Sunday, April 12, 2009

British crack cocaine user keeps his teaching job... as he's an 'excellent role model'

A teacher caught with crack cocaine has been allowed to keep his job. Michael Swann was given a caution for possession of the Class A drug after being found with it in a nightclub.

The 27-year-old, who teaches at Maltby Comprehensive in Rotherham, could have been struck off, suspended or given an official reprimand. But at a disciplinary hearing, the General Teaching Council told the science teacher he would face no further sanctions. While his actions amounted to 'unacceptable professional misconduct' he remained an 'excellent' role model for children.

Drugs charities and teaching unions last night accused the GTC of being toothless. John Dunford, of the Association for School and College Leaders, said the decision sent out the wrong message. 'This represents an inadequate warning to others who might set a similarly bad example to children,' he added.

The decision was also described as being 'unhelpful' by drugs charity Hope UK, which works with young people. 'The examples that adults set have a powerful impact on children and young people, for good or ill,' said a spokesman. 'Parents and teachers are in a unique position to role model a healthy, drug-free lifestyle to the young people in their care - anything less is unhelpful, to say the least.'

Mr Swann was arrested by South Yorkshire Police in October 2007 outside Rotherham's Liqschooluid club. They released him with a caution, but were obliged to report the incident to the GTC. However, it chose not to take any further action after looking at Mr Swann's performance as a teacher. In its report, the GTC's professional conduct committee said it felt Mr Swann was 'a good teacher making a significant contribution to the and he had 'much to offer'. 'We believe you are genuinely sorry for what occurred,' it said. 'We think you have the potential to make a positive contribution to the profession.'

They said there was 'no direct effect' on his pupils and that the consequences of receiving a caution - which will be seen by future employers which carry out a Criminal Records Bureau check - was 'an adequate sanction'.

Mr Swann said last night that he planned to carry on teaching and he insisted that the cocaine did not belong to him. He told the Daily Mail: 'I went into the nightclub toilet and saw a small white polythene bag which had what I presumed was cocaine in it. 'I picked it up but as I did so a bouncer looked over the top of the cubicle, saw me with the bag and asked me to move out. 'He took me to the front of the club and said he was going to inform the police. I was subsequently arrested. I was tested for drugs and it came back clear.'

Mr Swann said his school had imposed an 18-month final written warning, which is due to expire at the end of this month.


Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity

A week ago, there were Palm Sunday processions all over the world. Near my house in North London is a parish with two churches. About 70 or 80 of us gathered at one of these buildings to collect our palms. We were told by the priest: 'Where we are standing in Kentish Town does not look much like a Judaean hillside, and the other church to which we are walking does not look much like Jerusalem. But as we go, holding our palms, let us try to imagine the first Palm Sunday.'

And so we set off, singing All Glory, Laud And Honour! and holding up our palm crosses, to the faint bemusement of passersby, who looked out of their windows at us, tooted their horns as we blocked the traffic or smiled from sunny pavements. We were walking, as it were, in the footsteps of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey while crowds threw palms before him. Except our journey was along the pavements strewn with the usual North London discarded syringes, chewing gum and Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes.

When we had reached our destination, a small choir and two priests sang the whole of St Mark's account of the last week of Jesus's life - that part of the Gospel that is called The Passion. It is said the chant used for this recitation dates back to the music used in the Jewish Temple in Jesus's day.

We heard of his triumphal, palm-strewn procession into Jerusalem, his clash with the Temple authorities, his agonised prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, his arrest by the Roman guards, his torture, his trial before Pontius Pilate, his Crucifixion and his death.

So there we were, all believers, and a disparate group of people, of various ages, races and classes, re-enacting once more this extraordinary story. A story of a Jewish prophet falling foul of the authorities in an eastern province of the Roman Empire, and being punished, as were thousands of Jews during the governorship of Pontius Pilate, by the gruesome torture of crucifixion.

This Easter weekend we revisit the extraordinary ending of that story - the discovery by some women friends of Jesus that his tomb was empty. And we read of the reactions of the disciples - fearful, incredulous, but eventually believing that, as millions of Christians will proclaim tomorrow morning: 'The Lord is risen indeed!'

