racists".

However, she was said to be "gutted" after the SNP won last month's Holyrood election and was unsure whether she had a future under the Nationalist administration.

Her Labour loyalties and queasy attitude towards the SNP are said to have informed her decision to quit last week. The Sunday Herald understands her resignation was made around the same time her new bosses were reminded about a column she wrote before joining the Executive. Written in 1998, when she was a Labour councillor, Dalgety stated: "I detest the Scottish National Party and everything it stands for."

She continued: "Scratch below the almost acceptable surface of Smarmy Alex Salmond and his small band of MPs and his barmy army is exposed as an assortment of oddballs, extremists and out-and-out racists."

Dalgety then compared the SNP to the IRA: "We need to look no further than the butchery of Omagh to see for ourselves what happens when nationalism gets out of control. Innocent children die."

She concluded: "Readers might find my gut reaction to the SNP overdramatic, but I love Scotland too much to stand by and watch it succumb to the intolerant, adolescent demands of bigots."


Basically, she is just another abusive Leftist nutcase. Anybody who can confuse the sentimental bourgeoisie who support the SNP with the vicious terror bombers of the Real IRA in Ireland (Omagh) has simply lost touch with reality.

I have myself done survey research into Scottish nationalism and believe that I may have had more academic journal articles published on the subject than almost anyone else. There is a list of them here. So I do know something about that whereof I speak. And the SNP are about as dangerous as a cup of tea. Their only major achievement would seem to be that the kilt is now widely worn on social occasions in Scotland.

Churchill dropped from England's history syllabus

Britain's World War II prime minister Winston Churchill has been cut from a list of key historical figures recommended for teaching in English secondary schools, a government agency says. The radical overhaul of the school curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds is designed to bring secondary education up to date and allow teachers more flexibility in the subjects they teach, the Government said.

But although Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, Joseph Stalin and Martin Luther King have also been dropped from the detailed guidance accompanying the curriculum, Sir Winston's exclusion is likely to leave traditionalists aghast.

A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said the new curriculum, to be taught from September 2008, does not prescribe to teachers what they must include. But he added: "Teachers know that they need to mention these pivotal figures. They don't need to be instructed by law to mention them in every history class. "Of course, good teachers will be teaching the history of Churchill as part of the history of Britain. The two are indivisible."

Sir Winston's grandson Nicholas Soames, also a Conservative Member of Parliament, described the move as "madness." "It is absurd. I expect he wasn't New Labour enough for them ... this is a Government that is very careless of British history and always has been. "The teaching of history is incredibly important," he added. "If you're surprised that people do not seem to care that much about the country in which they live, the reason is that they don't know much about it."

The History Curriculum Association said it was "appalled" by the move, saying the new curriculum would "promote ignorance" and was pandering to a politically-correct agenda. The Conservatives' schools spokesman Michael Gove added: "Winston Churchill is the towering figure of 20th century British history. "His fight against fascism was Britain's finest hour. Our national story can't be told without Churchill at the centre."

Schools Secretary Ed Balls defended the move, saying a slimmed-down curriculum was overdue and traditional elements in all subjects had been protected. Among the few named figures that stay in the new history curriculum are William Wilberforce, the British law maker who was instrumental in efforts to abolish the slave trade.

Sir Winston, who was British prime minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955, was famous for his defiance to the Nazis, stirring oratory and trademark cigar and "V for victory" sign. In 2002, a BBC poll with more than one million votes saw him voted the Greatest Briton of all time.


Making a Balls-up of British education

As schools minister Ed Balls calls for lessons in emotional and economic wellbeing, it's clear the Brown government is as philistine as the Blairites

Over the past 10 years, New Labour's ministers for education and schools have been remarkably consistent. That is, they have consistently screwed up the school curriculum.

Those who thought that Estelle Morris (UK secretary of state for education and skills from 2001 to 2002) was as bad as it gets must now realise that dumbing down education is part of the job description for school ministers under New Labour. And it looks like Ed Balls, who has been appointed secretary of state for children, schools and families by new PM Gordon Brown, possesses a formidable skill for generating dumb ideas.

