Friday, March 30, 2012

Day of the Land

LAND DAY poster (1984) by Abdel Rahman Al Muzain

ON a day of protest which has seen clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem and several other places, the news of Israeli state and government plans and projects both justifies the protests and shows the issue at the heart of this conflict. Not religion, not the "clash of cultures", not irrational hatreds stirred up by "extremists", but the land itself and the right of people to live on, and cultivate it, as generations have done, and not become refugees.

March 30 is Yawm al Ard, the Day of the Land, commemorating the day in 1976 when six young Palestinians were gunned down by Israeli forces sent to crush protests against expropriation of Arab land in the north of the country for Jewish-only towns and settlements.

This day has been remembered ever since, but has not just become history. The issue remains topical, as shown by the housing grabs and evictions steadfastly resisted in Jerusalem, and the harassment and 'ethnic cleansing' of Bedouin, but also by the completion of Israel's so-called security fence which effectively annexes Palestinian land. With this comes news of military plans earmarking ten per cent of the West Bank for more settlements.

"The state has argued before the Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the route of the separation barrier was based on Israel’s security needs. But Civil Administration’s maps and figures, disclosed here for the first time, suggest the barrier route was planned in accordance with the available land in the West Bank, intended to increase the area and population of the settlements.

A total of 569 parcels of land were marked out, encompassing around 620,000 dunams ‏(around 155,000 acres‏) − about 10 percent of the total area of the West Bank. Since the late 1990s, 23 of the unauthorized outposts were built on land included in the map. The Civil Administration is endeavoring to legalize some of these outposts, including Shvut Rahel, Rehelim and Hayovel.

Etkes believes this indicates the settlers who built the outposts had access to the administration’s research on available land ..."

This is the continuation of an ongoing process.

The victims back in 1976 were Palestians who lived not in the occupied territories but within the State of Israel, of which they were citizens. Military Government in Israel's Arab areas had come to an end, but not the inequality of Arab citizens, their liability to be told where they could not work or live, and the likelihood of state forces opening fire on those who protest or resist.

There are today over 1.6 million of these Israeli Arabs, or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, 20.5 per cent of the population, Land Day victims were not Palestinians from the occupied territories, but citizens of the state, a group that now numbers over 1.6 million people, or 20.5 percent of the population. They can vote, and be elected to the knesset, and may be largely better off than those under occupation. But any pretence that they can expect equal rights as citizens is belied when the Israeli government and its backers insist as a condition for peace on not just ordinary recognition, but recognition as a "Jewish and democratic" state.

What happened 36 years ago was that responding to Israel’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes,” a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev. The night before, the government imposed a curfew, effective from 5pm on March 29, 1976, on the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra and Kabul, in the Western Galilee.

The mayor of Nazareth, Tewfik Zayyad, a leading figure in the Communist Party, led the call for a general strike. The government declared all demonstrations illegal and threatened to fire 'agitators', such as schoolteachers who encouraged their students to participate, from their jobs. The threats were not effective, however, and many teachers led their students out of the classrooms to join the general strike and marches that took place. There were solidarity strikes and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza, and in the refugee camps in Lebanon.

About 4,000 policemen, including a helicopter-borne tactial unit and army units, were deployed in the Galilee. Armoured vehicles and tanks were sent into villages. That day six young Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed either by troops and police, about 100 wounded, and hundreds arrested.

The month following the killings, an internal government report, written by senior Interior Ministry official Yisrael Koenig, was leaked to the press. The 'Koenig Memorandum' offered recommendations intended to “ensure the [country’s] long-term Jewish national interests.” These included “the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations.” The aim was clearly to weaken the position of Palestinians and "Judaise" the Galilee.

This proceeded despite the protests, and not only farming land but Arab-owned marble quarries were taken up by expanding "development towns" like Upper Nazareth and Carmiel, in which Arabs - even Druze who serve in the Israeli armed forces -would find it hard to rent a flat or pursue a job. When I visited the area in 1986 I saw evidence of Bedouin homes up in the mountains being destroyed in an effort to move them on, though recent Zionist reports claim the Galilee Bedouin are regarded as loyal to the state.

Some towns have recently been trying to impose an oath of loyalty to Zionism and the State as a condition of residence, apparently spurred on after a couple from Sakhnin -scene of some of the 1976 shootings - attempted to move into a nearby town.

But the western Galilee, originally allocated to a Palestinian state in the 1947 UN partition plan - retains a large Palestinian population. Land Day is a gesture not just to those who uphold the principle of a Right to Return, but a tribute to those who have clung steadfastly to their right to remain in their land.

Labels: ,

Pan Am 103: A friend comments and makes some helpful corrections

In response to my previous posting about questions being raised over hidden evidence on Pan Am 103 and the Lockerbie disaster, a friend writes:

Interest in this case even at this late stage from anyone the left is
welcome: many thanks for your piece. The campaign fell instead to
politically moderate folk with a sense of justice and remarkable
staying power. Jim Swire has been inspirational; Christine Graham,
one of very few MSPs of merit, has been raising the issue for years;
Paul Foot wrote a Private Eye pamphlet in 2001. And so on. Whatever,
there are small but significant errors in your piece.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up by a remotely detonated bomb . . .
The detonator was not activated remotely but by a timer concealed in
a radio-cassette. Timers play a critical role in the story.

. . . alleging a Syrian-based group had arranged the bombing as a
gift to Iran.

Not just allegations but a strong case with Europe-wide police
investigations reaching an advanced stage. A good book (Lockerbie
- The Real Story
by David Johnston, 1989) detailing the case
against the Syrian-backed PFLP-GC doesn't even mention Libya.

As Libyan leader Gaddafi sought better relations with the West he
was persuaded to let Al-Megrahi face trial in a Scottish court . . .

This is too simple. In the context of the sanctions crippling Libya's
economy, "sought better relations with the West" reads a bit like an
apology for the blockade.

Those who persuaded the regime to reconsider included Nelson Mandela and Scottish legal academic Robert Black QC. (Mandela was well disposed to Libya because of Gadaffi's
long-term material support for the anti-apartheid fight.) The two argued that fears that the accused would never get a fair trial in Britain might be answered by holding a trial elsewhere.

The US in particular wanted not a trial (given the poor evidence, it
might well have found the men innocent) but Gadaffi's head on a
block. Happy to help, senior pro-Labour law officers argued that
Scottish law explicitly prohibited a trail outwith Scotland. Black
showed that to be absurd. But al-Megrahi is adamant that the final
decision to stand trial was taken by the two accused, convinced as
they were that they would be cleared.

The trial being, in the event, a farce, Black and others have worked
honourably ever since to expose that. Mandela, to his great credit,
visited Megrahi in HMP Barlinnie a few years ago - few long-retired
elder statesmen would travel to a dump like Barlinnie to pledge
support for a pariah like al-Megrahi who, by the way, was not an
intelligence operative but a small-time sanctions buster, more Arthur
Dailey than spook.

Lockerbie bombing victims' relatives called for a public inquiry.
Some relatives have also campaigned tirelessly for an inquiry ever
since the trial.

the official report released in Scotland . . .
The SCCRC report was NOT released, it was leaked to The Herald. The
Scottish pretendy-government and Westminster played the blame game as
to who suppressed what but both were happy to keep it hidden even if
His Royal 'Eckness Prince Alec of Salmond has since huffed and puffed
about "justice being served". Aye, right.

Blair had been happy to seek a deal with Gadaffi by misusing that
rather odd Anglo-Libyan "Prisoner Transfer Agreement" as lubricant
but the PTA did not apply in Scotland. The decision to release
al-Megrahi was taken by Scottish Injustice Minister Kenny MacAskill
who seemed to hope he would quietly pop off within weeks as any good
wog should. (al-Megrahi would have died pretty much on cue given the
standard of palliative care to be had in HMP Greenock. To the
disappointment of many, he hasn't.)

