Friday, June 26, 2009

Power-mad British bureaucrats again

Thou shalt NOT show individual initiative: Gardener who spruced up council car park for free faces legal action for criminal damage. The "criminal" greenery below

A public-spirited gardener has been told she could face prosecution for criminal damage after sprucing up a neglected patch of land in a car park. Green-fingered Jayne Bailey gave the concrete island on her housing estate a makeover as the 30-year-old cobbles were coming loose and becoming a safety hazard. So she removed the stones and replaced them with flowers from her own garden and from friends, turning a crumbling eyesore into a bright display that won praise from some of her neighbours.

However, she has since been told by Cornwall County Council to rip out the flowers and replace the cobbles herself - or foot the bill for contractors to do it. 'In a letter I have been told I have 28 days to replace it or they will come out and do the work and send me the bill,' said Mrs Bailey, who is in her 50s. 'They also threatened that they would go to the police and report me for criminal damage. 'This is bureaucratic madness. The little area was showing its age and the entire thing was a crumbling mess, covered in weeds and rubbish. Some of the local children had taken to removing the cobblestones to play with because it was in such a dilapidated condition. 'It now hosts an assortment of sun-loving plants suited to that area which are all thriving.

'The centre-piece is a eucalyptus with other plants such as jasmine, buddleia and fuchsias, which were all planted on a budget and designed to fill that space over the coming years with minimal maintenance.'

Many of Mrs Bailey's neighbours in Bodmin have welcomed the new greenery. Naomi Luke said: 'It looks a lot nicer. It was disgusting before. In fact it was a hazard. Now it is somewhere everyone can enjoy and looks pretty.'

It is not Mrs Bailey's first brush with town hall bosses for showing the kind of initiative that many would see as entirely praiseworthy. Five years ago she planted an overgrown area on the estate that was being used for fly-tipping. 'They threatened me then too,' she said. 'I do not want to make a claim on the land - I just don't want it turning into a dumping ground. 'I was told to replace it then but I didn't - how do they expect me to get brambles that I cut down?'

Mrs Bailey added: 'The council is more than happy for areas to remain an eyesore but they cannot even carry out basic repairs that have been high on the residents' list for many years.'

A spokesman insisted the council backed residents who wanted to spruce up the public areas around them but added: 'This is done in partnership with ourselves to ensure appropriate plants and maintenance.' He said: 'In this particular case no agreement was sought to carry out the works. Several complaints from residents have been received concerning the planting.'

However, his comments suggest the council's approach might not be as draconian as the letter to Mrs Bailey had threatened. 'A council horticulturist has been asked to look at the suitability of the planting,' he said. [Publicity brings a backdown, as usual. The children of the light love the light and the children of the darkness love the darkness (See John 3:19-20). If they had been decent human beings, they would have started out with a polite and courteous personal approach -- but impersonal accusations and threats are so much more pleasing to the diseased bureaucratic mind]


Conviction of Gypsy family reduces crime rate in a British county to 20-year low

A county's crime rate fell to a 20-year low after a notorious criminal family was jailed, police revealed yesterday. The Johnson family was a ruthless gang of travellers who carried out countless crimes over two decades, from cash machine raids to sheet metal thefts. Their most profitable targets, however, were country mansions, from which they stole antiques and works of art worth £30million. One of their raids, in which they targeted a multi-millionaire property tycoon, is thought to be the biggest ever burglary of a private home.

Since they were jailed last year, Gloucestershire Police said the county's crime rates have plummeted to levels last seen in the 1980s. Figures show there were 44,136 recorded crimes in Gloucestershire in 2008-09, down from 45,685 in 2007-08 - a fall of 3 per cent.

This followed an even bigger decrease from 2006-07, when 52,388 crimes were recorded - the year the Johnsons committed some of their most brazen thefts. Chief Constable Dr Timothy Brain said of their arrest: 'What that operation showed is that no one is untouchable.'

