Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year: Am I getting old or what...?

Happy New Year one and all...

My Christmas cold which refuses to go away, combined with the blustery weather – another birthday yesterday – and general seasonal tardiness, has conspired to rewrite our best laid plans to drive a couple of hours down to Norwich to spend the festive evening with friends tonight.

My wife and I have decided instead to go for a night in front of the fire – and the telly which I'm pleased to say hasn't been on once since before Christmas.

Our youngest daughter Lucy and her fiancĂ© Dan are coming over for a juicy steak and a bottle or two of red…and we’ll probably spend midnight looking on the TV for our older daughter Claire who’s partying in London to see if she makes it to the fireworks...

With five hours to the midnight hour, TV news has just shown crowds already gathering (and shivering) on the Embankment for London's spectacular show.

I'd rather be in front of the fire!

Am I getting old or what…?

What has Leicester in common with Buckinghamshire...Dominic Grieve!

Tory Leader David Cameron has appointed an MP from Buckinghamshire to be "Shadow Minister" for Leicester.

In what sounds like the most ill-fitting appointment since John Redwood became Secretary of State for Wales, Dominic Grieve, MP for Beaconsfield has been given the job of raising the Tory's image in Leicester.

Mr Grieve tells the Leicester Mercury
We want to re-establish the Conservative Party as a presence in inner cities.
He apparently aims to talk to Leicester communities and find out more about their concerns.

What does a Buckinghamshire Tory MP know about an East Midlands city like Leicester - which is represented in Parliament by three Labour MPs?

Mr Grieve tells the Mercury:
I already know Leicester a little...I have visited some of the mosques.
He'll be telling us next that some of his best friends are Asians...

All very interesting, but I wonder what the good people of Beaconsfield think to their MP being sent off to look after Leicester...

Hat-tip to Conservative Home.

Shooting the messenger…deadliest year for journalists

The year 2006 was the deadliest on record for journalists and media workers worldwide, with at least 155 murders and unexplained deaths according to end of year figures just released by the International Federation of Journalists.

The IFJ which represents more than half a million journalists in more than 100 countries, says 68 media staff were killed in Iraq in the year, confirming it as the most dangerous place in the world to work, and bringing the total number of journalists killed there since the war began in March 2003 to 170.

Some journalists get caught in the line of fire, or course, but more sinister are those murdered for attempting to uncover the truth.

The IFJ highlights the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya (pictured) in Moscow, the latest in a string of murders of journalists in Russia.

The award-winning investigative reporter with Novaya Gazeta was shot outside her apartment in Moscow on October 7.

More than 200 journalists had been killed in Russia since 1993. At least 40 of the murders since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 have not been resolved.

The IFJ also highlights continuing attacks on journalists in Latin America, where 37 media staff were killed in countries like Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.

Thirteen journalists died in the Philippines, raising the total of deaths in Asia to 34, the IFJ said.

Scale of Tory dodgy dinners revealed...

Tory Leader David Cameron has raised more than £100,000 from a private club which offers fundraising lunches at the House of Commons, according to today's Sunday Times.

The club is one of a number of so-called Patron's Clubs now being officially investigated after complaints that they breach a strict rule which prevents Parliamentary dining rooms being used for party fundraising purposes.

In my last post on this subject, I credited the Sunday Times with uncovering this story - and I'm happy to point out that it was in fact an article in The Guardian many months ago that kicked it off.

Today's ST says Oxfordshire residents are charged £480 a year for membership of which entitles subsrcibers to two private lunches in the parliamentary dining rooms.

Earlier this month The Sunday Times revealed that Tory constituencies — including Cameron’s — were effectively selling invitations to parliamentary dinners with shadow ministers for hundreds of pounds each.

Last week Sir Philip Mawer, the parliamentary standards commissioner launched a formal investigation into the Conservative dining clubs.

It is against parliamentary rules to use the dining rooms for fundraising.

Extract from today's Sunday Times follow-up:

This weekend the scale of the activities — revealed in the accounts filed by local constituencies — can be disclosed for the first time.

According to the accounts of Cameron’s Witney constituency party, his Principal Patrons club brought in £29,954 last year and £25,167 the year before. The outgoings for the club were just £3,226 last year, so it made a profit of £26,728.

The club is described as a “major income contributor” and is the largest source of funds for the constituency, even outstripping money raised from membership fees.

Other shadow cabinet members are also reliant on the thousands of pounds raised from their patrons’ clubs. Tatton, the Cheshire constituency of George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, has made more than £40,000 from his patrons’ club since he was elected in 2001.

The patrons’ club of Alan Duncan, the shadow trade and industry secretary, has raised more than £20,000 in the past two years for his Rutland and Melton constituency.

The party accounts for last year also refer to a Christmas lunch that was held at the Commons with Cameron as the guest speaker.

The Tory MPs are alleged to have broken parliament’s banqueting rules which state: “The private dining rooms are not to be used for direct financial or material gain by a sponsor, political party or any other person or outside organisation.”

The Conservatives have denied that the membership fees were a direct payment for the dinners. A spokesman said: “The rules state the rooms may be used for party political purposes and MPs can hire out the rooms for a charge. We have asked Sir Philip to clarify the rules. We believe we have broken no rules.”

Watch this space...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cameron and Tories face official sleaze investigation...

David Cameron is among 22 senior Tory MPs and Lords facing an official inquiry into claims of widespread abuse of rules over giving dinners in Parliament for cash donations to the Conservative Party.

This story first emerged three weeks ago when the Sunday Times revealed that David Cameron and other senior Conservatives have been hosting events in Parliament which are offered as enticements to donors to become members of exclusive high subscription “Patrons Clubs”.

This would appear to be in direct contravention to Parliamentary rules.

And today, The Guardian has splashed on the news that
Sir Philip Mawer, the parliamentary standards commissioner has begun an investigation following formal complaints about events held at the Commons dining rooms and prestigious rooms in Lords over the last three months.

The Guardian's David Hencke, writes:
"His office confirmed that Sir Philip would not open an investigation unless it had raised a matter of substance."
As well as David Cameron, other senior Tories facing official complaints include Michael Howard, George Osbourne, Alan Duncan, and Oliver Letwin and a host of backbenchers.

The Guardian explains that one example of Patrons' Clubs is the platinum membership of Chester Conservatives which, for a £500 subscription promises "chances to meet leading party figures in a select environment, plus dinner at the House of Commons with a senior Conservative MP".

Chester, currently a Labour seat with a majority of 915, is one of the marginals David Cameron would have to win to form a Government at the next election.

Two Labour backbenchers, Kevan Jones (Durham North) and John Mann (Bassetlaw)allege that two rules are being broken by the Tories.

One rule states:
"The private dining rooms are not to be used for direct financial or material gain by a sponsor, political party, or any other person or outside organisation."
Another rule says:
"The private dining rooms may not be used as an inducement to recruit new members of outside organisations or non-parliamentary associations."
UPDATE: Tory chairman Francis Maude has admitted that the issues was a "grey area". Speaking on BBC Radio4's World at One Mr Maude denied that the party was making money out of their patrons' clubs having dinners in the House of Commons.

So that's OK then...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Which is your favourite Lembit pic...?

I've changed my mind about my favourite photo of Lembit Opik.

