Negligent NHS doctors let teenager die of cancer
A teenager died from massive cancerous tumours after his GP repeatedly failed to diagnose the disease and told him to 'grow up a bit and stop worrying', an inquest has heard. Christopher Chaffey, 19, was so worried about his failing health that he visited his doctor's surgery half a dozen times in the 15 months up to his death. His symptoms were dismissed as minor and allegedly put down to 'panic attacks'. Even when a blood test was 'significantly abnormal', the GP thought it indicated mild anaemia instead of taking it more seriously.
X Factor contestant Mr Chaffey found the same attitude at a hospital casualty department when he was taken there by ambulance with a headache, vomiting and chest pains. A doctor at Hull Royal Infirmary believed he had an anxiety-related condition and told him to consult his GP.
But the teenager's body was gradually being ravaged by cancer and he died two months later - two days after doctors finally discovered the true nature of his condition. A post-mortem examination found tumours in his neck and skull, as well as a huge tumour affecting his heart and lungs which weighed four-and-a-half pounds.
The alleged medical blunders were revealed at an inquest in Hull. Dr Sahra Ali, a consultant haematologist who was involved only at the very end of his treatment, told the hearing that the lymphoma would have taken months to develop. The doctor added: 'It's a very sad case which is treatable and potentially curable if it would have presented at an earlier stage.'
Mr Chaffey, of Coniston, near Hull, was a music fan and had been a contestant in The X Factor two years earlier, although he failed to get beyond the first round. He was forced to postpone his A-level studies in media and law because of his health problems.
The inquest heard how Mr Chaffey's GP, Joseph Austin, ordered blood tests in July 2007 after the teenager complained of excessive sweating and hair loss. The tests showed abnormalities, but were not considered important. Repeat blood tests the following April showed his haemoglobin levels had fallen, which the GP diagnosed as a mild type of anaemia.
Independent expert Bill Holmes said these blood test results should have been 'explored more actively'. He said night sweating was a well-recognised symptom of lymphoma, although GPs usually came across more innocent causes.
Mr Chaffey's mother Patricia, 40, told the hearing that when her son went back to the GP with his taxi driver father Paul, 43, they were allegedly told 'he should grow up a bit and stop worrying there's something wrong with him'. She took him back to the GP when bouts of fainting prevented him from doing voluntary work at a charity shop. Mrs Chaffey told the GP about prominent veins on her son's chest, his voice becoming hoarse, and that she sometimes had to sleep in his bedroom, but the doctor put it down to panic attacks, the inquest heard.
Dr Austin said he never suspected his patient was suffering from anything serious. Asked by coroner Geoffrey Saul whether he had ever suggested to a member of the family that the problem was in the mind, Dr Austin replied: 'No, I never told him that.'
On July 19 last year, when Mr Chaffey was taken to Hull Royal Infirmary, tests were ordered by Dr Mohammed As'Ad, who also decided there was nothing physically wrong with him.
Later, consultant Mark Higson concluded there had been 'several' missed opportunities at the A&E department when the cancer could have been picked up.
Mr Chaffey's father got in touch with the Psychosis Service for Young People, which put him on a six-month plan to cope with anxiety, but his health continued to worsen and his weight to drop. On September 17 last, the family spotted a lump on his neck and he was seen by an out-of-hours doctor. He was admitted to hospital but by then it was too late.
Migrants queue up in France to reach 'Promised Land' UK
In bitter cold, they queue patiently for the free sandwich and soup that could be the difference between life and death. Men, women and, tragically, even three children, wait near the Calais waterfront for a chance to slip illegally across the 22 miles of Channel to England. The numbers are huge: charity workers think 1,500 migrants are massing in France's northern ports hoping for a new life in Britain.
With unemployment rising and black market jobs vanishing, illegals are steadily being pushed out of Italy, Spain, Belgium and Germany toward what they call the 'Promised Land'. Aissa Zaibet, a charity worker in Calais, said: 'It is the same story throughout the whole of Europe. 'Each government pushes them further down the road, and at the end of that road is the United Kingdom.'