MacAskill is one of that fearsome breed, Edinburgh lawyers, compared
to whom Freemasons with Vatican connections are as lambs. If it takes
controversy to cover for chums in a scandal, so be it. Duty calls.
The notion of Holyrood / Westminster collusion is advanced only by
those who do not understand just how much the Nats hate McLabour (and
vice versa) and do so as only those without substantive disagreements can.

I'd never argue that the bombing and proxy invasion to depose Gadaffi
was driven primarily by a need to cover up the Lockerbie scandal but
it seemed to be an added attraction given the zeal with which the US
and the Brits have since pressed for evidence-cooking by what passes
for a Libyan government.

showing that Megrahi had admitted regular visits to Malta to see a
woman friend . . .

Ashton's book confirms that al-Megrahi did have a lover in Malta.
What is sick about the story is that BBC hack Reevel Alderson was
given sight of critical documents on condition that he did not report
the dalliances as doing so would reveal the leak's source. It seems
that's just what the little shit did:

BTW, al-Megrahi reportedly used secret passports to visit his lover
in Malta but not to travel there to blow up Pan Am 103. An oversight, perhaps?

David Bruce

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Still Waiting for Justice for Jerry

JEREMIAH DUGGAN. A most unlikely "suicide".

IN case anyone thought we missed it, yesterday was the ninth anniversary of a most suspicious death in Germany. It was a week after the war on Iraq started, thousands of people were being killed, and here in London on March 22 hundreds of thousands of us took part in the second big Stop the War demonstration.

Like lots of other young people, Jeremiah Duggan wanted to do something about the war. The 22-year old from London was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and there he bought a paper called Nouvel Solidarite from an older man outside the university. When they discussed the looming war the man told him about an international youth conference against the war, being called by the Schiller Institute, in Wiesbaden.

Jeremiah was not to know that both the leftie-looking Nouvel Solidarite and the intellectually respectable-sounding Schiller Institute are linked to a man called Lyndon LaRouche, notorious in the United States, where he served time for fraud but has also been a promiscuous would-be presidential candidate. LaRouche, also known as Lyn Marcus, emerged from the "far Left" in the 1960s, but developed a cult following and reputation for organised violence against genuine left-wing parties that led to his being re-classified as a new kind of rightist.

Extending his operations to Europe, LaRouche seems to have acquired resources, producing a magazine called Executive Intelligence Review, along with an interesting line in conspiracy theory, in which beside the usual suspects like Jews there appear the Brits, with institutions from the Royal Family to the Tavistock Clinic in London engaged in doing down America.

Jeremiah must have found the conference interesting enough, and was taking full part, but he was troubled by the way some delegates seemed to be blaming the war on Jews. According to eye witnesses he rose up at one point to say "But I'm a Jew!"

Then in the early hours of March 27 he phoned his mother to say he was terrified and wanted to get out. A few hours later his body was found by a motorway on the outskirts of town. According to the evidence accepted by German police he had dashed out onto the motorway, deliberately hurling himself in the path of vehicles. They ruled it was suicide.

Jeremiah's mother, Erica Duggan, has never accepted this, and in November 2003 a north London coroner rejected the verdict, after hearing about his frightened 'phone call home, and testimony from the Metropolitan Police that the LaRouche movement was a "political cult with sinister and dangerous connections".

While the Duggan family continued to seek the truth about what happened to Jeremiah, the LaRouche organisation has been intent on maintaining the suicide theory, claiming it was nothing to do with them, and rubbishing the family. They claimed the young man was on drugs, and said his parents had attended the Tavistock Institute for counselling. They even suggested the whole affair has been got up by Tony Blair and government ministers as a diversion from the war and the death of Dr.David Kelly in suspicious circumstances.

At this rate one wonders whether they are saying Jeremiah Duggan was not a mere suicide, but a dedicated kamikaze raider sent to Wiesbaden to attack the traffic and discredit the Schiller Institute.

Meanwhile investigaters employed by the Duggans found that the police in Hesse had not really examined the vehicles which supposedly hit Jeremiah, nor taken statements from the drivers. Besides his head injuries, the young man's arms showed defensive injuries such as might be sustained by someone trying to shield their head from a kicking, rather than bouncing off a vehicle. There was also wet sand on his jeans which was not found on the motorway. Had he been taken somewhere else, like a builder's yard say, before his body was dumped out on the motorway?

In 2010, after a prolonged legal battle, Lord Justice Elias in the High Court granted Jeremiah's mother Erica a new inquest, and said that fresh evidence showed that Jeremiah's death may have occurred elsewhere and the accident was "stage managed" to look like a road accident.In June that year an inquest was officially opened at Barnet Coroners' Court and immediately adjourned after the coroner ordered that the new material should be given to the police, with the request that they take up enquiries. But the months went by with no sign that anything was being done.

"The police are reviewing the files but they need to go to Germany to find the answers to questions which have been tormenting us, " Erica Duggan told the Jewish Chronicle on December 2 2010. "If the police won't help us then not only have I been obstructed in Germany but I have also been let down by my own country. I think the British police are dragging their heels".

At a second inquest hearing on September 14 last year the coroner said the police had reported nothing new and the inquiries would need to be pursued by other means. The Duggan family understandably felt let down again.

Far from being encouraged to pursue her case by the British authorities, Erica Duggan complains that she has had no help whatsoever from the Foreign Office. The Duggan family and friends have also been concerned that the German police and authorities in the state of Hesse seemed to readily accept the Schiller Institute's version of events. They wonder what sort of influence the LaRouche organisation has that provide it with respectability or even protection in Germany.

Nevertheless they have continued trying to get the case reopened there. On February 22, 2012 the Wiesbaden, Hessen Senior Prosecutor declared in a legal document sent to the lawyers Saya Kaya and Christiona Noll representing Erica Duggan that the LaRouche organization is a sect and that it is known to use psychological methods. On March 7, Erica Duggan travelled to Germany where her lawyers advised "this is a break-through and it is to be hoped that this will lead to a greater effort to investigate thoroughly the unexplained death of Jeremiah Duggan."

In March 1986 Swedish police arrested Victor Gunnarsson, a former member of LaRouche's organisation, as a suspect in the assassination of Olof Palme. Gunnarsson was released, but later in turn murdered in 1993 in North Carolina by former police officer Lamont C. Underwood. Although there have been various theories and culprits found for Olof Palme's murder, no one has ever been brought to justice for it.

We don't know whether anyone will ever face justice, or even whether we will be told the truth about what happened to Jeremiah Duggan that night and early morning in Wiesbaden. Nine years have gone by and his death has still not been properly investigated.

There are many of us who, at Jeremiah Duggan's age, might have been attracted to what seemed a worthwhile cause and international event, and could just as easily have found we had stepped into something more frightening. Until the truth is known we can only wish strength to Jeremiah's mother Erica and the rest of his family and friends, and make sure his case is not forgotten.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pan Am 103: More Questions About Concealed Evidence
AUGUST 29, 2009, a week after Megrahi was released on health grounds, having dropped his appeal.
NOW more truth is coming out, and more questions are being asked.

A MEMBER of the Scottish parliament has demanded that the Crown Office, which is responsible for prosecutions in Scotland, explain why it "witheld crucial evidence" in the case of Pan Am 103, the Lockerbie bombing.

Nationalist MSP Christine Grahame, chair of the parliament's Justice committee, asked for an explanation after the publication of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's report, giving the reasons why it concluded a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Libyan who was the only person convicted for the 1988 bombing.

The previously secret report from the SCCRC was published at the weekend by the Sunday Herald in Glasgow. In its 800 pages it reveals that the withholding of several pieces of evidence led to al-Megrahi's case being referred to appeal. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission said the trial could have had a different outcome if the evidence had been available to the defense at trial.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up by a remotely detonated bomb as it flew over Scotland on December 21, 1988. All 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed and sections of the plane came down on Lockerbie, destroying homes and bringing the total death toll to 270.