A couple of days ago, when I posted on how the cheeky LibDem MP raised the case of his new lover with an Immigration Minister, this was my fave Lembit pic.

But Thursday's Times changed my mind.

Alongside the headline: MP lobbied to prevent his lover's deportation the Thunderer used this rather fetching Press Association snap to illustrate their rather well-crafted article on Lembit's latest antics.

It shows Lembit playing Father Christmas.

Which I suppose just about beats playing the fool...

It's hard to believe that only few months ago, the accident prone Mr Opik as the Times describe him, was being tipped as a future LibDem Leader. But then so was Mark Oaten.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Will media frenzy prejudice fair trial...?

Just suppose for a minute that the two men being questioned by police in Ipswich turn out to have nothing to do with the Suffolk murders…and get released at the weekend without any charges being brought against them.

What future could they expect, given the media feeding frenzy this week and the job tabloid journalism has done on them since their arrest a few days ago.

There is of course an insatiable appetite for every tidbit of information.

The redtops oblige with every edition competing for the biggest, most outlandish, most salacious headline – about two men who have not actually been charged with anything to date.

I noticed today’s offerings on the news-stand at Peterborough Railway Station:

My hell as wife of ripper suspect – The Mirror.

Suspect Nr 2 knew Suzy Lamplugh – The Sun.

Strangler suspect is secret tranny – The Star.

The Star’s story won today’s award for most bizarre revelation about the “ strangler suspect” as they “unmasked” him as a secret cross-dresser.

He squeezed into high heels, a PVC mini-skirt and a lady’s wig as he prowled the streets for sex.

It wasn’t long before the Mirror was updating their website with details from the Star’s “exclusive”.

Even The Times is not immune, with a colour banner across the top of their front page declaring: “Suffolk Murders – More unsolved prostitute killing to be reopened”.

Inside, The Times also reported what the Star claimed as an “exclusive”, with an Ipswich prostitute saying that one of the detained suspects:

“often dressed up as a woman…he wore a wig. When he got out of the car he had a PVC shirt and high heels.”
As I write this, anticipation of a significant breakthrough in the murder inquiry has been heightened with BBC TV just reporting that a press conference has been called by Suffolk Police in a few minutes time.

On Friday, the first arrested suspect will either have to be charged or released by police. On Saturday, the second arrested suspected will also have to be charged or released.

If they are released, they will have to try to rebuild their lives – after a week in which the media has played a big part in turning their lives upside down.

Even worse, if they are charged, could the defence claim that the headlines and stories have prejudiced a fair trial.

UPDATE 1: Suffolk Police have charged the second arrested man - Steve Wright - with murder of five young women. First suspect has been released on bail.

Appeal made at press conference to media to show restraint in reporting to ensure "due process of law" can take place.

UPDATE 2: Full text of the warning to the media read out by Michael Crimp, senior prosecutor for Suffolk Crown Prosecution Service following the charging of Stephen Wright with murder and the release on bail of the first man to be arrested in the inquiry:

At this time I would like to remind you of the need to take care in reporting the events surrounding this case. Steven Wright stands accused of these offences and has a right to a fair trial before a jury.

It is extremely important that there should be responsible media reporting which should not prejudice the due process of law.
Exactly my point: When I went to journalism college (over 30 years ago, but I don't think the law's changed on this since), once a person has been charged, reporting restrictions strictly apply.

As I understand the law, the only information that can now be given by the media about the accused man before the trial is his name, age, address, occupation, and the exact wording of the charge which will be put to him Friday morning before Ipswich magistrates.

I'll watch with interest...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Who's a Cheeky Boy then...?

The Lib Dems have admitted that their front bencher Lembit Opik intervened over plans to deport his Cheeky Girl lover Gabriela Irimia to Romania.

The Home Office refused the Transylvanian twins Gabriela and Monica Irimia further leave to remain in the summer.

But Gabriela, who says it was love at first sight when she recently met the LibDem MP Mr Opik, wasted no time in handing him documents about her case. He obliged by passing the documentation on to the singers' constituency MP.

Mr Opik who caused shock and amasement at the weekend when a Sunday newspaper announced he had left TV weathergirl Sian Lloyd for Cheeky Girl Gabriela, 24, raised the issue directly with Immigration Minister Liam Byrne.

A spin-doctor for the Liberal Democrats says their man has shown "total propriety" and had not lobbied on their behalf. Apparently, Mr Opik raised the matter with the Minister, but did not lobby him.

This was completely normal procedure the LibDem spokesman claimed. But he was unable to confirm whether Mr Opik had mentioned any other cases to government ministers.

Well, that’s OK then.

Full story HERE

I couldn't resist using my favourite photo of Lembit - and also my favourite photo of the Cheeky Girls. Not sure which of the pair is Gabriela. Either way, I bet neither of them knitted Lembit's rather fetching regulation woolly hat...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Beware of Christmas turkeys going cheap…

If you’re offered a cheap turkey in the next few days, beware: it could spoil your whole Christmas.

Lincolnshire Police are warning that it could be stolen – and it might even give you food poisoning.

Over £1,000 worth of turkeys and other joints of meat were stolen in a night-time raid on the weekend at the Butchers in Moulton High Street.

Police are investigating whether an abandoned wheelbarrow found on the High Street was used by the robbers to shift their booty.

Police also warn of health risks involved in eating the stolen meat as it would probably need a commercial sized fridge to keep it properly refrigerated.

Anyone with information about the incident or know who is selling cheap turkeys or joints of meat is asked to contact Pc Coleman on 01522 558798, entering number 1197 when prompted.

Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

2nd arrest in Ipswich, but do police have time to prevent 6th murder..?

As police made a second arrest early this morning in the Ipswich murder investigation, they were already forced to think about how long they can hold the first suspect they arrested yesterday.

Suffolk Police announced this morning that a 48-year-old man was arrested at 5am this morning on suspicion of murdering all five young women

As the clocked reached 24-hours after the arrest of the first suspect, it was necessary under current law for a superintendent to review the case and give permission to allow detectives to continue to hold him for another 12 hours.

Supermarket worker Tom Stephens - a former special constable - can now be held until Tuesday night before being charged or released.

If they wish to detain him beyond this evening, they will have to apply to magistrates who could authorise his detention for a maximum total arrest time of 96 hours.

It is to be hoped that this is sufficient time for police to gather the evidence necessary if they wish to bring formal charges, or to satisfy themselves that the suspect is not the murderer before being forced to release him.

Ninety-six hours does not seem over-long when you consider modern-day investigation techniques such as looking into computer records and possible DNA tests.

It would be unthinkable if police were forced to release a suspect in these circumstances, only for there to be a sixth victim sometime later.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Face of the Ipswich Ripper suspect...

The man detained by police investigating the murders of five young women in the Ipswich area gave a bizarre interview published in yesterday's Sunday Mirror.

Recently divorced supermarket worker Tom Stephens, 37, claimed in the interview that he was a friend to all the victims and that they were the five best looking prostitutes in Ipswich.

He also said there is something about him that women do not like. He said he didn't have any alibis, had already been interviewed by police four times and expected to be arrested. But he denied any involvement in the murders and did not expect to be charged.

He told the Sunday Mirror he became the girls' "protector" and would have had "complete opportunity" to carry out the crime as "the girls trusted me so much".

