Bermuda: How shipwrecks can save our dwindling coral reefs 

While global warming and pollution are threatening our coral reefs Bermuda is a rather unusual success story.

Unlike more famous coral reefs like the Australian Barrier Reef which are in decline the coral reef around Bermuda is healthy and expanding.

One reason is that Bermuda is hundreds of miles from the US and other Caribbean islands and has no industry to speak of to pollute the seas.This tiny island has a coral reef far larger than the island itself. The Atlantic Ocean north of the island is in some areas just between three and twelve feet deep.

As a result the area is dotted with shipwrecks. So many ships have ran aground there and many have not been discovered. But here is the interesting point. These shipwrecks are incredibly beneficial to coral reefs. Sunken boats create a structure for corals to grow and are magnets with for fish with plenty of hides holes. And it appears rather surprisingly that the rusting iron of the hulks acts as a fertiliser to help coral establish itself. One of the few cases of human made debris being beneficial.

According to the tour guides who took us there is now growing interest in sinking redundant ships on the edge of coral reefs once they have been decontaminated. They are colonised by the coral which expands the reef.

One example is HMS Vixen a former Royal Navy ship which ran aground a century ago whose hull as the picture shows still sticks out of the shallow water. Here it is a magnet for grey snapper, Chubb and various tropical fish.

Bermuda’s coral reefs are also refuges for turtles which are protected from predators and conservationists have brought back turtle eggs to hatch on the island’s beache to re-establish and expand the population.

Not all Bermuda’s Eco experiments have worked. Just off the coral reef there is an abandoned Eco village. The houses are built on stilts on the coast with canvas rooves and no air conditioning and sound proofing.As a result they are unlettable in the summer when there is high humidity and people’s conversations can be heard from house to house.At the moment the government is desperately trying to flog them off to anybody who might want to use them as a spare summerhouse.

Some facts on tax haven Bermuda which free market Tories might like and Socialists hate. Income tax minimal at just six per cent or nothing for 65000 inhabitants.As a result there is a 17.5 per cent tax on everything that is sold there which is already expensive because it has to be imported. Average house prices are $800000. Cheapest one bed flat $300000. Some affordable houses for $300000 – these are ex Royal Navy homes. Lucky to get a beer for £7 and to eat out for two could cost over £100.

Not much chance of Liam Fox negotiating an independent trade deal – unless he wants to expand its tax haven status with the City. Bermuda doesn’t make anything except rum cakes. So apart from flying them in on direct services between Gatwick and Hamilton don’t expect anything special.

Bermuda until 1960’s had a naval presence. Plans by Gavin Williamson the defence secretary to bring back Royal Navy bases in the Caribbean should make it the ideal centre. A few slight problems.The Royal Navy commissioner ‘s house is a museum, the deep water berths are now cruise ship terminals and the port buildings a shopping mall. Apart from that it should be plain sailing.

Date set for Judicial Review of state pensions for 50s born women

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Michael Mansfield QC will taking the case of the injustice to 3.8 million 50s born women to judicial review on May 24 and 25.

The historic hearing into whether 3.9 million 50s born women have been cheated out of their state pension by the government has been set by the High Court for May 24.

The date is later than expected because the Department for Work and Pensions expected to win the hearing for permission to bring the review on November 30 brought by BackTo60 campaigning group and thought they would stop the process in its tracks.

Now the Department has been allowed more time to prepare its case as all of its initial arguments to stop the review were thrown out by the judge.

The Hon Ms Justice Lang – who is also known as Dame Beverley Ann Macnaughton Lang – ruled in favour of all the issues raised by barristers Catherine Rayner and Michael Mansfield on behalf of the women.

This means the government will have to answer whether the decision to raise the state pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 amounted to age and equality discrimination. The key point is that the judge decided that although the legislation dated back to 1995 the present effects of the change is causing hardship to a specific group of women who were not able to fully contribute to the national insurance fund.

The original hearing also led the government to admit that further changes introduced by the coalition government in 2011 had been part of an austerity programme and reveal that the private pensions industry is also against the women winning their case as it could have a knock on effect on private occupational pensions that are tied to the state pension age.

The issue of maladministration will not be the main feature of the case as this is being dealt with by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Cases of discrimination and resulting hardship can still be brought by MPs to the Ombudsman. And recently Ben Lake, the Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion filed a case on behalf of a constituent.