But how many in Britain today actually believe the story? Most recent polls have shown that considerably less than half of us do - yet that won't, of course, stop us tucking into Easter eggs (symbolising new life) and simnel cake (decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 true disciples, with Judas missing).

For much of my life, I, too, have been one of those who did not believe. It was in my young manhood that I began to wonder how much of the Easter story I accepted, and in my 30s I lost any religious belief whatsoever. Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been 'conned' by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

Why did I, along with so many others, become so dismissive of Christianity? Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti. To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio. It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion. The vast majority of media pundits and intelligentsia in Britain are unbelievers, many of them quite fervent in their hatred of religion itself.

The Guardian's fanatical feminist-in-chief, Polly Toynbee, is one of the most dismissive of religion and Christianity in particular. She is president of the British Humanist Association, an associate of the National Secular Society and openly scornful of the millions of Britons who will quietly proclaim their faith in Church tomorrow.

'Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?' she asked in a puerile article decrying the wickedness of C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories, which have bewitched children for more than 50 years. Or, to take another of her utterances: 'When absolute God-given righteousness beckons, blood flows and women are in chains.'

The sneering Ms Toynbee, like Richard Dawkins, believes in rational explanations for our existence and behaviour. She is deeply committed to the Rationalist Association, but her approach to religion is too fanatical to be described as rational. Perhaps it goes back to her relationship with her nice old dad, Philip Toynbee, a Thirties public school Marxist who, before he died, made the hesitant journey from unbelief to a questing Christianity.

The Polly Toynbees of this world ignore all the benign aspects of religion and see it purely as a sinister agent of control, especially over women. One suspects this is how it is viewed in most liberal circles, in university common rooms, at the BBC and, perhaps above all, sadly, by the bishops of the Church of England, who despite their episcopal regalia, nourish few discernible beliefs that could be distinguished from the liberalism of the age.

For ten or 15 of my middle years, I, too, was one of the mockers. But, as time passed, I found myself going back to church, although at first only as a fellow traveller with the believers, not as one who shared the faith that Jesus had truly risen from the grave. Some time over the past five or six years - I could not tell you exactly when - I found that I had changed. When I took part in the procession last Sunday and heard the Gospel being chanted, I assented to it with complete simplicity.

My own return to faith has surprised no one more than myself. Why did I return to it? Partially, perhaps it is no more than the confidence I have gained with age. Rather than being cowed by them, I relish the notion that, by asserting a belief in the risen Christ, I am defying all the liberal clever-clogs on the block: cutting-edge novelists such as Martin Amis; foul-mouthed, self-satisfied TV presenters such as Jonathan Ross and Jo Brand; and the smug, tieless architects of so much television output.

But there is more to it than that. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known - not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die. The Easter story answers their questions about the spiritual aspects of humanity. It changes people's lives because it helps us understand that we, like Jesus, are born as spiritual beings.

Every inner prompting of conscience, every glimmering sense of beauty, every response we make to music, every experience we have of love - whether of physical love, sexual love, family love or the love of friends - and every experience of bereavement, reminds us of this fact about ourselves.

Ah, say the rationalists. But no one can possibly rise again after death, for that is beyond the realm of scientific possibility. And it is true to say that no one can ever prove - nor, indeed, disprove - the existence of an after-life or God, or answer the conundrums of honest doubters (how does a loving God allow an earthquake in Italy?)

Easter does not answer such questions by clever-clever logic. Nor is it irrational. On the contrary, it meets our reason and our hearts together, for it addresses the whole person.

In the past, I have questioned its veracity and suggested that it should not be taken literally. But the more I read the Easter story, the better it seems to fit and apply to the human condition. That, too, is why I now believe in it. Easter confronts us with a historical event set in time. We are faced with a story of an empty tomb, of a small group of men and women who were at one stage hiding for their lives and at the next were brave enough to face the full judicial persecution of the Roman Empire and proclaim their belief in a risen Christ.

