Saturday, April 18, 2009

A setback for the British police state

Having the police raiding the parliament and arresting an opposition member was an enormously dangerous precedent -- requiring the most unusual circumstances -- circumstances which did not exist

Jacqui Smith faced renewed pressure last night after the secrets case against Damian Green was thrown out and the leaks with which he was involved were deemed not to have involved national security. The Home Secretary will appear in the Commons on Monday for a statement on a series of issues including the recent terrorism raids in the North of England.

But, after an Easter recess in which she has come under growing criticism over her parliamentary expenses, Ms Smith will face fierce questioning over yesterday’s verdict that some of the leaks obtained by Mr Green were in the public interest. She, too, had raised worries over national security. She mounted a counter-attack last night, declaring that a failure to mount a leaks investigation would have been irresponsible.

Whitehall sources unleashed an extraordinary salvo at Christopher Galley, the civil servant who leaked to Mr Green but was also freed from the threat of criminal prosecution. One labelled him a “complete loser”. Claiming that he had used a term from Star Trek as a computer log-in, an insider said: “That says it all, doesn’t it. The guy was a laughing stock.”

But Ms Smith was again under fire over a police investigation that prompted the spectacle of the Shadow Immigration Minister being arrested, and threatened with serious charges, along with Mr Galley.

The Crown Prosecution Service ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring a court case against Mr Green, who welcomed the decision and attacked the Government as authoritarian. Mr Green said that officials had felt the need to call in Scotland Yard because of the embarrassment to their political bosses by a string of damaging headlines.

He stopped short of accusing Ms Smith of direct involvement, but said that the affair was the result of the “atmosphere” caused by ministerial anger over the leaks, and said that ministers should take full responsibility.

Mr Green said he was very pleased that he would not face charges, and that publicising the leaks was the job of opposition. “There were no national security implications of any of the information that I obtained,” he said. “All the things that I put in the public domain were legitimate stories showing that our borders are not safe.”

But Home Office sources drew attention to the DPP’s conclusion — that a police investigation was “inevitable” because of the pattern of the leaks and the damage they were doing. They said that both the DPP’s statement and an imminent internal investigation suggested that Mr Green’s actions had fallen below those expected of an MP. “He’s not emerged from this whiter than white. His crowing has been premature,” they said.

Ms Smith said that she had a responsibility to keep information safe. “My job is to protect the British people. It is also to protect the sensitive information about how we protect them.”

The leaked material included the disclosure that Ms Smith failed to tell the public that up to 11,000 security guard licences had been granted to illegal immigrants. Another memo showed that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons. Also leaked was a draft of a letter to Downing Street from Ms Smith warning that the recession could lead to rising crime levels.


Routine violence in British schools

Teachers in fear of violence ‘are paying for body armour’, vaccinations

Teachers in some special schools have been forced to have vaccinations before going into the classroom and to wear the kind of armguards used by police-dog trainers — both of which they had to pay for themselves — it was claimed yesterday. They are being bitten, kicked and punched daily and left with debilitating injuries, the NASUWT teaching union conference in Bournemouth was told.

Special schools, struggling to cope with restricted budgets, are refusing to provide staff with the right equipment or training. Teachers are asking their doctors for preventive injections against tetanus and hepatitis B, which have cost some up to £80.

More than 20,000 teachers and 30,000 support staff work at schools for children with behavioural or learning difficulties or at pupil referral units for children repeatedly excluded from mainstream schools.

The union voted to challenge the view of some parents and heads that being assaulted and being the subject of complaints and allegations was part of the job. It will now conduct research into assaults and abuse. Suzanne Nantcurvis, who proposed the motion, said: “I sat in the staff room of a special school listening to teachers nonchalantly talking about the number of times they had been assaulted, their daily experience of being kicked and bitten and their visits to the hospital outpatients department.” The most common forms of assault are punching, kicking and biting. Our members question the method of restraint in use because of its effectiveness, especially with older, bigger and stronger pupils.

“Access to training is needed each year. The training is expensive and, where budgets are cut to the bone, the costs may prohibit all members of staff from attending. “I know of members buying their own arm guards. Due to the nature of the assaults they face, often teachers in special schools have to have vaccines such as tetanus and hepatitis B. For some colleagues this has come at a personal cost of around £80.”

Mark Perry, a teacher from Flintshire, told delegates he had been bitten so hard that blood was drawn through his shirt. A pupil had scratched his face, leaving marks on his eyelids. “I have been punched and kicked on numerous occasions and suffered a flying kick from behind . . . which did lots of damage to my back.” Mr Perry said that he had also been subjected to false allegations, which caused harm, torture and pain.