Joanne Welch, spokeswoman, said

” BackTo60 .com had a resounding victory on 30th November 2018 and our amazing World Class Legal Team pressed home our advantage for a 2-Day Substantive Hearing.
“The substantial significance of our argument has been recognised by the authorities and the case has been elevated to a higher level for determination – this has necessarily involved an alteration of  hearing dates.
” There will now be a much more thorough and robust review as the case will take on an historic perspective and achieve national significance:  it will be heard, May 2019, at the Divisional Court.
Our collective impetus is working so well, thanks to each one of you.  Long may it be so.”

Novichoc: From Russia with Love

A rather sick  Christmas joke Pic credit: TVRAIN Russian TV

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I don’t readily comment on actions by other media but the decision by the Russian state broadcaster Russia Today to send out to other Russian state broadcasters chocolate models of Salisbury cathedral as a Christmas gift is one of the sickest messages I have seen at a time of festive cheer.

As a report in the Independent shows it has rightly raised hackles in Salisbury a city disrupted by the botched assassination attempt of a former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter using the lethal poison Novichok. This later tragically led to the manslaughter of Dawn Sturgess, another Salisbury resident. Her partner Charlie Rowley is still ill.

The idea that there is anything remotely funny about sending gifts of a chocolate Salisbury cathedral as a Christmas present from Russia to well wishers and supporters suggests those involved have a really disturbed mindset.

Everybody knows that the cover story of the two agents posing as tourists about visiting Salisbury Cathedral broadcast on Russia Today was an absurd explanation.

The only sad thing is that it is also a reminder every time Theresa May talks about leaving the EU to ” take back control of our borders” also looks pretty sick. This is particularly so when a couple from a non EU country can get into the UK intending to commit murder with impunity under the noses of our own security forces.

So I hope anyone who received such a gift from the Russians in the UK put it in the bin where it belongs.

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Theresa May’s mental health act reform: Warm words but scant action

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You may well have missed it under the Brexit deluge but Theresa May announced a major reform of the Mental Health Act this month – the first for 30 years.

Sir Simon Wessely, a tame report on reviewing the mental health act

She had commissioned Sir Simon Wessely, Regius Professor of Psychiatry at King’s College London and president of the Royal Society of Medicine to examine the legal state of Britain’s mental health system.

His report came out earlier this month. Frankly it is full of warm words but proposes scant action and dumps the problem of better treatment for mental health patients on the NHS.

The good part of his report is that it does give better rights for patients held under community treatment orders. and some useful changes when mental patients die in police custody including restoring non means tested legal aid to challenge the authorities.

The bad part of his report is that it fails to offer a solution to what is one of the most glaring problems in the mental health service – the vast number of Afro-Caribbeans who are sectioned compared to the majority white population.

It acknowledges it exists and in his introduction Sir Simon Wessely quotes the view of one ethnic minority person who told him “for a black person, a psychiatric hospital is seen as the place where they drug you up, and at worst even kill you”.

He goes on to confirm that nothing much has changed in 30 years.

“it is sad to record that little has changed. There does appear to be more consensus that this increase is real, and not an artefact, and also that it is related to experiences of discrimination, exclusion and racism. There is also consensus that even taking this into account, the use of coercion is far greater in this population, finding its most painful expression in the statistic that those of black African or Caribbean heritage are over eight times more likely to be subjected to Community Treatment Orders than those of white heritage. In other words, too often and in too many areas the experiences of those of black African and Caribbean heritage is one of either being excluded or detained.”

He then admits institutional racism exists even if it is unconscious but the main body of the 307 page report does not address the issue of why psychiatrists accept that Afro-Caribbeans are eight times more likely to be schizophrenic or suffer from psychosis than anyone else. Nor does it propose any remedies for this particular problem. You can read the report via this link.

institutional racism

As Suman Fernando,a psychiatrist and author of a major work on institutional racism , put it:

Suman Fernando. Pic credit: http://www.sumanfernando.com

” The first question to be asked is whether this report would have had the same approach to ‘race’ if the victims of institutional racism had not been ‘black and minority ethnic’ people but a white minority / majority group?   The issue here is about white privilege and power. And the question arises as to how this systemic failure of an official report has come about.  Second, who carries responsibility for the failure of this report to have race on its agenda for change? “

He concludes:” This Review has raised false hopes in the minds and hearts of many black people “

Consultations on this report will begin in the New Year with legislation to follow. But it will get nowhere without a big commitment to resources and a change of culture and attitudes by psychiatrists treating patients.

As Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman put it: “In the Government’s response to the Review, there must be a commitment to invest more money to support those at crisis point and help people before they reach crisis point. The Conservatives to date have failed to adequately invest in Mental Health. Without strong goals and commitments from the Government, rising detention rates will not be adequately challenged.”

tame conclusions

My conclusion is that both Theresa May and Simon Wessely are speaking from the same song book. They are prepared to speak warm words about the problem but are not prepared to take radical action to solve it. No wonder he can calmly state that no political influence was brought to bear on the report. It wasn’t necessary given its tame conclusions.

My Blog in 2018: Year of growth

50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review

To my surprise the number of hits on my blog soared to a new record of 464,000 this year- up by over 350,000 from just under 100,000 last year.

This huge increase was almost entirely to the support given by this blog to the plight of the 50s born women who are facing up to six years delay in getting their pensions.

I was persuaded by Joanne Welch, director of the BackTo 60 campaign – who I knew from previous work she had done in helping the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse – to investigate for the energetic campaign whether the government’s reasons for raising the pension age from 60 to 66 were justified. I found they were not on all counts from money, longevity to equality.

The result was a blog which revealed that a decision taken by the Thatcher government in 1988 – as much as £271billion had been denied to the National Insurance Fund – by the abolition of the annual Treasury grant and later limitation of grant payments by successive governments. This post attracted a phenomenal 188,000 and more hits. It still is attracting new readers today.

Subsequent blogs on the subject attracted 14,500, 19,000, nearly 31,000 and over 33,000 culminating in over 56,000 when – against the odds- the 50s women with the help of Michael Mansfield QC won permission for a judicial review. The blog telling you how you can boot out your MP if he or she won’t support the campaign – attracted nearly 31,000 hits – and led to an amazing 4,600 hits on the House of Commons library reference paper which gave a constituency by constituency breakdown of where the affected women live.

Thanks for the deluge of Christmas greetings from so many 50s women this year supporting the blog and my work.

Gosport

The other main achievement this year which I can’t blog about – as I was member of the independent panel- was the report on the scandal at Gosport War Memorial Hospital where at least 456 elderly people had their lives shortened by the over prescribing of drugs. I am very proud of this report and the amazing professional collaboration led by former Bishop James Jones, who chaired the panel inquiry, that produced the findings hidden from people for nearly 20 years.

mental health

I also this year worked with the extraordinary Professor Suman Fernando, who at 85, is a tireless campaigner for mental health reform and author of a book outlining the history of racism in psychiatry.

I was a member of a working party which tried – with only partial success – to influence Theresa May’s planned reform of the mental health act. They were particularly exercised by institutional racism in mental hospitals which sees a disproportionate number of Afro-Caribbeans sectioned every year and some appalling examples of deaths in police custody. The mental health service is in a pretty bad state anyway.

I am unhappy about the outcome and will blog about this later.

domestic and sexual abuse

Last December I was invited to attend a national conference hosted by the BBC on domestic abuse and addressed by leading figures in government, the ministry of defence and Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on how employers could help people suffering domestic abuse.

This campaign was led by Elizabeth Filkin, another tireless campaigner and a former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I blogged about it last December and was reminded this Christmas again when I willingly agreed as part of a libel settlement with John Hemming to donate £500 to the Victim Support charity and got it earmarked solely for dealing with domestic abuse.

There also was a great story of hope for child sex abuse survivors when a former victim who successfully saw his abuser jailed for 33 years for crimes committed in North Wales decades ago set up a successful volunteer project in Cumbria to tackle the issue of child sex abuse. See here

fire engine scandal

This year has seen a very gratifying outcome for those who followed the scandal over the privatisation of London and Lincolnshire’s fire engines which led them to be handed to a bunch of spivs who milked the contract for personal gain.

I have been following the story since 2011 when the Fire Brigades Union raised the issue of Assetco taking over responsibility for maintaining and replacing London’s fire engine fleet.

This year the Financial Reporting Council caught up with former Assetco directors John Shannon, Frank Flynn and Matt Boyle and barred them from practising as accountants for 16. 14 and 12 years respectively. They were branded fraudsters and liars for the way they handled the firm’s accounts and the Serious Fraud Office has been passed their details. The blog got over 4000 hits.