Historians of Roman and Jewish law have argued at length about the details of Jesus's trial - and just how historical the Gospel accounts are. Anyone who believes in the truth must heed the fine points that such scholars unearth. But at this distance of time, there is never going to be historical evidence one way or the other that could dissolve or sustain faith. Of course, only hard evidence will satisfy the secularists, but over time and after repeated readings of the story, I've been convinced without it.

And in contrast to those ephemeral pundits of today, I have as my companions in belief such Christians as Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Johnson and all the saints, known and unknown, throughout the ages. When that great saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England, was on trial for his life for daring to defy Henry VIII, one of his prosecutors asked him if it did not worry him that he was standing out against all the bishops of England. He replied: 'My lord, for one bishop of your opinion, I have a hundred saints of mine.'

Now, I think of that exchange and of his bravery in proclaiming his faith. Our bishops and theologians, frightened as they have been by the pounding of secularist guns, need that kind of bravery more than ever. Sadly, they have all but accepted that only stupid people actually believe in Christianity, and that the few intelligent people left in the churches are there only for the music or believe it all in some symbolic or contorted way which, when examined, turns out not to be belief after all.

As a matter of fact, I am sure the opposite is the case and that materialist atheism is not merely an arid creed, but totally irrational. Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story. J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music. Most of the greatest writers and thinkers of the past 1,500 years have believed it.

But an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives - the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.


'Terror plotters' allowed to stay in Britan despite visa breaches

At least two of the men suspected of being members of an alleged al-Qaeda cell had been allowed to stay in Britain despite allegedly breaching the conditions of their student visas, The Daily Telegraph has learnt. One man was stopped by immigration officials at Manchester Airport last week as he arrived from Pakistan, but was allowed to enter the country despite his visa documents being "all over the place", according to one source. Another suspect was threatened with deportation after immigration officials discovered he was working as a security guard instead of studying, but he was nonetheless allowed to stay.

The revelations will intensify pressure on the Government to carry out a complete overhaul of the student visa system after it emerged that all but one of the 12 suspects being held on suspicion of plotting an "Easter spectacular" bombing campaign had come to the UK from Pakistan on student visas approved by the Home Office.

Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the parliamentary counter-terrorism subcommittee, described the UK Border Agency's failure to act as "a disgrace" and a "frightening" lapse of immigration controls.

There were also calls yesterday for greater co-operation between the UK and Pakistan in vetting applicants for student visas, with Pakistan's high commissioner suggesting vetting procedures were currently inadequate.

Anti-terrorist police are continuing to search 10 premises in Manchester, Liverpool and Clitheroe, Lancs., following Wednesday's arrests of a suspected terror cell which police believe may have been planning suicide bomb attacks on three shopping centres in Manchester over the Easter weekend. A security source has told The Daily Telegraph that one of the men was stopped after he flew into Manchester Airport from Pakistan only last week, when immigration officials discovered he did not have the correct documents to enter the country.

"It was a shambles," the source said. "This man's documents were all over the place when he landed. He was allowed to proceed on the basis that he had to come back for an appointment with immigration at a later date and show them correct documents. He was effectively left free to do whatever he wanted."

Another suspect, Johnus Khan, was allegedly working virtually full-time as a security guard on building sites until three months ago, when he was challenged by immigration officials. His former employer, Haroon Khan, said: "As a student, you're only allowed to work for a certain number of hours if you are on a student visa. He worked above his allowed amount. When immigration got involved, some of his friends were deported. "He was working four or five days a week and we had to cut down to two." He said Mr Khan was enrolled at Liverpool John Moores University. "I don't know what he studied," his employer added. "As far as I knew he was never at university, just always working."

Mr Mercer said of the latest revelations: "This is symptomatic of the fact that there are wholesale breaches of immigration regulations and yet nothing ever seems to be done about it. "This is especially worrying when you consider that it seems to be the case with terrorism issues time after time. Alleged terrorists have already been in the hands of our security authorities but nothing has been done."