The situation has grown so critical in Calais that France has announced a plan to help the migrants survive. Nearly 1,000 refugees from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and across Africa are sleeping rough in town-centre squats and woodland shanty camps. Immigration minister Eric Besson said yesterday that a network of 'light buildings' will be erected in the town to provide them with food and showers. Controversially, they will also receive information on how to claim asylum once they get to Britain. It is an astonishing U-turn.
In 2002, the French - at the request of the UK - closed the Red Cross centre housing refugees and economic migrants in Sangatte, a village on the hillside overlooking Calais. The centre, from where the White Cliffs of Dover could be seen on a clear day, was believed to act as a magnet for illegal migrants from all over the world. The new centres, dubbed 'mini-Sangattes', will be welcomed by the migrants themselves. 'We live here for weeks and months in the cold and the dirt,' Hemat, a 25-year-old Afghan, told the Mail yesterday. 'We need the strength to make the journey to England. Of course, it is a good thing. How could it not be?'
Yet the new plan is bound to enrage the British Government, which is fighting a losing battle on illegal migration. The numbers getting to Dover have doubled in the past year, according to figures released in the House of Commons earlier this month.
Mr Besson, a former socialist who joined President Nicolas Sarkozy's government in January, said: 'With charity workers and elected officials, we are moving toward the setting up of light structures to help the migrant population around Calais.' He explained that foreigners would get advice on 'their rights' as well as 'sanitary facilities and food points'. It's a far cry from Mr Besson's message a few months ago. Then he promised: 'We did not shut down the original Sangatte, only to open it in another form, even a watered-down one. 'This would only help the immigrants that are there already to remain there, or cross illegally to Britain. And it would become a powerful incentive for more to come there, causing an extra humanitarian problem'. With a final flourish, he said the British authorities must step up checks at the ports 'in the interests of their country and our own'.
The hardliner's change-of-heart apparently comes after he watched a controversial film which opened in France this week. Welcome tells the moving story of a teenage Kurdish refugee who attempts to swim across the Channel to Kent. The film graphically depicts the squalid conditions for migrants in Calais, Dunkirk and Cherbourg. When it opened in Calais this week, an audience of locals sat in stunned silence during the two-hour screening.
A two-acre site for a covered centre, including a health clinic, shower block and legal advice centrehas already been earmarked for the first 'mini-Sangatte' in the town of Grande Synthe, near Calais. News of the U-turn came as French officials in Paris blamed the 2012 Olympics for fuelling a massive increase in migrants hoping to get to Britain. They said that word had got out among the illegals that foreigners are being hired in their hundreds at the huge site in East London.
Whatever the truth of this, yesterday I watched as a group of young Iraqis spent eight hours hiding on the corner of a road junction waiting for the chance to climb on a lorry heading for the UK. They threw stones at journalists and TV crews who tried to photograph them. 'Go away, you must not see this,' said one of them in poor English as he ran toward our car with a brick in his left hand.
At a petrol station nearby, Piotr, a trucker from Poland, said: 'They are trying to climb aboard every hour from six in the morning until two the next night. Of course, some of our drivers need the money and will take a payment to hide them in the back. 'Not every lorry is stopped and searched by the British. They want to try their luck, because some get through.' The going rate for a ride to England is 450 pounds in cash. The migrants have also found ways to avoid being seen by carbon dioxide detection machines established at the port by the authorities. The machines can detect a human's presence in a lorry's cargo by the Co2 they breathe out.
'We put a plastic bag over our heads,' explained one 22-year-old Somalian waiting in the evening food queue back in Calais. 'It means we may die of suffocation, but it is worth the risk. 'The other day my friend, he got to your country. He had a carrier bag tied over his face for the few minutes it took for the lorry to drive past the machine. 'He has sent me a text from Maidstone in Kent saying he is safe and is claiming asylum.'
Half a mile away, in what the migrants call the 'jungle' - a patch of woodland nudging the Calais suburbs - the smell of human excrement and acrid smoke is overwhelming. Here there are 20 small makeshift camps, made of pieces cardboard, plastic sheeting and scrap metal. Last year, a woman journalist who lived in Britain was raped in the jungle by a migrant, who is facing charges of sexual assault in the Calais courts.
In a tough policy, barely one in eight migrants who claim asylum in France is granted his wish. The illegal migrants know that Britain is more sympathetic. When the Sangatte centre was up and running, more than 60,000 of them got across the Channel.
