Coming soon: Chaos for your tax bill

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Tax return: pic Ccedit: BBC

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Do you  find it difficult enough to fill in your tax form to meet the  revenue’s deadline of Jan 31?

Perhaps you don’t sympathise  with tax  officials anyway but you would want an efficient, accessible service – both on line and if necessary, in person.

A damning report from Whitehall’s watchdog body, the National Audit Office, reveals you are going to be very lucky to get either in future.

For the government latest economies are going to mean ” a slash and burn ” strategy for the way the Inland Revenue collects your money – with a prime aim of saving money rather than providing a service.

At the moment they are 170 local tax offices – whose buildings are already outsourced to a tax haven based company which grabbed them in 2001 without government ministers even realising who the “tax avoiding ” owners were..

There are all going to close and be replaced with 13 super regional offices. Some 38,000 officials are going to have move job location and  HMRC ( Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) admits that 5000 of them -probably the most experienced – will quit their jobs rather than put up with the hassle.

Vast swathes of the UK are going to be without any local tax offices. In Scotland there will be just two – Edinburgh and Glasgow – because the cost cutters believe Dundee and Aberdeen are too small fry cities to need tax offices. Staff will be expected to commute daily by rail or  car from those two cities to Edinburgh.

The whole of London and the South East will have one tax office in Croydon – with the South Coast staff expected to commute daily by that wonderful reliable (ha,ha) and strike prone Southern railway – boosting its profits and making sure trains are even more crowded.

East Anglia will have no tax offices at all – with staff from Norwich expected to commute to Canary Wharf everyday and then possibly change trains for Croydon.

The West Country will also be denuded with one new regional tax office left in Bristol – so anyone now working in Cornwall’s tax office in Redruth would face, according to the NAO, a 174 mile commute every day.

Wales, the Midlands and the North West are not so badly affected – as new regional offices will be nearer old ones.

The government predicts that it will make savings of £212m by 2025-26  with all this upheaval  but this  is a staggering £287m LOWER than predicted two years ago when it thought it would save £499m. So much for effective Whitehall predictions.

Nor is the NAO impressed with its present planning. The report says.

“HMRC has signed the contract for its first regional centre in Croydon, but faces a demanding timetable to occupy the site as it plans in 2017. HMRC’s move to regional centres will require good coordination across HMRC to ensure that everyone involved in the moves understands what is expected of them. It must therefore clarify what changes in working practices are necessary to support digital services and its future compliance model, and coordinate its design of regional centres to achieve these outcomes.”

HMRC has also signed 25 year non negotiable leases (with no break points). on buildings for both the Croydon and Bristol offices.

I am sure taxpayers will be delighted to know that if the scheme goes belly up HMRC has put itself in a situation where it can be blackmailed by property developers to pay the full whack whether it uses the building or not.

You can read the full report here  and  I have written a piece for Tribune.

Mind you I may have missed a trick. With Philip Hammond, the Chancellor announcing Britain could become a tax haven if the EU does not agree to our Brexit terms, we may not need any tax offices by then as nobody will pay any tax. So it could be a clever piece of advance planning. Pity we won’t have any public services either as tax havens don’t provide them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Romanian scandal that threatens press freedom that the UK could stop in its tracks

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Alexander Adamescu: Facing extradition from the UK using the European Arrest Warrant

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Romania is not particularly high profile. It is  best known for Bram Stoker’s Dracula stories and the infamous  rule of Communist President Nicolae Ceaușescu overthrown and killed in a revolution in 1989.

Now it is seen as a NATO ally, a democracy with free elections and in European Union circles as being tough on corruption.

But beneath the surface there is growing evidence that Romania is about to go the same way as Hungary and Turkey with a crackdown on the freedom of the press, arbitrary arrests and flouting the rule of law.

