Feb 202015

If you are arrested in the UK, surely that means you’ve committed a crime. The stigma of being arrested can negatively impact your career prospects, your family and your social standing. The police only arrest those who are committing a crime, who have broken the law, and need to be stopped. Terrorism laws are there only for people intent on committing terrorist acts.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Suzanne Kelly reports as part of a continuing series.

PoliceLinePicfeatGuilty Until Proven Innocent – If You Step Out Of Line

This year is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which was meant to enshrine rights for all. Most of its principles are long since forgotten.

Tony Blair created a raft of legislation when in office, and arguably British citizens lost even more rights. Blair’s mania for media manipulation had many dire consequences, not least the ‘dodgy dossier.’

Not many remember the story of Walter Wolfgang. But we should.

“Walter Wolfgang age 82, was ejected from the hall [Labour Party Conference] after shouting “nonsense” as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended Iraq policy. How did New Labour treat a long-standing member who disagreed with the serpentine Straw? The fairly new terrorism laws were used to intimidate Wolfgang.

“Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang’s re-entry [to the conference], but he was not arrested… Mr Wolfgang, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1937, is a member of the Stop the War Coalition.”

If a pensioner who heckles a speech supporting Blair’s attack on Iraq can be prevented from heckling because he might be a terrorist, how safe are we? Not safe at all is the answer. Can the threat of being arrested hinder legal, legitimate activities? Absolutely.

Arrest and Protest: A Case Study

It is not surprising that more and more people are turning to peaceful protest – we are losing our rights at the same time the 1% have widened the wealth gap, while in some instances avoiding tax, breaking banking laws and doing so with complete impunity. Many people consider the police to be an out-of-control, unilaterally-acting and capricious force. Facebook groups are documenting police brutality.

Just this week the chief constable Stephen House was accused of lying – the stop and search of children (with some 91% of the thousands searched being searched without any contraband found) is indeed continuing despite his assurances to the contrary. If protest is on the increase, perhaps the police should look to their actions as being causal.

This is an account from a peaceful protestor, Donnachadh McCarthy, who attended an Occupy Democracy event in London in early February.

“Just a quick note to say that the police have informed my solicitor that no charges will be laid against me after their aggressive over the top mauling of me at the Occupy Democracy peaceful protest in Tarpaulin Square on Saturday evening.”

“The outrageous accusation that my standing peacefully beside Boris Johnson’s private security corporation guard (AOS), as they were seeking to evict peaceful pro-democracy protesters from Tarpaulin Square, with a cardboard placard shaped like a coffin, with the inscription “UK Democracy RIP – killed by corporate billionaires”, was seeking to “intimidate a court witness and deter them from giving evidence”, never had any substance whatsoever in fact.”

“As I said in my police statement “I gently, resolutely but firmly deny that I did anything to intimidate anyone at the peaceful protest in Parliament Square”.

“Yet about 12 police officers swarmed me, took me to the ground and threw me in a police van and then held me in solitary confinement for 16 hours, whilst they futilely tried to find non-existent evidence.”

“This FOURTH arrest whilst peacefully protesting in Tarpaulin Square over the last 5 months, will not deter me from being there for the next pro-democracy protest by Occupy Democracy on March 7th.”

“This leaves me still facing 6 other trumped up charges, including one trumped up charge of “common assault” for bumping into a private security guard whilst trying to protect a peaceful protester from being attacked by the guards. This trial is on June 18th. Four other charges relate to my standing peacefully with a folded tarpaulin under my arm.”

McCarthy sums it up rather succinctly when he writes:

“The capture of our democracy by The Prostitute State continues to destroy our planet and facilitate a criminal concentration of wealth in the hands of the 1%.”

Journalists Are Not Immune Either – Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney

Award-winning film maker, journalist, documentary maker – and police suspects: Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney’s arrest at the Menie Estate was rightly condemned by the National Union of Journalists. Was the arrest intended to intimidate or stop them? You could be forgiven for thinking so:

“Shortly after the bulldozers moved in to destroy the Menie Estate dunes, we discovered Mr Trump’s workers had cut off the water supply to 86-year-old Molly Forbes – Michael’s elderly mother – for nearly a week, and so my Producer Richard Phinney and I went to interview Mr Trump’s chief greenkeeper who also doubled as head of building works.

“After the interview, Richard and I were both suddenly arrested on the property of another local resident – Susan Munro. We were then driven miles to Aberdeen, banged up in separate prison cells for several hours and stripped of our possessions. DNA, fingerprints and photos were all taken and camera equipment and footage impounded. We were both charged with ‘a breach of the peace’ a criminal offence which you can go to jail for in Scotland.

“The National Union of Journalists was furious and called our arrest ‘a blatant example of police interference stopping bona fide journalists from doing their job.’ The criminal charges were eventually thrown out by the Crown Office. But my arrest was a turning point, in what had become an extraordinary journey. I was now unwittingly part of a deeply disturbing and troubling story. And what had begun as an exercise to purely document what was happening, had now become a feature film – and I was in it.”

The way in which they were treated is virtually without precedent for journalists in the UK – let’s hope it stays that way.

The very broad-brush charge ‘breach of the peace’ can mean almost anything – no one is immune from being taken into custody on this charge in Scotland.

The two were released with a caution – this meant they never got their day in court –which would have allowed their legal team scope to clear their names completely. It also leaves a sword of Damocles over their heads – if they get into any further dealings with the police, this caution is on their record.

An abuse of power? A police intervention into journalism? It seems so.

Protect yourself – from the police

What do you do if you find yourself arrested? What should you do? Who do you call? What are your rights?

Here are some excellent resources:


Some basic principles to keep aware of include:

  • the police must tell you that  are under arrest as soon as is reasonably practicable.
  • “You do not have to say anything. However, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence” – unless it is otherwise impractical to do so.
  • the police should inform the suspect of their rights, which are as follows:
  • to notify someone of their arrest
  • to legal advice and assistance
  • to access the police Codes of Practice.
  • The police should also advise the suspect that their right to legal advice can be exercised at any time during the period of arrest (called ‘detention’).
  • All suspects have the right to receive free legal advice from a solicitor – either over the phone or in person – regardless of their financial status http://www.findlaw.co.uk/law/criminal/your_rights/7975.html

“Making a complaint

There are different courses of action you can take if you feel the police have treated you unfairly and you want to complain:-

  • use the police complaints procedure, which can result in an officer being disciplined, or in exceptional circumstances, prosecuted. This procedure cannot provide you with compensation
  • sue the police for damages. You will need to use a solicitor to do this
  • claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
  • ask for help from an MP, MSP or local councillor
  • contact the Procurator Fiscal if you think the police officer has broken the law

take collective action by joining or starting a campaign to monitor and change police practices.”  http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/scotland/law_s/law_legal_system_s/law_police_s/police_powers_scotland.htm

Anyone with mental health issues is meant to have an appropriate responsible adult help them through the arrest procedure.

The state of the wider world today is no reason for UK citizens to surrender more of their privacy, their freedom and their basic rights. It is worthwhile making sure you know what legal protection you are entitled to.

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Jan 162015

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, Duncan Harley shares his thoughts.

paris_008It rained in Paris last week. The average temperature was around 7°C with occasional sunshine.

The RER, Batobus and the Paris Metro ran much as usual. Tourists came and tourists went. The city went to work, and at the end of the day the citizens went home to eat, greet and prepare for work the next day.

Then of course the offices of Charlie Hebdo were assaulted, overnight the profession of satirist became dangerous and the citizens of Paris became frontline troops in a war involving terror.

There are those in the Muslim world who maintain that the attacks in France are a justified response to an assault on Islam. Fortunately those folk are in an extreme minority. Most condemn the assault on liberty.

The Paris murders are just that. Murders carried out by a bunch of criminally obsessive killers intent on self-imposed martyrdom.

In the long game they may have hoped to achieve something beyond notoriety, but in the short game all they have done is made a complete fool of Islam.

Unlike Christianity, Islam has no idols to view. The Prophet cannot be seen even in death. In a way of course, that makes complete sense given the sometimes awful images of a blond Christian Christ on the cross and a Caucasian Jesus in pristine cream robes fishing on the Lake of Galilee.

As for the virgin birth, well that is also a joke. Mary might well have been innocent of having sexual relations with God but, in the big scheme of things, someone impregnated her and anyone who says otherwise, to my mind, is simply a dreamer.