The Johnsons would stake out country mansions and stately homes for weeks at a time, to pinpoint the best means of entry and escape. Their targets included the 17th-century Wiltshire mansion of property tycoon Harry Hyams, where they stole property worth £23million in a raid described as Britain's biggest burglary of a private home. In February 2006, they smashed their way inside with a 4x4 vehicle and stripped the home of one of the country's largest private collections antiques, jewellery and china in ten minutes. Mr Hyams, who has an estimated fortune of £320 million, was not at home when the raid took place.

The month after the Hyams raid, police received an anonymous tip-off which led them to a bunker in Warwickshire where the Johnsons had stored some of their booty. A third of the property taken from Mr Hyams's house was found there.

Members of the Johnson family were last year found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary between April 8, 2005 and October 13, 2006. Ricky Johnson, 54, was jailed for eight years while his two sons, Richard 'Chad' Johnson, 33, and Albi Johnson, 25, were sentenced to 11 years and nine years respectively. Ricky's nephews, Danny O'Loughlin, 32, and Michael Nicholls, 29, were jailed for 11 years and ten years.

The notoriety of the Johnsons had been cemented when a BBC film crew spent weeks on the family's caravan site for a documentary in 2005. The family made clear their contempt for the law - but insisted they were scapegoats for crime in the area. Chad said: 'Don't get me wrong, I have committed a few burglaries and pinched a few handbags, but you grow out of it, get a family and settle down. I've got no GCSEs. 'I just know street life and gipsy life - that is all I know.'

The family's other targets included Warneford Place in Wiltshire, the home of Formula One advertising tycoon Paddy McNally, an old flame of the Duchess of York. The raid netted items worth £750,000. In all, detectives investigated 116 offences of country house burglaries, cash dispenser and metal thefts.


Migrant stowaways at Calais triple in five years

The number of migrants trying to sneak into Britain via Calais has almost tripled in just five years. The revelation that more than 50 a day are being caught follows the re-emergence of refugee camps at Sangatte, close to where lorries board ferries to cross the Channel. In 2004, after the closure of the original Sangatte camp, border officials detected 7,540 stowaways. Last year, the total was 19,399.

Including checks at Coquelles, Dunkirk, Paris and in Belgium the number of migrants caught trying to sneak into Britain was 28,007. But critics point out these are only the illegal immigrants who are caught, with many more likely to have evaded checks.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said that almost 740,000 searches had been carried out on lorries. He said: ‘We work closely with our French partners to tackle illegal immigration using state-oftheart technology such as carbon dioxide and heartbeat detectors. ‘The illegal migrants in France are not queuing to get into Britain - they have been locked out.’

Stowaways are using a number of methods to try to evade being caught. Ten were found in a lorry of wheelie bins. Officers were alerted to their presence by a sniffer dog, while four Afghans in a lorry load of champagne were discovered by CO2 detectors.

French politicians have blamed Britain for the return of migrant camps to Calais. The mayor of Calais said the UK Government’s policies were ‘imposing’ thousand of migrants on the town, costing the local economy millions. Natacha Bouchart criticised the UK for paying ‘enormous’ state handouts to asylum seekers. Mrs Bouchart said the lure of these payouts was the reason why thousands of foreigners are using the French port as a staging point to get across the Channel.


Miracle of the drug that mends your faulty genes

Christine Falleti has spent much of her life combating the crippling effects of cystic fibrosis (CF). Now 34, she is painfully aware that she's approaching the age when most people with CF die. Two friends with the disease already have. But last year she took part in a test of a new drug that led to a dramatic improvement in her symptoms. Suddenly, she had a reason to hope her chances of dying might be reduced. And it's not just patients with CF who might benefit. The drug Christine was trialling is one of a new generation that could revolutionise the treatment of far more common diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes. For the first time, instead of treating the symptoms, it looks as if these drugs actually repair the effects of genes that cause disease.

CF affects 8,000 people in the UK and is caused by a mutation in just one gene, known as CTFR. It results in the patient's lungs and gut becoming lined with thick mucus. Breathing can be difficult and digestion is poor because the extra mucus stops nutrients being properly absorbed. Like many CF sufferers, Christine needs more than 15 medications every day to treat her symptoms. 'It takes three hours to clear my airways,' she says. She uses a device like a life-jacket which, when inflated, vibrates her chest to shake the mucus free. Before going to bed, she does a dozen upside-down exercises while her partner slaps her upper back, sides and chest to loosen the phlegm.

