Mobility on the marshes: Two cheers for Natural England and the Norfolk coast path

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The new wheelchair and mobility scooter friendly surfaced path from Blakeney towards Cley

Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast is home to one of Britain’s more unusual natural wildlife reserves – the salt marsh. These  vast muddy flat expanses are  regularly flooded by the sea- and are home to a large variety of sea birds, ducks and migratory geese and perfect places for many unusual plants and flowers.

To really appreciate these large areas  caught between the land and see you need to be able walk for miles between Norfolk coast towns and villages. For some years my wife, Margaret and I have  been able to do precisely that -walking four or five miles  often in a refreshing stiff breeze and ending up in a local hostelry eating  fresh crab sandwiches before returning back to Blakeney.

Since she had a stroke this is no longer possible and I thought the marshes would be largely out of bounds.

 

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The quay at Blakeney

However having just returned from Blakeney I discovered that Natural England who are responsible for England’s network of long distance footpaths and the local North Norfolk Area of Outstanding Beauty have started making the place far better accessible for the disabled.

They have started to convert part of the  Norfolk coast path going from Blakeney to Cley  and from Blakeney to Morston Quay to make it wheelchair and mobility scooter accessible – allowing disabled people to get out into the marshes which previously  only able bodied people could make the  trip.

Unfortunately the new surface does not go all the way to Cley- and the beginning of the Morston Quay route has been blocked off by builders renovating local cottages necessitating a diversion- hence only two cheers- but it is a good start.

There are also two good links on the web that disabled people will find helpful. The Norfolk Coast Partnership has an activity map here.

And there is a partially complete guide to wheelchair access to the path here on the national trail website.

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A typical creek on Blakeney Marshes

Given the present dire situation for disabled people with many losing benefits as a result of the government’s austerity programme – this is one good piece of welcome news for any disabled person contemplating a staycation this summer -once the temperatures have dropped from their present high level.

Judicial Review of government’s handling of 50s women pension changes lodged at High Court

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Royal Courts of Justice – venue for handing in the papers for a judicial review for the 50s women

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Back to 60, the campaigning group  who are supported by 738,000 of the 3.9 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pensions, lodged a claim  at the High Court against the  Department for Work and Pensions yesterday.

This is the first stage of taking real action to put right the injustice suffered by the women ever since the government embarked on a policy of continually raising the pension age.  It will be followed by a High Court hearing where a judge will be asked to allow the review to go ahead. It is bound to be challenged by the government which is determined not to pay up but ministers will have to justify their actions.

Backto60 lodged the documents with only 48 hours to spare as the courts  start their  summer recess tomorrow and  the courts will not hear cases  until  after October 1.

The move is the culmination of action taken by the group which now involves support  on the issue from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intends to raise the issue at the United Nations, the Fawcett Society and  other ampaigners.

A legal statement from Binberg Peirce & Michael Mansfield QC reads:

“The basis of the legal challenge is that the pension policy implemented by successive governments in respect of women of a particular age group (those born in the 1950s) constitutes a gross injustice and is discriminatory.  The impact on the economic, social and mental well being of these women, who rightly enjoyed a perfectly legitimate expectation of satisfactory provision in retirement, has been devastating.

“The extent of individual distress and hardship is only now becoming evident through real stories of women around the UK. It is deeply ironic that all of this is done in the name of equalisation and equality, when the very means employed to achieve this are themselves discriminatory.

“It is intended that the current pension policy be subjected to both public and judicial scrutiny and, therefore, steps are now being taken towards mounting a judicial challenge.”

At the same time Stephen Lloyd, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, whose coalition government made matters worse for 50s women by backing an acceleration of the rise in pension ages, has finally got a meeting on behalf of Waspi with the Ombudsman to discuss whether there was maladministration in not informing women.

His comment is picked up by Frances Martin:

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The government is going to face challenges from all sides this autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

Bishop Peter Ball:Time for the Church of England to take a lead on stamping out child sex abuse

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Bishop Peter Ball at his trial . Pic Credit: BBC

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This week was a torrid week for the Church of England and very embarrassing week for the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse reran the scandal of  former Bishop Peter Ball, a convicted sex offender who preyed on young men. He jailed in 2015 for 32 months for offences against 18 teenagers and men.

The case which I wrote about a year ago here  was a classic Establishment cover up where a lively and personable bishop lead a double life which was well exposed last year by Dame Moira Gibb in her investigation into the scandal. As I said last year :

“Peter Ball comes out of this report as a manipulative, sadomasochistic  predator who appears to have used every trick to entice young men from public schoolboys to priests and damaged and vulnerable youths coming to the Church  for his own sexual  gratification.”

Let it not be forgotten that as a result of his activities a young man, Neil Todd, who had first accused him in 1993  of abusing him in when he was 17 killed himself in 2012 when  Sussex Police re-opened an investigation when he was Bishop of Lewes.