We in the West can write about the above without fear of assassination. At least we think we can.

So what happened in Paris?

The French have always taken care to exploit the folk in their colonies. Algeria features high on the list: used as cannon fodder in the 1939–1945 war, France’s colonial troops were used and abused by the colonial powers. The survivors were then deprived of military pension rights in the wake of Algerian independence. Many blame this old colonial attitude for the outrages of this week.

Moslems in France are second-class citizens. Underdogs deprived of respect, they feel marginalized and forgotten. In reality the French, in common with the citizens of many European countries, disrespect Jews, Eastern Europeans and on occasion even the English.

What happened in Paris is three-fold.

  • Firstly, some disenfranchised dreamers looked inward and imagined that mass murder was a way forward.
  • Some satirists died.
  • A million folk met at the Place de la République.

No matter what your beliefs, the killing of the messenger is a poor political idea. If this is the true face of Islam, then God help us all. If this is an isolated incident borne of hate, then we must address the issues. Otherwise, we should respect our neighbours’ needs and beliefs.

The murder of the journalists and cartoonists from Charlie Hebdo has unleashed a black dog throughout Europe.

Let’s hope that the mongrel can be contained.

© Duncan Harley – All rights reserved.

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Dec 192014

Eilidh WhitefordBy Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP.

Last Friday the House of Commons passed an historic piece of legislation, to enshrine in law the promise made over forty years ago to commit 0.7% of our Gross National Income to international development.

I know this is an issue close to the hearts of many constituents, who make their own generous contributions to charities working overseas, and want to see the UK government play its part by meeting its responsibilities as part of the global community.

Although development assistance is a tiny proportion of our budget, it has a big impact on the lives of people affected by natural disasters and wars, and can have a transformative effect on those living in poor countries.

Overseas aid from this country has provided clean water and sanitation for over 43 million people.

10 million children have gone to school who otherwise would not have had an education, and 3.6 million women have given birth safely, supported by a qualified midwife or other medical professional. UK aid has also been instrumental in promoting economic development in poorer countries – indeed, some which have grown to such an extent they have become important new trading partners for us.

Although the introduction of the Bill was a manifesto commitment of all the major parties in 2010, it was introduced as a Private Member’s Bill by former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore. I was disappointed that a few MPs, who opposed the Bill (despite standing on a manifesto supporting it), tried to kill the Bill using some of Westminster’s more arcane parliamentary procedures to scupper it.

It’s enormously frustrating that our democracy is open to such shenanigans. Luckily, the Bill survived and was carried by an overwhelming majority of those present, but the outcome could have been very different.

Our aid money also supports developing countries to build open, transparent and accountable democratic systems of government. Maybe it’s time we paid a bit more attention to our own advice.

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Nov 142014

“They didn’t value my mum’s life and they certainly didn’t value my sister’s life. Ultimately, they’re dead. I will never, ever heal. Ever.”
– Stacey Banner to the BBC, on murders committed by John Lowe. Police returned guns to him despite his threat to ‘blow off’ Stacey Banner’s head.

The police certainly have problems. Previous articles in this series have looked at the issues of institutionalised racism, guns and how our rights are being chipped away, little by little. With all the powers of surveillance at their disposal, police surely are able to determine when people are in potential danger. How are the 21st century UK police treating women? Suzanne Kelly reports.

Police line pic2Christine Lee and her daughter Lucy are dead. Like so many murdered women, they knew their killer. It was 82-year-old puppy farmer John Lowe, who was husband and stepfather to them.

Surrey Police had confiscated guns from 82-year-old John Lowe when he threatened to kill his stepdaughter and his wife.

The guns were returned some eight weeks later. The women are dead. The police are sorry.

There will be the usual inquiry; the usual wrists have been slapped. The women could still be alive, like so many other women who turn to the police, only to be let down again and again.

Domestic Violence:

Women who come forward to report abuse, or the threat of violence, are still being dismissed by the police. The old, outdated notion of dismissing marital violence as ‘just a domestic’ seems to be alive and well, as the murders committed by John Lowe attest.

The police launched a visible offensive against domestic abusers in February this year. One has to hope that the partners were warned in advance; but if so, surely that would have caused anxiety. If the victims of abuse were not warned in advance of their partner’s arrests, the consequences could be very serious: in domestic abuse the pattern is to blame the wife/partner for everything that goes wrong.

One can only hope the women were and are being given all the help and support they need. Otherwise, this particular exercise seems like a headline grabber with potentially lethal consequences.

Sexual Assault and Rape:

One in five women aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 according to Rape Crisis.

This is a statistic which should shock the government and police into action. Victims of rape and other violence are often afraid to come forward, and the way they are sometimes treated when they do leaves much to be desired.

In a famous interview Ken Clark in 2011 spoke with an extremely brave woman who reported an attempted rape, endured examinations, court battles, hours spent with police and legal teams. Her attacker, a repeat offender, spent about a year and a half in custody.

More recently, UKIP member and donor Demetri Marchessini said women cannot be raped by their husbands.

It’s sometimes hard to believe that it’s 2014 when we look at how rape victims are treated. The news last week carried the story of Eleanor de Frietas. This vulnerable woman went to the police with a tale of being drug raped. What happened subsequently led to her suicide.

The police had no grounds for thinking she was lying, but when the alleged rapist took her to court in a private action for £200,000, the Crown Prosecution Service decided to go after her as well. Unable to stand the ordeal, she took her own life.

When the Police are the Perpetrators:

Women are being abused by serving officers. An online resource lists various police officers in the UK and the vast array of charges levelled against them, which include rape, sex with a vulnerable woman, and child abuse.

Then there is the case of Ryan Reid, 27, a special constable who used his position to illegally search police files for information about women he was veritably stalking; he sent naked photos and sexual messages to half a dozen women. According to the Daily Mail:

“Reid, of Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, who was stationed at Carluke Police Office, pleaded guilty to seven charges involving five women … one of his victims was just 15 when he began contacting her…. He admitted two charges of stalking women, three under the Communications Act and one under the Sexual Offenses Act…he also pleaded guilty to an offence under the Data Protection Act that he did ‘knowingly or recklessly and without the consent of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland obtain and disclose personal data by repeatedly accessing various police systems with no operational reason for doing so.’”

Reid apparently made a social media comment that when men in the forces drop their trousers they are in trouble, when women do so, it is promotion. Is sexism as rife as racism is within the forces? Is this case the tip of the iceberg, indicating institutionalised misogyny? You could be forgiven for thinking so.

This may well explain the number of women who, despite making numerous pleas to the police, are attacked, sometimes fatally, by persistent stalkers. Three years ago a Guardian article pointed out the dismal failure of the police and courts to protect vulnerable women:

“Two-thirds of victims said the police and Crown Prosecution Service did not take their complaints seriously enough, with offenders not being charged in nearly nine out of ten alleged cases.

“The survey of 140 victims was conducted by the charity Protection Against Stalking (PAS), which found “low level” stalking offences were dealt with too leniently and could escalate into more serious offences, including murder.

“The majority of victims are women. One told how the criminal justice system had failed her:

“The police told me to switch my phone off and ignore him. They said nothing could be done. I showed them dozens of texts and they were not really interested. They said nothing could be done unless he actually tried to hurt me.”

“Another victim said:

“Being abandoned by the police while being stalked only adds to the fear and distress of what is already a terrifying situation.””

Ryan Reid may have been found guilty of data access and sexual crimes. But what can a Police Scotland officer expect if accused of illegally accessing data on an ex-partner? As reported in the Evening Express, Police Scotland’s DC Duthie has astonishingly been cleared of any wrong doing when his ex’s personal data was accessed by someone within the police.

“DC Duthie, whose address was given in court papers as care of Police Scotland [note – I doubt a member of the public would be allowed to give their work address to the court – SK], had denied accessing the secure information himself.

“He accepted that the files were viewed on February 27 and April 2, 2012 using his unique username and password but said someone else must have used a computer he was logged on to. But today he was found not guilty of the charges.”

Who else would have wanted to look at the data in question? If someone other than Duthie had an interest in this matter, how did they manage to get Duthie’s personal login information? Why hasn’t the person who accessed this information come forward? Have the police identified who it was, and if so, why is no prosecution forthcoming?

This may seem like a case of one man snooping into his ex-partner’s affairs without due cause. What the court decision has done however has set an extremely dangerous precedent: police officers can now access any data they want, and claim that the unique password and login must have been used by an unknown police operative, who will not be sought.