Last night a spokesman for the UK Border Agency, which has scores of officials in Calais trying to halt the diaspora of the desperate, said: 'The British have repeated their opposition to any sort of centre which might act as a magnet for illegal immigrants and the people smugglers who help them. Our border security must start overseas.'
Hungary last night issued an official warning to its citizens not to move to Britain because the economic crisis meant the chances of finding a job were 'down to zero'. Would-be economic migrants were told Britain was 'more sensitive to the effects of the economic crisis' than other EU states. 'The number of jobs is falling drastically and the unemployment rate is twice the EU average,' the foreign ministry said, with some exaggeration.
Wonder drug that stole my memory
Statins have been hailed as a miracle cure for cholesterol, but most people know little about their side effects
I had just walked in to the party, and spotted a familiar face. "Oh, hi," I said brightly, "you're just the person I wanted to see: I had something to ask you." There was a pause. "Yes?" said my friend gently. I stood there in confusion. I couldn't remember her name. And the thing I wanted to ask her had slipped completely out of my mind.
That was a year ago, and it had been happening to me more and more frequently. At first I could shrug it off as examples of those senior moments we all have in late middle age. It started with the names of people and places. "Oh, you know, that man who wrote a book about depression. He used to live in that road just off Primrose Hill. Begins with G."
I have always been a trifle absent-minded. Walking home from prep school, I was usually the one who left his lunchbox behind, or managed to lose his cap while taking a short cut through the copse. Even now, I am not the most reliable person in the world with whom to leave the back door keys. But this was different. I was beginning to be plagued not just with forgetfulness but with confusion. I got into small panics, when for a moment I couldn't make sense of what was going on around me or what I was supposed to be doing. Playing doubles tennis, for example, as I do most weekends, I would get the score wrong and I had to watch the other three like a hawk when we started each new game, so that I knew to stand in the right place.
Worse still was when not only proper nouns but also everyday words escaped me. As a novelist and journalist, my whole life is about words: getting them right and putting them down on the page speedily. Now I found myself looking perplexedly at the keyboard, not only for the right word, with the help of a thesaurus, but where to find the letters I wanted on the laptop.
My wife was by now accustomed to providing names and finishing my sentences for me. It was an unhappy time for both of us. She thought that this was how life was going to be for the next 30 years; I became unusually reclusive for fear of making a fool of myself in public. Both of us read about Alzheimer's with a gripping sensation around the heart, although my symptoms did not seem to fit the classic patterns of the condition.
What, if anything, did seem to fit the pattern, besides incipient dementia? I was pretty healthy, except for moderately high cholesterol, for which I took the statin drug Simvastatin. Other than that I went through periods of taking vitamin supplements - that was all. "Did you say Simvastatin?" asked a friend. "Did you know that statins have been linked to memory loss?"
This was news to me. Statins are, I think, among the greatest successes of modern pharmacology. They work by blocking the action of a chemical in the liver which is needed to make cholesterol. By lowering blood-cholesterol levels, they help defend against arterial diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes. My doctor, when prescribing me tablets of Simvastatin to be taken once a day, described it to me, rightly I'm sure, as a "wonder drug" which deserves to be taken by most of the Western world.
Because the drug worked so well in reducing my cholesterol, it never occurred to me to think of statins as a feature in my memory loss. But looking back to when I began taking that 40-milligram dose, I realised that it more or less coincided with the intensification of my memory problems. I decided to take the bull by the horns. I went to our very good local doctor, told her what was happening, and asked for her advice. She nodded, and said: "We'll take you off statins for three months. Let's see what happens".
For six weeks or so, I noticed. I continued to go around in a daze. Then my life began changing back. At dinner parties I could tell stories without losing track halfway through. In tennis, I didn't have to think about the scores or where I stood at changeovers. Words came back like old friends jostling to greet me. My shattered confidence began returning as decisions became easier to make. The other day, my wife said, "I feel I've got my husband back".