He was detained by police this morning at his house - some two miles from where two of the bodies were discovered.

Photo is from the Sunday Mirror site where the full interview is also available.

The real reason the Saudi bribes probe was halted...?

Much was written over the weekend about the controversial decision to pull the plug on the £2 million Serious Fraud Office investigation into alleged bribes paid by a British company some 20 years ago.

I thought the most telling article was in the Observer by Gaby Hinsliff and Antony Barnett who support my view that:

1. The decision was taken to protect British lives.
2. There was little chance of a successful prosecution.

Here’s the opening paragraphs to the article:

Saudi Arabia threatened to stop sharing vital intelligence - particularly intercepted communications between al-Qaeda members active there - unless Britain suspended its investigation into a controversial arms deal, The Observer can reveal.

Senior Whitehall sources said the Saudis warned they would also kick out British military and intelligence personnel based in the country.

'They were threatening everything: intelligence, everything. The US and the UK have got their bases in Saudi, that is their "in" to the Middle East,' said one source. 'Essentially, the line was that British lives could be lost if this relationship broke down. It would have been them freezing everybody out and speaking to nobody about anything.'

The investigation into allegations that BAE Systems paid bribes to senior Saudis was dropped last Thursday following a detailed report from the security services. Saudi sources insisted yesterday the real reason was that the firm - which had said it risked losing a £6bn deal for the Saudis to buy 72 Typhoon jets - could have gone bust if it lost contracts.

However the intelligence threats appear to have been made after months of commercial ones failed to get the desired result. One senior intelligence expert said the Saudis' contribution to the battle against al-Qaeda could not be underestimated: 'The Saudis are very, very important. Mucking up that relationship is something you do not do.'

The fight against terrorism itself could have been at risk. The Serious Fraud Office's director, Robert Wardle, confirmed yesterday in an interview with the Financial Times that he was convinced to drop the case by national security considerations.

However, Whitehall sources said the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, had gone further by concluding there was little chance of bringing charges.

Goldsmith believed the main evidence gathered so far dated back to before the introduction of Britain's current anti-corruption laws, which meant it might not be prosecutable.

Goldsmith also thought the SFO would be obstructed by the constitutional position of the Saudi royal family in their country's government: they are only held liable under law when acting in a government capacity, rather than as royals.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

MPs selected as Labour candidates in new constituencies..

Labour parliamentary candidates were selected this weekend in two new constituencies created under redrawn boundaries in Manchester and Tyneside.

In Manchester, Barbara Keeley beat Ian Stewart in a ballot of members to become Labour's candidate in the new Worsley and Eccles South constituency.

Barbara was elected MP for Worsley at last year's General Election. Ian has been MP for Eccles since 1997. Both the Worsley and the Eccles seats disappear under Boundary Commission changes at the next General Election.

On Tyneside, David Clelland won the Labour nomination for the newly formed constituency of Gateshead. He has been MP for Tyne Bridge since 1985. He beat Sharon Hodgson, MP for Gateshead and Washington West since the 2005 General Election.

Tyne Bridge and the Gateshead and Washington West constituencies both disappear at the next General Election.

Saudi bribes (allegedly) and British security interests...

By popular demand (OK, one request on my blog) I’m posting on the decision to abandon the two-year probe into an arms deal made with the Saudis in the 1980s.

Tony Blair and the Labour Government are under fire for pulling the plug on the Serious Fraud Office investigation.

Well, I’m no expert on arms dealing, bribery or Middle East relations, but since I've been challenged, I’ll give the issue my best shot (no pun intended)…

My first observation is the rather obvious irony that any bribery prosecution would surely put Thatcher and her Tory Government in the frame. Not Blair. Not Labour.

I understand it was Michael Heseltine, then Deputy Conservative PM, who signed the deal which came under the microscope two decades later.

So the Tories appear to be in a glasshouse on this one. But that of course doesn't stop the media assisting the Tories in chucking bricks at Blair.

For me, the sensible starting point on this issue has to be first priority of any Government: the protection of British security interests.

That means putting British lives first - whatever did or didn’t happen two decades ago when Lady Thatcher was in Downing Street.

Less important, but significant factors are the thousands of British jobs which depend on our defence industries, and whether it’s in the general public interest to continue an investigation which has gone nowhere in two years.

I understand the facts to be these:

1. British Aerospace (BAe) was accused of paying millions of pounds in bribes to middlemen to win the £150 million Al Yamamah arms contract signed in the 1980s which secured thousands of British defence industry jobs. BAe have always denied paying bribes.

2. Despite two years investigations so far, the Serious Fraud Office predicted that a further 18-months was needed before it would be known if charges were possible. That's three and half years of investigations into something that happened - or didn't - 20 years ago.

3. Representations to the Attorney General on national security were on the basis that a breakdown in UK-Saudi relations could endanger vital joint work on counter-terrorism and impede the search for peace and stability in the Middle East, which in turn could threaten the safety of UK citizens.

4. Acting as overall minister with responsibility for the Serious Fraud Office, and also as guardian of the public interest, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, reviewed the case in detail.

5. Having examined the evidence, he reached the view that it was unlikely that a successful prosecution - resulting in a conviction - could be brought, even if the SFO were given a further 18 months. In contrast, Serious Fraud Office director Robert Wardle says we will never know if a prosecution was possible, as the investigation was not concluded.

6. It has been reported that the Saudis threatened to cancel a £10 billion order for Typhoon fighters unless the investigation was halted, threatening thousands of UK defence industry jobs.

7. Tony Blair clearly put Britain’s national security interests first. He advised Lord Goldsmith that he wanted to keep the Saudis “on side”, particularly in terms of counter-terrorism and in respect of the Israel-Palestine question.Tony Blair says:

"I have no doubt at all that had we allowed this to go forward we’d have done immense damage to the true interests of this country."

The Sunday papers will be full of flak and froth and conspiracy headlines. But I have no doubt they will be far less damaging than if the inquiry festered on leading to the Saudis pulling diplomatic relations and cancelling the Typhoon order.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

US company brings in illegal keep them out?

When an American company won the contract to build a massive border fence to keep Mexicans out, they hired a very special workforce...more than 100 illegal immigrants from Mexico!

The Golden State Fence Company based in southern California will pay nearly $5 million in fines for hiring illegal immigrants after a court case in San Diego this week.

The U.S. Attorney says as many as a third of the Golden State's workers were in the country illegally — even after the company pledged to clean up its act when authorities discovered illegal workers on the payroll back in 1999.

Two executives could now face jail.

Ironically, their lawyer claims the case proves that US construction companies need a guest worker programme. It’s tough, low-paid graft that no self-respecting American would want to do.

The red-faced company says the illegals “slipped through the cracks...”

Doesn’t say much for the quality of their fence!

Hat-tip to Tom Watson MP

Friday, December 15, 2006

GNER loses franchise, but the chaos is on Central Trains...

GNER has given up its franchise to run trains on the East Coast mainline through Peterborough today after its parent company Sea Containers ran into major financial difficulties.

Today, rail passengers have been assured it will be business as usual on GNER trains - which is more than we can hope for on Central Trains this weekend and over Christmas - following a shortage of drivers.