Almost 400,000 student visas are granted every year, with around 10,000 being issued in Pakistan alone. Foreign students bring with them a £10 billion boost to the economy which the Government is keen to encourage. But the deluge of applicants has led to concerns that proper background checks are not being carried out. Foreign students are such big business that many British universities have set up representative offices abroad to encourage more students to apply for entry. The Daily Telegraph has discovered that two of the suspects arrested on Wednesday obtained their visas after applying to Liverpool John Moores University through one such representative office in Peshawar.

A well-placed source said Abdul Wahab Khan had applied for his place in 2006 and that the university's visa advice service had helped him and one of the other suspects. Khan's visa was issued the same year. The other suspect advised by Liverpool John Moore University's Peshawar office is believed to be from Landi Kotal, a district in the Khyber Agency close to the Afghan border.

A British immigration lawyer in Pakistan, Shahid Aslam, said UK universities were desperate for fee-paying Pakistani students and that consultants who provide successful applicants are paid up to 25 per cent of first year tuition fees, which can amount to more than £2,500 per student. "It's a lucrative business," he said.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the campaign group Migrationwatch UK, said: "Student visas have long been a gaping hole in our border controls which the Government has chosen to ignore, partly because of the fees that foreign students pay."


Family of British father stabbed to death by three thugs is denied compensation... because he tried to fight back

Britain's horrible bureaucrats again

The family of a man who was stabbed to death by teenage thugs after he asked them to keep the noise down have been denied compensation - because he tried to fight off his killers. Kevin Johnson, 22, was brutally murdered by the gang who invited him to 'meet Mr Stanley' during a confrontation outside his home moments before plunging a blade into his chest, arm and back. The young father collapsed a few feet from his front door whilst the trio - aged 19, 16 and 17 - ran off in 'triumphant mood' before stabbing their second victim a short distance away.

But after applying for a maximum £11,000 in compensation Mr Johnson's family have been told that they do not meet the criteria as he tried to fight off the gang who took his life. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has twice rejected John Johnson’s case. They ruled that the demolition worker had 'significantly' contributed to his own death.

Mr Johnson, 57, will now make a last-ditch plea before an independent tribunal this month - almost two years after his son was murdered on his doorstep on the Pennywell estate in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear. 'I'm livid. They’ve got no empathy or any regard for us,' he said yesterday. 'The £11,000 is all they value a person's life at. And then you have to fight for it. It’s absolutely disgusting. 'Obviously they just want to keep the costs down for the Government. The criminals get all sorts of help and that’s called human rights. Yet we don’t seem to have any human rights.'

According to the CICA the parents, child, husband, wife or partner of a person who died as a result of a violent crime can claim up to £11,000 for the loss of their life. Yet that figure is dwarfed by the amount paid to an RAF typist last year who injured her thumb at work and was awarded half a million pounds by the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Johnson, who works as a taxi driver, said his case simply highlighted how badly victims' families are treated by the Government. He said he and his wife, Kath, 59, their son's fiancee Adele Brett, 28, and their one year old son, Chaise, were condemned to a life sentence after his death in May 2007. The rejection for compensation had only added to their pain, he added.

Recent figures showed that inmates in British prisons were awarded £6.5million for injuries between 2005 and 2007, for claims including assaults, medical negligence, unlawful detention and sports injuries. Drug-addicted prisoners at some jails received compensation because their human rights were breached when they were denied drugs such as heroin and substitute substances.

Mr Johnson was stabbed to death after he and his fiancee returned home from a night out on May 19, 2007. Woken by raised voices outside he went down to ask the teenagers to keep the noise down. The gang beckoned the father over with their hands, enticing him to come forward. Then they surrounded him. One pulled out a Stanley knife and repeatedly stabbed him until he fell to the floor.

As he lay dying the gang ran off and celebrated by damaging parked cars before stabbing a second man in the chest. The killers - Dean Curtis, 19, Tony Hawkes, 17, and Jordan Towers, 16 - were later jailed for life.