There were reports alleging a Syrian-based group had arranged the bombing as a gift to Iran, in reprisal for the destruction of an Iranian A300 airbus on July 3, 1988 by missiles from the USS Vincennes. All 290 passengers and crew on the Iranian plane were killed, making it one of the worst ever aviation disasters. The American explanation was that the airbus, which was on its normal flight path, had been mistaken for a much smaller F14 fighter plane. The captain of the Vincennes was decorated.

With Syria's co-operation needed for the war on Iraq, US and British governments may have found the explanation of Libyan guilt for Lockerbie more convenient. At any rate, as Libyan leader Gaddafi sought better relations with the West he was persuaded to let Al-Megrahi face trial in a Scottish court, specially convened in Holland. The Libyan was convicted of murder, conspiracy to murder and violation of the Aviation Security Act in 2001, and had an unsuccessful appeal shortly after. He was due to launch another appeal, with fresh evidence, but was released on compassionate grounds in August 2009 because he was expected to succumb to terminal prostate cancer within three months. Al-Megrahi now lives in Tripoli.

There were protests from the United States, and accusations supported here that the release was linked to an oil deal. The British government insisted it was an entirely Scottish decision. But another suggestion made is that the British and American governments covertly favoured the health decision rather than face embarassment if a new appeal was successful.

In Scotland last month Lockerbie bombing victims' relatives called for a public inquiry into allegations that "vital" evidence about the bombing was suppressed. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was among 270 people killed in the bombing, said the withheld evidence raised profound doubts about the conviction of Al Megrahi.

Documents given to Megrahi's defence lawyers a month before he dropped his appeal show that government scientists had found significant differences between a bomb timer fragment allegedly found after the attack and the type supplied to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's former regime, Swire said.

A new account of the bombing and Megrahi's conviction, Megrahi: You Are My Jury, published in Edinburgh on Monday, alleges that the Crown Office, the police and Ministry of Defence scientists failed to disclose numerous pieces of evidence that damaged their case against the Libyan. Speaking at the book's launch with John Moseley, a fellow campaigner, Swire, chairman of UK Families Flight 103, said there were "mountains of evidence that doesn't seem to be right and that needs to be examined".

Read more:

The BBC seemed to prefer focusing on "previously secret evidence" its reporter had seen showing that Megrahi had admitted regular visits to Malta to see a woman friend, or as it quaintly put it, "mistress", which it claimed would strengthen the evidence for his prosecution. It did not say who had shown it this evidence. During the trial a Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci said he recognised Al Megrahi as the man to whom he had sold clothes which were found in a suitcase with the bomb on the Pan Am airliner. Lockerbie bomber Megrahi 'visited Malta for sex', by Reevel Anderson, March 5.

But this revelation is likely to be eclipsed now by the official report released in Scotland and the questions that are being raised.

See earlier allegation concerning why al Megrahi dropped his appeal:,_says_Pilger.html

The Crown Office, which is headed by Her Majesty's Lord Advocate, assisted by the Solicitor General for Scotland, is responsible for criminal prosecutions.

Among the issues dealt with in the SCCRC report is a claim that material vital to the defence was not disclosed to them by the Crown Office. The material relates to cables provided by the CIA in connection with key Crown witness Abdul Majid Giaka, who it was later disclosed was salaried by the CIA.

"There are allegations in the report that the Crown Office withheld crucial evidence that might have been substantive evidence to assist the defence Where we have an allegation, I would wish the Crown to be able to establish that this is unfounded," says Christine Grahame MSP.


Meanwhile the Newsnet Scotland website reported:

"The reason the Lord Advocate had no control over the documents was that [Crown Agent] Norman McFadyen had signed a non-disclosure agreement before viewing them.

"According to Mr Ashton, the Crown had “secretly, ceded to the CIA the right to determine what information should, or should not, be disclosed in a Scottish Court”."

In 2009 McFadyen was reported to Lothian and Borders police by Mrs Grahame amidst concerns over his transporting of material evidence to the USA. He was appointed a Sheriff in 2010.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bullingdon Boris and Schools Bully Gove

HEARING that Boris Johnson was blaming bad schools for the London riots, I dreaded to think what the Mayor of London had in mind for taming the nation's youngsters early in life. At my own primary school, back in what some doubtless consider the good old days of inflicting pain on kids, the head was a cruel tyrant and the strap omnipresent.

Hence we learned that authority was the enemy, that since you were likely to get punished anyway you might as well have the pleasure of doing something to deserve it, if you could; and that violence was no way to achieve things unless you were bigger and better armed than your victims, not to mention having the backing of the state. Not a bad guide I suppose, though I've not always managed to stick by it.

But reading on it seems to be fair, Boris the Old Etonian toff was not recommending more beltings, but arguing that if we had a better start in life, particularly with the three 'R's, we might stand more chance of getting a job and be less inclined then to riot and rob. Pity the news today is of a millionaire's daughter, by luck called Johnson, who was caught up in the riots, or more exactly, driving some low-life ex-boyfriend and his mates around robbing people at knifepoint, though in mitigation she had met him at a mental health clinic and says she was driving under duress.

What worries me though is that the Mayor, who could perhaps blame his own youthful misdemeanours on falling into bad company at Oxford with the Bullingdon Club, rather than Primrose Hill Primary or even Eton, was offering his ideas on education not just the way one does over a pint when the young are in the news, but suggesting he could put things right by taking power over schools.

I don't know what Johnson's qualifications as an educationalist are. His arithmetic is a little suspect. Proud of his campaigning for a reduction of top rate tax on the rich, he is less willing to connect this with the higher tax on pensioners, saying "It's not my blooming budget".

I suspect the reason Boris Johnson got his job was partly that many Londoners were fed up with Livingstone and Labour, partly that seeing the job of mayor as showman, a lot of people felt Boris was good for a laugh in these troubled times, and might be trusted in a job which did not seem to have real powers and if it does no good, cannot do serious harm either.

But that's a mistake. Having talked about bringing back guards and conductors, but gone for unmanned stations and now promising trains without drivers, Johnson is expanding his sights to education. Who will stop him?

There might be a case for centralising London schools back from the boroughs to something like the Inner London Education Authority which succeeded the London County Council. I've no personal experience of education in London but I remember when young meeting contemporaries and being impressed by the range of activities they could do at school because of shared resources. I also know some London comprehensives developed specialities and drew gifted pupils from a wide area.

But though the authorities had leadership they were committees, based on democratic bodies, not celebrities with gimmicks.

Can the Con Dem coalition be trusted with local democracy, or accountability, when they are pushing academies which take education away from elected local government and into the hands of religious outfits or business? Is the promise that parents can run their own "free schools" worth any more than Andrew Lansley's pretence that GP can control the Health Service?

We have seen Education Secretary Michael Gove sending out King James Bibles with his own introduction to schools, and laying down the law about which cultural events they can attend, and the other week he invoked special powers to sack a London school's governors, against the parents' wishes, and force it to become a business-linked academy whether people like it or not.

Gove issued a compulsory Academy Order, and drafted in an "interim executive board" to run Downhills Primary School in Haringey, north London. The board includes two people from the government's preferred academy sponsor, the Harris Federation, set-up by carpet king Lord Harris of Peckham, a "great friend" of the Prime Minister .

"The board is charged with raising standards and will consult on whether the Academy conversion, with Harris as sponsor, should take place. But Downhills looks almost certain to become the 14th Harris academy after the Coalition used swingeing powers, introduced by Labour, on Thursday".

Ironically it was Harris' carpet shop in Tottenham, Haringey, that went up in flames during the summer riots last year, though the incendiarists are unlikely to have realised the special significance the owner would have for their borough.

Soon after Gove's announcement Lord Harris, chairman of Carpetright, was presented with an outstanding achievement to retail award by David Cameron. Speaking by video link from the United States, Cameron said: "For a long time Lord Harris has been a great supporter and a great friend to me. He's also been a hugely successful retailer with Carpetright, one of the heroes of our economy and of society too.