The issue is becoming deeply personal – and this blog has decided to take up the issue – over the plight of a German businessman who with his father owns Romania’s oldest newspaper, Romania Libra. The paper  has been a thorn in the side 0f successive  governments by exposing corruption  and political intrigue. I have written both a news story and a large  feature in Tribune this week on the case.

Alexander Adamescu currently lives in St John’s Wood in London. His father Dan is in hospital in Romania while serving a prison sentence for corruption based on the uncorroborated evidence of one person that he tried to bribe an official. His son is now – two years later -facing a similar charge after a flimsy examination of the evidence in a 30 minute hearing called at two hours notice in his absence.

The Romanians are  using the European Arrest Warrant – which faces only a very limited challenge in the British courts- to try and extradite him to Romania and this spring there will be a court hearing.

Alexander Adamescu has applied for political asylum to Theresa May, has asked the all party Romania committee to take up his case in Parliament and appealed to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn as a backbencher took up his father’s case in 2014 and was heavily critical of Romania’s judicial process. So far British politicians have not acted.

In the last year there have been more sinister developments – reminiscent of Russia’s secret service – affecting his family. He believes his wife, Adrianna, was the subject of a bungled kidnapping  outside his St John’s Wood flat this March.

As she got out of her car and approached her flat two masked men attacked her and tried to drag her to a waiting car.

She said: “They were both wearing bandanas and gloves. They drove in a Mini Cooper with fake number plates – as I was later told by the police – and didn’t steal anything from me despite the fact that I was wearing diamond earrings, and had my car keys in my hands.”

“When they approached me, I threw myself to the ground, and fought with them until my neighbour Kymone Hansson, hearing my screaming and came running out to me. At the same time, a cab driver with a passenger in the back seat pulled over next to me and called the police. That was the moment I was saved. The two men ran to their car and quickly drove away”.

The Met Police were able to trace the car but not the people and the case has been left on file.

Later there was a second incident which can be directly attributed to the Romanian authorities. Adrianna was returning from Bucharest and was stopped at the airport before she could board the plane. The authorities said her four year son could not leave the country because he was Romanian (he was born in the UK). As he is four they could not detain him so she quickly left the airport with him and drove across the border to Bulgaria and returned from there to the UK.

The issue of prison conditions in Romania- where nearly 500 people have died over the last five years often due to the lack of medical treatment –  has already been challenged in the High Court in London by the international human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson ( who also represented Alexander Livenenko’s widow in the recent public inquiry into his poisoning by plutonium). He has taken up the cases of other people being extradited by the Romanians and the prison.

Romania’s cramped and unsanitary prison conditions mean that pre-trial detention has also become a kind of punishment. Prison standards are so bad that between 1998 and 2015, the European Court of Human Rights found Romania guilty of 178 violations of Article 3 of the ECHR prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment. The court recorded 27 violations in 2015.

.Serious questions about the role of the independent judiciary, the misuse of the European Arrest Warrant and the freedom of an independent press to investigate the government are all at stake. Even the role of major accounting firms working in Romania like KPMG have been questioned.

Journalists on the paper have published an open letter accusing KPMG of aiding and abetting members of the Romanian government to rig insolvency hearings to destroy and silence their newspaper, infringing on the publication’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

“There is no doubt about it – this is a case of privatized censorship. KPMG has been used as a front by certain members of the Romanian government to take over control or shut us down,” said Sabin Orcan, chief editor of România Liberă.  “Our publication has survived more than 140 years of the worst types of oppression, including during the Soviet period. But who knew it would be the accountants who would deliver the death blow to freedom of the press in Romania?”

KPMG, to be fair, did find problems with the insurance company that bankrolled the paper, but recommended changes that amounted to a rescue plan for the company. The government vetoed the plan which shows where they stand.

All this suggests that the British government should act to stop this move. Given that it is committed to leaving the EU it should be possible to overrule this action or grant him political asylum.