After the GNER franchise was torn up today, the Department for Transport said it was inviting expressions of interest to take on the lucrative East Coast route from Kings Cross to Edinburgh and the north of Scotland.

A new deal is expected to be in place in 12 to 18 months with a new operator. Until then, GNER will operate the franchise on behalf of the Government under a no-fee management agreement deal.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport told the Peterborough Evening Telegraph

I don't think passengers will notice any changes. The tickets will be the same and train times will be the same.
But passengers on Central Trains will have been warned to expect major changes to services this Sunday and over the Christmas holidays.

It seems Central Trains staff are under no obligation to work Sundays under their contracts - and drivers who are in dispute with Central Trains have decided to withdraw their goodwill.

A very limited train service will operate on the Norwich-Peterborough-Grantham-Nottingham route, because of driver shortages. Central Trains has chartered buses to operate along the key routes.

Good job there's no shortage of bus drivers - or buses!

Husband charged in river murder case...

The husband of Anita Anderson, 54-year-old Malcolm Anderson has been charged with her murder.

He appeared before Lincoln Magistrates Court this morning when he was remanded in custody to attend Lincoln Crown Court on Friday 22nd December.

Anita Anderson's body was found half submerged in the River Welland on Saturday morning. Police enquiries led to arrest of Malcolm Anderson by Kent Officers at a French Port.

Lincs Police sends team to Suffolk...

Lincolnshire Police are sending sending seven officers to Suffolk today to assist in the massive investigation into the murders of five young women in the Ipswich area.

These officers will be deployed on uniform patrol work, for example, cordon duties, house-to-house enquiries or other uniform duties as required by Suffolk Constabulary.

As a member of the Lincolnshire Police Authority, I'm pleased to see that operational requirements in Lincolnshire have been balanced with the need to assist in a small neighbouring force facing its biggest ever investigation.

Emotional words from family of murdered woman...

A statement by the family of Anita Anderson, whose body was found in the River Welland at the weekend have released a statement through Lincolnshire Police:

Words cannot describe our loss. We can't believe that Anita has been taken from us.

Every day is a painful reminder that we are never going to see her
again. We remember Anita as a friendly, caring and exceptionally loving individual who had time for everyone, her family, friends and work colleagues.

We are still in shock that Anita has been taken from us. Without the support of close friends, we don't know how we would have coped in the last few days.

We want to thank them for their words of comfort and for their cards.
Police have made three arrests in their investigation of Anita who lived at Kirton near Boston.

Labour Conference returns to Manchester...

Following the huge success of this year's annual conference in Manchester, the Labour Party has announced a return to the city for its 2008 and 2010 conferences.

It's great news for Manchester which has seen an amazing renaissance over the past decade. When Labour came to government in 1997, the city was dying on its feet, with a dwindling population.

Only 300 people lived in Manchester City Centre. Many believed it was in terminal decline after 18 years of Tory boom and bust.

Today, Manchester City Centre is home to over 16,000 people and it's fast becoming one of the leading business centres in Europe thanks to sustained economic growth and massive investment by a Labour Government working with a go-ahead Labour city council led by Richard Leese.

This year was the first time in over 80 years the Labour Party held its annual conference in Manchester and delegates loved the city.

As Europe’s largest political conference, the Labour Conference attracts thousands of delegates and visitors together with global leaders and the world’s press.

Manchester estimates this year's Conference generated over £35 million of economic benefit for the city-region.

Leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese says:

"This is great news for our city. Manchester received a huge boost to its international reputation thanks to the world-class way we hosted the 2006 Labour Party Conference.

The incredible facilities around our conference quarter will be even better by 2008 and 2010 and we will keep building on our success to attract even more major conferences, which bring more jobs and investment for our city.

We have an outstanding range of national and international events due to take place in the next 24 months, and we will be pushing those successes to bring real benefits to communities across the city."
Next year, the Conference will be in Bournemouth, in 2008 it will be in Manchester, 2009 in Brighton and 2010 back to Manchester.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Cool" Cameron gets cold shoulder from Girls Aloud stars...

Pop sensation Girls Aloud have given Tory Leader David Cameron the cold shoulder after he revealed that he "fancied" one of them.

In an interview with the New Statesman band member, Cheryl Cole has a go at David Cameron’s shallow brand of politics.

She says:
Politicians know that we get listened to by more young fans than they do. That's why David Cameron said he fancied me. He was just trying to be cool... Do I fancy him? No!
Call me Dave has managed to achieve a whole year being all things to all people as Tory Leader, but he's been having a torrid time lately!

Lincs drugs dealer sentenced to 10 years prison...

In a week where the effects of hard drugs have been plain to see in the national headlines, I was pleased to see a Lincolnshire dealer sentenced to ten years prison today.

Most of the five young women tragically murdered in the Ipswich area were on the streets to fund their drug habits.

What I found most disturbing was their determination to sell their bodies to get money for their next fix, knowing there was a killer in their locality who was targetting prostitutes.

Even after three bodies of their friends had been discovered brutally murdered, dire police warnings of a maniac on the loose failed to deter the girls from plying the oldest profession.

One girl even gave a now infamous television interview to say she was aware of the risks, frightened by the murders, but was desperate for money so would continue to go on the streets

That girl, someone's daughter, is now dead.

Patrice Roberts probably never supplied her - or anyone else in Ipswich - with cocaine.

But he did supply people nearer to home - in Lincolnshire.The Lincolnshire Echo reports today that the 38-year-old Lincoln drug dealer has been jailed for 10 years after police found cocaine, cannabis and guns at his house.

Roberts and his 20-year-old girlfriend were convicted of possession of cocaine and cannabis with intent to supply.

I wonder how many lives their dirty dealing have wrecked - apart from their own.

River murder: police turn back lorry in Europe in hunt for evidence...

A lorry on its way to Eastern Europe has been returned to the UK as part of the murder inquiry into the death of Anita Anderson, whose body was found in the River Welland near Deeping St James at the weekend.

On Tuesday, Lincolnshire detectives concluded that evidence may have been dumped at a recycling site in the Whittlesey area. Several potential locations were identified and a team of specialist officers made of detailed search at a household recycling centre.

A search was also to be made at a charity collection point but it turned out that it had been emptied only hours earlier and the goods had been transferred to a lorry on its way to Eastern Europe.

The lorry was traced on its journey across Europe and has now returned to the UK. A search will be made of the contents in a bid to trace the potential evidence.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Lincoln Magistrates court granted police an extra 24 hours to detain a 54-year-old man in police custody whilst further enquiries are made.

He was arrested at a French port on Monday afternoon, and is being questioned at Lincoln Police Station.

The 26-year-old female from the Peterborough area, who was arrested on Monday evening on suspicion of an offence of assisting an offender, has been released on police bail pending further enquiries. She is due to return to Spalding Police Station in four weeks.

The third person detained by police is a 37-year-old male from the Peterborough area. He was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender and has been detained at Spalding police station for questioning by detectives.

Police are continuing to re-appeal for sightings of the blue Peugeot 206 CC (Cabriolet Coupe) prior to 12.30am on Saturday 9th December when it was found burnt out near the body on the banks of the River Welland between Crowland and Deeping St James.