The strangest thing was that for most of last year I noticed something I had never suffered from before: poor circulation in my fingers and toes. I thought my numb white index fingers might be connected to my furious two-finger typing. Nearly every day I had to stop and massage my fingers to get the blood circulating. Then, at about the time my memory began returning, my circulation came back to normal too. Through this coldest winter for 20 years, my fingers have not once lost their nice healthy pink.
I would be a fool to pretend that I know anything about the circulation of the blood to the brain, but an even greater fool to suppose that the medication I took might not somehow be connected to it. Unscientific and simplistic though it is, I truly believe what the history of my symptoms suggests that the Simvastatin I took, so effective in lowering my cholesterol, simultaneously affected my brain.
I am not alone in coming to this conclusion. Google "statins" and "memory loss" and you will come upon a selection of websites connecting the two. In a recent Dutch survey of 4,738 statin users, a quarter reported physical or mental side effects, of whom 13 per cent reported memory loss. Nobody knows why this should be [Rubbish! It is well-known that the brain needs cholesterol to function properly. The brain even makes cholesterol], although many researchers point out that statins can block the production of Co-Q10, a vital heart nutrient. The Canadians now print a mandatory warning on all packets of statins that Co-Q10 reduction "could lead to impaired cardiac function".
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Commission on Human Medicines include memory loss as one of the potential adverse effects of taking statins. A recent discussion paper on statins and memory loss, published by the Pharmacotherapy Press, reports that "the effects of these agents on the human brain are not [as] well established. The more lipid-soluble the statin, the greater propensity it has to cross the blood-brain barrier and affect the central nervous system. According to some reports, Simvastatin is the most lipophilic drug in its class."
Sounds worrying to me. Last month Britain's "heart tsar", Professor Roger Boyle, argued that millions of healthy people over 40 should be considered for statin therapy after a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested the drugs were even more effective than previously thought. The study, of 230,000 people, found that the drugs halved the risk of heart attacks. At present, the prescription of statins for primary prevention of heart disease is confined to those considered to be at high risk of developing heart disease.
Maybe they are right and the benefits of these drugs outweigh the side-effects. However, now that I've got some of my memory back, I'll remember to look for other ways of keeping down my cholesterol.
Brilliant. UK education gets an A* for defeatism
British schools are failing horribly. But when a useful idea emerges that might help, it gets shot down in flames
Bankers becoming teachers? What a bonus! Or maybe not. The Government's plan to fast-track ex-City workers into teaching has unleashed a furore from people who see it as a scam, a quantitative easing of the unemployment figures. "What will they teach?" is the common refrain. "How to screw up the stock market?" Well, perhaps they could teach more children to count. When 150,000 pupils start secondary school innumerate every year, I'm not sure we can afford to be so precious about who is at the blackboard.
One of the most inspiring teachers I ever met was a finance man, Steve Mariotti. After being mugged in the Bronx he tried to deal with the trauma by becoming a maths teacher and signing on at a sink school. After two terms he was close to giving up: he asked his worst students if they remembered a single thing he had said. After a blank silence one boy retold, in detail, a story Steve had given from his business career. This boy didn't care about abstract maths. But he was hungry to understand money and profit, the language of the street. So Steve kept teaching, but made more use of his life experience. He created an "entrepreneurship" curriculum (called NFTE), which improves results across many different subjects, and is now used in 13 countries.
I have seen his ideas working in US charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run. In a school in Brooklyn, with metal detectors on the door, I was mobbed by a group of teens selling T-shirts, home-made gizmos and books that were the practical product of the course. Some of the books were in Japanese: I must have blinked. "Yes we've just started Japanese," I remember the headmistress saying. "I don't see why our students should be denied the opportunity". There, in one of the bleakest parts of the city, was ambition on a scale those children deserved. She saw no reason why her mostly African-American pupils should not go as far as any on the Upper East Side. And she was right. But she was lucky to be running a charter school, free from deadening bureaucracy.
I have seen great schools transforming the lives of poor children in Britain too. But there is a fatal lack of ambition in much of the education debate. Increasingly the view seems to be that whole swaths of children have become almost impossible to teach, that teaching is mostly behaviour management and that anyone who thinks they could do it better is naive. That is the tenor of most of the comments about fast-tracking bankers. But there is no genetic reason why Finland routinely comes top of international league tables that Britain keeps slipping down. When one in five children is leaving school without any recognisable qualification after 11 years in the classroom, a period in which we have spent 650 billion pounds on education, we literally cannot afford to be defeatist.