"The children [at Harris schools] are well behaved, the teachers have authority, there's ambition and high expectation, so much of that can be traced back to the passion of one man.".

Last month Gove denounced protesting protesting parents as "Trots". It is the fourth time the Coalition has used its powers to replace school leaders, for all its talk of encouraging local control.

Last month Downhills' head teacher Leslie Church resigned, despite full backing by the governors and parents, after the school was placed in special measures by Ofsted inspectors, despite signs of improved results.

Haringey council, who will lose control of the school, said the DfE had consistently failed to demonstrate how academy status would lead to improvements in primary schools. "Becoming an academy is ultimately a decision for the school following proper consultation with parents who need to be convinced it is the right solution and not simply told it is. Haringey's primary schools are improving at a faster rate than the country as a whole," it added.

A DfE spokesman said: "Ofsted has found that the school is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and that those responsible for leading, managing and governing the school do not have the capacity to secure the necessary improvement."

Although I've never worked in teaching, a teacher friend in north London was telling me a few years ago about the turmoil at his school as staff uncovered strange practices with the school roll and found the head had set up a business on the side for which the school secretary had been pressured to do work. Just when it was all about to blow the head took off for a higher paid job - with Ofsted. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

But that is by the way, as is the point noted above that Gove and his government are using powers introduced by Labour. All three parties have gone for the Academies idea when the leaders saw a chance of teaming up with friends in big business, and we have not forgotten how Tony Blair enthused over creationists running schools as long as their results looked good. It is after all the Private Finance Initiatives, a Tory idea that Gordon Brown took up, which have given us private profit and public debt and cuts in the NHS before Andrew Lansley's bill even gets started.

The point is this government is using whatever powers it can to impose its will and treating ordinary people with contempt as it transfers power and resources from public to private. If we stick to the old rules and wait we might wake up and find the bodies we elect no longer have much say in anything.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Dishonourable Member for Rotherham exploits Toulouse tragedy and distorts union policies

IN October 2010 the Parliamentary Labour Party suspended former Europe Minister Denis MacShane from the whip while he was under criminal investigation over his expenses claims.

Writing in this week's Jewish Chronicle, under the headline Tragedy in Toulouse shows Jew-hatred is alive and well, MacShane lumps the gunman Mohammad Merah's deluded grievances together with Islamism and antisemitism, and with any opposition to the State of Israel and Zionism.

Whatever creative imagination the MP for Rotherham exercised in claiming for his garage as a constituency office is nothing to the way he smears opponents, particularly those in the unions that sustain his party.

First he finds what should be an easy target. Ahmadinejad. Only in so doing, he not only picks on one of the Iranian ruler's more reasonable statements, but proceeds to rationalise the actions of the Toulouse gunman:

'This week, President Ahmadinejad returned to one of his favorite themes when he told German channel ZDF that Israeli statehood "was a colonialist plan that resulted from a lie". It is this language that justifies the atrocity in Toulouse, along with the earlier killings of two Muslim French soldiers, apparently on the grounds that France fights in Afghanistan'.
Justifies? The view of Zionism as a colonialist enterprise deriving its ideology from myth is a perfectly respectable historical approach, which many including Israeli writers have accepted in retrospect. Most recently Shlomo Sand, Professor of History at Tel Aviv university, published "The Invention of the Jewish People "( Hebrew: מתי ואיך הומצא העם היהודי?‎, Matai ve’ech humtza ha’am hayehudi?, literally When and How was the Jewish People Invented?). It was in the best-seller list in Israel for nineteen weeks, and reprinted three times when published in French (Comment le peuple juif fut inventé, Fayard, Paris, 2008). Uri Avnery, who fought in the 1948 'War of Independence' and did not disavow his Zionism though he became a peacenik, entitled a historical chapter in his book "Tolstoy meets Cecil Rhodes", to show how utopian idealism became entwined with colonialism. Nowadays with armed Jewish settlers stalking the West Bank and seizing resources it is hard to see beyond the crude colonialism.

Such an analysis may be open to criticism. But nobody -apart perhaps from the dead gunman in Toulouse, and it seems, the Labour MP for Rotherham, - suggests that accepting the viewpoint justifies killing small children outside a school in France, or anywhere else for that matter. Even in Iran, where Ahmadinejad has said and done much worse things, the estimated 25,000-strong Jewish community does not show signs of feeling threatened by them.

But mentioning the Iranian leader is only an appetiser, before MacShane - a onetime leader of the National Union of Journalists and later, policy director of the International Metalworkers Federation, moves on to attacking targets closer to home.

"There is little media or political concern when the National Union of Journalists or the University and College Union back boycotts of Jewish journalists or Israeli academics. The NUJ or UCU would never dream of boycotting Saudi Arabia or China, where human rights and core freedoms are ruthlessly suppressed. But when it comes to Jews in Israel, the double-standard of contemporary antisemitism prevails".

In fact, unions adopting boycott motions have come under a lot of fire. But there is a good reason why the unions concerned were not attacked for taking decisions such as MacShane describes. It is because such decisions were never taken.

The academic boycott, as we've pointed out before, has been aimed not at individuals but institutions accused of colluding in their government's oppressive policies. Some of those who have campaigned for it happen to be Israeli academics! But the boycott is at the behest of Palestinians who are at the receiving end of those policies, and whose own instutions are often under siege by the occupation's tanks and guns - much more effective than any leafletting pickets for a boycott! What's more, all the UCU did was agree to bring the issue to the attention of its members.

If there were similar calls from rights campaigners or trade unions in China or Saudi or anywhere else the unions here would undoubtedly consider them, just as we supported a boycott of South Africa, without so far as I am aware Denis McShane complaining.

The National Union of Journalists was never asked to back a boycott of Jewish journalists. What it did, in the wake of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and continuing blockade was to support a motion for a consumer boycott of Israeli goods, and submit this as an opinion to the TUC. To counter ill-informed or mischievous criticism afterwards the union's executive issued a statement making clear that it was continuing to engage with both Palestinian and Israeli journalists' unions, and would not countenance any antisemitism. That should be clear enough even for Denis MacShane, former president of the NUJ and member of the Privy Council, to understand.

Not long ago I ran into Jim Boumelha, of the International Union of Journalists, at a meeting on human rights in the Philippines, where he was taking careful note of the situation and discussing what could be done. Last week I was at two meetings addressed by Bangladeshi trade unionists, the second one in Congress House with the Southern and Eastern Region TUC international committee. They spoke about the sweatshop conditions of cheap labour which produced goods sold at big profit in our Western stores. But while they want us to put pressure on the big name buyers, they advised against a boycott which would misfire hitting jobs and worsen their conditions.

In each case then a tactical decision that has to be taken in consultation with those involved at the sharp end, and nothing to do with any "double standards" or prejudices, as Denis MacShane pretends.

There are arguments to be had about the boycott tactic as applied to Israel, and how far it is effective or justified. But there is little point discussing tactics with someone like Denis McShane, who cannot stick to the truth about his old union, and has chosen his side.

A prominent member of the Labour Friends of Israel, MacShane has also signed up to the Henry Jackson Society , advocating the spread of what they call liberal democracy across the world, including by military intervention. The society also supports "European military modernisation and integration under British leadership". He was naturally a keen supporter of Tony Blair's foreign policy. including the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which has left such a fine legacy of democracy as testified by ruined cities, religious dominance, death squads and thousands of refugees.

Also in 2003 MacShane criticised the Muslim community, saying it did not do enough to condemn acts of terrorism. The MP demanded that Muslim community leaders choose between "the British way" of democracy and Islamic terror. Recalling how antisemites incited anti-Jewish hostility on the back of terror in Palestine in the 1940s, the Jewish Socialists' Group condemned the notion of collective responsibility implicit in this ultimatum, as well as the onus placed on minorities to prove their suitability for "the British way".