Anyone with information should contact Lincolnshire Police immediately on 01522 532222.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

3rd arrest in Deepings murder...

Lincolnshire Police have made a third arrest in their enquiries into the murder of Anita Anderson (photo, right)whose body was found in the River Welland near Deeping St James on Saturday morning.

Today's statement from Lincs Police says:

Late yesterday evening a third arrest was made in connection with this murder enquiry. A 37-year-old male from the Peterborough area was arrested on suspicion of an offence of assisting an offender. He has been detained at Spalding police station for questioning by detectives.

The 54-year-old local man, who was arrested at a French port at approximately 12.30pm on Monday afternoon is continuing to be questioned by police at Lincoln Police Station.

The 26-year-old female from the Peterborough area, who was arrested on Monday evening on suspicion of an offence of assisting an offender, has been released on police bail pending further enquiries. She is due to return to Spalding Police Station in 4 weeks.

Just the ticket - Times praises Labour's plan for buses

Today’s Times says Labour’s plans for a fairer deal on the buses announced yesterday are “just the ticket”.

The raft of proposals marking the most fundamental change in how buses are run for a generation were unveiled by the Government yesterday.

"Putting Passengers First" outlines Government proposals to strengthen working partnerships between local authorities and bus companies to attract more passengers in the long term.

The key changes being considered are:

* On greater partnership working between local authorities and operators, making it easier for local authorities to have a say in bus frequency, timetables and fares.

* On punctuality, giving Traffic Commissioners greater powers of enforcement , holding not just operators but for the first time local authorities to account for the performance of local bus services

* On quality contracts (franchising) in the right circumstances making it a realistic option for local authorities to introduce schemes tailored to local needs.

* Allowing local charities and community groups to provide services in areas poorly served by other transport.

* On the environment, making sure that current bus subsidies help to support the Government's environmental objectives.

Unveiling the package, Labour’s Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said:
To many people buses are a lifeline, giving them access to jobs and shops and allowing them to stay in touch with family and friends. But since deregulation some areas have seen a free-for-all, with the needs of passengers being neglected.

In some areas - where local authorities and bus operators work in partnership for the benefit of passengers - the number of people using buses has gone up.

But in too many areas passengers are simply not getting the services they expect, and as a result passenger numbers have declined.

By sharing best practice and giving local authorities and operators the tools they need to work effectively together, all passengers, regardless of where they live, should start to enjoy the benefits of top quality bus services.
The Times comment is a cracking good read so I'm posting it in full here:
Last year, in England alone, passengers made an estimated 4.1 billion bus trips — two thirds of all journeys by public transport.

The bus remains a lifeline for many rural communities, providing their only connection to healthcare, banks, shopping centres and schools. It plays a key role in all plans to relieve road congestion, cut carbon emissions, reduce road accidents and support the economy.

About two million people a day go to work by bus or coach. Yet the bus has an unlovely image, is shunned by car owners and costs the taxpayer ever more money: next year public expenditure on buses will reach £2.5 billion, more than double the sum a decade ago (though still only half the subsidies to rail travel).

If buses are to play a role at a time of rapid economic and social change, the strategy must be reupholstered.

The paper presented yesterday by Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary, was timely, low-key and sensible. He admitted that the current regulatory framework largely failed to deliver the service that passengers rightly expected. Since deregulation a decade ago, which was intended to increase the market through competition and commercial enterprise, bus ridership has fallen by about 18 per cent.

In almost all big cities except London fares have risen, passenger numbers fallen and routes have been cut. Swaths of the countryside have no regular bus service, whereas on competitive routes such as those to Oxford buses run every 15 minutes day and night.

Mr Alexander rightly rules out any return to the old days of nationalisation. Municipal transport may have a nostalgic image, but it is almost always wasteful, inefficient and inflexible.

What is needed, however, is closer co-ordination between the operators and the local authorities. In some cases, this is already happening: in York and Brighton buses are vital to local schemes to reduce congestion and keep the historic centres viable.

But, as the paper says, there is no single pattern, nor should there be. Local authorities may suggest but not dictate routes, but they should be realistic about franchising. They should be hardheaded about the need for a commercially viable service, but allow charities and community groups to provide services in poorly served areas or where a route would never pay.

What role should the bus play in a car-owning society? The figures may look bleak: since 1985 the proportion of households without cars has fallen by a third, from 36 to 24 per cent. Those without a car made 20 per cent of their trips by bus, compared with 3 per cent by car-owning households.

As car use has grown, buses are caught in a vicious circle: fewer passengers and services mean higher fares, more congestion, slipping punctuality and fewer passengers.

That circle can be broken, however, if there are disincentives to use cars in congested areas and incentives to use a well-developed public transport network.

The effect on bus usage can be dramatic: in London, it has risen 38 per cent since congestion charges began, although subsidies (paid by the charge) have also risen.

Punctuality is reported to have risen nine points to 79 per cent, while the increased numbers have reduced costs per passenger by 22 per cent since 1985.

London is an exception. But as other cities tackle congestion, they should study their bus timetables closely and ensure that passengers, not bureaucrats, are best served by their strategy.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More nightmares for Cameron...

More bad news for David Cameron following the awful events last week that marked his first anniversary as the latest Tory Leader.

The latest poll results for The Times, shows Cameron’s Tories face their lowest poll rating since April - and nowhere near the breakthrough he needs to win a General Election.

Support for the Tories has fallen by two points over the past month after holding steady at 36% over the summer. Labour is steady on 33%, with the Liberal Democrats also down at 19%.

The poll, by Populus, follows defections to UKIP by some prominent Tory activists and Right wing rumblings of discontent about Cameron’s leadership over his views on green policies, tax and Europe.

Maybe this explains Cameron’s sudden lurch back to the right in recent days, with a call for Victorian Values and the return of John Major's ill-fated ‘Back to Basics’ message.

While David "hug-a-hoodie" Cameron was keen to present his "love-a-lout" image, his own MPs are distancing themselves from the views of their leader.

For example, Tory MP, David Davies, told the Commons yesterday:

I put my arms around a hoodie when I was on the parliamentary police scheme, that was to hold him until the officer came to put the cuffs on. That's the only time that they should receive a hug of any sort.

So don't expect to see David C hugging David D for a while...

Police name murdered woman - and make second arrest...

Lincolnshire Police have arrested a second person in their hunt to find the killer of of Anita Anderson, the woman found floating in the River Welland on Saturday morning.

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph tonight reports that a 26-year-old woman from the Peterborough area has been arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender.

She has been detained at Spalding police station for questioning.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the arrest of a 54-year-old local man in connection with the murder was made in a French port at approximately 12.30pm yesterday afternoon.

He was apprehended by Kent officers as a result of enquiries made with other police forces, port authorities and also an Automated Number Plate Recognition alert on the man's vehicle.

Police were today searching through bags of clothes at a household-recycling centre in Whittlesey where specialist trained officers were looking for evidence connected to the enquiry.

BBC Radio Lincolnshire reports that the victim was Anita Anderson, 52, from Kirton near Boston.

A post mortem examination has been carried out, but Lincolnshire Police have not yet revealed how she died.

Her partially clothed body was found close to a burnt-out Peugeot 206.
Police are still appealing for witnesses.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cameron avoids fine for no Tube ticket...