Geoff Branner, of the union’s executive, said that one teacher he knew had her arm broken by a teenager who punched and kicked her; another had a student jump on her back, push her to the floor, put her in a headlock and punch her in the face. The first teacher said that she wanted the pupil reported to the police, but was told that the head was shocked by her response and believed that it was part of her job.


Mother who died giving birth in NHS hospital toilet never saw twins

There have been notorious examples of this in Australian public hospitals too. Delay, delay, delay is the hallmark of public medicine and it can be fatal -- as in this instance.

A woman died in labour in a hospital lavatory after her induction was delayed because of a lack of specialist staff, an inquest was told yesterday. Sarah Underhill, a policewoman aged 37, was in her 36th week of pregnancy when she was admitted to hospital suffering from pre-eclampsia.

The birth was to have been induced because of her condition, which causes high blood pressure. She was admitted to the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, on October 2 last year but the procedure was planned for October 6. However, the day before she was due to be induced she collapsed in the toilet and was forced to call for help by banging on the door.

Doctors fought to save her twins, conceived by IVF, but she died without having seen them. The babies were delivered by emergency Caesarean section and survived after a “magnificent” effort by staff.

Yesterday the inquest was told that doctors could not have prevented her death. Mrs Underhill had previously suffered a miscarriage in 2006 after an earlier IVF pregnancy. [Which should have meant extra care this time]

Sebastian Lucas, a pathologist, told the hearing that Mrs Underhill died after amniotic fluid from the womb entered her bloodstream. He told Oxford Coroner’s Court that the condition could be survived, but was “unpreventable”. Professor Lucas said: “Why did she draw the short straw and suffer severely where others may not? Who knows? It is an act of God.”

Mrs Underhill’s husband Richard, 39, a fellow Thames Valley Police officer, was not with his wife when she died. He had left her bedside the previous day because he was suffering from a cold and did not wish to pass on any germs. Close to tears, he told the inquest: “I wish I had stayed.”

Mr Underhill now cares for the twins, Hannah and James, at his home in Didcot, Oxfordshire. The inquest heard that it was “extraordinary” that both infants survived.

Previously, Mr Underhill described his wife as “glowing” in the days before she gave birth and said that she was greatly looking forward to becoming a mother. The couple met in 2000 and married five years later. Mr Underhill spoke of the doctors’ decision to induce the birth. “I think we were relieved, because the bump was getting so big,” he said. “Sarah just wanted it over and done with.” He said he was told that the induction was planned for October 6 — a Monday — rather than the preceding weekend, because of a lack of specialist staff on the maternity unit. In a written statement submitted to the inquest, he said he believed that his wife should have had the babies delivered sooner.

Lawrence Impey, a consultant obstetrician who treated Mrs Underhill in the days before her death, said: “If I had known what was going to happen on the Sunday, I would completely agree with him. But we had no indication this was going to happen.” He said that the condition that killed her, amniotic fluid embolism, was “impossible to predict”. He added: “What is clear is that it is not the pre-eclampsia that did this. We have clear evidence that it was a completely different diagnosis, which is usually fatal and which is impossible to predict.”

The Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals Trust offered its condolences to Mr Underhill for his wife’s death and said that it was keen to learn any possible lessons from the tragedy.


British women aged 25 are now more likely to have a child than a husband

Not very good for the kids in most cases

WOMEN aged 25 are now more likely to have had a child than to be married. The latest landmark in the decline of marriage was uncovered yesterday in Social Trends, the annual snapshot of the nation by the Office for National Statistics. Before this decade, most women in their 20s had married before having children. In the 1970s nearly 80 per cent of women were married by the age of 25, compared with 25 per cent now. About 50 per cent of 25-year-old females in the late 1970s had had a child, compared with 30 per cent of the women questioned during this decade.

The ONS report also showed that the number of people getting married has dropped to its lowest level since 1895. Only 237,000 marriages took place in England and Wales in 2006 and the proportion of people who marry is now lower than when the rate was first calculated in 1862.

Both men and women are leaving marriage until later in life, with the average age of a man marrying for the first time rising from 29 ten years ago to 32 in 2006. For women, the average age of marriage has also increased from 27 to just under 30 - 29.7 - over the past ten years. The biggest decrease in the numbers marrying was among those aged between 20 and 24, which has fallen from almost a fifth of all marriages to 11 per cent in ten years.

The report also showed that many women are delaying starting a family until they are older. In 1971 the average age for a woman to have her first child was just under 24. In 2007 it was 27.5. However, women who are not married are more likely to have a child younger: the average age for an unmarried woman in Britain to give birth was 27 in 2007, compared with 31.5 for married mothers.