Last night, the CICA said it could not comment on an individual case. However, a spokesman said: 'We consider all available evidence in reaching our decisions, including relevant witness statements. If this evidence shows that a victim’s behaviour contributed significantly to the incident they were involved in then we have to take that into account - but there are safeguards built into our process. 'If an applicant does not think their case was assessed fairly, they can apply to have it reviewed. If the applicant remains unhappy after the review they can have an appeal heard by an independent tribunal.'


New scar treatment Avotermin may change the face of surgery

People left with unsightly scars from injuries or surgery may soon be able to tone down their blemishes with a new drug, research suggests. Tests indicate that the healing drug has the potential to reduce scarring when administered before a surgical operation or on existing scars if the suture is redone.

The drug, a synthetic cell-signalling agent called avotermin, is injected under the skin at the site of the wound before and after an incision is made or surgery is carried out on an existing scar. Results from the tests, published in The Lancet, show that it improved the appearance of scars noticeably – as judged by panels of lay volunteers and experts.

The scientists who led the study said that in some cases the drug reduced redness and "lowered" the scar, making it feel more like normal skin. In others, it improved scars to the point that they could be located only with temporary tattoo markers.

Earlier research had identified transforming growth factor beta3 (TGFbeta3), a cytokine signalling molecule that sends messages between cells, as a possible anti-scarring therapy.

Three trials were conducted on groups of volunteers who were given centimetre-wide puncture wounds in their arms. The incisions were deep enough to penetrate the skin to underlying muscle. Varying doses of avotermin, an artificial form of TGFbeta3, were injected at the wound site both before and 24 hours after injury. Scarring appearance was assessed using a 100-point scale. The higher the number given, the more noticeable the scar was judged to be.

Trial participants ranged widely in age and were split into two groups, one receiving the anti-scarring therapy and the other a dummy treatment. In two trials, lower doses of the drug improved scarring appearance by up to eight points after 12 months. A third trial using higher doses resulted in improvements of as much as 64 points. About a third of the participants experienced a high level of improvement, a third had slight improvement, and in a third of cases there was no change. No side effects were reported. Avotermin affected the orientation, density and thickness of the collagen fibres that cause scarring, the studies showed.

Professor Mark Ferguson, from the University of Manchester, said that the treatment suggested that major changes to scarring treatment were possible. He said that with 42 million Europeans and 43 million Americans undergoing surgery every year, it could be of enormous benefit, adding that a trial into revision surgery – when people have an existing scar recut and sewn up – was also under way. “Some people got a really dramatic effect, where the scar was almost imperceptible. We had to tattoo temporary markers to either end of the cut because 12 months later we couldn’t see where the scar was,” he said. “If the drug continues to work and be approved it could be used in surgeries, following trauma and burns, from road traffic accidents to elective surgery and cosmetic procedures.”

Professor Ferguson and his colleagues wrote in The Lancet paper that they detected “substantial differences in collagen organisation in some participants, with avotermin-treated scars more closely resembling the basket-weave pattern of normal skin”.

The researchers added: “With low doses injected locally around the time of surgery, avotermin is a well tolerated and convenient treatment. These studies suggest that avotermin has potential to provide an accelerated and permanent improvement in scarring.”

Brendan Eley, chief executive of the Healing Foundation, said that TGFbeta3 had been one of the "holy grails" of anti-scarring therapy for some time, and described the results as encouraging. “That the impact on scar formation is both structural and aesthetic is very promising. What impact these therapies could have on patients with complicated and potentially disfiguring wounds – that’s the exciting next step of this work which the clinical community will await with eager anticipation," he said.


A British Catch 22: "As the divide between a burgeoning public sector and struggling private sector widens, former private sector workers are being turned away from Civil Service roles without being granted an interview. One IT business analyst, who has worked for big corporations including IBM, said that he had spent months trying to find work in the public sector. Despite being told by employment agencies that he was suitable for roles, he was denied an interview because “the relevant [local or central government] department required someone with security clearance”. He said: “On asking what I had to do to secure that clearance, I was told I could only obtain it when I had been accepted for an appointment. In other words, until I have a public sector appointment I could not obtain clearance and yet was not able to obtain clearance until I had a public sector appointment."

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