Conservative Leader David Cameron ended his a truly awful week with another embarassment at the weekend.

As the Tories called for a return to Victorian values today, it was revealed by the Daily Mirror that Mr Cameron was caught without a ticket on London Underground.

But he refused to pay the fine and apparently pulled the “Do you know who I am” routine.

Eventually, he persuaded the London Underground worker that he’d lost his ticket and he was allowed to pay £3 for another one. He avoided coughing up the full £30 fine passengers are usually charged when caught travelling without a ticket.

Transport for London regulations say:
In common with other transport systems in London, the Underground operates a Penalty Fare system. This means that you will be liable to a charge of £30 if you do not have with you, to show when required, the right ticket covering you entire journey.

You cannot travel without the right ticket and expect to pay during or at the end of your journey. If a passenger has no valid ticket or pre-pay validation on the Underground, then they will be liable to pay a penalty fare.
I wonder what the punishment was for travelling without a ticket in Victorian times...

Body in Welland: police arrest Lincs man

A 54-year-old Lincolnshire man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after a woman's body was found in the river near Deeping St James, according to the BBC.

Radio Lincolnshire are now saying the body of the woman was "partially clothed" and found near a burnt out car.

Late this afternoon, I heard the officer in charge of the investigation say on local radio that a man was being "questioned", but that the dead woman had still not been identified.

Body in river was clothed...

Police say the body discovered in the River Welland over the weekend was found clothed - unlike the three women found murdered in Suffolk.

While police have not ruled out the possibility of a link to the murders of three prostitutes in Ipswich, Suffolk, it is thought most unlikely that there is a connection.

The woman found in the Welland between Deeping St James and Crowland on Saturday has still not been identified and police won't yet say how she died. They have confirmed that she is of white European appearance.

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph say she is believed to be in her 30s and BBC Radio Lincolnshire says she is said to be "at least 30".

Det Supt Roger Bannister told the BBC that the result of the post-mortem examination and the woman's injuries "lead me to think that the death is suspicious".

It is understood that no form of identification was found on the body, although some possessions have been recovered.

The ET reports that police are looking at a possible link between the murder and the discovery of a burned out car nearby on the banks of the river.

It is possible the was already dead before being transported to the river by vehicle. A sexual motive for the crime has not been ruled out.

Police divers have made a search of the river and recovered a nunber of items including a firearm, although police are not linking it to the investigation.

Body in river: Police appeal for witnesses

News from the Lincolnshire Police media brief on the body of a woman found over the weekend in the River Welland near Deeping St James which I posted on yesterday:

Suspicious Death: Police are appealing for information
surrounding the body of a woman, which was found in the River Welland between Crowland and Deeping St James on Saturday 9th December by a member of the public.

A Home Office pathologist conducted a post mortem examination last night and the results have confirmed that she died in suspicious circumstances.

Police want to hear from anyone who may have been travelling on the B1166 between 11pm on Friday night and 11am on Saturday morning can recall seeing any vehicles or persons in the area.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Lincolnshire Police on 01522 532222 quoting incident number 182 of 9th December.

Police are aware of the links being drawn to the two murders that are being investigated by Suffolk police. It does remain a line of enquiry, however they are only very tenuous links and at this time is not a priority.

Margaret B notes Pinochet death: Margaret T mourns. Telegraph recalls dictator's secret flight from Lincs

Two Margarets. But two very different responses to General Pinochet's death. While Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett notes his death, it is left to the dictator's old pal Margaret Thatcher to mourn his passing.

The former Prime Minister is said to be greatly saddened by the death of the ruthless dictator who she entertained to tea in Downing Street.

Following his death yesterday, I wondered whether Baroness Thatcher would attend his funeral. ITN reported overnight that it won't be a state occasion.

If Mrs Thatcher had still been PM, she'd probably have staged a state funeral in London for Pinochet, no doubt in recognition of his support in the Falklands War against Argentina.

A spokesman for Lady Thatcher told the Daily Telegraph Lady Thatcher would not be issuing a formal statement but would be sending her "deepest condolences" to Gen Pinochet's widow and family.

The Telegraph says the statement issued by Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is 'terse'. It is also right on the button:

We note the passing of Gen Pinochet and want to pay tribute to the remarkable progress that Chile has made over the last 15 years as an open, stable and prosperous democracy.
Meanwhile, in a separate article, the Telegraph recalls Pinochet's secret flight from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sports Personality - my money's on David Walliams - UPDATED

My choice for BBC Sports Personality of the Year is Channel Swimmer and actor-comedian David Walliams after his epic cross-Channel swim.

But don't bother trying to vote for him tonight as the BBC airs it's epic show: The star of Little Britain didn't even make the Top Ten, despite a campaign by The Sun and The Evening Standard.

The Sunday Times headlines today talk of vote-rigging which kept David Walliams off the short-list. The favourites for the award are Zara Phillips, daughter of the Princess Royal and Darren Clarke, the golfer who helped win the Ryder Cup six weeks after his wife died of cancer.

Worthy sports personalities, I'm sure.

But it's all a bit of a farce, when one of the ten people you can vote for is some guy who chucks darts at a board for a living.

Darts is a pub pastime, not an Olympic sport. Being able to hit the board is very skilfull, of course but hardly comparable to the sporting achievement, heroism and personality - of David Walliams who swam the channel to raise £1 million for charity for a bet!

Apparently, the voting furore has embarrassed the BBC into making a special award to David Walliams - who is now planning a charity swim the Bering Straits which link Russia to the USA.

The final farce is that the BBC has revealed that the Young Sports Personality of the Year has been won by Theo Walcott, the young lad who joined the England World Cup team but didn't get to kick a ball...

On that form, it will be amazing if the Scots who became World Champions at Elephant Polo last week don't win.

(but they're not shortlisted either!).

UPDATED: Zara Phillips, daughter of the Princess Royal won this year's Sports Personality Award of the Year, as my pic lifted from the BBC site shows.

A real laydee.

Pincochet finally escapes justice...

Sorry to report that the old Chilean dictator will not face charges. Newsflash on death of General Augusto Pinochet at BBC.

Wonder if Lady Thatcher will be fit enough to attend the funeral of her favourite pal who she entertained to tea at Downing Street when she was Prime Minister.

Some 3,000 Chileans 'disappeared' after Pinochet led a military coup. Human rights groups accused him of ordering torture and executions.

He was under house arrest and due to face charges concerning tax evasion and the "Caravan of Death" which involved hit squads touring Chile to eradicate those who opposed him.

'Murder' probe into body in river near Deeping ...

Lincolnshire Police are investigating a suspicious death after the body of a woman was found in the River Welland between Deeping St James and Crowland.

The news made the BBC national bulletins at noon today (Sunday) and by one-o-clock, BBC R4 said it was a "murder investigation".

Police closed the Deeping to Crowland road at the St James railway crossing soon after the body was discovered by a passer-by on Saturday lunchtime.

This afternoon (Sunday), the road is still blocked, with a police officer on duty at the railway crossing to prevent access by the public.

A post-mortem examination has been carried out on the body.

Meanwhile, there was a high level of police activity on Godsey Lane on Saturday afternoon, with a number of uniformed officers and three marked cars outside a private house. I do not know if the two incidents are linked.