 

 

 

 

Brian Altman: The scuba diving prosecutor who “speared” Milly Dowler’s killer

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Brian Altman – new lead counsel for the independent child sexual abuse inquiry. Pic credit: 2 Bedford Chambers

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The announcement this week that former Treasury counsel Brian Altman has been appointed lead counsel  from March to the much troubled Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse should be  good news for survivors.

The man has a formidable reputation as a forensic prosecutor and a particularly strong line in bringing criminals to justice in  ” cold case ” murders.  For once the phrase ” highly experienced”  used by the inquiry chair, Alexis Jay, is no exaggeration.

He has yet to get a cameo role as a lawyer  in ” Silent Witness” – though he did appear in a BBC 4 Real Crime and Punishment series ( sadly no longer available on BBC i-Player.).He has received much praise from journalists who regularly cover Old Bailey trials for the way he ensnares defendants who hope to escape justice for unspeakable crimes.

His case list of successful prosecutions is impressive. They include the notorious serial killer and rapist Levi Bellfield who murdered  teenager Milly Dowler and  killer Colin Ash-Smith convicted 21 years after he murdered 19 year old Claire Tiltman.

He has also prosecuted in a joint British and Dutch investigation  of canal murderer John Sweeney who killed and dismembered former American model and photographer, Melissa Halstead, in Holland in 1990, and disposed of her remains in a Rotterdam canal, and Paula Fields in London in 2000, whose dismembered body parts were found in the Regent’s Canal in 2001.

He has a string of other murder cases – where he both defended and prosecuted killers – and successfully prosecuted terrorists-including  those involved in a disrupted Islamic state terror plot and Syrian trained terrorists planning attacks in the UK.

He is familiar with the workings of the security services  and bad behaviour by MPs – he once advised on whether to prosecute one for expenses fraud – and his client list include members of a Middle  East Royal Family – though not disclosing whether it is the Saudi Arabian one or not. For a full list see his entry on his  chambers website here.

All this should bode well  for those who want forensic examinations of some of the most highly contentious cases that will be looked at by the child sexual abuse inquiry. This will in time include the Westminster paedophile ring, Greville Janner and the Leicestershire institutions involved in child sexual abuse and some of the more contentious child sex abuse scandals in London.

Historic child sexual abuse is also a ” cold case ”  issue – so this quote should comfort the sceptics.

“For cold case murders, he is the go-to barrister because he is able to draw together all the small pieces to provide a coherent analysis, and he knows these cases so well that there is nothing the defence can come up with to outfox him. He is completely relentless, extremely personable and a great team player”; “He is a master of detail who never makes a mistake.” Chambers & Partners 2016 (Crime)

Frankly  the inquiry after all the row surrounding the departure of his predecessor, Ben Emmerson, could do with a boost. Given there is also outside pressure – thankfully resisted by Theresa May who set it up – to try and get the government to close the inquiry down because of its scope and cost, this is doubly important.

Brian Altman in his Linked In profile also lists two hobbies – scuba diving and travel. I can well understand  he will sometimes want to get away from it all after all this work pressure.

He is  coy about where he has travelled and where he has scuba dived. He tells me one of the places he has not yet visited is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the largest scuba diving place in the world.

Given he is probably lead counsel for the largest child sex abuse inquiry in the world- perhaps he also should also get some time off to relax there as well soon.

 

 

 

 

Paedophile loses case to ban Facebook from publishing his criminal past

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Belfast High Court Pic Credit: BBC

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An important judicial decision came out over the Christmas recess in a highly controversial case in Northern Ireland which has led a paedophile to claim £20,000 for harassment because of a blog revealing his criminal past.

The ruling is particularly significant as more people get their news from Facebook and Google rather than traditional mainstream media.

The case has been featured on this blog before. It arose after  Joseph McCloskey set up a Facebook profile page called ” Keep Our Kids Safe from Predators 2 ” which posted information about a convicted sex offender called CG.

CG was released from jail in 2012 after serving a sentence for gross indecency and indecent assault offences against a young girl and a teenage boy.