This tiny decision gives the police legal sanction to do whatever they want with our data. It may have passed unnoticed by the mainstream news, but this is a potentially dangerous legal precedent.


It should be noted that women don’t always fare well inside the police forces, either. Unequal pay, discrimination and sexual harassment are all realities. The Scotsman reported in April this year that women in the force are not getting equal promotion opportunities.

Being a domestic abuser is not a barrier to re-joining the force, either.

However, there are a growing number of women in the force. Perhaps positive, real change is within reach.

But as a Guardian investigation found, there is sexism and bias against women making claims of sexual assault against police officers.

Summing up:

Women are being ignored at best, and attacked at worst, by the people paid to protect them. Rape victims are victimised, domestic violence is often downplayed, and stalking victims are routinely brushed off. The recent cases mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg, and the kinds of problems women face also include trafficking and forced marriage, among other issues.

No doubt there will be some kind of investigations into the senseless deaths of Christine and Lucy Lee, and the farcical CPS attack on Eleanor de Frietas which led to her suicide, as her note indicated.

But the system has gone down these routes before without reforming, and reform is possibly farther away than ever before. Change is long overdue, but with comments like those coming from UKIP donor Marchessini, that a husband can’t be guilty of raping his wife, coupled with the scale of abuse either ignored by or perpetrated by the UK’s police forces, it’s hard to see things improving any time soon.

If the situation for grown women is brutal, then it is a far worse reality for children dependent on the state for protection. The next piece in this series will look at issues such as Rotherham, child abuse and how the state and in particular the police, are involved in the neglect and sometimes abuse of children.

Support Services:

Samaritans Aberdeen

60 Dee Street Aberdeen AB11 6DS
Tel: 01224 574488
Email: jo@samaritans.org
Usual hours open to receive callers at the door: 9am – 10pm

Rape and Abuse Support

88 John Street Aberdeen, AB25 1LE
Office Tel: 01224 639 347
Helpline: 01224 620 772
Email: info@rasane.org.uk
Web: www.rasane.org.uk

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Oct 172014

In Part 4 of the series on issues with UK policing, Suzanne Kelly looks at the recent decision taken by Police Scotland to award itself the power to have armed personnel on duty as a matter of routine. The use of stun guns / tasers is said to be an effective, safe alternative – but is it? Do we really need to start arming police in Scotland routinely? We and our elected officials should have been asked, not told.

PoliceLinePicfeatUnder The Gun

Perhaps the most controversial issue in Scottish policing today was the unilateral, non-legislative supported police decisions to award themselves the power to routinely carry firearms on routine patrols.

Local councillors and other elected representatives were dismayed throughout Scotland; Kenny MacAskill is being asked to resign (over several issues including this

Highlands Police were showing up to incidents in low crime areas equipped to maim or to kill. A suggestion was made that the guns should be made ‘less visible’ – hardly a suggestion that respects the rights (or intelligence) of the electorate which is demonstrably against routine armed patrols.

The police had implemented this escalation instead of asking for permission to do so. They were instead attempting to reassure officials, judges, experts and Holyrood that all was well.

This unilateral action is on a par with the clearly illegal activities of those men deep undercover who slept with and impregnated women they were spying on as per the previous article in this series. This disregard for law, procedure and basic human rights shows us how badly skewed the system is. Thankfully, the gun policy has been changed. There are calls for MacAskill to stand down.

In August, Lord McCluskey, one of Scotland’s most senior former judges, called for the resignation of Mr MacAskill over a range of issues including the routine arming of officers.

He described the policy change by Sir Stephen as an example of “secretive decision-making”, and said Mr MacAskill knew about the move but did not share the information or hold a public consultation.

“In the US, we have seen the dangers of police with guns: put simply, if police have guns, there is a greater risk of someone being shot, unintentionally or otherwise.”
– http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Police-Scotland-arming-of-officers

We do know from recent polls that the public did not want regular armed police on the beat. A recent Scotsman article reports:-

“The nature of policing in this country is very important, and there is a danger that would change if we routinely equipped officers with firearms. We showed during the G8 (summit) how important it is that we don’t come out heavily armed taking a heavily defensive position” – Peter Wilson, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland”

Police are still carrying handguns to serious crimes; many are carrying ‘taser’ type weapons as well. A taser surely must offer safety to the suspect and the police; it can be fired from a distance, and causes no lasting effects – or so we are told.

What is a taser?

A taser is a machine that delivers in the area of 5000 volts into a human body, causing temporary neurological incapacity. Tasers are for sale in the United States, where they come in a range of colours (yes really). One manufacturer/seller offers a video showing the superiority of the taser over other weapons or gas. In the video, a man is meant to be being shot by a taser.

Barbs shoot from the hand-held device into the man’s body, and he falls backwards, caught by colleagues. And all for upward of about $900. Surely this is a safe alternative to guns?

Taser dangers

We have been told that tasers are harmless, won’t cause cardiac problems, and are just temporarily debilitating. We are still being told this is the case, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

A Guardian article warns that tasers fired at the chest can cause injury – and death. The article quotes the manufacturer’s guidance which says shooting into the chest can cause serious problems, and that a huge proportion of police taser shots are to the chest. This article followed the death in Manchester of Jordan Begley who was said to be carrying a knife. Apparently the cause of death of this young man could not be established. What is established is that he was tasered.

Tasers simply are not safe. They are not being used as the manufacturer recommends; and if any deaths are related to their use at all, a re-think is needed. They are also not being used lawfully in some instances.


Here is a West Midlands Police video showing ‘how tasers keep our communities safe’. It explains how the police and public are safer with taser deployment. In a simulation, a (badly acted) drunk is tasered, and seconds later says he will do whatever the police say.

Supposedly this acquiescence is reassuring; it is also very frightening.  If the police can inflict a brief torture – and this is an extremely painful weapon even if briefly so – and it makes people compliant, then what safeguard of rights will we have left? The video explains that a taser is used ‘only in situations of violence or threats of violence.’ A taser will not damage a pacemaker or the heart. We are also reassured that officers are intensively and rigorously trained.

They say that everything that happens in the US comes to the UK ten years later. Here is a video of a man being tasered – for a disputed driving offence – and ‘not obeying the traffic policeman’s instructions’. It is believed the man was later awarded a settlement. It is harrowing. The man asks for his rights and is threatened with another taser shot.

As well as demonstrating that tasering is painful and being used as a means for social control, it demonstrates the mental state of the people we are handing dangerous weapons – tasers and uniforms – to.

Perhaps not all UK police forces are as responsible and rigorous as the West Midlands Police claim to be. Here is a video clearly showing Nottingham police repeatedly tasering a man on the ground, and beating him.

Parting Shots

Peelian Principles (named after Sir Robert Peel, the originator of the UK’s police forces) have been virtually overlooked when it came to this recent arms escalation. Theoretically, the police cannot work without the mandate of the citizenry. But they are doing just that, as well as breaking laws, subverting human rights, and discriminating, as previous articles in this series have demonstrated.

Thankfully there was a climb down with regard to regular arming of routine police, and those responsible are being called to account (although whether any sanctions will be issued is another matter).

Perhaps rather than creating an arms race and/or using the threat of painful tasering torture to subjugate, the police might instead want to listen to experts who admit there are dangers, and take tasering-related deaths as a reason to treat tasering more seriously, and to halt repeated tasering as happened in Nottingham.

Increased gun crime is evident in England and Wales, where gang warfare is implicated in this increase. The culture in Scotland is different, and if the police used their investigative powers not to spy on and sleep with women environmentalist protestors but to try and counter gun proliferation, perhaps that might be a more constructive use of undercover operatives.

Among the many problems with weapons are lethal results, weapons being taken from civilians or officers and used against them, attempts at the use of weapons enraging suspects, and the fact that there will always be those who panic and pull the trigger first, and ask questions later. Or rather than asking questions, seek to cover up information about force incorrectly used.

Sadly, the family of Charles de Menezes, shot on a London tube train for no legal reason, can attest to the truth of this.

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Oct 032014

In Part 1 of this series, excessive, expensive security measures and their implications for civil rights were examined. The second part of  the series looked at the problems of racism in the UK’s police forces as experienced by suspects, victims of crime (and victims of police actions), and even police officers.

