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 theIndependent 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.
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.
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.
As Suman Fernando,a psychiatrist and author of a major work on institutional racism , put it:
” 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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. Seehere
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.
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 £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 ishere.
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.
On 18 May 2018 I published an article entitled: “Esther Baker case: How the child sex abuse inquiry itself abused survivors’ trust and privacy”.
Mr John Hemming, who is referred to in a determination of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse which I quote in my article, has since instigated legal proceedings against me. Mr Hemming alleges that the article is defamatory of him and suggests that certain passages of that article imply that he is guilty of raping Esther Baker. That is not what I intended the article to mean. My article was primarily about a determination of the IICSA which decided that allegations made by Esther Baker would not form part of the ‘Westminster investigation’ of that Inquiry.
I recognise that Mr Hemming has never been charged in connection with the alleged sexual assault of Ms Baker and that the CPS decided in September 2017 that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of any suspect in this case. That was not made clear in my article but I am happy to make this clear now by way of this statement.
In my article I also stated that there was no police investigation into whether Ms Baker perverted the course of justice. Based on a more recent determination of the IICSA dated 19 November 2018, I understand that on 6 November 2018 Staffordshire Police wrote to the IICSA to state that an individual (who I understand to be Mr Hemming) had met with their officers at the end of June 2018 to indicate that he had further information in relation to his complaint that Ms Baker had perverted the course of justice (the police having already decided that no further action would be taken against her). The letter said that Staffordshire Police were “investigating the nature and content of the further information” provided by him and were “not able to comment further as it was an on-going investigation”. These matters took place after the publication of my article.
Mr Hemming and I have reached a settlement in respect of his claim against me, a term of which involves the making of this statement.
A High Court judge yesterday gave the Back To 60 campaign permission to bring a judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions over the raising of the pension age for 3.8 million women born in the 1950s.
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.
The ruling by the 63 year old judge obviously stunned the Department of Work and Pensions whose barrister, Julian Milford, asked for 66 days ( instead of the normal 14 days) to prepare a fresh case against Back To 60. They were granted 42 days.
The ruling means that a future hearing BackTo60 have the right to argue their case that the government’s decision which affected the 3.8 million women was both a matter of gender and age discrimination. In addition they can argue that the total failure of successive governments to review the arrangements to look at the hardship faced by many of the people made matters worse.
” the taper mechanism used to raise the date on which women receive state pension, in combination with a failure to properly inform women of the changes was unlawful because it discriminates on grounds of sex, age and sex combined and age.”
Catherine Rayner told the judge that there had been no fewer than 60 changes to the date when a 50s woman could get a pension and that the main driving force for the government was to save money. She said the equivalent of £5.3billion had been taken from this group of women. She described it as an ” historic inequality ” which was made worse by the lack of knowledge among the women themselves because the government never informed them directly about the changes.
Julian Milford for the DWP, admitted that this was part of a cost saving for the government but also said it was about equalising the pension age between men and women.
He argued that there should be no judicial review of this because it was about primary legislation which had been widely debated in Parliament in 1995 and it was far too late to call it into question.
He also argued that a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which meant that pensioners who had retired to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were not entitled to uprated pensions meant that the women had no case to ask for a judicial review about changing their pensions.
Both these points were rejected by the judge who said that even though the act was passed 23 years ago the fact that its impact was causing problems for the women now meant the review could go ahead.
The government also revealed that the private pensions industry is uneasy about the women winning their case because it could force them to pay out occupational pensions five years earlier to some women – if their contract with companies meant it was payable on the day they could collect their state pension.
As the 7BR website says:
“The hearing will allow a detailed examination of complaints made by made by women born in the 1950s, and championed by groups such as #backto60 and WASPIE, as well as their political representatives. The case raises legal questions about sex and age discrimination in the mechanisms chosen by government to implement a policy; the responsibility of Government to inform people of significant changes to State Pension entitlement and of the applicability of the EU directive on Equal Treatment in Social Security provision.”
My view is that it has significant implications for Westminster and Whitehall.
It means that a judge has quashed the views expressed by financial commentators like Frances Coppola and other people connected to the private pensions and banking industry that there was no chance of a judicial review. It has also called into question the arguments they used over primary legislation and the ECHR court ruling.
It will add to pressure on the Labour Party leadership to promise to do something for these women whose cause is championed by Laura Alvarez, the partner of Jeremy Corbyn, and whose shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is well aware of the issue, and predicted the women would win a review.
It will put enormous pressure on Amber Rudd, the new works and pensions secretary, who is already having to cope with the backlash over the mess caused by universal credit and will now have to seriously address the plight of the 50s women. It is also a blow to the reputation of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who all but nearly misled Parliament by telling them that the judicial review had already been rejected.
And I am afraid the All Party Group on State Pension Inequality for Women in Westminster will have to buck their ideas up and come behind this review rather than seeking small sums of compensation for the affected women. By taking this radical stand and going for the jugular BackTo60 have shown the way. They have not won yet but they have got much farther than anybody thought.