As last year’s report revealed how he wanted to whip Neil Todd who was only saved by worried staff at the Bishop’s house who sent him away. He also got youths to strip off in the chapel so they could pray together in the nude and even used a ceremony to anoint a youth’s penis in some bizarre religious rite.

Now it appears while all this was going on Peter Ball could rely on the support of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and Prince Charles, who were both subject to a very active campaign from the former bishop and his twin brother saying it was a   “vendetta ” against  him and all the claims were false.

Prince Charles letters reveal frankly he was duped by the bishop. – a man he had known for 20 years. In the letters between Prince Charles and the Bishop, read to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Ball spoke of a “malicious campaign” against him and “harassment” by “fraudulent” accusers.

In a letter to Ball in 1995, the prince said: “I wish I could do more. I feel so desperately strong about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you.” In 1997, the prince wrote a letter in which he described an apparent accuser as a “ghastly man… up to his dastardly tricks again”.

In the written submission, read by the counsel to the inquiry Fiona Scolding,

“I first became aware of Peter Ball during the 1980s. He was later appointed Bishop of Gloucester when he became my local diocesan bishop.Peter Ball told me he had been involved in some sort of ‘indiscretion’ which prompted his resignation as my local bishop.

“He emphasised that one individual that I now understand to be Mr Neil Todd had made a complaint to the police, that the police had investigated the matter, and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to take no action.

“That sequence of events seemed to support Mr Ball’s claim that the complaint emanated from one individual and that individual bore a grudge against him and was persecuting him, that the complaint was false, but that the individual had nonetheless profited from the complaint by selling his story. Events later demonstrated beyond any doubt, to my deep regret, that I, along with many others, has been misled.”

The main point of these disclosures seem  not to be that Prince Charles was to blame but he is probably the highest profile figure to be conned by a manipulative sex offender. He is not the first and won’t be the last

The real blame in my view lies inside the Church of England which needs urgently to take a real stand against child sex abuse – by first ending the conflicting and blurred distinction that requires senior people in the Church to take a pastoral role in looking after priests while at the same time having to handle abuse complaints against them. It needs to segregate the two by handing over complaints to an independent authority.

It also needs to look at mandatory reporting of claims of sexual abuse. It doesn’t have to heed what the government believes over this issue – it can take a stand by itself. In that way the matter will be handed over to the police for a proper investigation to find out the truth.

It does not have to wait the full inquiry’s findings before it takes action either. It owes people like Neil Todd who was vilified and took his own life to create a just and fair system to deal with sexual abuse – so that others do not take their own lives.

Brexit Bombshell: All Northern Ireland people would be better off in a new united Ireland says new report

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Will this be the new prosperous Ireland? Pic credit: Istock

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It has received virtually no publicity in the mass media in the United Kingdom, But it is a question that was begging to be asked in the current impasse over whether there should be a soft or hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. And until now no one has weighed up the facts and figures of a united Ireland versus a divided Ireland. Indeed there was pressure from the Irish government to keep this report secret because of the Brexit negotiations.

But this week the the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement have published a highly controversial report ‘Brexit & the Future
of Ireland Uniting Ireland & its People in Peace & Prosperity’ which basically says the British taxpayer will be better off if it let Northern Ireland unite with the Republic and remain in the European Union.

The author is a German economist, Gunther Thumann who worked as a senior economist at the German desk of the International Monetary Fund at the time of German reunification.This provided him with the analytical understanding of the complex economic developments as they happened.

He is backed by Senator Mark Daly, Deputy Leader of the Fianna Fail Senate Group
Senate Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, the Irish Overseas and Diaspora, who yesterday lambasted officials at the Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs  after he was told officials  said that they did not want the research released until ‘after Brexit’. ‘
‘This is unacceptable interference by the department of Foreign Affairs in the work of the Dail and Senate. …The fact that officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs do not want this information released and the motivation behind it need to be answered’ “.

In one sense this is not surprising. Theresa May  only stays in power because the Democratic Unionist Party  backs her government and they want to stay in the UK. But the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU and this report’s findings are dynamite

And Theresa May has had to lavish gifts on the DUP increasing the bill for mainland taxpayers while depriving  the rest of the UK of money for other public services like free school meals.

The central point of this report is that Northern Ireland would no longer require any taxpayer’s subsidy and could have a balanced budget – saving over £9 billion a year. Big savings could be made in administration and the UK would be left with a £2.8 billion pension bill for pensions already accrued while Northern Ireland was part of the UK.