Balls' first major initiative, announced last week, was to introduce the teaching of social and emotional skills to schoolchildren. Schools in England will get œ13.7million in government funds to teach pupils manners, respect and good behaviour. So at a time when many children can barely spell `respect', Balls reveals that lessons in emotional intelligence will be the driver of his education revolution.

Last week it was respect - this week it's money-management. Balls has announced that, as part of an overhaul of the Key Stage 3 curriculum for older pupils, 11- to 16-year-olds will be introduced to a new subject: `economic wellbeing and financial capability'. Apparently Balls wants children to learn how to manage their money, since `money plays a crucial part in all our lives'; the aim is to `help youngsters to prepare for financial pressures after leaving school' (1).

Tomorrow, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will unveil these reforms to the curriculum in full, as more and more worthy issues are recycled as academic subjects. For example, it is likely that there will be further tampering with the geography curriculum, to give it an even `greener interpretation' and an `additional focus on climate change and recycling' (2).

New Labour's pick'n'mix approach to the curriculum is underpinned by a belief that education is far too important to be left to educators, their pupils and families. The government seems to believe that if only schools would teach children enough about sex education, emotional intelligence and respect, then problems like teenage pregnancy, crime and community corrosion might disappear. They simply don't understand that the best way to turn children into inspired and socially responsible citizens is to challenge them through real academic subjects.

You don't need a degree from Harvard to know that a pupil who has grasped basic maths is likely to be better at handling money than a kid who got an A in `economic wellbeing and financial capability'. Decades of experience also show that citizenship classes do not produce brilliant citizens, that sex education does not reduce teenage sexual activity, and that emotional education has not given rise to a cohort of self-aware and confident young people. All that has happened as education has been instrumentalised by New Labour is that teachers and children have been distracted from engaging with the academic subjects that could take their classrooms forward and really prepare children for the future.

New Labour's philistinism towards education can seem contradictory. Both the Blairites and now the Brownites have appeared to have `too little' and `too much' interest in education. They are not very interested in the content of basic subjects like maths, English and science - but they are excessively interested in constantly changing the curriculum to make it reflect the government's policy agenda.

If I were a betting man, I would put my money on there being a further erosion of the important dividing line between education and the promotion of political values.


The new anti-Semitism in Britain: How the Left reversed history to bring Judaism under attack

On the side of St George's Town Hall in the East End of London, there's a mural commemorating the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when tens of thousands of Jews and local trades unionists fought side by side to halt a march by Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. They poured out of the docks, factories and sweat shops to repel the Blackshirts, who were being given an official police escort. Their banners read: They Shall Not Pass.

By the end of the day, the police were forced to withdraw and Mosley's thugs had been routed. It was a crushing defeat, from which the Far Right never really recovered and was pivotal in preventing the cancer of Fascism and anti-Semitism then sweeping Continental Europe from establishing a meaningful foothold in this country.

In my previous incarnation as a young labour and industrial correspondent, I used to drink in the Britannia pub, in Cable Street, with an old friend, Brian Nicholson, former chairman of the transport workers' union, who lived a couple of doors down. From the public bar, a few yards across the square from the old Town Hall, I watched with fascination as the mural was being painted. It took 17 years from conception to completion in 1993 and more than once suffered the indignity of being vandalised by moronic Mosley manques in the National Front and the BNP.

A couple of years ago when the BBC approached me to make what they called an 'authored documentary' on any subject about which I felt passionate, I proposed an investigation into modern anti-Semitism to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Cable Street last October. My thesis was that while the Far Right hasn't gone away, the motive force behind the recent increase in anti-Jewish activity comes from the Fascist Left and the Islamonazis. It was an idea which vanished into the bowels of the commissioning process, never to return. Eventually the Beeb told me that they weren't making any more 'authored documentaries'. I couldn't help wondering what might have happened if I'd put forward a programme on 'Islamophobia'. It would probably have become a six-part, primetime series and I'd have been up for a BAFTA by now.