MacShane was chair of the inquiry panel of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism, which reported in September 2006, claiming Islamicists and pro-Palestinian campaigners had contributed to rising antisemitism on campuses, and condemning the UCU for allegedly interfering with academic freedom as well creating difficulties for Jes by its boycott policy. Hee was an advisory board member of the now defunct Just Journalism, a pro-Israeli media advocacy group which shared an office with the Henry Jackson Society (HJS).

During the 2009 expenses scandal the Daily Mail featured a story stating that MacShane had claimed £125,000 over a period of 7 years for his garage, which he used as a constituency office. One fellow Labour MP privately told the journalist that he was ‘very surprised’ at the scale of Mr MacShane’s claims given that he does not have to pay to rent an office.

In total, MacShane was ordered to repay £1,507.73 in wrongfully claimed expenses, with his appeals against the ruling being rejected. In addition, MacShane is alleged to have passed twelve invoices from the "European Policy Institute" for "research and translation" expenses to the parliamentary authorities, and claimed for eight laptop computers in three years. A number of newspapers stated that the EPI was "controlled" by MacShane's brother, Edmund Matyjaszek, a claim which MacShane denied: "The EPI was set up 20 years ago by a network of people on the Left working in Europe and the US...Ed is my Brother, but simply administrates it."

On October 14, 2010 Labour decided to suspend Denis McShane from the whip after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards had referred an expenses-related complaint about him to the Metropolitan Police. In June 2011 The Daily Telegraph highlighted further discrepancies in MacShane's expenses which had been uncovered by former independent candidate Peter Thirlwall. As a result he held an emergency meeting with House of Commons officials and agreed to repay a further £3,051.38.

MacShane had previously written an article for The Guardian in which he quoted Macaulay ridiculing the British public in its "fits of morality", and tried to play down the expenses scandal: "There will come a moment when moats and manure, bath plugs and tampons will be seen as a wonderful moment of British fiddling, but more on a Dad's Army scale than the real corruption of politics."

The Rotherham MP referred to big business interests buying influence by awarding directorships and other rewards to media stars. Maybe he was right. Or maybe it was sour grapes.

But there is another issue which ought to exercise the Labour Party as much as dishonest expense claims. That is an MP elected by working people as a Labour man, using his position to slag off our unions and distort their oppositions to an oppressive regime. An MP exploiting a tragedy like that in Toulouse, to falsely accuse the union he once led of racialism, and smear legitimate solidarity with the Palestinians by associating it with murder and terrorism.

The people of Rotherham surely deserve better? And if Labour is not prepared to remove the disgusting Denis McShane, I hope trade unionists and socialists will make it their business to send him packing and into obscurity.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 23, 2012

Victims and Vultures in Toulouse

BEFORE and even after the victims of the Toulouse gunman were buried, the political vultures had gathered and fought each other over their remains. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his sons Aryeh(4) and Gavriel (5) were murdered at the Ozer Hatorah school on Monday, along with eight -year-old Miriam Monsonego.

The bullets came from the same gun used to kill three soldiers in Toulouse and Montauban, and because two of them were Muslims and the third of Afro-Caribbean origin it was widely assumed the killer must be a white French racist at first.

Instead the suspect was identified as Mohammed Merah, a 22 year old French Muslim, who reportedly claimed links to Al Qaida. Whether that organisation really exists, or not (as some people claim), it seemed to have lowered its sights a bit from high prestige buildings and spectacular targets to individual soldiers and small children at the nearest school. Merah said he killed the soldiers as a protest against France's involvment in the war in Afghanistan, and the Jewish children in "retaliation" for the deaths of Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli forces in Gaza.

The logic of a racist does not change much either side.

As police besieged the gunman's flat, officials said they wanted to bring him out alive. On Wednesday, speaking to negotiators through a walkie-talkie, Merah had promised to surrender. Then it seems the unemployed panel-beater, who grew up on a Toulouse housing estate and had resented a prison term for robbery in his youth, said he did not want to end his days in jail. He told police if he went down in gunfire he would "go to paradise" and if police died, "so what?" He said his only regret was he had not got to kill more people.

When two explosions in the night took out doors and windows it was rumoured police had gone in SAS-style and taken him out. But yesterday it was Merah who burst out firing, and wounded five police before he was gunned down.

After arguing about the background and responsibility for the killings, whether it was right-wing leaders like Sarkozy and Marina le Pen competing to generate an atmosphere of hatred, or yet another atrocity attributable to fanatical Islam, the politicians, press and pundits have been speculating who will benefit in an election period.

Eva Sandler, whose husband Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and sons Aryeh and Gavriel were murdered at the Ozer Hatorah school along with eight -year-old Miriam Monsonego, had a quieter as well as more genuine message. In a statement published on the Chabad website, she said: "There are no ways for me to be able to express the great and all-consuming pain… May no-one ever have to endure such pain and suffering."

But she added: "The spirit of the Jewish people can never be extinguished. To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let's continue their lives on this Earth." Urging people to honour the dead by good deeds, she said people should light candles this Sabbath and on others to "bring more light into the world" and asked people to invite guests to their homes on Pesach (Passover) "so that all have a place at a Seder".

Others were less pious in the lessons they wished to preach. When a known BNP supporter plants bombs to maim and kill Londoners, a Norwegian killer guns down young people at a summer camp. or an American Jewish settler fanatic murders worshippers in a Hebron mosque, we are told they are disturbed individuals who acted alone, whatever we know about their background. Not to mention an American soldier shooting children in Afghanistan. But once it was known the Toulouse gunman was a Muslim, and as the press said, of Algerian parentage, there was no holding back. French police looking for accomplices are holding three of Merah's relatives, while for the Jewish Chronicle's right-wing editor Stephen Pollard the Toulouse murders were just the "latest spawn of radical Islam".

There are questions to be asked, like how Merah, if he was a known extremist being watched by French security services, pace earlier reports, managed to stay loose, and acquire an arsenal of weapons before carrying out his attacks over three weeks. Reports suggest he was armed with an AK47, an Uzi, and several handguns beside the Colt 45 he threw out in exchange for a mobile phone. As he told police he had further weapons in a rented Renault Megane parked near his apartment building.

Since then French officials have been retracking, saying that though Merah had a criminal record and may have also been linked to Salafi religious extremists, they had no reason to think he was dangerous. But Sarkozy and his government are proposing to clamp down on "extremist" web sites and could use this episode to push through repressive political measures.

There is also wide concern among France's Muslims that because of the gunman's identity they are all being tarred with the same brush and stigmatised, and that unscrupulous political forces will use the affair to whip up more anti-immigrant feeling and racialism.

Seeing the victims of the school attack buried in Jerusalem, surrounded by the religious men in black hats, one could not help fearing that while the family's motives might be genuine and sincere, the tragic scene might be politically exploited by Israeli leaders, for whom taking in dead Jews is the next best thing to receiving live ones. I was reminded by contrast with the funerals of the six Jews that died in the Istanbul bombings some years back, and with the blessing of the Chief Rabbi of Istanbul, had their coffins draped in the Turkish flag. This was a rebuff both to the terrorists who wanted to end Turkey's traditional tolerance and the Israeli embassy who would have liked to place their own flag over the coffins.

A Turkish diplomat explained "Our message to the world was - they may be Jewish but they are our citizens - they are Turks and they died for their country. This is how we see them."

For the Israeli government, as for the Toulouse gunman, even innocent small children must be regarded as state assets.

A critic writing in Ha'aretz recalls how Ariel Sharon once had to apologise for suggesting France was no place for Jews. "But there are those who apparently have failed to learn from his error. 'Today we have an opportunity to tell French Jews that if they will choose to return to the land of their forefathers, they will find a warm home here,' Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom declared on Tuesday.

"Remarks like that are grease on the wheels of the anti-Semites and those who would deny Jews in France the right to exist. The same is true of the decision by the victims' families to have them buried in the Jewish state.

"Sarkozy, Hollande, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe can declare from Thursday until Friday that 'an attack on Jews in France is an attack on the 65 million citizens of the republic.'