This third article in the series, deals with the outrageous exploits of the so-called ‘Special Demonstration  Squad’ and how it sanctioned its undercover operatives to sleep with and impregnate innocent women. What has happened to democracy, basic human rights and an accountable, law-abiding police force?  Suzanne Kelly reports, concluding that the police are out of the control of the top brass, and undercover police have ruined lives when using  deceit to trick women into sex and into bearing children.

Police line pic2Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity (?)

Police Scotland has as their motto ‘Always Vigilant’. The Metropolitan Police claim their motto is ‘Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity. None of these words seem to apply to the majority of the police these days. None of these words remotely apply to the activities of the Special Demonstration Squad.

Imagine you are a woman, interested in the environment, and involved in a protest group.  Over the course of 7 long years you have met a like-minded man in your group.

You sleep with him, believing you have found someone with similar interests. You have his child. You have shared your thoughts and your body with this man you care for.

He is actually a policeman sent to spy on you, for seven long years.

You are not a criminal, but all of your rights, your privacy and your dignity have been taken away. And all the while, he has a wife and family.  What is the response of the Metropolitan Police? That the two of you had a mutually agreed relationship.

You find that the police, meant to  protect you and your rights have used your body as a tool and for gratification; your rights are gone, and they say you wanted it. This is not fidelity, bravery or integrity by any possible definition.

The right to protest has been escorted from the building

The Guardian’s Rob Evans reported in August of this year:

“Boyling had sexual relationships with at least three women while posing as an environmental activist, under the false name of Jim Sutton, between 1995 and 2000. He later married one of them and had two children with her before they divorced in 2008.

“Both were members of Scotland Yard’s controversial undercover unit, the Special Demonstration Squad, that infiltrated hundreds of political groups between 1968 and 2008. Last month, the Met was criticised after it was revealed that the unit had collected information on 18 grieving families who were campaigning against police.

“In a legal filing at the high court, the Met denied that Lambert and Boyling were authorised by their supervisors to form the relationships with the women or that “intimate and sexual relationships were started as a deliberate tactic” to gather intelligence about campaigners.

“The Met said that the pair “violated explicit guidance” from their managers that undercover officers should not have long-term, or “emotionally committed” relationships during their deployments.

“The Met said that the two men started the relationships “because of mutual attraction and genuine personal feelings”.

“Harvey said she was “very upset” by the Met’s stance, adding that her relationship with Lambert was “a total violation of me and my life”.

“She said: “How can a relationship be genuine when it is based on a massive web of lies? He pretended to be a man with noble ideals and political commitments, when in reality he was a police officer spying on our friendship network.

“He pretended he was committed to the future when he always knew he would go back to his real job and wife and kids. That doesn’t show genuine feelings; it is abuse and I would never have consented to such a relationship had I known.” 

Public outrage continues to grow, and undoubtedly will not abate – further details are expected to emerge as the legal proceedings commence.  The judiciary have insisted that the identity of these two particular policemen and their photos should be released; a photo of Boyling can be found in Evan’s article.

The police top brass seem to believe they can plead ignorance:  they say they had no idea what their deep undercover police were doing.

This is as implausible as it is damning – it is as if those in charge of The Met believe they can disavow the actions of their own operatives.  However, this is real life and not  ‘Mission Impossible’ wherein the operatives are told that if they are captured or killed, those in power will disavow knowledge of their activities.

The police will eventually have to explain in a court what kind of logic they used which trumped basic human rights, law and the integrity they claim to uphold. For now, they are doing what they do when cornered:  they have gone on a public relations offensive.

The best defence is a good PR offensive

The Daily Mail have interviewed an undercover officer recently; he was keen to paint himself as a selfless, life-risking hero, not someone subverting democracy to illegally gather intelligence and evidence, which when all is said and done is the base line of any undercover work.

This rather florid article paints ‘John’ the undercover operative as some form of saint; its description of him is hardly hard news:

“His own eyes are clever and often amused. But they also have an opaque, poker-player quality which you might associate with an assassin who sees the moment of death as business rather than pleasure.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article

Remarkably this ‘John’ has suddenly been authorised by the Met to spill the beans to the world about how tough it is being an undercover police operative dealing with paedophiles, underworld figures and drug dealers. John steers well clear of admitting that women such as Harvey, an environmental activist, are the sorts of people being spied on, seduced and tricked.

John advises:

“‘At the same time you are treading that very thin line, showing enthusiasm for what they are doing but not inciting it. To show that — dare I say it — we are catching them fairly.”

“And catch them they do. Over the past 12 months, undercover operations in the Met have resulted in 1,400 charges against individuals for the full range of serious criminality. Many will go to jail.” IBID

This Mail piece asks no hard questions; it swallows the tales ‘John’ tells the Mail reporters unquestioningly – yet ‘John’s main skill in this life is to deceive. There is not any analysis of ‘John’s potential motivations for leaking these details to the press (keeping his job, making the force look better – as if that were currently possible, pleasing his superiors who while claiming ignorance of Harvey’s situation have sanctioned this interview).

Also lacking is any in-depth question as to why the Met, heading to court to explain itself over its Special Demonstration Squad, would find this piece a good piece of PR.

What’s the Problem? A Government Minister insists police should sleep with women they investigate

You might think that any person interested in upholding democracy, freedom and the most basic of human rights would be appalled at what has happened (and might still be happening). You would be wrong.

As reported in the Telegraph as concerns another sexually active undercover officer, Mark Kennedy, Nick Herbert justifies this behaviour:-

“Nick Herbert told MPs that if there was an outright ban on officers carrying out secret missions from starting relationships with those they had under surveillance, it would create a simple way for their loyalties to be tested.

“He said he did not think there needed to be set rules governing sexual relationships involving police, but that instead officers infiltrating groups and gangs needed to be managed closely.

“The police minister said in a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday: “I am not persuaded that it would be appropriate to issue specific statutory guidance under Ripa [the law that governs undercover operations] about sexual relationships.”

If the police minister thinks the policy of impregnating duped women is fine, he has given the nod to the department to carry on. It will be interesting to see what his constituents think of his stance at the next elections.

Not for Women Only – the cases of Barry George and Colin Stagg.

Police work should be based on physical evidence, motive, and verifiable facts. But if that fails, you can always send in a woman police constable to have sex with your suspect. The ‘honey trap’ method of crime detection has put men in prison after they were led to brag in response to leading questions while being sexually and mentally manipulated by women ‘law enforcement’ personnel.

In the case of Colin Stagg, the presiding judge who quashed his unsound conviction called the use of honey traps ‘reprehensible’. Further information on this and other such cases can be found here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Jill-Dando-Miscarriages-of-justice

Never Again – well, so we can hope.

Perhaps 1400 people are being charged for offensives in ‘the full range of serious criminality’ – the reporters have no interest in finding out how many people were spied on without any crime being brought to light. How many innocent people had their rights removed by a squad which we are meant to believe acted unilaterally? How many other factions within the Met are acting unilaterally that we have no idea about?

If efficient, legal policing cannot prove a crime is / will take place, then is covert evidence-gathering really legal or ethical? If the activities of Boying and crew against environmental activists are upheld as being acceptable policing, then are any of us safe to protest? We need to talk about the police, but we need to ensure that nothing like this happens again.

The court cases will be crucial in shaping the UK’s future human rights policy.  Whatever the outcome, there are women who have been treated like chattel by the Met, and this can’t be undone. Imagine bringing up the child of the man who has a wife and child elsewhere, who tricked you into bed.

There is a group supporting these women; it is Police Spies Out Of Lives; and it provides details on many such cases http://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/  and donations are welcome.

But at least these women are alive. The next article in this series will look at the increasing use of guns and lethal force by the police.

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Sep 192014

In the second article of an ongoing series, the racism permeating the UK’s police forces is examined. By Suzanne Kelly.

Police line pic2 Justice is often depicted as blindfolded as she weighs the evidence in her scales, her sword clutched to dispense an impartial, fair sentence.

The evidence suggests a different reality, one wherein suspects, victims, even police officers who are not white males still have the cards stacked against them.

Perhaps there is a clue to race relations in the mix of police officers? If we are meant to believe that police forces in the UK have worked on their well documented ‘institutionalised racism’ over the years, there is absolutely no sign of this in the 2013 Scottish police equality mainstreaming report:


“The percentage of minority ethnic police officers was 1% at 31/03/2010 and remains static at 28/02/2013.

“The percentage of minority ethnic police staff was 1% at 31/03/2010 and remains static at 28/02/2013.

“The percentage of minority ethnic special constables was 2% in 2010 decreasing to 1% in 2013.