But I persevered and Channel 4 picked up the project. You can see the results on Monday night. When some people heard I was making the programme, their first reaction was: 'I didn't know you were Jewish.' I'm not, but what's that got to do with the price of gefilte fish? They simply couldn't comprehend why a non-Jew would be in the slightest bit interested in investigating anti-Semitism. If I had been making a film about Islamophobia, no one would have asked me if I was Muslim.

The Labour MP John Mann told me that he experienced exactly the same reaction when he instigated a parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism. 'As soon as I set it up, the first MP who commented to me said: "Oh, I didn't know you were Jewish, John."' He isn't, either. But the implication was plainly that the very idea of anti-Semitism is the invention of some vast Jewish conspiracy.

Mann's inquiry reported: 'It is clear that violence, desecration and intimidation directed towards Jews is on the rise. Jews have become more anxious and more vulnerable to attack than at any time for a generation or longer.' That certainly bears out my own findings. After three months filming across Britain, I reached the conclusion: It's open season on the Jews. Ever since 9/11 I've detected an increase in anxiety among Jewish friends and neighbours in my part of North London. As I've always argued: just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you. When I went to address a ladies' charity lunch at a synagogue in Finchley, I was astonished at the level of security. You don't expect to see bouncers in black bomber jackets on the door at a place of worship.

I soon discovered this wasn't unusual. Nor is it confined to London. The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Mike Todd, took me out on patrol with his officers and members of the Community Security Trust, which provides protection for the Jewish community. These patrols are mounted every Friday night following a series of unprovoked attacks on Jews on their way to synagogue. We passed a care home surrounded by barbed wire. At the King David School, there are high fences, floodlights, CCTV cameras and fulltime guards. It was the kind of security you associate with a prison. They're even installing bombproof windows in many prominent Jewish institutions and running evacuation drills.

This sounded to me like Cold War panic. Surely it's all a bit over the top? Far from it, said Todd. 'We know that people carry out hostile reconnaissance. You do know that there will be attacks potentially and so what we're trying to do is make it a hostile environment to those people who want to engage in anti-Semitic attacks.'

In the past two years, Manchester police reported a 20 per cent rise in anti-Semitic incidents. I visited a Jewish cemetery in the north of the city which has been repeatedly desecrated - headstones and graves smashed, swastikas daubed on memorials. It was heartbreaking. That type of cowardly vandalism is almost certainly the handiwork of Far Right skinheads. But the more serious threat comes from Islamist extremists. Police and the security services say they have uncovered a series of plots by groups linked to Al Qaeda to attack Jewish targets in Britain.

As Channel 4's own Undercover Mosque documentary exposed earlier this year, anti-Jewish sermons are routinely preached in Britain. Anti-Semitic hatred is beamed in on satellite TV channels and over the internet. On London's Edgware Road, just around the corner from the Blairs' new Connaught Square retirement home, I was able to buy a copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, translated into Arabic. It was on open sale alongside the evening paper and the Kit-Kats.

You don't even have to be Jewish to find yourself on the end of anti-Semitic hatred. I met a Jack the Ripper tour guide in East London who was beaten up by a group of Muslim youths, who took one look at his period costume - long black coat and black hat - and assumed he was an Orthodox Jew and therefore deserving of a kicking. They didn't want 'dirty Jews' in 'their' neighbourhood.

During the 2005 General Election, anti-war activists targeted Labour MPs who supported the invasion of Iraq. Fair enough, that's a legitimate enough ambition in a democracy. But in the case of Lorna Fitzsimons, the member for Rochdale, the campaign to unseat her took a sinister turn. An outfit calling itself The Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) - basically two brothers above a kebab shop - published leaflets 'accusing' her of being Jewish, even though she's not. 'They said I was part of the world neo-Con Zionist conspiracy. I think it's deeply insidious and worrying that they felt there was so much anti-Semitism in the local community that it would galvanise the vote.' In the event, she lost her seat by a few hundred votes and is certain the MPAC smear campaign swung it.