Until now there haven't been any drugs that can treat CF - or indeed any of the thousands of deadly conditions caused by a faulty gene, such as haemophilia and Huntington's chorea. Doctors can only help patients deal with the symptoms. But that could change. The drug Christine took, called VX-770, promises a revolution because it is able to reduce the damage caused by the mutation in the gene. The result was less mucus clogging up her lungs. Within two weeks of starting the drug (as part of an American trial), she was breathing more easily.

'I felt completely different,' says Christine, a teacher from Ohio. 'I could laugh without it turning into a five-minute coughing fit. Exercise became so much more enjoyable and easier.'

But once she stopped the drug after the four-week trial, her breathing was soon as bad as it had been before. And that wasn't the only downside. 'It's frustrating knowing there is something that can make you feel better but you can't have it.'

There are three other similar drugs for treating CF being tested; again, these target the faulty genes rather than the symptoms. Being able to correct errors in the CF gene means it should be possible to do the same thing for patients who have harmful mutations in other genes. 'If these drugs fulfil their promise, it will be a major breakthrough,' says Professor Kate Bushby, of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, who has been involved in testing one of them.

CF has always been at the cutting edge of gene research. The CTFR gene was the first to be linked to a specific disease 20 years ago. 'That discovery caused huge excitement,' says Professor Bushby. 'Everyone thought we'd start replacing the faulty genes with healthy ones prepared in the laboratory - genetic diseases would be history. But it proved much trickier than we thought.' Putting the healthy genes into the cell came with side-effects. In some cases, the newly inserted genes were attacked by the patient's own immune system. Even worse, in one trial, children given replacement genes developed leukaemia. So rather than replacing these damaged genes, American scientists began searching for drugs that could repair them instead.

At the forefront of this was Dr Robert Beall, director of the American Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, who raised $175 million from various sources, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates's charity.

The problem for CF patients is that their faulty gene affects a protein which is vital for transporting water in the airways and other passageways - this causes a lack of water, which is why their mucus is so thick. Dr Beall and his team have identified two chemicals that can improve the way the protein works, and have turned them into two drugs (which could be used in combination). The drug Christine was given boosts the effectiveness of the protein needed to transport water around the body.

The drug based on the other chemical works in a different way; it corrects a mistake in the way the protein is made. In most CF patients, this protein is slightly the wrong shape. The second new drug, VX-809, is able to tweak it back into shape. This second drug opens up the possibility of treating other illnesses, such as Alzheimer's and cancer, where again a protein hasn't been made properly and is also slightly the wrong shape.

'Poor protein folding is one of the main things that goes wrong when a gene becomes faulty in all sorts of other conditions,' says Dr David Sheppard, a physiologist at the University of Bristol, who has been researching these two drugs. 'What we need now is a large-scale trial to prove that benefits outweigh risks.'

One of the conditions the drugs might help with is male infertility. 'It can be caused by thick mucus in the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm to the penis,' says Dr Sheppard. 'Patients have a faulty CF gene, but no other symptoms.'

Around 10 per cent of CF sufferers have none of the water-carrying protein at all. They could be helped by a third drug, called Ataluren, which tricks the cells into ignoring the faulty gene's message. In an Israeli study of the drug, the rate at which CF patients coughed dropped dramatically. Someone with CF coughs around 650 times a day (a healthy rate is fewer than 16 times); on Ataluren, the coughing rate dropped to 450 a day. Altaluren is being trialled in the UK as a possible treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the deadly muscle-wasting disorder for which there is no cure.

Meanwhile, Christine is keen to continue using the new drug. She says: 'Every Monday, I call the clinic to see if I'm going to be put on to another longer trial with VX-770. 'All I can do is cross my fingers and keep on with the other treatments, but none of them has the effect that VX-770 did.'


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