“Note: Minority Ethnic figures throughout the document include those who have self-classified their ethnic origin as Mixed Ethnic Group, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Other Asian Background, African, Other African Background, Caribbean, Black, Other Caribbean or Black Background, Arab, Other Ethnic Group.” 

The same document reports that in 2013 there were 17,830 police officers, 7,411 police staff and 1,371 special constables. Therefore, there were 1,783 minority police officers, 741 minority background police staff and a mere 137 special constables were from minority backgrounds.

If there is reticence in certain communities to joining the police forces, perhaps the tale of former police officer Gurpal Virdi has some bearing. Virdi was accused of sending racist hate mail to himself. The police claimed that he was disgruntled at being passed over for promotion. It was demonstrated he was not around when some of this mail was sent.

This historic case in England is an interesting contrast to today’s Aberdeen story of DC Duthie, cleared of breaching data protection. Someone used his user name and his personal password, illegally looked at personal data pertaining to Duthie’s ex partner and her family. But he’s been found innocent this week; it was apparently too difficult to prove who else had his password who would have had a motive for this breach.

As the Scottish Police Federation’s website reported on 17th July of this year:

“Police Scotland is under ­scrutiny over how it investigates its own officers after it emerged that out of hundreds of complaints of racism against the force, fewer than 10 had been upheld. New figures reveal that, of almost 300 formal complaints of racist behaviour against police officers in the past five-and-a-half years, nine were upheld, two of which led to misconduct procedures. Since Police Scotland was ­established in April last year, one of 78 complaints of racist behaviour has been upheld, with the matter “concluded by explanation”. In the same period, 47 of the complaints were not upheld, with the remainder abandoned, withdrawn or still being investigated.”

This is a damning indictment of the system.

Since the UK police forces demonstrably tolerate internal racism (and certainly seem keen to cover it up, as the SPF’s website reports), then how are the police behaving towards citizens?

Stop and Search operations – a Black and White situation.

If you are not white, you are more likely to be stopped and searched by police in the UK than if you’re white. In some parts of the UK, the figures are staggering:

“Black and Asian people are still far more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by police in England and Wales, a report has said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in some areas black people were 29 times more likely to be stopped and searched.

Overall, black people were six times as likely as white people to be stopped.

The commission said the disproportion between different ethnic groups remained “stubbornly high.   … The figure for these searches fell to 1,137,551 in 2011-12 from 1,222,378 the previous year.”

These alarmingly high figures demonstrate that some police officers are arbitrarily using the controversial stop and search policies in a racist way – this sad fact is undeniable. Scotland is also searching young children – but the way in which the system treats children will be the focus of a future article.

The high profile cases of the recent past make it clear that racism can have fatal consequences.

Jean Charles de Menezes.

The police shot dead Mr de Menezes as he sat on a tube train. The excuse seems to be that:

a. it was shortly after the London tube bombings and
b. he had a backpack. (It is frightening that the police thought shooting someone on a crowded tube who might have had a bag loaded with explosives was wise – they risked hundreds of lives had the pack been a bomb).

We know the police testimony about the surveillance, the log, and what happened on the tube train was deeply flawed; the log was altered, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Commission give a chronology in their finding report which opens with the dates of the tube bombing and the failed bombing.

This, in the eyes of many, taints the entire report: millions of people used the tube the day de Menezes was executed by multiple police gunshots – he and his murder had absolutely nothing to do with the bombings except in the overactive imagination of police, who decided that the detection of potential crime meant to kill the suspect.

As the BBC reported:

“The report says 17 witnesses said they had not heard officers shout a clear warning before opening fire.

“The report makes 16 recommendations for change, and says the Met has already begun acting upon them.

“It also says police radios deployed on the day did not work underground, a problem that was first identified in the 1987 King’s Cross fire.

“It also reveals that investigators had asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to look at possible charges against the two officers who shot Mr de Menezes, and the commander on the day, Cressida Dick. The CPS decided not to bring charges against the individuals.

“The IPCC said the Met had to rethink policies around deploying firearms officers and critical language governing the manner in which they stopped a suspect.

Mr Hardwick said the IPCC’s investigators believed that Sir Ian Blair played a key role in delaying their work.

“The commissioner attempted to prevent us carrying out an investigation. In my view much of the avoidable difficulty of the Stockwell incident has caused the Met Police arose from the delay in referral [to the IPCC].”
Stockwell One – Investigation into the shootingof Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell underground station on 22 July 2005.

The jury were not allowed to put in an ‘unlawful killing’ verdict. Sir Ian Blair refused to resign his police position at the time. No police officers were in any disciplined, although one was to be ‘spoken to’.

The policy behind this man’s death is Operation Kratos policy – a shoot to kill policy meant to deal with terrorists. With more and more police routinely carrying weapons (even in the usually peaceful Scottish Highlands), and with most stop and search policy targets being from minority backgrounds, we may well be on a hiding to a volatile future where race trumps rights.

It’s bad enough that de Menezes was killed. The Institute of Race Relations keeps a list of those who have died in police custody – it is a heady mixture of unexplained serious (sometimes fatal) injuries, lack of medical care, apparent suicides.

The Ballad of Stephen Lawrence.

The sad story of Stephen Lawrence, a bright young black teenager killed by a gang of racist white youths in 1993, is widely known. It was widely reported at the time too that the police were less than meticulous and thorough in their investigation of the suspects:

“Met detective Paul Steed, 49, tampered with key times and dates on an evidence log, it was confirmed. A Met spokesman said a misconduct board demoted a detective from the rank of sergeant to constable and fined him. …A Kent Police inquiry took place into the case in 1997, followed by the Macpherson Report in 1999, which found evidence of “pernicious and institutionalised racism” in the Metropolitan Police.” 

Insult to Injury, and Rights go out the window.

Imagine your son had been held in a tube seat and shot multiple times by police – when 17 witnesses say he had not been warned and had done nothing wrong. Or imagine your teenage son had been killed by racist thugs, and evidence was tampered with. Things couldn’t get much worse. But they did.

Police spies tried to discredit witnesses, and police spied on the de Menezes and Lawrence families and friends. This was done using our tax money, in the name of keeping us safe. Enter the unilaterally acting ‘Special Demonstration Squad’.

This unit allegedly is so important and so secret it answers to no one – not even the most highly placed Met officers, who we are being led to believe didn’t know what was going on. This convenient ignorance might remind you of the famous scene in Casablanca. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is being chastised by the chief of police for allowing gambling at the bar.

A casino staff member interrupts the conversation to give the police chief his winnings. If we are to believe that the top brass have no clue what is going on, then:

a. they are incompetent from the top downwards,
b. they are not in control, and
c. we have a police force that is unaccountable, anarchic, and as demonstrated – racist.

In an excerpt from a Mirror article:

“Yard chiefs were potentially negligent in their “astonishing” failure to monitor the activities of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

“A report published today found the SDS [which] had gathered intelligence on 18 campaign groups.

They included those set up by friends and family of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered in a racist attack, and Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot dead in error by police in the wake of the July 7 bombings.

“The family of Ricky Reel, who drowned shortly after being racially abused in London in 1997, were also targeted.

“Relatives of Mr de Menezes said in a statement: “It is shameful that the Met spied on the legitimate activities of a grieving family who were trying to get the answers they deserved.”

“… Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon said … “What is surprising to me is the number of people, the most senior levels in the Met working in covert policing, working in public order command, who did not know about the unit at all.”

“One reference was to an unnamed person planning to go to a funeral, even though “there was no intelligence to indicate that the funeral would have been anything other than a dignified event”, the report said, and Mr Creedon confirmed that there were “more personal examples” 

Summing Up

The police acknowledge their racism, but it seems far from being remedied, going by cases such as Virdi’s and the small number of minorities represented on the force. The police virtually executed a helpless Jean Charles de Menezes, and tampered with evidence which might have helped bring the killers of Stephen Lawrence to a swift justice.

The police have had virtually no comeback from any of this. The police do however want more powers and want to carry guns routinely.

We need to talk about the police.

The next article will delve into the world of the SDS and other covert operations, and cases which have removed any pretense the police might make to operating within the law or respecting basic human rights.

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Aug 152014

In mid-July Suzanne Kelly wrote to all the City councillors and the new Chief Executive. This was following Evening Express revelations that according to a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) count, there may be only nineteen deer left in the entire city, with only three or four left on Tullos Hill. Tullos had a deer population which was stable for decades, until the Liberal Democrats foisted a ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme on the city, and the deer’s days were numbered as the City Council refused even to consider alternatives to shooting.