Opposition to the war and loathing of Israel has led the selfstyled 'anti-racist' Left to make common cause with Islamonazis. And 'anti-Zionism' soon tips over into straight- forward anti-Semitism. When The Observer columnist Nick Cohen - who has always considered himself of the Left and, despite the surname, isn't Jewish either - wrote a piece defending the toppling of Saddam he was deluged with hate mail. 'It was amazing anti-Semitism, you know - you're only saying this because you're a Jew.' Cohen has also noticed the casual anti-Jewish sentiment around Left-wing dinner tables and in the salons of Islington. He is appalled by the way in which his old comrades-in-arms have embraced terrorist groups like Hezbollah, one of the most anti-Semitic organisations on Earth.

Check out the way the National Union of Journalists singles out Israel for boycott, even though it has the only free press in the Middle East. Or the academic boycott of Israel by the university lecturers, which as the lawyer Anthony Julius and the law professor Alan Dershowitz argue, goes way beyond legitimate protest. The sheer ferocity and violence of the arguments is nothing more than naked anti-Semitism.

Under the guise of 'anti-Zionism', anti- Semitism is rife on British university campuses. But still the Government refuses to ban groups such as Hizb ut-Tahir, motto: 'Jews will be killed wherever they can be found.' Then there is self-proclaimed 'anti-racist' Ken Livingstone, who said to a Jewish reporter, Oliver Finegold, who approached him outside County Hall: 'What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?' When Finegold explained that he was Jewish and was deeply offended by the remark, Livingstone compared him to a 'concentration camp guard'. Attempting to justify himself, Livingstone put on his best Kenneth Williams 'Stop Messing About' voice and protested that he wasn't being anti-Jewish since he was rude about everyone. That was his Get Out Of Jail Free gambit. Funny how that excuse didn't work for Bernard Manning [A recently deceased British comedian who used "ethnic" humour].

But under the Macpherson code to which Livingstone subscribes, a racist incident is one which anyone perceives as racist - intended victim or onlooker. It's curious how in multi-cultural, diverse, inclusive, anti-racist Britain, the rules don't seem to extend to the Jews. Livingstone would never have dreamed of being that offensive to a Muslim, or Jamaican, journalist. Any Tory who made similar remarks would have been hounded from office - and Livingstone would have been leading the lynch mob.

Blaming Israel is the last refuge of the anti-Semite. Livingstone insists he's not anti-Jewish, he just opposes the policies of the Israeli government. So perhaps he can explain what the hell the conflict in the Middle East has to do with calling a Jewish reporter a German war criminal and a concentration camp guard? Where exactly does the Palestinian cause fit into that equation?

'If you have people like the Mayor of London crossing the line, then making a half-apology, and stumbling through that, then it gives a message out to the rest of the community. That is why anti-Semitism is on the rise again - because it's become acceptable,' says John Mann, whose parliamentary inquiry team was shocked at the scale and nature of what it unearthed. 'Every single member of our committee was stunned at some of the things they found out. It wasn't a Britain that they recognised. It's almost as if it's a throwback. We thought these were things we'd seen in the past, and we hoped had gone.'

As A Labour MP he's appalled at the way many on the Left have become almost casually and routinely anti-Semitic. 'We wouldn't have seen this ten or 15 years ago. This idea that in some way there's a conspiracy of Jews running the world goes back to the Elders of the Protocols of Zion (a long since discredited book, though still popular in the Muslim world) in the last century. We've seen this before, and now it's resurgent.'

Seventy years after Cable Street, we've gone full circle. The Left who once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jews against the Blackshirts are now in the vanguard of the new anti-Semitism. The Britannia has long since closed and the Jewish community has moved on, but the mural remains. The synagogues have been replaced by mosques. Where the East End was once a hotbed of Far Right extremism, these days it's the stomping ground of George Galloway's Respect Party, a grubby alliance of Islamic extremists and the old Socialist Workers Party - at the heart of the new 'We Are All Hezbollah Now' activism.