"The Jew-haters are more convinced by what Shalom said".

While Sarkozy may be grateful for the events in Toulouse pushing unemployment and economic crisis off the front-pages for now, he is maybe less sure how the mood of unity against hate crimes and terror can weigh down his efforts to compete with Le Pen in blaming France's ills on immigrants and foreigners.

After he hosted various religious and community leaders, including the leader of France's main Jewish organisation the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (CRIF), it was reported that CRIF had decided to pull out of a joint demonstration involving Jewish and Muslim groups against the Toulouse killings, citing tensions between communities. One might have suspected an Israeli hand in that decision, but one critic claimed it was the French president:

"Before they went into the Elysee on Tuesday they were for the demonstration, when they came out, it was canceled! Sarkozy probably told them to cancel because a march would be good for Le Pen and therefore bad for him."

A demonstration in Toulouse on Sunday is still announced on the CRIF's website.

Reading that fans of the Beitar Jerusalem football club had violently attacked Arab workers in a shopping mall this week, I thought at first this was another case of blaming the innocent, and using the Toulouse shootings as excuse for a racist attack. But I see that the violence in Jerusalem - for which police made no arrests - took place on Monday, before it was even known that a Muslim man was wanted for the Toulouse killings. A reminder that Beitar Jerusalem thugs, whose team takes its name from the right-wing youth movement and is linked with Netanyahu's Likud party, don't wait for an excuse to engage in racist attacks.

Article in French on Mohammed Merah's background:

But also see:

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hilda Murrell; Victim of a privatisation that went wrong?.

CALL me a "conspiracy theorist" if you like, but I have never felt comfortable with the official explanation of the death of Hilda Murrell. Too many gaps unexplained, too many connections unexplored. The body of this 78-year old retired rose grower turned environmental and anti-nuclear campaigner was found in a woodland copse about five miles from her Shrewsbury home, in March 1984.

Since retiring from the family rose growing business Hilda had continued botanical studies, taken up conservation issues, and found time for walking and hobbies, but she also became seriously involved in campaigning both against nuclear weapons and the dangers of nuclear power. At the time of her death she had been due to present her paper "An Ordinary Citizen's View of Radioactive Waste Management" at the Sizewell B Inquiry, the first public planning inquiry into a new British nuclear power plant.

On March 21, 1984, her home was apparently burgled, but only a small amount of cash was taken. Witnesses saw her car, a white Renault 5, being driven through the town, and what looked like her being held in the passenger seat. A farmer reported the car abandoned in a country lane, but it was not till three days later that West Mercia police found the mutilated body. Hilda had been beaten and stabbed multiple times, but died from hypothermia.

There was a lot of speculation about what had happened, and who might have killed Hilda Murrell. Activists and people who had known her tried to hold their own investigation. But in 2005 a burglar called Andrew George was found guilty and jailed for life for her murder. George had been just 16 at the time, and in care at a children's home nearby. The story was supposed to be that he broke in to rob Hilda's cottage, was surprised by her returning home unexpectedly, and panicked.

Why he did not just knock the old lady down, grab what he could, and run, as most burglars would, remained unexplained. Instead, having only taken some petty cash, the youth - who could not drive - had apparently gone to the trouble of dragging his victim out to her car, driving through town and past the police station in broad daylight, and then having abandoned the car, dragged Hilda's body across muddy ploughed fields for a mile before he dumped it.

Another odd piece of evidence comes from the owner of the copse where the body was discovered. The day after the murder, Captain Ian Scott visited the copse to count his trees and check for those that needed felling. Despite visiting the exact spot where her body was found, Captain Scott somehow missed it. Yet photographs clearly show the body being visible from a distance. Was he really just looking at tree tops, as the police suggest? I'd have thought not looking at the ground in front of you was a good way of walking into a tree or tripping over a stump!

Besides, the captain had his dog with him, and they are not noted for ignoring live or dead bodies on the ground. The alternative explanation could be that they did not stumble over the body that day because Hilda's body was still somewhere else.

Could she have been abducted and tortured, and not by a 16-year old amateur villain as claimed?

Telling evidence against Andrew George was that his DNA matched samples taken from the scene, but a book by Hilda's nephew, Commander Robert Green reveals a previously undisclosed witness statement made by a forensic scientist in the case, Michael Appleby, indicating that he found DNA from another man under Hilda Murrell's fingernails. Green says this information was withheld from the trial jury.

Just two days before Hilda Murrell's home was broken into, and she was killed, maverick Labour MP Tam Dalyell had begun asking questions in parliament about the movements of the Argentine ship General Belgrano, torpedoed with heavy loss of life by the hunter-killer submarine HMS Conqueror, on May 2, 1982. The Belgrano had been outside the British government's Falkland "exclusion zone", and Dalyell suggested it was steaming away when it was sunk.

Commander Robert Green had been stationed at Northwood command centre during the Malvinas war, and resigned at the end of 1982. This led to allegations that he leaked intelligence to Dalyell that the Belgrano had been attacked while steaming away from the Falklands, a revelation that undermined the Thatcher government's claim that the ship had presented a threat.

So besides her campaigning on nuclear waste and other issues, Hilda Murrell would likely have become of interest to the security services for a second, and perhaps bigger reason - her connection to her nephew. Although there may have been no evidence to link her with the Belgrano issue, could the spooks at MI5 have got it into their heads that there might be sensitive documents in her possession?

Tam Dalyell, continuing to press the government, asked whether the intelligence services had something to do with Hilda Murrell's death. The issue continued to be raised. In 1994, the West Mercia police said their officers had been given access to secret service, military and nuclear industry files and "had found no links to Hilda Murrell". To which doubters said "they wouldn't, would they?"

West Mercia police were said to have interviewed 3,600 witnesses, yet when former private eye Gary Murray began looking into the Murrell case he found the police had somehow missed a
young couple, Catriona Guthrie and her boyfriend 'Malcolm' , who had befriended Hilda, and attended meetings of the Shrewsbury Peace Group with her. By a coincidence, 'Malcolm' was the son of a senior Signals Intelligence Officer employed by the Ministry of Defence who could also have seen communications between the Falklands and GCHQ. If the police were not interested in this connection, it is unlikely to have missed the attention of the intelligence services.

After breaking up with 'Malcolm', Catriona moved to Lincoln and became a prison visitor. It was from one of the prison inmates that she heard about a cellmate who claimed to have been one of a group that broke into Hilda Murrell's cottage with orders to search for naval intelligence papers. They were allegdly reporting back to someone in MI5.
(Gary Murray, Enemies of the State, 1993, and Lobster magazine issue 28).

We also know that objectors to the Sizewell B project were being investigated by a detective agency called Zeus Securities, under contract to Westinghouse. Zeus, formed and run by former intelligence officers, and chaired by Lord Chalfont, sub-contracted the work to Sapphire Investigation Bureau, run by Barrie Peachman. He employed a character called Vic Norris, with a rather unsavoury criminal record, who despite links with the far Right and satanism, claimed to have successfully infiltrated anti-Sizewell protestors, setting up dummy groups and affecting sympathies with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. At one point Norris wrote to Sapphire he "could put a stop on CND if required."

So the task of spying on Hilda Murrell, and especially of breaking into her home, could have been passed down the food chain from peers to perverts and pond life. Barrie Peachman himself took a shotgun to his mouth and killed himself, after saying unspecified enemies were "out to get me", three weeks after Hilda Murrell was killed.

Could the murder of Hilda Murrell then have resulted not from an ordinary "burglary that went wrong", as we're supposed to believe, but of a security service operation that went too far having been put out to private contract, and low-grade operatives?

Lawyer Michael Mansfield QC wants the Murrell case reopened. He says claims by the police and intelligence services that Hilda Murrell was not under their gaze are "completely ludicrous". "There must have been a file for a number of reasons. One of them being that she plainly was very active and very outspoken about a government policy that was extremely sensitive at that time – nuclear power.