In response to Kelly’s email, the City Council created a document which it sent to all councillors, but not to Kelly. Kelly has obtained this missive, and in this article seeks to dismiss its points.

baby deer

We may be in danger of losing all of our city deer.

This will be due in no small part to the recent drive to cull dozens of them at a time, on the pretexts that ‘they have no natural predators’ and that for reasons best known to scheme proponents Councillor Aileen Malone and ranger Ian Talboys, we need to ‘plant a tree’ for every citizen.

Having written to all the councillors, a few did respond with sympathetic views, advising that they were against the cull, and that they knew of the 3,000-plus citizens and the community councils which had asked for the tree scheme and the cull to be scrapped. However, many councillors never got back in touch.

Many people have since forwarded an email sent by the City Council’s media division. The media department chose to write to the councillors and the Chief Executive rebutting my email. They left me out of the correspondence.

Perhaps they knew that most of their points could readily be countered. This article is a response to the City Council’s justifications for how it treats its deer population and the low regard in which it clearly holds its voters.

Here is the gist of what the City Council tried to claim, and what I would like to say to the councillors and the City Council by way of rebuttal, a courtesy they decided not to extend to me. There go my hopes for a new Chief Executive who would be open, accountable and transparent in her dealings.

Thanks to the many people who sent me the City Council’s claims which I will deal with point by point.

  • The City Council claims there are errors and inaccuracies in an  Evening Express article of 19th July. The City Council claims the article did not report the real story regarding the roe deer population.

An interesting introduction; but the City Council fails to discount the article in this opening paragraph, or to say specifically what those inaccuracies are. They are going to address these ‘inaccuracies’ with the Evening Express. How very odd then, to remember an  Evening Express article of a few years back. This story advised that ‘two deer were found dead ahead of the planned cull’.

Well, that was true: the deer had died of unknown causes TWO YEARS before the cull. Someone in the City Council contacted the  Evening Express and encouraged this story. The City Council had no interest in correcting that little inaccuracy.

  • The City Council addresses the claim that Tullos Hill is “under threat from deer extinction”, and says this is not true. They say the survey was undertaken by SNH in January 2014 at only four of the city’s new woodland sites, out of 39 woodland sites. The sites looked at were Tullos Hill, Seaton, Danestone and Greenferns.

The SNH want to have only four to six animals on the whole of Tullos Hill, to fit in with their recent guidelines.

Perhaps the deer were hiding from the infrared sensors

These are for guidance and not legally binding, although you would not know that as the City Council repeats the mantra over and over again that deer must be ‘managed’ (ie shot).

The ranger Ian Talboys wrote an email in response to 16 deer limbs being found in a ‘suspected’ poaching incident on Tullos. More on that later. If he ever did express a desire to protect the remaining animals, find the culprits or find a means to discourage wildlife crime, he doesn’t seem to have put it into writing: a Freedom of Information (FOI) request disclosed all relevant correspondence.

Talboys says that he believed the deer must have been shot elsewhere, a rather wild claim some might think, as he thought there were fewer deer than that on Tullos:

“I would be surprised if there were enough deer in the area for anyone to be able to take four in one go so it may be the remains have been taken from somewhere else and dumped on Tullos Hill”

Perhaps it’s just as well that Talboys is not a criminologist. But the bottom line is, how can four to six deer, even if migrating between sites, have a healthy, stable gene pool and survive poaching? At such numbers exactly how will we continue to have deer on the hill?

  • The City Council’s media personnel then go on to offer conjecture, not fact, as to why the count may have been low. The count was aided by the contribution from Ian Burnett of Aberdeen City Council.

Perhaps the deer were hiding from the infrared sensors is one idea they offer. It is interesting how the City Council flits from conjecture to fact when it suits its purposes. What I asked for was a halt to any further culling, until at the very least another count was done to establish the numbers.

The apologists go on to explain in great detail how hard it is for the SNH to get accurate numbers for counting deer: temperature, other animals, weather, all sorts of reasons are given for why counts are inaccurate.

No one in the City Council seemed to have any concerns about inaccurate counting of deer when it put out its ‘Granite City Forest Tree for Every Citizen Programme – Tullos Hill Community Woodland’ document (BRN 165321 Case No 4158709).

It stated categorically that in 2011, 29 deer were counted on the hill. I will put up my hand and admit that at present I can’t find my source for the count of 70 deer in the area. However, if I am inaccurate with numbers, then I have company in the City Council’s paid professionals; only my counting doesn’t form the basis for shooting them.

Fact: the above-referenced report says that in February 2011 there were “seven bucks, ten does, six juveniles and six unclassified animals” (Page 67). The targets set (same page) were the destruction of eight bucks, nine does and seven juveniles in 2012/13 in the first killing, i.e. 24 of the 29 would be killed.

The great scheme was then to destroy four more creatures each season until 2016/17.

one of the complainants coincidentally writes to Aileen Malone with great frequency

No mention seems to appear in this 69-page report, in my opinion a highly biased apology for deer killing, that it’s hard to count the animals, or that there could be a doubt over the number of animals on the hill.

As above, councillors were told there were 29 animals on Tullos in February 2011. The hunter(s) paid to do the shooting that first season killed either 34 or 35 animals: the records are so poorly written that not even the City Council’s FOI request managed to find a figure.

So there you have it: 29 deer counted, of which 24 were going to be destroyed, and 34 or 35 were in fact killed. And now we are told it’s hard to count them.

  • The City Council’s cull apologist goes on to say that The Housing and Environment directorate continues to receive reports of, and complaints about large deer populations and the damage they cause across Aberdeen.

In response to my FOI request I was sent complaints about deer.

Oddly enough, one of the complainants coincidentally writes to Aileen Malone with great frequency, about deer in the Cults area which apparently go into the complainant’s garden. There would also seem to be one other complainer. These people must be amazed that they have moved to a countryside area and found countryside animals on private property.

  • ACC officers monitor the new woodland sites for field signs of the roe deer and evidence of deer browsing on the young and established trees, to establish the likely population of deer in the area and any impact they are having on the sites. The management of these sites ensures that there is a balance between habitats and species through weed control, scrub management, deer management, woodland management operations etc.

The public stated resoundingly that it did not want Tullos to become a woodland site. As it has gone ahead, the City Council has demonstrably left the weeds unchecked while killing the deer. The Forestry Commission clearly stated that the previous failure was related to weeds as well as alleged deer browsing.

The City Council has done nothing to rectify the poor soil matrix on Tullos. The report on the failure of phase 1 states that trees are likely to topple in the wind (wind toss) because of the poor soil matrix. The fact that debris are visible throughout the tree planting area demonstrates this fact. It is probably an insoluble problem, making Tullos an unlikely area for a forest.

  • The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 and the Code of Practice on Deer Management place a duty on anyone with deer on their land to manage them at sustainable level, whereby the population density is not causing significant damage to property, crops, woodlands, protected areas or creating welfare issues for the deer themselves through lack of food or habitat to rest up in, or causing safety issues for people.

It is voluntary code of practice we are talking about, and a contentious one at that. The above-referenced report says about the code:

“although not mandatory, [the code] incorporates the legal framework for deer management… The Code supports the voluntary approach…”  

The City Council really should stop maintaining that it is following the law, it is following a code. It’s funny, there seems no such zeal to follow codes on our air pollution levels, still failing to meet EU permissible levels for particulates for years and years. There is no such zeal when allowing class sizes to exceed government guidelines.

And yet, the deer cull guidelines are presented to councillors as if they are mandatory legal requirements which must be obeyed.

At Tullos the deer posed no threat of property damage. There were no crops, there was no woodland, only a meadow. There were no deer welfare issues, there were no safety issue for people. Any evidence to the contrary has not yet been presented to the public and a chance to scrutinise any that exists would be welcome.

In the absence of any evidence, and having proved that the Code of Practice is not binding law, and did not apply as there were no crops, no starving deer, etc. at Tullos, this is meaningless jargon and a general statement not relevant to the specifics of the low level of deer now left in the city and the small number on Tullos.

But now the City Council plays a trump card: it gets into deer vehicle collisions. The City Council says that in 2013/14

  • “the Aberdeen City Council Cleansing Teams collected 30 roe deer carcasses from the city’s road network that had been hit by vehicles and died at the roadside. …which will have caused damage to vehicles, distress to drivers and their passengers as well as suffering to the deer.”