He is now over 40 and he remains under supervision by the authorities.He has been assessed as posing no significant risk to the public.

His lawyers argued that an online campaign after his details appeared on the page had reached the level of dangerous vigilantism..One user called for him to be hung while others endorsed shooting or castrating him.

CG also claimed he has been threatened with being thrown off a pier during a fishing trip, hounded out of a cinema and had to use a supermarket trolley to fight off another tormentor.

None of the information published  by McCloskey was private. It was all in the public domain at the time of CG’s conviction. CG’s solicitors complained to Mr McCloskey  who removed the posting. He later put two posts disclosing CG’s criminal record and his picture.

The lawyers weren’t satisfied and went to court claiming the sex offender had been harassed on Facebook and his human rights breached by the publication on Facebook misusing private information.

The judge found against the campaigner and Facebook and awarded the sex offender £20,000 damages for harassment.Facebook decided to appeal as it thought the ruling was excessive.

Now the Court of Appeal has decided that Facebook should have taken down the post earlier because it was leading to the harassment of the paedophile.

But very significantly the court ruled that the two other posts which dealt with his criminal record and showed his picture can remain.

The decision by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan means that the compensation awarded to CG – which has not be paid because of legal proceedings – will be cut.

But it is also establishing a ruling that contradicts Google’s ” right to be forgotten” procedures saying that public information involving court proceedings can remain on line and cannot be construed as private information.

It was  critical of suggestions that re-publication of conviction information was relevantly private information because in principle “the public has a right to know about such convictions. Information about what has happened in open court can be freely communicated by members of the public”. This was an important aspect of the open justice principle “of very significant weight which can only be outweighed by the interest of the individual in freedom from intrusion in the most compelling circumstances”:

It also rejected the idea that because t some information is covered by the Data Protection Act is it automatically private.

considerable caution should be exercised before reading across  those matters, because the “fact that information is regulated for that [data protection] purpose does not necessarily make it private”.,said the ruling.

For those who want to follow the finer legal detail there is an interesting report by lawyer Christopher Knight, of 11KBW in London here  and a report in the Irish News which dwells on the part of the the Court of Appeal  judgement that was upheld.

 

 

 

 

The 60 year old shame of Home Office treatment of sexually and physically abused child migrants

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The list of homes the Home Office is said to have known abused children; Photo credit: ABC News

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Next month the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will hold a hearing into how British children were shipped abroad to  Australia, Canada and Southern Rhodesia ( now Zimbabwe) where they were subject to appalling physical and sexual abuse.

One of the people who has submitted evidence to the British inquiry has already raised issues about his treatment at one of these homes, Fairbridge Farm School,New South Wales in Australia.

David Hill  was interviewed by  the Guardian last year in Australia and tells a horrific story of a place where people were poorly educated and fed,brutally treated and some sexually abused. He went out with his brother in 1959 from Eastbourne in Sussex.

He has been one of the people who eventually prospered becoming chairman and managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC carried a report on his decision to send evidence here.

But his most damaging evidence is that he might not have gone there if the Home Office had acted on information they  received three years earlier after a visit of UK MPs to Australia. In 1956 they came on a fact finding mission to find out about conditions in those schools.

The result, according to evidence submitted to the inquiry. is that the Home Office were given the names ( see above in a memo) of ten schools that should have been put on a blacklist and no British children should have been sent there.

But the Home Office appeared to  do nothing even though they decided that  the schools would need a ”  complete metamorphosis ” to be fit to accept children. So they appear to have ignored the findings so they could keep the migrant programme going – where British children from poor backgrounds were offered a new chance in life. Their decision was no better than when a whistleblower, Lucy Cole Hamilton, alerted the Home Office over a decade earlier about conditions at Fairbridge Farm and warned them not to send British children there. As a report by Sanchia Berg for the Today programme revealed in 2009 the decision was to “lay by ” and do nothing.

