Shannon Matthews was kidnapped after social workers dropped her from the child protection register because they decided that she was no longer at risk of harm. Social services became involved with her six years ago because of fears about her welfare. In late 2003, they ruled that no further involvement was necessary. Shannon was removed from the at-risk register even though social workers knew of reports that the Matthews children were being left alone at night, were not attending school and that there were problems with violence, alcohol and drug abuse in the home.
For at least 20 months before she disappeared in February, Shannon was being secretly doped with at least five different drugs, including sedatives, painkillers and antidepressants. Her mother, Karen Matthews, and her accomplice, Michael Donovan, were found guilty yesterday of a "dishonest and wicked" plot that led to Shannon, 9, being abducted and held captive for 24 days. Jointly convicted of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice, they were warned by the judge to expect "a substantial custodial sentence".
Social services, which had compiled a huge file on Matthews and her children before the kidnapping, obtained an emergency court injunction on Wednesday that prevents The Times from disclosing the full details of its involvement with Shannon. Kirklees council, in West Yorkshire, also ordered staff at every school in the district not to discuss Shannon's case, which follows this week's damning report into Haringey social services and the Baby P tragedy.
According to a source close to the family, Shannon's former head teacher went "absolutely ballistic" during one meeting at which the care authority claimed to have received little information about the girl from the school. She was able to show that social workers had been warned of teachers' concerns "on a number of occasions".
A former neighbour, Claire Wilson, 32, said that she used to hear Shannon "crying through the wall" and reported the family to social services on at least three occasions in 2002. "Imagine living with a neighbour from hell and then double it," she said. "I once rolled the dirt off Shannon's feet. The mud was like glue, really stuck on. We had beetles and mice in our home which were coming from their house. "I think social services should be shot. I used to tell them time and again and all they would say was, `We'll look into it'."
Toxicology tests would later establish that Shannon was being fed a range of drugs before she was kidnapped. They included temazepam, a hypnotic drug with sleep-inducing effects, two powerful painkillers and an antidepressant. She was often seen to be drowsy and disorientated and was sometimes sent to bed hungry. Her teachers also raised concerns over low standards of cleanliness and hygiene.
The BBC Panorama programme claimed last night that Shannon was removed from the at-risk register despite a report warning that Matthews would require "constant monitoring and support throughout the lives of her children". The report, commissioned by social services, is said to have concluded that Matthews seemed unable "to place the children's needs above her own".
Before the kidnapping, Shannon and her three siblings were living at a council house in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, with Mathews, 33, and her boyfriend, Craig Meehan, 22, who was later convicted of possessing child pornography. Alison O'Sullivan, Kirklees's director for children and young people, confirmed yesterday that the authority was now "responsible for the protection of the children of Karen Matthews". She said: "Those children are subject to High Court proceedings where, among other very important issues concerning the children, the actions and plans of this local authority, past, present and proposed, will be scrutinised carefully."
Silence descended on Court 12 at Leeds Crown Court yesterday as the jury foreman stood to deliver the unanimous guilty verdicts. Matthews and Donovan, 40, showed no emotion. They will be sentenced at a later date.
Shannon was found in March in the base of a divan bed after police forced entry to Donovan's flat, a mile from her home. She had been drugged and tethered to a strap tied to an attic roof beam for parts of her imprisonment. Her disappearance led to one of the biggest search operations in the history of British policing. It cost 3.2 million pounds and involved more than 300 officers, who searched 1,800 homes. Donovan later admitted taking and holding Shannon but claimed to have been acting under duress after being threatened by Matthews.
In court she sobbed repeatedly, claiming that she played no role in the kidnapping and had not known who was holding Shannon. The jury was told, however, that she had "lied and lied and lied again". In reality, she hoped to earn the 50,000 pound reward offered for her daughter's safe return. Donovan was supposed to "find" Shannon and take her to a police station.
Speaking outside court, Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan, who led the search, said the experience had been harrowing for all involved in the investigation. "The vast majority of staff and officers were parents or grandparents themselves," he said. "On the day she was found alive, everyone was in tears. I've never seen an incident room like it. It was a very emotional time."
Bye Bye to any discipline in British schools
British teacher suspended over push-ups -- at a sports college!
A BRITISH schoolteacher has been suspended after making his pupils do push-ups as a punishment for arriving late to class, Britain's main teaching union said today.