There does not seem to be a single sign erected in the city to warn of deer crossing. And yet the City Council is aware of all of these crashes without taking any mitigating action – except to advocate deer shooting. I have campaigned for signs to be erected, as are used in many other areas.

The City Council’s response? They claim people don’t pay attention to signs.

As logic goes, this is quite a fail. If the City Council is aware of risks to Health and Safety, and decides not to use fencing, deer deterrents (there are devices which emit noises which repel deer) or to warn motorists of hazards, then that’s rather a damning indictment of how it handles public safety and how little the protection of animals, and thereby our biodiversity, means to them.

The media pros then get around to my statement that the trees are not thriving.

  • “In ACC’s professional opinion the trees are doing well. The site has been inspected by Forestry Commission Scotland as a part of the grant conditions and they are content with the growth of the trees”.

IMG_1495I suppose a layman’s photograph of tiny tree saplings planted amid rubbish, overshadowed by huge quantities of healthy weeds is a professional’s version of doing well.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

For some reason, no documentation from the City Council or Forestry Commission painting a glowing portrait of a thriving plantation was included with the FOI documents sent to me.

Since we wasted £43,800 of taxpayer money trying to plant trees on Tullos before, which were beset by weeds, no doubt the City Council asked the Forestry Commission for a comfort letter, agreeing that the trees are just fine and we’re in no danger of repeating our past failure.

I have noted that Glasgow at one point refused to cull its deer for this voluntary code. With a grandiose sweep of the pen, the person attempting to shoot down my arguments tells the councillors

  • “It is not Aberdeen City Council’s place to comment on Glasgow City Council deer management policies.”

It might not be necessary to comment on Glasgow, but it is rather useful to note that other Scottish authorities are treating the deer-culling guidelines as guidelines, and not legal requirements.

  • Finally, we get to the reports sent in to me about deer poaching. The City Council has gone on in most of its correspondence and reports to explain that deer need to be shot ‘because they have no natural predators’. .

“Given the number of deer legs found it is highly unlikely that they were taken from this site as they would have come from more deer than were known to be in the area at the time. This is the advice provided by Grampian Police Wildlife Crime Officers following their investigations. In respect of the poaching, there is no proof that the deer legs found on Tullos Hill were from deer taken on Tullos Hill or the surrounding area.”

Well, we might not have wolves in the hills, but we certainly have poachers.

An article on the scale of poaching and the money involved was in The Observer on 10th August, page 9. But the City Council has reverted to wild conjecture. Talboys had written in an email that he doubted anyone could find four deer to poach on Tullos: his theory, and the theory being put to councillors here is that the deer were poached elsewhere.

Let’s imagine the scene. Deer poachers hunt, trap and kill four deer. The poachers decide what to do next: they take the deer carcasses, all four of them, put them in their vehicle, drive somewhere close to Tullos and park. They then carry the dead deer to a spot on Tullos hill, all the while risking detection.

Then they cut the deer up, take the meat, and hide the legs and guts in a bush. Or, having cut the deer up already, apparently to ensure the meat doesn’t get contaminated, they then carry the legs and innards in their car to a parking area close to the hill, grab the sixteen legs and the internal organs, walk along the hill and hide the remains in the bushes.

I wonder what Inspector Morse would say.

We will have to wonder what Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Officer has to say as well. There has not been a single press release about deer poaching in our area.

So, dear councillors and readers, if you have made it this far into my comments on the City Council’s attempt to trash my arguments, thanks to those who continue to oppose this senseless slaughter. Thanks to those who have sent me the City Council’s rebuttal when it failed to do so. Would you do me three favours?

The first is to halt any deer culling until we have a better grasp of how many, or how few deer we have.

The second? Protect motorists and deer: let’s just see if putting up signs might help. You might want to ask yourself how thirty deer–related accidents stack up to the drink-related, speed-related fatalities on our roads, and how many hit-and-runs we have.

Thirdly, would someone like to please find out whether ranger Ian Talboys, who is such a staunch supporter of shooting the animals, gets any money or expenses for his role in the deer-culling lobbying entity, the “Lowland Deer Management Group?” This would be rather interesting to know.

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Jul 172014

Suzanne Kelly aka Old Susannah gets to grips with current events in the Granite City and wider world as Commonwealth Game fever hits the deen.

DictionaryTally ho! I’ve been doing a bit of travelling lately; I’ve even gone to places so remote that  the Scottish referendum vote isn’t the only subject of conversation. I was on a journalism course, and some very odd ideas were put to the students.

It was suggested that the news  has a responsibility to investigate and report on stories instead of pandering to advertisers and the wealthy. (No, I didn’t see anyone from Aberdeen Journals Ltd. there).

Like everyone else, I could barely contain my excitement when the Torch arrived in Aberdeen.

I saw a restaurateur on the day; he was extremely excited indeed, as the police and security in their wisdom blocked off the street his restaurant was on.

Of course there are a few minor things going on in the deen, like 33 year old Pauline Judge walking scot free from a jail term for distributing child porn images and reports of two girls having their drinks spiked in a local bar.

But no matter, everyone is looking with awe (or something more akin to shock) at the beautiful parade uniforms Scottish athletes will wear in the Commonwealth opening ceremony, is it possible that we should be paying more attention to other issues? Certainly not. However, here are a few definitions for your consideration.

Parade Uniforms: (English Compound Noun) costumes used for marches, displays, events to signify important traits such as nationality, importance, grandeur, pride.

As you’d expect, the main talking point of the week is the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Scotland kit.  It’s breathtaking and memorable while making a statement. Some would say it’s as breathtaking  as being punched in the gut. Visually striking? Unkind critics compare it to being ill on a chintz sofa after downing a bottle of mustard for a drunken bet.

As to this outfit  being  memorable;  well, I suppose a hernia operation  is memorable as well.  I for one think this makes a great statement, and I’m not alone in that. The other person who agrees with me is Jilli Blackwood, the designer who posed for the papers in an equally stylish, classic outfit.

In this all-inclusive age I think it’s wonderful that we’re giving national commissions to people who have no sense of colour.  Competing nations will quiver in fear as our men in blue floral big blouses and sickly mustard orange kilt socks parade. Yes, this tartan and floral mixture conveys the power, strength and winning spirit we want to demonstrate to the competition.

Commonwealth Games: (English Modern compound noun) Collection of sporting events held every 4 years between nations of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Old Susannah understands that some people will spend most of their lives trying to run, jump, skip, or play volleyball better than anyone else in the world. The only thing more wonderful than that is that there are people who will feverently hope the nationality of the world’s best is the same as their own nationality.

To some people this might look like nationalism. But we know it’s all good-natured fun, fun that must be taken very seriously indeed.

having Atos as the partner will let the world know that Atos are really a nice bunch of kind, gentle people

We’ve got the parade uniforms to show the world what we’re all about. I’m sure we’re all equally thrilled about this latest development in the happy progress of the Glasgow games. Sadly, there are a small number of petty people out there who would nit-pick the tiniest details.

Kevin McKenna of the Observer is one such mean-spirited soul:

 “..what a mess they have made of it so far. Events such as this seem to attract a specific strain of humanity: that which is happiest in a uniform, a name badge and making life as difficult as possible for those they are paid to serve. The controversy over the parade uniform is the least of it.

“These people seriously thought it desirable to blow up some of the city’s unlovely but iconic high-rise flats as the centrepiece of the opening ceremony. …despite having had years to prepare for the day, their bizarre ticket-issuing policy led to an online meltdown.

“Driving through one of Glasgow’s edgier neighbourhoods the other day, I encountered evidence of perhaps the most crass and ill-judged action of the Games organisers: the decision to accept Atos as one of the main partners for Glasgow 2014.

“Atos is the outsourcing conglomeration whose fit-for-work tests on behalf of the Tory-led Westminster administration would have been deemed to be unrealistic by the Spartans. …To witness Glasgow 2014 banners bearing the hated Atos logo hanging from lampposts in these streets is simply an insult to residents who have been treated so inhumanely by this shower of government-appointed bovver boys.

“Perhaps when the true extent of the emergency funding of Glasgow 2014 is revealed afterwards we will also get the chance to ask the organisers to justify this decision.”