"It was central to Margaret Thatcher's thinking. They would have been watching closely what she was up to, who she was associating with and so on. The victim was consumed with anxiety that something was going to happen to her. A look at why that might be involves the evidence she was about to give to the Sizewell inquiry."

Mansfield, best known as lawyer for Stephen Lawrence's parents, has decided to raise the Murrell issue after publication of a book by Hilda's nephew Robert Green, who now lives in New Zealand. "They [the security services] must have noticed his connection with her. Therefore they might have thought that she possessed information of a sensitive nature," said Mansfield.

Green is coming to London this week to share evidence collected for his book, A Thorn in Their Side, published last Autumn in New Zealand. Green says that even there he has been the subject of continuing surveillance and that the tyres of his car have been slashed, his mail intercepted and, occasionally, his house broken into.

Of course that can all be put down to paranoia, like the claims that trade unionists in this country have been blacklisted and prevented from working by private companies operating with the security services - until it happens to have been proven!

If the fomer navy commander and Michael Mansfield do succeed in having this case re-opened or even in raising awareness and a demand for the truth, they will be performing a service to Hilda Murrell's honour and justice, but also to all of us who need to know how this country is run and just what is going on behind the headlines.

They will also be putting to shame those hacks who have made it their business to cover for the security services and rubbish those questioning their role as "conspiracy theorists", simply because we're supposed to believe those things "don't happen here", regardless of the evidence. There are idiots who explain everything that happens in history as a "conspiracy", and other idiots who insist against all experience that our governments are always telling the truth, and there is no such thing as a conspiracy, nor even a cover-up. Neither type of idiocy is compulsory.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 16, 2012

Death on the Docks CAMPAIGNERS made sure Simon Jones was not forgotten.

ON the morning of April 24, 1998, a young man called Simon Jones went in to work on his first day at Shoreham dock, in Sussex.

Within a few hours he was dead, his head crushed by a crane grab.

Taking a year out from Sussex University, Simon, 24, was under pressure from the job centre to take any job going, and fearing his benefit would be stopped otherwise, he took the work unloading a ship at Euromin's Shoreham dock, through an employment agency called Personnel Selection. He had no previous experience or training for dock work. The agency should have checked the job was safe for him. Evidently they didn't.

On his first and last day at the dock Simon was employed in unloading bags of building stones and loose aggregate from the hold of a Polish ship. His job was to attach the bags of stones to chains hanging from the underside of the clam-shaped grab, which was open. He was killed when the lever that operated the jaws of the grab got caught in the clothing of the crane operator, causing the jaws to close.

It happened at 10.15 am. The jaws of the grab closed over Simon's head and neck, fracturing his skull and decapitating him. The other worker nearby just heard a noise and turned to see blood coming from the grab. He was asked to hose the blood off the stones before they resumed unloading.

The crane driver had been unable to see inside the hold. Instead of an experienced hatchman to communicate betweeen crane driver and hold there was just a Polish crew member who didn't speak English. There were instructions in the crane cab that no one should be working in the area under the grab. These were ignored, and Simon Jones, who was not to know, was ordered to work under it. But then the grab itself should not have been in use. Only removing it so the chains could be attached directly to a crane hook would have taken time.

Ten weeks before the accident Mr Richard Martell, Euromin's manager at Shoreham, ordered staff to weld hooks to the inside of the clam-shaped grab, so that instead of stopping work to change the excavator attachment, the hooks could be used with the jaws of the grab open.

"Simon Jones was placed beneath and at times between the jaws of that grab," prosecutor Mr Patrick O'Connor said. "He was placed in danger of his life because the grab weighs over two tonnes and closes silently and quickly in about two seconds".

The bitter irony is that although Simon Jones had never done dock work before, he did know something about casualisation. He had been involved in campaigning for support to the Liverpool dockers who were in struggle against its effects in that port, union men sacked for refusing to cross a picket line, and replaced by agency workers.

The case of Simon Jones' death only came to court in 2001 after a determined and energetic campaign by his friends and family, ranging from occupying cranes to getting questions raised in parliament.

Even then, after a promising start, general manager Richard James Martell and Euromin were cleared of manslaughter, and Euromin was just found guilty of two crimes relating to health and safety, and fined £50,000.

Simon's friends and family did not let things drop. In his memory they joined with others campaigning for better protection of workers' lives and adequate measures against corporate manslaughter.

So how do things stand in 2012, when we have had time to learn from what happened to Simon?

On 31 January 2012, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors issued an immediate stop work notice at Berth 2 of the Humber International Terminal, effectively bringing all activity at the dock to a halt. According to HSE, this type of prohibition notice is a big deal, and can only be issued where there is “risk of serious personal injury.”

But it was just a matter of chance HSE inspectors saw this imminent and serious risk. As we all know the government is cutting back on HSE inspections. And the docks have been designated a ‘low risk’ workplace, so HSE inspectors shouldn’t have been anywhere near the dock. They caught a glimpse of the potentially deadly practices as they made their way to investigate a dock worker fatality that had occurred at the terminal the Friday before.

The Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) March 2011 strategy document, Good health and safety, good for everyone, classifies docks as one of the “lower risk areas where proactive inspection will no longer take place.”

The government's workplace safety guidelines for HSE’s enforcement policy, notes: “These areas include low risk manufacturing (eg. textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, electrical engineering), the transport sector (eg. air, road haulage and docks), local authority administered education provision, electricity generation and the postal and courier services.”

Warning that dock regulations are "up for the chop", Hazards magazine points out that

"If the ‘low risk’ dock industry was an average UK workplace, you’d expect no more than one death every year or two. It’s currently killing at a rate closer to one a month. Here’s just some of the recent fatalities.

23 October 2011 Dock worker Ian Campbell, 45, was killed when the straddler crane he was driving toppled at Tilbury Docks.

26 October 2011 Peter Hunt, 68, an agency lorry driver working for Meachers Global Logistics, was killed at a distribution centre at Tilbury Docks when a trailer fell on him.

8 December 2011 Marine engineer Jason Burden, 19, suffered fatal chest injuries when a piece of machinery fell on him as he worked for Wear Dock and Engineering Company at South Docks in Sunderland.

16 December 2011 Dock worker Neville Wightman, 52, died of injuries sustained at Ipswich Dock when he was crushed by part of a pontoon during an unloading operation.

27 January 2012 Tim Elton, 28, an agency worker working for Grimsby and Immingham Stevedores, was killed when he was buried under shifting coal in the hold of a ship at Immingham Dock.

“It was a defect that was identified while the inspectors were on their way to the incident scene that warranted immediate action,” an HSE spokesperson confirmed.

Agency worker Tim Elton, 28, was working in the hull of the MV Excalibur “trimming coal” – manually pulling it down at the edge of the hold – when the coal moved, burying him.

One workmate told a local newspaper: “It came over the radio that there had been a fatality and everyone stopped working. Workers were trying to dig him out with their hands and then they tried using an excavator as well. The atmosphere down there was just horrible.”

Unite, the union covering dock workers, had raised concerns about excessive agency worker hours at the dock. It is understood the dead man had recently worked 26 straight night shifts without a break.

The dock industry is small but economically important. Several million vehicles and trailers shift over 500 million tonnes of freight every year through UK ports. Government figures suggest over 58,000 people are directly employed in the industry. Add in port-related jobs, seasonal employment and part-time work, and you get a total of about 200,000 port cargo and passenger operations related UK jobs.

If those five men had died in Afghanistan they might have made TV news, and headlines, and been mentioned not only in despatches but politician's speeches. As it is they may not have even made statistics. An official told Hazards they only knew of one death on the docks in 2011-12, whereas the magazine found five between October and January. Is this a sign of worse to come?

It is time the government and chancer bosses were put in the dock, in one sense or another.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Council and Company

NOBODY likes paying too much tax, and how some people manage to avoid it, by not being on PAYE for a start, is lately the subject of some envy and accusation, not to say admiration. Labour's Ken Livingstone has had to rebut suggestions of hypocrisy over his criticism of tax evasion, because his earnings from talks and articles etc are paid into a company, though as he points out this is quite normal, and ennables him to employ staff, rather than being salted away in an overseas tax haven.