Ian Jennison, a representative for the National Union of Teachers, said the suspension could have a negative impact on how teachers dealt with their students in the future. "It's political correctness gone mad. The repercussions are quite far-reaching," Mr Jennison said. "If this man is sacked for this, teachers are not going to take kids on trips, if two kids are having a fight they won't intervene, because they will be too worried." Mr Jennison said different punishments for latecomers had been discussed by the whole class and that it was the pupils who had suggested push-ups.
The Derby Moor Community Sports College, where the unnamed teacher worked, said an investigation was underway and that its "priority is to ensure that students are happy to be in school".
Britain's nukes in trouble
Blind Freddy knows that any government timetable will blow out by years so this is no surprise but it does show that the risk of blackouts is great unless money can be diverted from useless windmills to build more coal-fired plants
Widespread doubts about the ability of nuclear power to bring a new generation of reactors on stream at the right time and on budget were raised today within an industry that the UK government is relying on to meet its climate change and energy security goals. EDF Energy, the French power company that has been positioning itself as one of the leading future players in the UK market, admitted that its new European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) at Flamanville in France had already run 20% over budget while major delays continue to plague a Finnish facility, the only other new plant under construction in Europe.
Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK, which also wants to construct two nuclear facilities in Britain, said the 2017 target for a first new reactor in this country was "extremely ambitious" and he urged ministers to proceed with a new generation of coal plants, such as the controversial Kingsnorth scheme, to fill the growing energy gap. He was talking at a London conference organised by the Nuclear Industries Association, which was told by another top industry official that although the industry might have a range of problems to overcome, it had recently achieved an extraordinary transformation and was now perceived externally as "sexy".
Lady Barbara Judge, chairwoman of the Atomic Energy Authority (AEA), highlighted skills shortages and waste disposal as potential difficulties but felt they could be overcome. "Atomic was a dirty word but now it's certainly a sexy one," she argued. But she did warn that the safety of existing stations remained paramount and while the difficulties of the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island disasters had been overcome, they could be repeated. "Everyone knows just one accident and the industry will be shut down for 20 years."
Golby raised concerns about the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate which governs the industry's health and safety but questioned whether 2017 was a realistic date for a new station. A colleague had suggested that atomic power would be available to cook the Christmas lunch that year but he said: "I have a fear it will be humble pie we will be eating rather rather than turkey."
Meanwhile at an investors' day in Paris, EDF said the EPR which is being built in Flamanville would cost 4bn euros at 2008 prices instead of 3.3bn . "This update takes into account increase in prices and the effects of some contractual indexes due to higher raw material costs and the impact of technical and regulatory evolutions," explained EDF. The new total cost of the electricity generated is 54/MW hour in 2008, instead of the 46 announced when the project was launched in May 2006.
Luc Oursel, a president at Areva, said despite the Flamanville problems and rising costs and delays at the Olkiluoto plant in Finland still made commercial sense. He insisted the mistakes learned would help build plants in Britain on schedule. Mike O'Brien, the energy minister, said he was confident industry would do all it could to deliver on time and dismissed concerns about any delays affecting climate change policies. He added: "All you can do is work towards it (a target) by a particular date."
Immigrants must learn English to qualify for a British passport
Immigrants who make little effort to integrate into society will wait longer before they can become British citizens under changes to citizenship rules. As part of the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Bill, they will have to “earn” the right to a passport rather than simply achieving it through five years’ residence. The latest measure will end the automatic right to stay and replace it with a new system of “earned citizenship” and temporary residence.
Arrivals will have to demonstrate a good ability in English and a knowledge of life in Britain before becoming citizens. Immigrants who do no voluntary work will qualify only after eight years and those who become unemployed will be asked to leave.
The Bill will deny full access to social benefits, including social housing, to those who have not completed a new period of probationary citizenship of between one and five years. The aim is to link the gaining of a British passport to a greater commitment to the British way of life. Immigrants convicted of serious criminal offences could be barred from citizenship and those found guilty of minor crimes may face delays in having their applications processed.
The suggestion of a Bank Holiday to celebrate Britain appears to have been abandoned.
The Bill will also reduce the restrictions on people from overseas, but who have a British-born mother, applying to become a citizen. Children born to British mothers before 1961 will be able to apply for citizenship. Previously it was passed on through fathers.