Defeatism is widening the gap between rich and poor. In 2002 the Government decided that learning a modern language was asking too much from children. It made languages optional. The result is that fewer than half of 14-year-olds are now taking a language GCSE, and some schools are closing the opportunity to all pupils. Languages, like proper science, are increasingly the preserve of the fee-paying minority. So are top exams. If you grow up in Singapore, or New Zealand, or go to an independent school, you can take international exams that are more rigorous than the dumbed-down GCSEs that Manchester Grammar School has just said it will scrap. If you're in the UK state system, you're being told to travel third class.
Last week we learnt that more than half of the pupils who got three As at A level were educated at private school: a shameful figure, since the independent sector educates only 7 per cent of children. The 13 per cent of pupils who are on free school meals, the Tory education spokesman Michael Gove said this week, made up only 0.5 per cent of those getting three As. This is indefensible: Gove called it "an affront to our national conscience".
But where is the sense of shame, of urgency, in the Establishment? Having lumped "Schools" together with "Children" and "Families" in an Orwellian mega-department, the Government is now backsliding on its own city academy programme, which was supposed to free teachers from bureaucracy. More than 70 academy heads said last month that the steady erosion of their independence was making it harder to raise standards.
Eight years ago I sat in a Whitehall office trying to convince education officials to create a fast-track teacher- training scheme for graduates. This was important for what later became Teach First, a programme that brings top graduates into teaching. The officials were not interested in what could be achieved, or what had already been done in America. Their sole concern seemed to be that a new training scheme might devalue those who had slogged their way through the old one. I seem to remember the use of the word "unseemly". The huge outcry about a little government scheme to recruit new teachers sounds the same. They should suffer like we did. It won't work.
There can be no monopoly on thinking when one in five children leaves school without one C grade at GCSE. Of course, not all bankers will make good teachers. They're hardly famed for empathy. But the junior bod from the equities desk, or the ex-corporate lawyer, might well be harbouring a vocation. Many of those who went into the City in the past ten years got there, contrary to myth, from poor backgrounds. They are used to stress and negative feedback, which could prove invaluable: to judge by the hostility of teachers' comments in the blogosphere, they may find the classroom a pushover compared with the staffroom. What few have lacked is ambition. And that, surely, is to be encouraged.
British education policymakers ‘are out of control’
Schools are being swamped by initiatives, legislation and edicts on children’s wellbeing as education policymakers run “out of control”, head teachers said. Their criticisms coincided with a report by the House of Lords Merits Committee, which said that the Government needed to back off and adopt a less heavy-handed approach.
Jane Lees, the president of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the opening of its annual conference in Birmingham that future heads were being deterred from seeking leadership roles because of the mass of bureaucracy and lack of support. She said: “The problem isn’t that there’s a lack of talented potential or experienced leaders, but more of a reluctance to take on the mantle of leadership with all its responsibilities and accountabilities. It seems we have football manager-style employment of heads.”
Schools find out in May the extent of their responsibilities for children’s wellbeing, when the results of a joint consultation by Ofsted and the Department for Children, Schools and Families is announced.
BRITISH MET OFFICE ALARMISTS: AMAZON COULD SHRINK BY 85% DUE TO CLIMATE CHANGE
And pigs might fly
Global warming will wreck attempts to save the Amazon rainforest, according to a devastating new study which predicts that one-third of its trees will be killed by even modest temperature rises.
The research, by some of Britain's leading experts on climate change, shows that even severe cuts in deforestation and carbon emissions will fail to save the emblematic South American jungle, the destruction of which has become a powerful symbol of human impact on the planet. Up to 85% of the forest could be lost if spiralling greenhouse gas emissions are not brought under control, the experts said. But even under the most optimistic climate change scenarios, the destruction of large parts of the forest is "irreversible".
Vicky Pope, of the Met Office's Hadley Centre, which carried out the study, said: "The impacts of climate change on the Amazon are much worse than we thought. As temperatures rise quickly over the coming century the damage to the forest won't be obvious straight away, but we could be storing up trouble for the future."