Cameron in Commons £50,000 'cash-for-access' row

Tory leader David Cameron is under fire over a cash-for-access club in which businessmen who pay £50,000 get to meet him in his House of Commons offices.

Today's Mail on Sunday claims that benefactors are also promised they will be kept close to policy developments and will even get the chance to chat with him after Prime Minister's Questions.

The MoS says the offer to meet Mr Cameron is contained in a Tory leaflet sent out to well-heeled supporters and distributed at a meeting last week of the City Circle, a group of financiers who help to bankroll the party.

It says the meetings are one of the benefits of being in the so-called "Leader's Group" - for an annual membership fee of £50,000.

MPs are accusing Mr Cameron of abusing his position.

LibDem rotweiller Norman Baker said he would be asking the Serjeant at Arms to investigate. He added:

Mr Cameron's office, like those of other MPs, is paid for by the taxpayer to perform a public function - not as a fundraising venue for the Conservative Party.

If it isn't against the letter of the law, then it is certainly against the spirit. Selling access to Mr Cameron's office is an abuse of the House of Commons and represents a return to the Tory years of sleaze.

MPs are banned from using the Commons' private dining rooms "for direct financial or material gain by a sponsor, political party, or any other person or outside organisation."
A spokesman for the Serjeant at Arms, who is charged with ensuring that MPs observe the rules and traditions of the House, told the MoS he was "unsure" if there was any guidance that banned the use of offices there for party fundraising.

The Conservatives have denied breaking the rules.

Even so, the controversy comes at the end of a bad week for Cameron when he was trying to celebrate his first anniversary as Conservative Leader:

Last weekend, he was accused of involvement in a Tory scam to use the private dining rooms at the Houses of Parliament for political fundraising events.

Then, on the day of his first anniversary, one of his parliamentary candidates in a marginal seat quit, claiming a senior party officer had made disparaging comments about disabled people.

And yesterday, I reported on the defection of a senior Tory activist to UKIP and a sharp rise in the number of Tories who were dissatisfied with Cameron's leadership.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

'Gay stuff' irrelevant says IDS...3 UPDATES

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has dismissed gay couples as "irrelevant" to family policy in comments which appear in conflict with David Cameron's attempts to modernise Conservative thinking.

In an interview designed to shore up the traditional core Tory vote, Mr Duncan Smith spoke out as he prepares to unveil an interim report as head of Mr Cameron's social justice policy group.

IDS tells the Sunday Telegraph that the family unit of "two parents bringing up a child" should be strengthened.

Asked if that only meant heterosexual couples, he says:

I don't think the gay stuff is anything to do with this because it's irrelevant.

We're looking at figures about the bringing up of children. When it comes to gay couples they don't even register on the Richter scale of how to bring up kids.

We are looking at the issue of who brings up kids and the answer is it's men and women that are the issue here.

Men and women are the ones who have the children. Gay couples have nothing to do with this at all.

If you think that something like half of a per cent of Britain are gay, you are dealing with tiny numbers here.

This latest outburst by IDS will be embarrasing for David Cameron, who used his party conference speech this year to back civil partnerships. Cameron said marriage meant something "whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man".

But Cameron's comments on marriage sparked a backlash from more traditional Tories.

Mr Duncan Smith himself triggered a damaging revolt when he was Tory leader by ordering Conservative MPs to vote against equal adoption rights for unmarried couples - both gay and straight.

UPDATE: Tory blogger Iain Dale says IDS is wrong.

UPDATE 2: IDS has told the BBC the Sunday Telegraph "distorted" what he said.

UPDATE 3 Full transcript of IDS interview with Jon Sopel on BBC Politics Show in which he dismisses the Sunday Telegraph story as "silly".

(Well, it seems you can't believe all you read in the papers - as my recent experience of suing the Mail on Sunday demonstrates!).

Unhappy Tories defecting, dissatisfied and giving up...

They say bad news comes in threes - as David-hug-a-hoodie-Cameron discovered this week as he attempted to celebrate his first anniversary as Tory Leader this week.

ConservativeHome, Members' Panel has identified a sharp increase in dissatisfaction with Cameron as Tory leader - the number dissatisfied has increased from 24% to 32% over the last month. 15% of this dissatisfied number are 'very dissatisfied'.

Tory unhappiness is underlined in a memo revealed on ConservativeHome. Conservative Party Chairman John Maples has admitted that candidates standing for Tory seats are deciding not to bother. In a memo Maples wrote: "Recently several candidates have pulled out of selections very late in the process and at very short notice.”

Defection to UKIP by Toby Horton, who was William Hague's former constituency chairman. A Tory party member for 40 years, Mr Horton ran Hague's constituency in Richmond between 1996 and 1999. UKIP leader Nigel Farage who told the BBC News website this week he had turned down the offer of a "very safe" Tory seat before last year said he was "delighted" at Mr Horton's defection.

Photo shows Dave during another bad week - emerging from 11 Downing Street with his then boss, hapless Chancellor Nigel Lawson on Black Wednesday to announce interest rate increases of FIVE per cent on one day.

Was Lincs soldier killed by American "friendly fire"...?

The death of a brave Lincolnshire soldier killed this week may have been the result of "friendly fire" from an American A10 "tankbuster" aircraft.

A British soldier is reported in today's Guardian and on news broadcasts saying:
I saw it. It was the A-10. I was 5ft away. We called in a strike on the next trench. Then I saw it swooping toward us. I will never forget that noise. It was horrible.
An investigation has been launched into the death of a Royal Marine Jonathan Wigley, 21 who grew up in Grantham.

Sadly, there is a history of US pilots accused of firing on British troops - it happened at least three times in the Iraq invasion of 2003 when British survivors branded low-flying US pilots"cowboys" for failing to spot clear British flags and red smoke popped to indicate friendly forces.

At least five British soldiers were killed by Americans in the 2003 Iraq invasion.

In the First Gulf War in 1991, there were 35 "blue on blue" attacks when almost a quarter of all American military deaths were as a result of "friendly fire".

The most infamous and controversial incident claimed the lives of nine British soldiers when an American A10 bombed a Warrior armoured personnel carrier which was one of some 30 which had been parked up.

Defence sources told the Guardian there was a "real possibility" that Marine Wigley was killed by friendly fire. One said: "It looks like it."

Marine Wigley, from Zulu Company 45 Commando, had been taking part in an operation to drive Taliban fighters out of Garmsir, in Helmand province. The marines were only able to pull out after 10 hours of fighting and with the help of Afghan forces.

The investigation is expected to take several months.

Getting killed by enemy fire is bad enough and in every conflict, the fog of war leads to "blue on blue" tragedies.

But surely, technology now exists to prevent aircraft bombing their own side.

Forget English cricket and rugby, let's celebrate heavyweight Scottish success...

Never mind the rugby and cricket: Let's celebrate British glory and pride that has been restored on the world stage by the Duke of Argyll.

The good Duke is on top of the world after he led Scotland to be crowned world champions in one of the great traditional sports that the Brits have given the world.

Yes, elephant polo which as everyone knows, was, like television, invented by the Scots.

The Duke captained the Scottish Chivas team to victory in the Elephant Polo World Championships in Nepal, beating National Parks of Nepal in the final by 12 goals to six to regain the world title Scotland last won in 2001.