These days many workers in ordinary jobs are self-employed of course, particularly when it suits big companies to have them take responsibilities without security. Some blacklisted workers such as electricians have had no option. But a report by BBC Radio 4's File on Four programme found something quite different.

"Almost 100 permanent posts at local councils are being filled by people paid through limited companies, the BBC has learned. Dozens of high-earners are allowed to make their own tax arrangements rather than be paid through the PAYE system. Public accounts committee chair Margaret Hodge described the situation as a "tax avoidance scheme, which is totally wrong".

As a former leader of Islington council back in its red flag-flying days, Margaret Hodge might take note of what's happening in its Labour neighbour.

"Hackney Council in London had the highest number, with 39 people in permanent posts paid through external companies", says the BBC report. That's not bad for what's been called the poorest borough in London, if not the country, and a council which has lost responsibility for some schools and estates because it was deemed unfit to run them.

I'd be interested to hear more about this from friends who live in the borough (one of them is a councillor), but meantime its interesting to read what happens lower down the scale, when for instance regular council staff are replaced by agency workers.

Moving over from Hackney in the east to Hammersmith in relatively prosperous (for some) west London, we read:

"In one case investigated by File on 4, the chief executive of a London council's housing arm was paid more than £900,000 ($1.4m) through his company over a four year period. Nick Johnson took up his post with Hammersmith and Fulham Homes Ltd in early 2008 after retiring from Bexley council in south London, where he had been chief executive.

His £900-a-day fee was paid into his company, Davies Johnson Ltd".

We've met Nick Johnson before in this blog. He's the partner of Kate Davies, or Kate Marshall as used to be, back when she was a leading member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Nowadays she is chief executive of the Notting Hill Housing Trust, a charity, though don't go mixing her up with the volunteers you might find working in charity shops.

Here's a report in the respectably Tory Daily Mail about Nick Johnson, which seems to shows what an enterprising fellow he is:

A council chief who retired on a gold-plated £50,000-a-year pension on the grounds of ill-health walked into a new publicly funded £260,000 job four months later.

Yet despite sparking a fresh row over extravagant town hall salaries, Nick Johnson – who earns more than twice as much as the Prime Minister – insists his pay packet is ‘really not a lot’.

Mr Johnson, 57, is eligible for the full income from his final salary pension scheme because he left his £203,000 job as chief executive of Bexley Council in South London on health grounds.

I guess the government could cite this as an example of success in getting people with ill-health back into work again, though I don't suppose many will do so well financially.

One of Tory Hammersmith and Fulham council's leading lights is Councillor Harry Phibbs, one time Federation of Conservative Students star whom even Norman Tebbitt found too right-wing. He has been known to criticise profligate spending by other public bodies.

So it is nice to see the council showing its more generous side in paying Nick Johnson so well. (He for his part has acted as a council spokesman on occasion) But after opposition councillors raised concerns about the arrangements, the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was asked to report on whether the council risked facing a bill for unpaid tax.

In a confidential report seen by the BBC, PwC told the council:

"Normally the position of chief executive is considered to be an office holder. On that basis there would be a medium-to-high risk that there was a PAYE obligation on Hammersmith and Fulham Homes Ltd." The report went on to say Mr Johnson's particular duties were such that he might be able to claim his arrangements were lawful - but that the taxman might take a different view.

Then again, Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue can be known to tread very carefully when approaching people at a certain level.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 12, 2012

Swindon march puts the pieces together

FROM a friend out west, news of a demonstration this weekend through Swindon, to be led by striking GMB members protesting against bullying, harassment and discrimination by Carillion, the company responsible for running facilities management services at the Great Western Hospital.

The GMB members work as porters and housekeepers in catering and cleaning and other support roles at the hospital.
These workers have taken several days of strike action standing up to say they won’t tolerate bullying any more.

The GMB union leaflet says:
"Bullying is a widespread problem in Britain, with 20% of workplaces reporting it as a serious problem. In addition, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in association with MORI and Kingston Business School
identified that one fifth of all UK employees have experienced some form of bullying or harassment over the last two years.

"Everybody deserves to be treated with respect at work, and bullying should not be tolerated. Black and Asian workers are twice as likely to be bullied at work, and disabled workers are three times more likely to be bullied. Bullying can cause health problems, including anxiety, headaches, nausea, ulcers, sleeplessness, skin rashes, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, tearfulness, loss of self-confidence, various illnesses of the organs and even thoughts of suicide.

"We demand that management acknowledges that bullying is a problem, and puts in place measures to prevent it, working with the unions."

Seeing the name Carillion reminded me of the recent Industrial Tribunal I attended where this company admitted to blacklisting construction engineer Dave Smith after he had raised issues such as asbestos safety. Bullying and blacklisting go together. It was about this time last year that electrician Frank Morris was threatened with violence and victimised from the Olympic site in Stratford, after asking about a fellow worker who had been blacklisted.

I thought I'd pass on information about the Swindon dispute and march to friends in the Blacklist Support Group, but it turned out the Carillion connection was stronger than I thought, and the brothers and sisters were ahead of me. Dave Smith has been invited to address the Swindon rally on Saturday.

A statement from the GMB says Carillion's human resources boss (what we used to call "Personnel" when I was a lad) involved in the Swindon dispute was also responsible for the company's links with the blacklisting outfit that led to thousands of trade unionists being excluded from employment. The union in Swindon suggests this may be one reason the management has been slow to meet them on the bullying issue.

"From Dave Smith GMB has learned that a London Employment Tribunal in January was presented with evidence that Liz Keates the Carillion HR Director involved in the dispute at Swindon managed Carillion’s relationship with the Consulting Association. This was the body that was responsible for the ‘blacklisting’ 3,200 construction workers and excluding them from employment because of their trade union activities.

"In February 2009 officers from the Information Commissioners Office seized documents which made clear that the Consulting Association was operating a blacklist of trade unionists on behalf of major companies in the construction industry including Carillion. There has since been an admission by Carillion that two of its subsidiaries had ‘penalised’ Dave Smith for being a trade unionist.

"GMB members are now on the eleventh day of strike action at Great Western Hospital in Swindon. They will return to work at midnight tonight and a further seven day stoppage will take place from Saturday 17th March to Friday 23rd March. A St Patrick’s Day march and rally will be held in support of the strikers who at the start of the a further seven days strike. The details are as follows:

Assemble 11:15 am, Saturday 17th March

Salisbury Street,

Swindon SN1 2AN

Rally, 1:00 pm.

Canal Wharf,

SN1 5PL.

Speakers invited Dave Smith construction worker blacklisted by Carillion, Jerry Hicks Unite and Blacklisted workers campaign, Anne Snelgrove, Swindon Labour Party, John Drake Chair SW TUC, plus speakers from GMB.

The Swindon dispute has also drawn attention to the extent of big business penetration of the health service well before Andrew Lansley's Health Reform bill puts the seal on it. On strike days union members have been visiting staff at other Carillon locations. On Friday 24th February GMB members visited Carillion staff at Darenth Valley hospital in Dartford Kent.
They have also protested at Carillion's headquarters in London, and at places such as Nationwide Building Society and Zurich Insurance in Swindon from which Carillion have been drawing staff to do the strikers' work.

The GMB has also written to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee asking for an investigation into the siphoning off of NHS cash into tax free scams for foreign investors using Channel Islands. The overall Private Finance Initiative(PFI) contract for the Swindon hospital is owned by Semperion, a holding company that owns 35 PFI contracts to run NHS hospitals in the UK. Semperion is based in Jersey for the express purpose to enable overseas investors to avoid tax on dividend income arising from running these NHS facilities. The ultimate holding company is Jersey registered Semperian PPP Investment Partners Holdings Ltd.

Labels: , ,