I am hoping that this callous attitude – which seems extended today by the Home Office and Theresa May’s view that we should all but ignore the plight of immigrant children seeking asylum in the UK – is thoroughly examined by the inquiry.

The inquiry’s own research report points out the whole area is remarkably under investigated.As it states no inquiry has ever undertaken a proper  and sustained  analysis of the failings of this huge programme and properly investigated whether some of the children were sexually abused by people in institutions before they were sent abroad.

Gordon Brown has apologised in 2009 about the way the children were treated. But it was enormous programme – some 150,000 children participated and it began in the early 17C when children were sent to Virginia – though some of the largest programmes were after the second world war. It did not stop until the 1970s.

A lot of questions need to be answered – not least from the one posed by David Hill about the role of the Home Office in the late 1950s.

 

 

Police arrest man on suspicion of stalking a child sexual abuse survivor

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Met Police arrest man on suspicion of stalking Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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The Met Police this morning arrested a 51 year old man in Kendal after obtaining a warrant to search his property  under the Harassment Act.

A statement from the Met Police said : “Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service carried out a warrant under the harassment act at an address in Kendal, Cumbria, on the morning of Wednesday, 4 January.
Police arrested a 51-year-old man on suspicion of stalking.
He was taken to a police station in Cumbria for questioning.
He has been bailed to return on a date in mid-May.”

I understand the man arrested was Simon Just and the person who was being allegedly stalked was Esther Baker, who has publicly disclosed that she is an abuse survivor.

The arrest comes while there is a separate police investigation by Staffordshire Police into  historic child sex abuse allegations involving the abuse of Esther Baker and other people. Staffordshire Police have referred the investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In a separate move  earlier another  man – understood to be Darren Laverty – has also been arrested  and charged with stalking Esther Baker and another woman, a journalist.

 

 

Unison: Former senior official says ” anti democratic practices” used to elect Dave Prentis in three previous contests

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Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

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This is a statement that has been submitted to the tribunal examining whether Unison broke the rules to ensure that Dave Prentis was re-elected  as general secretary over a year ago.

The statement was not challenged by Unison at the hearing where their lawyers could have cross examined the official, Mike Jackson, who supported Heather Wakefield in the last election. The inference of his claim is that the practice exposed in a leaked tape where officials – who should be neutral – at the Greater London Region meeting discussed how to back ” Team Dave”, the campaigning organisation for Prentis, had happened before.