The findings in the report which you can download here are:

– Non-identifiable expenditure of £2.9billion includes Northern Ireland’s share of UK Defence Expenditure, UK Debt Interest, International service, UK contribution to the EU, British Royal family etc. These would not be a liability of a new agreed Ireland.
– Thumann in his research explains that not all the accounting adjustments figure attributed by Westminster to Northern Ireland of £1.1billion would be applicable in a reunification scenario either.
– Also the convergence of the public service numbers between the north and the south would bring a saving of £1.7billion per annum in the current budget expenditure of Northern Ireland.

“Taking the above adjustments and savings into account the cumulative figure is £8.5 billion. With the reported deficit for Northern Ireland is at £9.2 billion therefore the current income and expenditure figure for Northern Ireland Thumann & Daly concludes comes near a balanced budget in a reunification scenario.

This is of course, before taking into account the likely potential for growth in Northern Ireland following unification as happened in East Germany following its reunification. ”

The big problem adopting such a change is political not economic. Supporters of the DUP would resist the idea of Northern Ireland not being part of Britain’s armed forces and be furious that they would no longer financially support the Queen.

But the changing demographics mean eventually the Catholics not the Protestants will form the majority adding to pressure for a united Ireland. Tensions are already growing over proposed boundary changes for the Westminster Parliament which mean that Sinn Fein are likely to gain more seats at the expense of the DUP.

The report is one of the unforeseen consequences of Brexit. Whether  Theresa May and Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, like it or not Brexit will put a united Ireland on the agenda ,particularly if we crash out and there has to be a new border. No wonder the Irish republic’s Whitehall did not want this published.

There was a debate on the report on Newstalk Breakfast in the Republic. with one economist challenging the report because he said N Ireland would have to contribute more to the Republic’s finances.The link to the podcast is here .

 

Why there should be no Cliff’s Law following the chilling judgement by Mr Justice Mann

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High Court decision on Sir Cliff Richard should not mean a new law

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The scathing judgement by Mr Justice Mann condemning the BBC for the invasion of  Sir Cliff Richard’s privacy has profound implications for crime reporting.

The BBC is condemned  for reporting the raid on his home following allegations of child sexual abuse which did not stand up- not just for the sensational way they did it – but for reporting it at all.

This is a double edged judgement. True the freedom of the press to do this has led to innocent people like  DJ Paul Gambaccini and Sir Cliff suffering enormous traumatic stress and having their reputations trashed over unproven child sex abuse allegations.

But in other cases noticeably broadcaster Stuart Hall, the entertainer Rolf Harris ( both child sexual abuse allegations) and for that matter ( on perverting the course of justice)  ex Liberal  Democrat  Cabinet minister and former colleague on the Guardian, Chris Huhne, press publicity helped the police to pursue the cases to a successful conclusion. The publicity before anybody was charged led to more people coming forward or to new evidence being discovered.

That is why I would like to see the decision challenged  because of its profound implications for reporting and would certainly not want a new law giving anonymity to suspects in criminal cases.

Thankfully Theresa May seems to have ruled out the latter and so have ministers and  some MPs.

  On BBC Radio 5 Live last week  Treasury minister Robert  Jenrick said that he didn’t believe that the law should be changed to give anonymity to people accused of certain offences.

He said:“There’s been a long debate, as you know, about whether that should be the case for particular types of crime – crimes which have such a serious effect on individuals’ personal reputations, like sexual offences for example.  And at the moment we’ve chosen not to proceed on that basis.  We don’t think we should discriminate between different offences.  And I think that that’s probably the right approach.  But I do feel that both the police and the media need to proceed with great caution when they’re reporting.”

His point is where you draw the line. A limited law saying only those accused of child sex abuse should be protected could be seen  by victims and survivors as ” a protect paedos” law. And if there is discrimination between offences it won’t be long before some famous personality brings a case – saying their reputation was damaged by a police raid on their home in say, a fraud case.

Also do you protect alleged murderers or low life drug dealers from the press reporting raids on their homes until they are charged. After all until a drug dealer is charged  reporting a police raid on his or her home is breaching their privacy. It could also have implications for some of the popular reality  TV crime programmes.

Why I also don’t want the law to change is that it is a matter of judgement for the police and the press to come to a conclusion. The police need to be able to judge whether publicity is necessary – even Mr Justice Mann admits in his judgement that if people’s lives are at risk there is a case for naming a suspect.

The media also need to show some judgement on how they report the issue as well – and sometimes investigations can be published without naming the suspect  or giving too much of  the suspect’s identity away. In other cases the suspect’s name is part of the story.

Finally I see that the  BBC reporter Dan Johnson  who broke the story gets some criticism from the judge. He is described as honest and over enthusiastic. The judge says:

“I do not believe that he is a fundamentally dishonest man, but he was capable of letting his enthusiasm get the better of him in pursuit of what he thought was a good story so that he could twist matters in a way that could be described as dishonest in order to pursue his story.”