The Government proposes to levy a top-up fee on immigrants to create a fund expected to run to 20 million pounds. Cash from the fund will be distributed to local authorities facing short-term pressure because of an influx of migrants.
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “These proposed reforms are a tacit admission that the Government has failed in its seven previous immigration Bills. We need to re-establish controls over our borders so we can count people in and out.”
British childrens' book too naughty for America
"Horrid Henry splits parents between those who love the books, and those who hate them. Some think that Henry is a bad influence, and that he causes children to behave like him. Others hate the fact that the stories don't have a moral: Henry doesn't always get his comeuppance or realise the consequences of his behaviour. One recent thread on mumsnet included the comment, "We do NOT do Horrid Henry, nor will we," while another parent bemoaned how her son's behaviour "plummets" when he reads them.Henry's website is here
These parents are not alone - the books have not yet been published in the US for similar reasons (publishers, say author Francesca Simon, thought they were "too horrid!"). However, one brave publisher has now taken them on for publication next April.
But despite all this, the main point (and it's a huge one) in Henry's favour is that children love Henry, and his cohorts, Moody Margaret, Rude Ralph and Beefy Bert. "He's a funny, naughty child, and he's got a kind of perfect brother, and it's like Henry is his brother's devil," says my daughter, in an attempt to explain the appeal. My feeling is that pretty much anything which encourages reading has to be a good thing, especially when it comes to boys, who are often difficult to persuade. But I also feel that many children definitely get a thrill from reading about a child who behaves badly. He does what many of them wouldn't, but that isn't a bad thing. Fantasy - books, films and theatre - can be enjoyed without having to copy the protagonists!
Simon is thrilled that her books have struck such a chord with the 6-10 age-group, but disappointed that some are unhappy with her hero. "I have received letters that are tear-stained with gratitude because parents are so thrilled that their children are reading. That makes me flushed with pleasure," she says. But she is a little defensive when the question of Henry's "badness" is brought up.
"He does nothing that every child hasn't done," she claims, adding that when people say their child's behaviour has been affected by the stories, she takes it with a pinch of salt. "Kids have always fought - it goes back to Cain and Abel. Yes, Henry calls his brother names and fights, but he also reflects something very truthful about children's lives. That's the humour of family life, which is full of disasters."...
"As a writer, I was very thrilled to be published," says Simon. "I didn't see beyond that, and I still an very surprised that they have been so successful." But she adds that she understands why they work, not only because there isn't much for the 6-10 age group, but because, she says, Horrid Henry and his younger brother, Perfect Peter, are "the two sides of everybody."
UK: The Big Brother state - by stealth: "Personal information detailing intimate aspects of the lives of every British citizen is to be handed over to government agencies under sweeping new powers. The measure, which will give ministers the right to allow all public bodies to exchange sensitive data with each other, is expected to be rushed through Parliament in a Bill to be published tomorrow. The new legislation would deny MPs a full vote on such data-sharing. Instead, ministers could authorise the swapping of information between councils, the police, NHS trusts, the Inland Revenue, education authorities, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, the Department for Work and Pensions and other ministries. Opponents of the move accused the Government of bringing in by stealth a data-sharing programme that exposed everyone to the dangers of a Big Brother state and one of the most intrusive personal databases in the world."
Corrupt British government "charity": "The boss of a Government-owned company which aims to reduce Third World poverty was paid nearly 1million pounds last year, it has emerged. Richard Laing, the chief executive of CDC, received a total of 970,000 pounds in pay and bonuses, while other senior executives at the company earned an average of 435,000. CDC, which is wholly owned by the Department for International Development, uses private equity funds to plough money into poorer countries, mainly in Africa and Asia. But MPs condemned the ' ridiculous' size of the pay packages enjoyed by its bosses. A damning report by the National Audit Office, the public spending watchdog, also found that the firm is sitting on 1.4billion in profits, more than it currently has invested in developing nations. Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said: 'It is ridiculous that the chief executive of a Government-owned body aimed at reducing poverty can earn 970,000 in a single year."
British government "bailout" hits savers: "Millions of savers are staring at a desperate future after the Bank of England slashed interest rates yesterday for the third time in three months. The biggest losers will be the elderly who rely on income from their savings to top up their measly pensions. Terrifyingly, they could get as little as $8 a year for every $10,000 they have put aside."