The survey also noted a significant increase in the number of people living on their own, which has doubled since 1971. Nearly seven million people, 12 per cent of adults, live on their own, with the largest increase among adults of working age. One quarter of households in Great Britain in 2008 consisted of couples who did not have children - a 6 per cent increase since 1971, when the figure was 19 per cent.

The survey also showed that the number of pensioners [social security recipients] outnumbered the number of children under 16 for the first time in 2007. There has been a threefold increase in the number of people aged 90 and above since 1971, with the number now approaching 500,000. The expected increase in the number of pensioners is also potentially worrying for healthcare providers and social services: the report showed that council spending on older people rose from pounds 4.5 billion in 1997 to pounds 8.66 billion in 2007, the largest expenditure on any one group.

The survey of key events in women's lives before they turned 25 was carried out between 2001 and 2003, and asked women under 60 if they had been married or had a child by the time they were aged 25.


Hundreds of thousands of migrants working unregistered in UK

Ministers were criticised last night for lavishing almost 8 million pounds on 'spin' to promote the controversial UK Border Agency while dramatically under-counting the number of migrant workers. A study revealed that the Government's worker registration scheme may be underestimating the number of Eastern Europeans taking jobs here by a third.

The Home Office says there are 760,935 migrant workers registered but the University of Salford said there may be a further 253,645 not officially recognised.

The university study came as Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green uncovered figures showing that 7.8 million pounds was spent by the UK Border Agency on publicity. Spending is set to continue with the UKBA establishing a 'campaigns team' in its 'Corporate Communications Directorate'.

Posts include a campaigns manager on up to 56,688 to 'ensure we are engaging our audiences through new and innovative channels', and a senior marketing manager on up to 41,181 to take 'responsibility for brand guardianship'. Mr Green said: 'In a crisis you can guarantee that New Labour will put spin before substance. So at a time when our borders are open, and confidence in the immigration system is low, what do they do? They spend millions on advertising.'

The Salford researchers surveyed 300 migrants from EU states working in Bolton in summer 2007. Two thirds were on Government databases via the workers registration scheme or their National Insurance number. But one third were not registered on either. Professor Andy Steele said: 'Around a third of migrant workers in this study weren't on Government databases so the actual size of the migrant worker population in Bolton is actually a lot bigger than the statistics show. 'One in ten migrant workers, for example, works for cash in hand so they wouldn't be registered.'



More background on the courageous Sir John

A good prophet is hard to find, and we've lost one of the best with the death of John Maddox, the former editor of Nature. My colleague William Grimes describes his career well, telling how he transformed Nature and was not shy when it came to fighting for the scientific principles he held dear.

I spoke with Dr. Maddox about prophecy in 1994, on the 25th anniversary of the landing on the Moon, when I reviewed some of the prophecies made a quarter century earlier. The moon landing tended to inspire either technological rhapsodies (forecasts of colonies on the moon by 2000) or ecological nightmares about the destruction of "Spaceship Earth," but Dr. Maddox didn't succumb to either extreme.

He debunked the catastrophists, most notably in his 1972 book, "The Doomsday Syndrome," in which he argued that Spaceship Earth had more carrying capacity and ecological resilience than environmentalists realized. His book was denounced at the time by John P. Holdren, who is today the White House science advisor. In a 1972 article in the Times of London, Dr. Holdren and his frequent collaborator, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich, dismissed Dr. Maddox as "uninformed" and clearly unable to understand "simple concepts" of population theory. They wrote:
"The most serious of Maddox's many demographic errors is his invocation of a "demographic transition" as the cure for population growth in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He expects that birth rates there will drop as they did in developed countries following the industrial revolution. Since most underdeveloped countries are unlikely to have an industrial revolution, this seems somewhat optimistic at best. But even if those nations should follow that course, starting immediately, their population growth would continue for well over a century-perhaps producing by the year 2100 a world population of twenty thousand million."

Well, contrary to Drs. Holdren and Ehrlich, the industrial revolution and the demographic transition did indeed arrive in developing countries.

And their projection for 2100 - that even a best-case scenario would produce a world with 20 billion people - looks way off to today's demographers, whose projections tend to be only about half as large. Perhaps Dr. Maddox really did understand some of those "simple concepts" of population.