STATEMENT BY MIKE JACKSON

 FORMERLY UNISON REGIONAL ORGANISER GREATER LONDON REGION 1978 – 2004 AND UNISON DEPUTY HEAD OF HEALTH 2004 – 2011

  1. This statement concerns my role in previous UNISON General Secretary elections during my time as a paid employee and Officer of the union.
  2. In the year 2000 an election was held to elect a new General Secretary of UNISON following the announced retirement of the then incumbent Rodney Bickerstaffe.
  3. Although it was officially stated that full-time officers should play no role in supporting any candidate in this election, a meeting was called by members of the then Regional Management Team (RMT) of UNISON’s Greater London Region where I worked, for all Regional Organisers of which I was one.
  4. The meeting was held at 5pm in the same building (Congress House) although not in a UNISON rented area. It was stated that attendance was voluntary but there was an expectation that all organising staff attend – and almost all did. It was made known that the meeting was to discuss organising to support Dave Prentis’s campaign.
  5. At the meeting the then Deputy Regional Secretary advised us that we should maximise branch nominations for Dave Prentis. An amount of money was suggested that we should each donate to the campaign. We were advised to use non-unison email addresses although no restriction was placed on the use of union phones.
  6. Regular meetings were then held convened by members of the RMT in which we were asked to report back firstly on progress on achieving nominations and later on getting out the vote for Dave Prentis. I personally was responsible for 13 branches at the time and I persuaded all to nominate Dave Prentis. I was told that Dave Prentis was very pleased with my efforts by an RMT member.
  7. During the election itself, we were asked to distribute Dave Prentis’s election material to branches for which we had responsibility. If the branch officers were not ‘reliable’ we were asked to arrange distribution ourselves. This was done during normal working hours and personally distributed thousands of leaflets and placed posters on hospital notice boards.
  8. Although all these activities were said to be voluntary the culture of the Region was that there was an expectation on us as organising staff to deliver support for Dave Prentis. It was said that if any of the other candidates were elected our positions would be insecure as we could be subject to election as officials – this being a policy position put by other candidates from far left groups.
  9. In 2005, Dave Prentis stood again for election. By this time I had recently been promoted to a national position. I was made aware that a national steering group of full time officials had been set up to support Dave Prentis. My then manager attended this group. Although I did not attend she reported back to me on the organisation to get Dave Prentis re-elected. Again an amount of money was suggested as a donation to his campaign which I paid.
  10. In 2010 Dave Prentis again stood for election. This time I was invited to attend a national steering group of full time officials to support Dave Prentis. The meetings were held at 5pm in the building of the National Union of Teachers directly opposite the then UNISON Head Office. The meetings were chaired by the Regional Secretary from UNISON’s Yorkshire and Humberside Region and attended by national officials, representatives of each UNISON Region (usually an RMT member) and Dave Prentis himself.
  11. The discussion focussed on maximising nominations for Dave Prentis from within each region and from national lay member bodies such as Service Group Executives. I had no doubt that the type of activity that I was involved in during 2000 in the Greater London Region was being replicated around the country as full time officials were being mobilised to deliver nominations and votes for Dave Prentis.
  12. Again an amount of money that we should donate to the campaign was suggested which I paid.
  13. In April 2011 I left UNISON’s employment and went to work in the NHS in the East of England on a self employed and part time basis finishing in July 2015 aged 67. During this time I remained a UNISON member and kept in touch with former colleagues.
  14. In 2015 I learned that Dave Prentis was standing again as General Secretary. I was also aware of the reasons for this, primarily that he could not gather enough support for his chosen successor – his wife Liz Snape, Assistant General Secretary.
  15. I decided to support Heather Wakefield for General Secretary whom I had worked with for many years. I made my support known by writing a letter of endorsement that Heather’s campaign which was circulated by her to all UNISON’s Health branches.
  16. What then followed was a letter signed by the Regional Convenor in the Greater London denouncing my involvement as a former full time official and inferring that I was not a UNISON member. I then received an email from a former branch secretary saying that he had been told that I was not a member of UNISON. I assured him I was.
  17. I had no doubt that the Convenor letter and the information that I was not a member had come from a member of the RMT in the Greater London Region as the information would only have been available to the RMT member. I was also ‘trolled’ on twitter anonymously claiming that as a former employee I should not be involved. Information that would only have come from the same source.
  18. When I rang the UNISON help line to enquire why I hadn’t received a ballot paper I was told that membership had been cancelled on the 4th August 2015 despite the fact that I continued to pay subs as a self employed member. I then discovered that my standing order to UNISON had been cancelled from September (not by me).
  19. Although I had retired from my project at NHS HEE I continued to be self employed. In my experience no one ever gets removed from the UNISON membership list this quickly. I have no doubt that I have been subject to ‘dirty tricks’ by a member of the RMT to discredit my support for Heather Wakefield.
  20. I was not at all surprised to listen to the tape of the Greater London Regional Secretary speaking in support of Dave Prentis although surprised that it was in an ‘official’ meeting. I have no doubt that the anti-democratic practices I experienced in 2000, 2005 and 2010 continued in 2015.

24th September 2016

I have left out his personal details and will leave the reader to decide what they think.

The hearing resumes for a day on February 22.

Editor’s Note: To repeat RMT are the initials of the Regional Management Team – not to be confused with the Rail Maritime and Transport union