While we were shooting the final sequence of next Monday's film in front of the mural, a scruffy-looking bloke wandered out of what used to be the Britannia and now seems to have been turned into some kind of glorified squat. He recognised me, identified himself as a member of Respect, objected to what I was saying to camera and tried to disrupt us. Outnumbered, he shuffled away again, shouting. He did not pass. The Second Battle of Cable Street, it wasn't.


Don't get breast cancer in Britain

An "alarming" number of patients with suspected breast cancer are waiting too long for a diagnosis, doctors warn. Government targets dictate all suspected breast cancers should be seen by a specialist within two weeks. But a team at Bristol's Frenchay Hospital discovered an increase in the number of positive diagnoses among women deemed to be non-urgent cases. Doctors said the target was failing, but the government said it was looking to improve the situation.

The study published in the British Medical Journal reported that the two-week wait target - from GP referral to consultant appointment - was introduced in 1999 because of long waiting lists for diagnosis and treatment. Doctors at the Breast Care Centre at Frenchay Hospital compared nearly 25,000 urgent and non-urgent referrals - where breast cancer is not suspected but a consultant's opinion is still needed - between 2000 and 2005.

They discovered that the number of women referred urgently by their GP had increased, as expected. But the proportion of cancers detected in those seen within two weeks went down from 12.8% to 7.7%. Meanwhile, the numbers seen as non-urgent cases fell, but the proportion diagnosed with cancer rose from 2.5% to 5.3%.

Lead researcher Simon Cawthorn said the target had been very effective in getting many women seen quickly but that most of the time it was impossible to tell whether a breast lump was cancer or not. "The message is that we need to see everyone within two weeks. "Even though it's only a small number in the routine group, it's a significant number." He added that because the two-week wait rule had improved diagnostic services, GPs were now referring women they would have previously asked to come back to see them in a month or two. "They are having to decide whether it's urgent or not and the thing is you just can't tell."

The team have now invested in two specialist breast nurses and see all patients within two weeks. A Department of Health spokesperson said ministers were looking to improve the situation. "We accept that there will always be some patients who do not come through the two-week wait route, because they do not have obvious symptoms, are detected through screening, or through investigation for other conditions. "In 2005, the government made a manifesto commitment to go further on cancer waits and we are considering proposals to do this as part of the Cancer Reform Strategy due to be published at the end of this year."

Maggie Alexander, director of policy and campaigns at Breakthrough Breast Cancer said all patients should be seen within two weeks. "We have known for some time that many women eventually diagnosed with breast cancer are given a routine referral by their GP, and as a result may endure anxious, long waits to find out if they have breast cancer." Hisham Hamed, Cancer Research UK breast surgeon, said the aim was for all patients to be seen in the shortest possible time and the majority referred did not have breast cancer. "It is important to say that research shows an extra week or two will not compromise the patient's outcome."


The IVF `miracle maker' is vindicated; Nasty British bureaucrats defeated

Three cheers for the High Court's ruling that the HFEA, Britain's fertility regulator, acted unlawfully in its witch-hunt against Dr Taranissi

Last week, the High Court in London ruled that warrants obtained by the UK Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in January to support raids of the London clinics of top IVF doctor Mohamed Taranissi were unlawful, and therefore invalid. The HFEA is ordered to pay legal costs in the case, which are estimated to be in excess of 1million pounds. As a former patient of Mr Taranissi's - whose groundbreaking IVF treatments helped me, and many other women, to become pregnant and give birth to healthy, beautiful children - I am relieved and happy that my doctor has been vindicated. But I remain appalled that the HFEA pursued such an outrageous, sensationalist and expensive campaign against him in the first place.

The timing of the police-accompanied raids of the ARGC and RGI - Mr Taranissi's clinics - appear to have been the result of a cynical move by the HFEA to hit the headlines at the same time that a BBC Panorama `expos,' of Mr Taranissi's fertility methods and practice was due to be aired. The chief executive of the HFEA, Angela McNab, now accepts that the evidence she provided to the courts in order to obtain the warrant was inadequate and incomplete. The judge who granted permission for the review of the warrants said the HFEA's applications were `unfair and highly misleading'. It seems the HFEA acted quickly so that the raids could be included in the Panorama programme broadcast on the same day, 15 January 2007. After last week's judgment, Evan Harris MP, a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, expressed concern that `the HFEA allowed a media timetable and presentational issues to conquer better judgement and due process'.