I’m sure the idea to have an explosion at the opening ceremony was just a bid to make people from war-torn countries feel more at home. I’m equally sure that having Atos as the partner will let the world know that Atos are really a nice bunch of kind, gentle people, and not the barbaric, unscientific, dishonest, cruel, life-ruining profit-driven paperpushers that they might  be mistaken for.

Such a shame that people like McKenna think that these issues are more important than winning medals.

It would be very wrong indeed for anyone to point out that most Commonwealth Games to date have lost colossal amounts of money. If some few millions go missing here, or are spent on some over-inflated construction deals, it will be worth it if ATOS and Scotland’s partnership gets the recognition it deserves.

But the Commonwealth Games in modern times are far greater than an excuse for countries to come together to compete against each other. Just consider the money involved.

Commonwealth Games Values: (Modern English Compound Noun) – the principles and tenets espoused by the Glasgow 2014 Committee.

You have to hand it to them; here is the official mission and value statement from the Games’ website:

“Our mission is to organise and deliver the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in a way that fully realises the aspirations of the Glasgow Bid and the contractual obligations of the Host City Contract, on time and on budget.

“Our Vision is to stage an outstanding, athlete centred and sport focused Games of world-class competition which will be celebrated across the Commonwealth, generate enormous pride in Glasgow and Scotland, and leave a lasting legacy.”

“Our Values – Ours is an inclusive organisation which epitomises the values of integrity, responsibility and endeavour and in which all our people are valued. We will engage our Games partners in the spirit of trust and openness. We will be passionate in our work, and encourage flair and creativity in all that we do”

I have to conclude the bit about ‘integrity and responsibility’ don’t apply to Atos.  As to the bit about the budget, well, Game costs, and here’s where you start paying:

“The OC [organising committee I suppose] has revised its Games budget as a result of the revised security budget which was approved in December 2012.  As the Police Service of Scotland will now have jurisdiction over these resources – and the associated £90 million budget…” 

Yes, that security budget appears to be £90 million pounds. If all of Scotland’s 5 million people attended, the organisers would spend £18 on security for each person.  I’ll bet you feel safer already (and that’s before you get to my photos from the Torch’s arrival in Aberdeen).

If security is only costing us £90 million, then what are the rest of the games budgeted as costing?

“… the OC’s budget is revised.  It now stands at £473m, of which £372m is provided from public funds. £100m will be generated by the OC from commercial activities including ticketing, sponsorship and broadcast rights…” (Ibid.)

Old Susannah is not sure why the police budget is spelled out as £90 million, when in the same paragraph sums of money are shown with the small ‘m’.  Be that as it may, there is a little table showing that the Scottish Government is throwing in a mere £302,117,278 pounds and the city of Glasgow will put in a modest £69,568,337.

It does my heart good to know that those kids queueing up for food bank meals, the pensioners who will be cold this winter, and those workshy people with serious illnesses will be able to watch the Games, knowing it only cost in the region of £371,685,615 – or £441,253,952 in total, or £88 for every living Scottish resident to hold these games.

Bread and circuses – what more can we want? (And no, you can’t have your £88).

And while we’re on the subject of smart, unobtrusive security that doesn’t overwhelm events, let’s look back fondly on the day the torch came to the deen.

Commonwealth Torch: (Modern English Compound Noun) A piece of wood making its way, lit on fire, through Scotland to show the world the Commonwealth Games are about to commence.

UTG security wallThe Stone of Scone, the Royal Jewels… nothing can touch the security that surrounded the day our beloved Torch arrived in Aberdeen. You may not have actually seen the torch, but you would have seen the giant screen, the cordon around UTG of steel barriers.

You would also have seen the serpentine crowd barriers put up to the only entrance to UTG we were allowed to use, it could have held hundreds, but I never saw more than say 20 people in it at once.

Perhaps if they had let people sit down on chairs during the hours of exciting festivities, they would have had more people.

UTG event entry securityI will try and find out, but it’s likely the city will have paid for all the policing, security, crowd barriers and anti-personnel missiles used to make this the relaxed, social, fun event it was. More here, including helpful information for Aberdonians that the weather here can be changeable. The things you learn.

Closing Union Terrace itself was a stroke of genius; the police/security estimated this would be needed when the gardens reached over 3,000 visitors, and 10,000 people would come to watch the giant screen.

Funny,  none of the police seemed to want to comment, but some of the paid security were unfairly critical of the extent of the security used. Obviously we did not allow anyone to bring plastic folding chairs into UTG – a riot would clearly have ensued. Likewise no catering was involved, and obviously no pets could be brought to this highly prestigious, fun, family event.

I’m sure it was all planned perfectly, with just the right amount of inconspicuous security. Others might wonder whether this was an excuse to test what level of security the public will put up with, to see how far policing can go. Some might wonder whether this was a sad display of over-inflated ego and pomposity on the police’s part.

UTG security railingsWe must remember how important this event was, and using this level of security for a stick of wood, for a few people in silly looking kilts and the odd pole vaulter, then were do we go when we need heightened security for real?

Is the idea to make local governments spend this kind of money on security for events (however important or unimportant), thus creating new marketing opportunities for Rapiscan Sytems and their ilk? Are we going totalitarian? Answers in an encrypted email please.

Since ‘transparency’ is one of the goals of the organisers, no doubt they will answer my questions about money, uniforms and security any day now.

Until then, happy Commonwealth Games.

Next week:  Big brother is watching, and keeping data permanently – all in the name of merchandising. More on this Inspired level of snooping then.

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Jun 272014

A catering supply company based in Aberdeen has been fined £7,500 after a gas explosion in an Auchenblae hotel kitchen injured three people. With thanks to Kevin Burke.

670px-Gas_flameOn June 25th, Instant Catering Maintenance (ICM), of Aberdeen’s Union Street, pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 at a hearing at Aberdeen Sherriff Court.

The court heard that on January 7th 2009, at the Drumtochty Arms on Market Square, a customer, a barmaid and one of ICM’s workers were seriously injured after a gas leak in the hotel led to an explosion.

At the time of the incident, ICM had been hired by the hotel to design and fit a new kitchen on the ground floor. This kitchen was to contain three propane-burning appliances – a four-ring hob, a hotplate range and a freestanding chargrill.

Barmaid Danielle Ormond was working at the bar on the date of the explosion. A customer complained about their drink, so she went down to the cellar to look into the complaint.

ICM employee Neil Coffield was in the process of purging the gas system as Ms Ormond went through the kitchen, while customer James Guthrie was smoking a cigarette in the courtyard near the kitchen door. Ms Ormond reported that she smelled gas as she went through the kitchen.

The explosion then occurred, seriously injuring all three people.

The blast was so serious that part of the building immediately collapsed, preventing Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigators from entering the premises and leading Aberdeenshire Council to issue an emergency demolition order.

Later investigations revealed that ICM had created and fitted a steel manifold, which was used to transfer propane to gas appliances. This manifold had not been fitted to a facility that enabled the safe purging of gas systems – if it had been, the dangerous build-up of propane gas would not have occurred.

he had been told to check the system was working by lighting it

The HSE eventually recovered and examined the gas appliances, and found that the chargrill did not have a regulator fitted, and that the hob and hotplate’s regulators were set for natural gas instead of propane. Another ICM employee had attached these regulators.

Gas appliances must be fitted with regulators to ensure they have the right pressure, and propane-fuelled appliances must have a properly-converted regulator.

Mr Coffield said that he had noticed one of the appliances was missing a regulator and that he had been told to check the system was working by lighting it. He elected to purge the system to do so and removed the air from the pipe work in order to replace it with propane – an activity he was certified to do so and able to perform competently.

The system had not been fitted with an adequate purging point, however, and the pressure testing valve was therefore left open for longer than necessary. Mr Coffield had not been given a flare stack, and was unable to safely dissipate any gas he released. Instead, he opened the test port repeatedly while attempting to light the pilot light.

The court proceeded on the basis that ICM’s failings caused some of the gas in the hotel kitchen to be released, as Mr Coffield’s actions alone were not believed to account for the build-up of all the gas involved in the incident or the explosion.

Niall Miller, Principal Inspector for the HSE, called the incident both “very serious” and “entirely avoidable”.

He said the risks involved in purging LPG gas systems without the necessary equipment are “well-known”, and that industry guidance clearly states that flare stacks are required when workers are dealing with propane or any other gas that is heavier than air.

Furthermore, purging systems such as the one in the Drumtochty Arms should be performed by at least two people, the HSE inspector stated.

Contributed by Kevin Burke on behalf of  247 Home Rescue