Some ten years ago Dan Johnson was our principal researcher for a book I wrote jointly with author and journalist Francis Beckett, on the miner’s strike of 1984. Called Marching to the Fault Line.

This is what we said about Dan in the book:

” A talented young journalist, Dan Johnson, was our principal researcher, conducting some of our most important interviews. Because of his deep knowledge of mining communities, and because he was brought up in Arthur Scargill’s village of Worsbrough, he turned into a great deal more than our researcher: he was also also a thoughtful and knowledgeable guide to what it all meant.”

In my view enthusiasm is vital if you are to be a good journalist. Journalists who are not enthusiastic about their job aren’t real journalists.

 

Revealed: The £271 billion “rape” of the National Insurance Fund that deprived 50s women of their state pension

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Guy Opperman – the current pension minister who says it is too expensive to pay the 50s women.

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The fact that 50s women  were robbed of their pensions  by raising the pension age is undeniable. But the biggest argument against putting this right has been the cost – a fact perpetually used by the present pensions minister, Guy Oppenman, who quotes the £70 billion plus figure.

Recently I discovered that successive governments had taken a decision  NOT to top up the fund as originally proposed by William Beveridge when the welfare state was set up in 1948.

What I did not know was how much money was lost. Now thanks to an extraordinary paper prepared for the National Pensioners Convention by a social security expert Tony Lynes,and still on the web, I now know. And it is staggering. You can read it here.

The paper written 12 years ago by a man I personally knew as a fount of all knowledge on the benefit system  when I was social services correspondent on the Guardian. He sadly died, aged 85, in a car accident in 2014. There is an appreciation of him in The Guardian here.

His calculation from beyond the grave is that for every year that the government decided not to contribute to the fund it was deprived of £11.3 billion. As he says: “Restoring the supplement at its pre-1981 level would bring an extra £11.3 billion a year into the Fund, enough to meet the gross cost of a £109 per week basic pension.”

We now know that virtually no money was paid into the fund by the Treasury for around 24 years from 1990 to 2014. I calculate – and this will be a conservative estimate – because it doesn’t count the reduced contributions post 1981 – that an amazing £271 billion  yes billion  extra would have been in the fund.

This would pay  more than three times over the money due to the women – and even allowed higher  state pensions for everybody else now.

Why this didn’t happen is because politicians of all three major parties took a decision not to do this. They took the decision knowing that their Parliamentary and ministerial pension pot would mean they would be some of the wealthiest pensioners in the land when they came to retire. And the taxpayer would foot their bills.

They decided the pain should fall on the electorate instead. In 1995 they knew  all the arguments about people living longer and that money paid out in state pensions would go up.

They  could have changed the rules and informed the Government Actuary  Department that they would deliberately build up a surplus in the fund – so it could pay out as people lived longer without changing the pension age.

Instead they chose the cheapest  route – raise the pension age so they won’t have to subsidise the fund- but try and keep mum so the women wouldn’t realise what they were doing.

The villains are the late Lady Thatcher, John Moore, Kenneth Clarke, Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Steve Webb and Guy Opperman. There are many others who stood by and did nothing. That is why 50s women have been left in this situation today.

 

 

Exaro News back from the dead

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The old Exaro News is dead but not buried

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The new Exaro logo

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The British companies, Exaronews Ltd and Exaro Holdings Ltd were both dissolved by June 21 this year ending the existence of Exaro News as an entity in the UK.

However the website was put up for auction and is now owned by a Brit living in North America.

As a result the news site has been relaunched under new management outside UK jurisdiction. The current site is running with a standard newsfeed.

The good news for readers of this blog is that almost the entire archive of Exaro from 2011 to 2016 has been put back on the internet by the new owner. If you want to find any of the articles written by me go to https://www.exaronews.com/  and look under UK News. Scroll down to  news archive, click on it and then click on my name to retrieve any story  I have written in the past five years.

This is the only place you can find the archive of Exaro News as the site has been excluded from the Wayback Machine and is no longer available.

At the same time my blogs which are normally cross posted on https://www.byline.com/  are now  -using new machine technology –  automatically appearing on the exaronews site. Those wanting to read the full blog rather than excepts  from exaro are redirected back to byline.com  or to my site.

The first blog covered by this  ( and put up yesterday) is the Crown Prosecution Service  statement which says without comment that ” Nick” is now facing  multiple charges of perverting the course of justice for all the allegations he made against prominent politicians and senior military officers in an alleged Westminster paedophile ring. So until the trial is over the old  archived stories should be treated with caution.

The new arrangement  should enhance the capacity of this blog to reach many more readers particularly in North America . Since some of the issues raised – such as the raising of the pension age particularly for women , child sexual abuse, politics,  Whitehall waste and various health and social security scandals- are international.

In the case of the 50s women  who have to wait up to six years for a pension this is  an issue across Europe and is also to be raised at the United Nations.