For the uninitiated, the BBC explains that each elephant on the field carries two men. One fights for the ball, while a mahout concentrates on driving and steering the elephant.

No elephant may lie down in front of the goal mouth, as to do so constitutes foul play.

If a player falls off an elephant, play is stopped while the player remounts.

The game consists of two 10-minute chukkas of playing time, with a 15-minute interval.

The Inveraray-based Duke of Argyll said national pride played a part in Scotland's success. Eight teams had competed in the week-long tournament. They were from Hong Kong, Thailand, India, and the UK. There was also a ladies' international squad taking part. The Duke went on:

With this victory, no one can deny Scotland are one of the world's sporting heavyweights.

To travel to Tiger Tops in the Chitwan National Park, and come away a world champion was an experience of a lifetime.

We'd heard news from home that there was a call to make St Andrew's Day a national holiday and day of national celebration.

This inspired us to pull out all the stops and it worked. After all, elephant polo was co-founded by a Scotsman.
Registered as an Olympic sport with the Nepal Olympic Committee, elephant polo was invented by Scotsman James Manclark in 1983.

The World Championships have been staged every year since against the backdrop of the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal, famous for its population of Royal Bengal tigers and other wildlife.

Scotland manager Jim Long said talented elephants were vital to a team's chances of success.

You have someone to drive your elephant, so you can concentrate on trying to get contact with the ball.

Each team of elephants has a range of speeds, with each having a small elephant which can move quite fast - you tend to put your best player on that one.
I suppose the first challenge in playing the sport in Scotland is finding your elephant...

Friday, December 08, 2006

GMB exposes Lincs County Council as nation's biggest spenders on temps...

Lincolnshire County Council tops the national league on costs of temporary and agency staff, according to figures collected by the GMB trade union.

As well as spending more than any of 434 UK local authorities where figures have been collected, it seems astonishing that our council managed to spend £54.5 million of our money on temporary and agency staff last year.

Lincolnshire spending on temps is FIVE times higher than neighbouring Notts County Council which was second highest spender in the East Midlands at £9.3 million.

Of the total £76.8 million spent by the five shire counties across the East Midlands, more than two thirds is spent by Lincolnshire – with Northants on £6.4 million, Leicestershire on £3.8 million and Derbyshire on £2.8 million.

The GMB believe Council spending on temporary and agency staff generally represents very bad value for money for the public.

They point out that in most cases the only winners are the employment agencies who take a considerable slice of this money for administration and profits.

The temporary staff meanwhile get paid less than the permanent staff whilst the councils pay more to the agency than it would cost to employ the workers direct.

I'll be asking questions...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Listen to Tories defend trebling of home care charges…

Tapes of Lincolnshire Tory councillors defending their poor record on social services – including the controversial decision to treble home care charges – are now available at the website of Orchard News Bureau.

As well as a tape to play, there's a written transcript of questions from myself and colleagues to members of the Executive, as well as their answers.

Sad that it takes a freelance journalist to provide this public service to the public and that our County Council have nothing to match.

Anyway, thanks to journalist Richard Orange. Hope you enjoy.

Teenagers deny brutal attack...

A teenager accused of a brutal attack which left a man in a persistent vegetative state lives in Deeping St James, according to the Peterborough Evening Telegraph.

Kieron Hennessy (18), of Swift Close, Deeping St James pleads not guilty to wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

He and a 17-year-old are accused of attacking Paul Machin (46) and his partner Jane Powell as they walked home from the Windmill pub, in Orton Waterville, Peterborough last September

Both were remanded in custody and will appear for a five-day trial at Peterborough Crown Court in February.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

General 'Macho Jacko' was Stamford schoolboy...

General Sir Mike Jackson who is tonight giving the Dimbleby Lecture on BBC TV, was educated at Stamford Endowed School where he first put on a uniform as a member of the Combined Cadet Force.

Recently retired as Chief of the British military, Macho Jacko as he was dubbed by the media, is arguably the most famous British General since Montgomery.

In his lecture, he said it would be wrong to "cut and run" from either Afghanistan or Iraq until the job is done and that the criteria for withdrawal should be conditions achieved, not pre-determined dates set by political agendas.

And he said, as a nation, we need to do more to value and honour our serving soldiers and their families who do a tough job often for too little pay and based in sub-standard accommodation.

Jackson has always been known as the best breed of senior officer - the kind who cares deeply about those who serve and the sacrifices they make.

A real soldier's soldier.

Lincs lad dies fighting Taliban...

A Lincolnshire lad has been named as the Royal Marine killed yesterday during a ten-hour battle with Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan.

21-year-old Jonathan Wigley, who grew up in Grantham, was on a UK Task Force operation in the Helmand province according to the BBC.

British troops attacked a Taliban-held valley but fighters withstood air-strikes and gunfire and launched a strong counter-attack.

Marine Wigley, who joined the Royal Marines when he was 17, was wounded and airlifted to the UK military hospital at Camp Bastion, but died of his injuries.

Another Marine injured in the operation underwent surgery at Camp Bastion and is now in a stable condition.

Prime Minister Tony Blair who recently visited British troops at Camp Bastion led tributes to Marine Wigley in the House of Commons today.

Marine Wigley’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Dewar RM, said:
Jonathan was an outstanding young Royal Marine whose tenacity, determination and professionalism shone through in everything he did. Extremely popular, with a lively sense of humour, he was very highly thought of by everyone who worked with him.

He was an excellent Marine who died doing the job he loved and will be missed by all his friends in 45 Commando. Our thoughts are very much with his family at this difficult time.
British Forces are deployed in Afghanistan in support of a UN-authorised, NATO led mission to help the Afghans rebuild their country and keep the terrorists out.

I have always had the utmost respect for Royal Marines as among the most professional of British soldiers. Jonathan's death is a real loss, not only to his relatives and friends in Grantham, but also to the whole Royal Marine family.

Pinochet in the hands of God...

Pleased to see that Margaret Thatcher’s old pal, General Pinochet is recovering from his heart attack.

A couple of days ago, the former Chilean dictator was on the brink of death and he had the last rites. But the latest bulletins say he’s on the mend.

I do hope he lives long enough for millions of Chileans to see him face justice before his people for his alleged crimes.

More than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" during his 1973-1990 rule.

Pinochet has long been accused of human rights abuses but has never faced trial.

Despite his record, Lady Thatcher entertained Pinochet to tea at Downing Street when she was Prime Minister.

Pinochet was finally placed under house arrest in October for alleged human rights abuses committed at the infamous Villa Grimaldi detention centre, but was later freed on bail.

He was again placed under house arrest last month and now faces charges over the abduction of two people in 1973.

The charges relate to the so-called Caravan of Death - a military operation which toured Chile sytematically removing General Pinochet's opponents during his rule of terror.

The two men were security guards for former President Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by the military in a bloody coup led by Pinochet.

Pinochet’s latest arrest came days after his 91st birthday, when he said he accepted political responsibility for everything that happened during his time in office.

He claimed he had acted in the interests of Chile and that his coup was necessary to prevent the country descending into political and social turmoil.

Wasn’t that Thatcher’s excuse…?

Pinochet’s family say he’s in the hands of God.

That was definitely Maradona’s excuse!