The recent legal debacle is just the latest in a series of heavy-handed, misguided or just plain incompetent actions by the HFEA. The fertility regulatory authority was established in 1991 following the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990. Its remit is to licence and regulate IVF and other fertility treatments and to oversee research in the field. Since its inception, it has used its powers to interfere in and obstruct the clinical practice and research agendas of doctors, scientists and other specialists.

From `saviour siblings' to animal hybrids, from sex selection to limiting the number of embryo transfers, the HFEA has either erected ethical or bureaucratic obstructions to IVF breakthroughs, or at best encouraged researchers and doctors to proceed with extreme caution. It has continually dragged its feet and prevented progress in the field. It is little wonder, then, that it has consistently clashed with the most cutting-edge and progressive of reproductive clinicians, Mr Taranissi, who has by far the best IVF success rates in Britain. Some refer to him as the IVF `miracle maker'.

There have been numerous calls - from the press and from fertility specialists - for the resignation of Angela McNab for her part in this shambolic affair, not least because of the massive costs involved. There is also some insinuation that she is pursuing a grudge in her vendetta against Mr Taranissi. No doubt there is now very good reason for Ms McNab to consider her position. Yet a change of personnel, even at the very top, will not alter the character of the unelected and seemingly unaccountable HFEA. What is required is a radical overhaul of the way that fertility treatment and research is regulated.

Although there is strong support in the fertility sector for some level of independent regulation, there is also much discontent about the manner in which the HFEA has conducted itself. The British Fertility Society has called for a full investigation by the Department of Health into the HFEA's recent actions, as it is clear that the authority has lost the trust and confidence of the fertility sector. Regulatory reform is certainly in the pipeline: there are plans to merge the HFEA with the Human Tissue Authority in 2008. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to a more liberal system with a greater degree of accountability.

Clearly, the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. That an appointed quango can dupe a judge to allow it to ride roughshod over the rights of a doctor by strong-arming its way into his clinics, terrifying his patients and absconding with his records and computer files in order to stage a dramatic scene for a TV show is - I hope - not the way we ought to conduct government in this country. The HFEA did not even have the decency to apologise to Mr Taranissi for its unlawful actions against him. Instead, its post-trial statements put as positive a `spin' on its actions as it possibly could, and the HFEA proceeded to remind Mr Taranissi and the rest of us that his clinics are still under investigation for breaches of licensing regulations.

The regulation of the fertility sector should not be the authoritarian Big Brother it is in danger of becoming under the auspices of the HFEA. Important policy decisions affecting the sector should properly be made by our elected and accountable representatives in parliament, while the clinical decisions relating to patient treatment should be made between doctors and patients. It is entirely legitimate to call for Ms McNab to resign - but it might be wise to call for the HFEA to be abolished at the same time.


New IVF wisdom: Autoimmune syndrome can cause infertility

After three failed attempts at IVF, Julia Kantecki began to lose hope that she and her husband Robert would ever conceive a child. "My baby dream was slipping away. I was 40 and fearful of shrivelling into menopause and a childless future," says Julia, 45, a former marketing director. Robert, 56, had had a vasectomy 20 years earlier and IVF was the couple's only chance of having a child together.

Since her mother had had five children without a problem, Julia, who lived in Doncaster at the time, assumed everything would go smoothly. So it came as an enormous disappointment when she failed to become pregnant. The worst part was that the IVF doctors couldn't offer any definitive explanation for the failure. But her experience is far from unusual - although many women assume that the wonders of modern medicine mean they will conceive easily with IVF, in fact the success rate is around 20 per cent. Julia's doctors simply suggested she might get lucky if she kept trying. She did keep trying, twice over - but without any luck.