The accountant from Grant Thornton who supervised and passed the fraudulent accounts has also been fined along with his firm.

lack of reporting

The one common theme in all these stories – with the major exception of Gosport – has been the paucity or non existence of coverage in the mainstream media. They have been diverted by wall to wall coverage of Brexit but I think it reflects the fact of an increasing reluctance to put resources into proper investigative journalism. The country will be a far less informed place if this continues and it will give a green light to those who think they can get away with bad practices, incompetence, maladministration and fraud and ruin the lives of ordinary people without any proper scrutiny.

Happy Christmas and thank you

The first Damascene rose donated by the Bulgarians flowers in Golden Square

Wishing everyone a happy Christmas and a great New Year.

Special thanks to the growing number of people who have followed this blog including the #50s women whose cause to get back their pensions this blog supports. I hope you are successful next year.

The picture here is symbolic of the need for people to come together rather than grow apart. It is a picture of a Damascene Rose planted by Bulgarians in a London square as a thank you to our nation. They have come to work in Britain and contribute to our community and wanted to show the friendship between our countries. In these days where hate and division appear to be on the rise, it is a welcome antidote to the prevailing trend. It is also fitting for this time of year . It is part of the Christmas message of goodwill and peace to all people.

Britain’s nuclear future: Doomed by its own contractors and skill shortages

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Britain’s  £70 billion nuclear programme is in serious trouble. Contractors have either started or are threatening to pull out of four planned nuclear power stations.

There is also huge recruitment crisis to get enough trained  staff to build them in the first place.

The country could literally be on the blink as 14 out of the 15 existing nuclear power stations  are due to close by 2030 – drastically reducing the current 21 per cent share of  electricity generated by nuclear power.

They were due to be replaced by eight new nuclear power stations – but only one is currently under construction by the French nationalised energy firm EDF  – at Hinckley Point in Somerset. And that may well miss its 2025 opening deadline.

In the last two months  while Brexit dominated the news three unrelated announcements have drastically changed the situation for the worse.

Plans for a new nuclear plant at Sellafield in Cumbria – called Moorside – have been scrapped by Toshiba which has decided to pull out of the UK development. The company failed to find a buyer for the project.

And meetings are being held by Hitachi to consider abandoning its plans to build a £16 billion nuclear power station at Wylfa in Anglesey – only six months after the UK agreed to pump £5 billion of taxpayer’s money into the project to keep it going. Hitachi’s share price went up on the announcement of a possible pull out.

The decision also puts at risk two other projects by Hitachi in Oldbury, Gloucestershire leaving Britain mainly relying on the Chinese to build a new power station in Bradwell, Essex and help develop a new power station at Sizewell.

Huge recruitment crisis

Meanwhile a damning report has been produced by the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group, an employer led organisation, which includes representatives of government, the unions and a representative from China. It shows that the UK has an enormous skill shortage of available engineers and could face an “age related cliff-edge loss of current skills and experience” as well qualified staff reach retirement. Many of the current experienced staff are in their 50s and 60s.

Although written up in an upbeat way the strategy also signed off by three government ministers in the business, defence and education departments makes grim reading. The link to the report is here.

 It says to recruit the 100,000 skilled people to build the new power stations it will be required to double existing recruitment as it has a 50 per cent shortfall.

Among shortfalls are electrical and civil engineers, safety experts, emergency planners, control and instrumentation experts,project planners and regulators. In basic construction there is a shortage of scaffolders and concrete experts.

 The report says: “Even where there is a large national pool from which new staff and trainees can be drawn, recruitment, attraction, and retention factor heavily in determining available supply. Remote locations, competing industries, and the lack of practical training opportunities can all affect workforce availability.”

 The problem is also being made worse by Britain leaving the EU which could hit skilled people from other EU countries taking up work and also affect nuclear research.

The report reveals that the shortage also extends to the military. The UK is committed to replacing Trident.  Yet will it have the people to do it.

There is growing collaboration between the military and civil nuclear industry with new initiatives set up in Cumbria and  at Hinckley Point and they are even desperate enough to want to shorten security checks to attract new staff.

Will nuclear survive?

 Britain’s civil and military nuclear expansion and modernisation has been under attack by Greenpeace and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for decades. It would be the ultimate irony if the programme closed down because the contractors walked and Whitehall ran out of the money it needed to subsidise them. There is a real danger of this happening now.