Tim Lenton, a climate expert at the University of East Anglia, called the study, presented at a global warming conference in Copenhagen today , a "bombshell". He said: "When I was young I thought chopping down the trees would destroy the forest but now it seems that climate change will deliver the killer blow."
The study, which has been submitted to the journal Nature Geoscience, used computer models to investigate how the Amazon would respond to future temperature rises.
It found that a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels, widely considered the best case global warming scenario and the target for ambitious international plans to curb emissions, would still see 20-40% of the Amazon die off within 100 years. A 3C rise would see 75% of the forest destroyed by drought over the following century, while a 4C rise would kill 85%. "The forest as we know it would effectively be gone," Pope said.
Experts had previously predicted that global warming could cause significant "die-back" of the Amazon. The new research is the first to quantify the long-term effect.
Chris Jones, who led the research, told the conference: "A temperature rise of anything over 1C commits you to some future loss of Amazon forest. Even the commonly quoted 2C target already commits us to 20-40% loss. On any kind of pragmatic timescale, I think we should see loss of the Amazon forest as irreversible."
Peter Cox, professor of climate system dynamics at the University of Exeter, said the effects would be felt around the world. "Ecologically it would be a catastrophe and it would be taking a huge chance with our own climate. The tropics are drivers of the world's weather systems and killing the Amazon is likely to change them forever. We don't know exactly what would happen but we could expect more extreme weather." Massive Amazon loss would also amplify global warming "significantly" he said.
"Destroying the Amazon would also turn what is a significant carbon sink into a significant source."
SOMETHING THE AMAZON ALARMISTS IGNORE
A report from BBC News of 24 September 2007 shows that the Warmist models of Amazon processes are contradicted by the facts
The Amazon rainforest may be more resistant to rising temperatures than has been believed. Researchers found that during the 2005 drought, many parts of the rainforest "greened", apparently growing faster. This finding contrasts with some computer models of climate change, which forecast that the Amazon would dry out and become savannah.
Writing in the journal Science, the researchers say it is unclear how the forest would respond to a long drought. "We measured the changes between the drought (of July to September 2005) and an average year," explained study leader Scott Saleska from the University of Arizona, Tucson, US. "And what we saw was that there was more photosynthesis going on, more capacity to take up carbon dioxide than in an average year," he told the BBC News website.
The scientists used the Modis (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) instrument on the US space agency's (Nasa) Terra satellite to make their observations. Some areas of the Amazon had seen reduced growth during the drought, but these were regions heavily impacted by human activities.
Britons who HATE Britain: The Muslim extremists hell-bent on segregation rather than integration
And the British government subsidizes them!
This was the scene that greeted homecoming soldiers in Luton this week. Behind it is a community where integration has abjectly failed, breeding a small but rabid band of poisonous fanatics. The call to morning prayers begins at dawn: 'Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar' (Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest). The voice echoes across the rooftops from an amplifier on a minaret at Luton Central Mosque. Outside, men in beards and tunics are arriving. They slip off their shoes, douse their faces in water, then kneel with foreheads meeting the carpet. So it was yesterday, Friday - the most sacred day of the week for Muslims.
The mosque, with its distinctive golden dome dominating the skyline, is the most visible symbol of Islamic life in the town. It was also one of seven Muslim centres in Luton chosen to receive Home Office funding last year for a project called 'Preventing Violent Extremism'. So far, 200,000 pounds has been handed out via grants from the council. Another 400,000 has been set aside to capture the 'hearts and minds' of young Muslims. In the wake of the scenes which greeted soldiers taking part in a supposedly morale-boosting homecoming parade in Luton this week, some might wonder whether this is money that has been well spent. Members of 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment faced jeering protesters waving placards saying 'Butchers of Basra'. It seems that some hearts and minds have not been captured.
One in five of Luton's 200,000 population is Muslim. But in the Bury Park district, where Luton Central Mosque is situated, the figure is much higher. Indeed, the original indigenous white population has all but disappeared from these back-to-back terraces near the Kenilworth Road football stadium. Bury Park has effectively become a town within a town, with its own madrasah (faith school), Islamic primary school and high street, where the local butcher has been replaced by the halal store and the corner shop by a Muslim grocery. Boutiques now sell Day-Glo saris and other traditional Asian clothes. So far, so familiar in modern Britain - but there is another side to life here.