Conventional medicine holds that IVF failure and miscarriage are the result of hormonal problems, abnormalities of the uterus, genetically defective embryos or ageing eggs. But doctors from the Alan E Beer Center for Reproductive Immunology, in San Francisco, believe they may be caused by a woman's immune system going into overdrive and wrongly attacking her embryos as if they were foreign bodies. The Beer Center, which has treated more than 7,000 couples for fertility-related immune problems, claims a pregnancy success rate of 85 per cent within three natural cycles or IVF attempts.

While on holiday with her mother, Julia visited a clinic run by Dr Beer. She was told that three IVF failures indicated possible immune problems. Blood test results showed that Julia had abnormally high levels of natural "killer" (NK) cells - thought to help keep the body from developing cancer - and harmful antibodies that doctors at the clinic said were attacking her embryos. "They told me that my body was treating pregnancy as if it was dealing with a cancer and killing my babies before they'd had time to implant in my uterus properly," says Julia. An added complication was an inherited clotting disorder making her susceptible to developing blood clots in the placenta, which could also endanger her embryos.

The good news, one of the nurses told her, was that they knew exactly how to treat these conditions. With the right medications, she stood an 80 per cent chance of having a baby.

It was in the Eighties that Alan Beer, an academic who had trained in immunology and obstetrics, began to suspect that NK cells produced by an over-active immune system could damage embryos and cause implantation failure. He tested women who were miscarrying and suffering IVF failure and found that they had abnormally high levels of NK cells. These, he believed, could attack both the developing embryo and hormones essential to maintain pregnancy. "When women tell me they're always healthy and never get infections, alarm bells start ringing since it suggests their immune systems are working overtime," says Dr Raphael Stricker, who took over as medical director of the Beer Center after the death of Dr Beer last year.

The theory is that this can be redressed artificially, with drugs. "Immune therapy for reproductive failure is a temporary measure. "It's designed to replicate the natural suppression of the immune system at the very beginning of a normal pregnancy," explains Dr Stricker. "The drugs involved are taken for the least amount of time and prescribed at the lowest doses possible."

For Julia, the Beer Center's theories were a revelation. "I was shocked that my body might be such a non-baby friendly environment," she says. "Symptoms like the mild arthritis I had in my fingers, which is also apparently an immune problem, now made sense. "It all sounded too good to be true - but it was worth a try."

She returned home with her first prescription for the drugs, but her GP dismissed the treatment as "unorthodox". Among the UK medical establishment, such methods are regarded as at best unproven and at worst akin to "snake oil". The concern is that vulnerable women undergoing such unproven treatments risk being financially exploited and exposed to potentially dangerous drugs. However, the consultant she saw at Doncaster Royal Infirmary was, says Julia, more "open-minded" and agreed to prescribe the drugs privately.

A few weeks before undergoing her next IVF cycle, she was given a course of prednisolone - a corticosteroid that would suppress her immune system and stop it attacking the embryo - and heparin injections to thin her blood, which would prevent blood clots from blocking the placenta. Three embryos were transferred and two weeks later, she got the result she had waited so long to hear. "To my absolute, total disbelief and delight, the test was positive," she recalls. "At first I was a bit stunned. Robert and I both cried later when the news sank in that I was really pregnant." To their amazement, successive scans revealed a good-sized baby with a strong, regular heart beat.

Even after the pregnancy was achieved it was vital she continued to take the drugs to prevent her NK cells from increasing and killing her growing baby. Julia's consultant assured her that the dose was very low and would have no effect on her baby. Towards the end of the pregnancy her intake of prednisone was gradually reduced and, a few weeks before the anticipated delivery date, she stopped taking the bloodthinning anticoagulant, in case doctors needed to perform an emergency Caesarean. In August 2003, Julia gave birth to her son Thomas.

Her experiences inspired her to help other women find out more about reproductive immunology and she approached Dr Beer with the idea of writing a book - they called it Is Your Body Baby Friendly? Dr Beer died in May 2006, just after its completion. "Without Dr Beer's determination to identify the immune reactions that cause reproductive failure and his pioneering use of immunotherapy, our son would not be here," says Julia. "The debt we owe him is immeasurable."


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