Dr. Maddox was also skeptical of the dramatic predictions for space travel, and during the Apollo program he criticized the moon missions as an extravagance that would lead nowhere. In 1994, that prediction was also looking as accurate as some of his environmental forecasts, and I asked him to look ahead another quarter century. Here's how I summarized the predictions of Dr. Maddox for 2019:
On this planet, he expects a continuation of the technological changes that have been gradually increasing the food supply, income and life expectancy of the average human. And away from this planet, he doesn't expect much of anything for the average human.

"This business of carting people around the solar system is going to remain enormously difficult," he said, "and for the foreseeable future there's no worthwhile purpose for it." He can imagine humans someday scanning for dangerous earthbound asteroids from an observatory on the moon, or perhaps a satellite of Jupiter, but not until much better spaceships are available - which he does not expect soon.

"I hope this won't make me sound too crusty," he said, "but my guess is that this sort of space travel is 250 years down the road."

I hope he's wrong about space travel - not 250 years! - but it would be nice if he were right about humans coping well on this planet. I'll leave you with a remark of his on global warming, made after attending a conference of climate skeptics in London in 2005. (Hat tip: CCNet.) David Adam, the science correspondent for the Guardian, reported from the meeting:
"Bob May, the president of the Royal Society, said the sceptics were a "denial lobby" similar to those who refused to accept that smoking caused cancer.

But John Maddox, a former editor of the journal Nature, who attended yesterday's meeting, said the sceptics might have a point.

He did not dispute that carbon dioxide emissions could drive global warming, but said: "The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] is monolithic and complacent, and it is conceivable that they are exaggerating the speed of change."

Any predictions on whether he's right about the future of the environment or space travel? Or any thoughts on his many accomplishments?


Post-op transfusions for cardiac patients ‘wasting blood supplies’

Blood transfusions routinely carried out after heart surgery could be wasting vital blood supplies and putting patients at risk, researchers suggest.

Cardiac surgery uses almost ten per cent of all donor blood in Britain. Although the benefits of red-cell blood transfusions for managing life-threatening bleeding are clear, researchers at the University of Bristol believe that routine transfusions given after cardiac operations may be unnecessary and cause more medical problems than they solve. Most decisions to transfuse after surgery are made on the basis of a patient’s haemoglobin level, regarded as a measure of the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen around the body.

The level of haemoglobin that causes a doctor to transfuse varies widely and research in non-cardiac surgical fields has shown that lowering the level that “triggers” transfusion reduces the chance of developing deadly infections, blood clots or kidney failure as well as the use of blood, they suggest.

The new research, funded by a £1 million grant from the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA), will examine if withholding blood transfusions until a patient reaches a lower haemoglobin threshold will improve the outcome for cardiac surgery patients and also reduce hospital costs.

Gavin Murphy, a senior lecturer in cardiac surgery at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, who will lead the study, said: “Unnecessary blood transfusions increase healthcare costs both directly, because blood is an increasingly scarce and expensive resource, and indirectly, due to complications associated with transfusion. “Transfusion may cause complications by reducing patients’ ability to fight off infection and respond to the stress that surgery puts on the body, as well as [rarely] by transmitting viral infections present in donor blood.”

The research will take the form of a randomised controlled trial at several hospitals across the UK. Patients identified from both outpatient and in-patient waiting lists will be invited to take part before surgery takes place.

Barnaby Reeves, Professorial Research Fellow in Health Services Research at the University of Bristol, said: “The primary outcome will be the number of patients affected by sepsis, stroke, heart attack or kidney failure during the first three months after surgery. “We believe that withholding transfusion until the lower haemoglobin level is reached will reduce both complications and hospital costs.”


British police make a plea for return to plain-speaking ways

We read:
"It was once a case of “Hello, hello, hello, what have we here then?” Now, after decades of speaking a different language from the rest of us, police officers have made a plea to be allowed to speak plain English.

Constables in Dumfries & Galloway have submitted proposals to the Scottish Police Federation conference next week, saying that they and their colleagues everywhere are mocked for using traditional “police-speak”. This includes many “confusing and irritating” phrases when speaking to the public, along with a host of bewildering acronyms. Simply put, it seems that after years of proceeding in a northwesterly direction to investigate the party exiting a vehicle, the police would rather just say that they turned left to see the man getting out of a car.

Rank-and-file officers hope that the move will help to distance themselves from what has become known as “ploddledygook”. The report to the conference reads: “The mover of the motion feels strongly that for too long the Police Service has chosen verbosity over accuracy and clarity and that in 2009 there should be a return to plain English. Too many documents are crowded with management terminology and buzz phrases which wax and wane in popularity. “A return to plain English would avoid confusion and doubt about exactly what we are saying and meaning and would benefit not only the police service but the communities we serve.”


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