While the majority of Muslims are peace-loving, industrious people, it would be wrong to deny that there are deeply disturbing tensions in the area. When a Mecca Bingo Hall opened in the heart of Bury Park, its windows were smashed. The neon Mecca sign, some Muslims claimed, was an insult to their religion because it associated the name of their holiest city with gambling. Adverts and billboards featuring women deemed to be showing too much flesh have been defaced. An evangelical church was daubed with graffiti.
Over the past 18 months or so, around 30 non-Muslim homes in the area have also been attacked. One white couple in their 80s had bricks - and, on one occasion, a lump of concrete - hurled through their front window. A West Indian woman in her 70s was watching television when a metal beer keg crashed through her bay window. The culprits have never been caught. Rightly or wrongly, the victims of these incidents are in no doubt that they were targeted by a small group of religious extremists who want non-Muslims out of Bury Park.
Sadly, the process of integration, which began back in the 1970s when thousands of families from the Indian sub-continent came to Luton to work at the Vauxhall car factory, has turned into segregation in all but name. Multi-culturalism in Bury Park now seems to mean a Muslim from Pakistan living side-by-side with a Muslim from Bangladesh, not white living next to black and brown. Multi-culturalism also, presumably, means allowing a group of young men the freedom to hand out inflammatory leaflets in the street - entitled 'Return of the Khilafah' - just 24 hours after they had launched that ugly protest against the Anglian Regiment returning home from Iraq. A Khilafah, for those who may be unfamiliar with the term, is an Islamic state created by Jihad, or holy war. Osama Bin Laden is the standard-bearer for these beliefs.
The Luton extremists - part of a network, it should be stressed, that is only 35 strong - may not have made the headlines before this week, but they have been waging their own local Jihad for a number of years. At the Luton Central Mosque, one respected Muslim leader - who asked not to be named - told me this week that the group were the Islamic world's equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.
Recently, Holocaust memorial ceremonies attended by many moderate Muslims were among the events the extremist group tried to disrupt. Almost all of the fanatics, according to the Muslim leader at the mosque, are on the dole or claiming benefits of some kind. 'They wouldn't have the time to stir up so much trouble if they worked,' he said. So the state is supporting them even as they plot to overthrow it.
A number of the extremists attend a mosque in Bury Park and, at one time or another, their group has gone under different names: One Nation, Muslims Against British Atrocities, The Saviour Sect (anyone who does not follow their path is 'damned') and now Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah. This latest is said to have succeeded the Luton branch of Al-Muhajiroun, the banned organisation led by 'preacher of hate' Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, who is now in exile in Lebanon.
Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah (ASWJ) operates mainly through an invitation- only internet forum set up in 2006. Sheikh Bakri Mohammed is a regular contributor, along with Anjem Choudry, who this week taunted the grieving families of three Royal Anglian Regiment members killed in a friendly fire incident and who yesterday said he wants to see an Islamic flag 'flying over Downing Street'. One journalist who penetrated ASWJ found recordings of Osama Bin Laden on the website.
Luton, according to a leaked intelligence report, remains a focus of concern for anti-terror police and continues to be a 'magnet' for extremists, alongside Beeston in Leeds, Birmingham and parts of London. One of the first signs of the impact of extremist ideology being propagated in Luton came in 2001, when two British Muslim men from the town were killed fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Six years later, it emerged that one of the militants convicted of plotting to use a fertiliser bomb to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre in Essex came from the town. And in a further chilling twist, the ringleader of that gang was revealed to have met the leader of the 7/7 London bombers four times. (The London gang congregated at Luton station before heading to King's Cross.)
One of the organisations which is now getting government money to combat the militant threat in Luton is the Islamic Cultural Society, based in Luton Central Mosque in Bury Park. The 25,000 it received last year is helping to fund two full-time teachers whose job it is to engage and educate potentially disaffected young Muslim men. The unemployment rate in the town is more than 8 per cent, but significantly among the Asian population it is estimated to be as high as 25 per cent. Again, the great majority of these unemployed people are peace-loving, but, as we have already said, there are tensions....