Monthly Archives: August 2010
The Gruniad may not be as bad as it used to be – typographically speaking – but it still has the capacity to deliver some real howlers. This is from today’s paper:
Ed Balls, the ex-schools secretary, published his 10-point “contract with the Labour party” wherein he promises to strengthen the party’s grassroots democracy, to promote women, young people and minorities, and to end the “undemocratic” way in which many candidates are hastily selected as elections loom.
Balls also reminds Labour’s electoral college – MPs and peers, trade unionists and party activists – of his support among unions by embracing a new campaign by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) against coalition threats to privatise it in part or in whole. A majority of 60% of voters want it to remain wholly in the public sector and just 15% favour privatisation as the remedy for its woes, according to a YouGov poll for the union.
In his manifesto, Burnham, MP for his Lancashire home town of Leigh…
Andy Burnham launches blitz on ‘metropolitan elite’
The Guardian, 2010-08-23Emphasis added
Among the many ideas the ConDemNation has put forward, it seems we’re now in the business of privatising the trade unions. About time too, you might say – they could do with a dose of market discipline. I’m sure most union leaders wouldn’t mind too much; they already have the kind of executive pay (and pay for failure!) other organisations get criticised for…by trade unions.
I’m sure Royal Mail would be keen to take a sizeable stake in CWU plc.
If you want to understand why Israel’s military gets such a bad press in much of the Western world, the Eden Abergil affair is an excellent primer: Young, recently discharged Israeli conscript decides to remember her military service by posting photographs of her crouching in front of bound and blindfolded Palestinian captives onto Facebook.
Abu Grahib it isn’t – trying to describe this as prisoner abuse involves stretching the definition of abuse to encompass “invasion of privacy” – but her behaviour, and the way the affair’s been handled by the IDF’s public relations teams, are an object lesson in what not to do.
One IDF spokesman, Captain Barak Raz, had a clear line in condemnation:
These are disgraceful photos. Aside from matters of information security, we are talking about a serious violation of our morals and our ethical code and should this soldier be serving in active duty today, I would imagine that no doubt she would be court-martialed immediately.
Israeli soldier puts photos of blindfolded Palestinians on Facebook
but this was slightly undermined by his colleague, Captain Arye Shalicar, who ended his own statement by saying
It was just something very foolish and stupid – and I hoped there wouldn’t be any media interest.
Anger over ex-Israeli soldier’s Facebook photos of Palestinian prisoners
Yes, the dastardly media, showing an interest. It’s to be hoped media relations isn’t Shalicar’s day job (And, Gruniad, old love? She’s an ex-soldier, not an ex-Israeli…at least not unless the Knesset gets really annoyed). Still, job done, no? Firm statement of condemnation issued, matter closed?
Not if you failed to get the subject of your condemnation on side first. Cue Israel’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth:
I received death threats from all over the world on Facebook…I’m sorry if anyone got offended, I actually took care of the detainees. The IDF has let me down profoundly. I wish I never served in such an army.
It’s unbelievable that so many people are talking about me. I find it astounding that there are so many people who want peace and I’m the one ruining it for them. I got loads of death threats, I’m not scared, I know I didn’t do anything wrong.
‘I actually took care of the detainees’
Does somewhat detract from the IDF condemnation when the soldier in question denies doing anything wrong. And it gets worse:
I’m very disappointed with the IDF, the army is ungrateful. I risked my life, got injured, I was a model soldier, and now I wish I never served in this army.
Actually, that’s not the worst bit. This is:
She explained the IDF’s response by saying that “the army is making the soldiers look bad and the country look great so that Obama won’t get pissed off. As far as I’m concerned we’re not even an independent state, people are afraid of just pictures. I’m sorry this is the way my country is.”
I’m sure Captain Shalicar has his fingers firmly crossed that the international media won’t take an interest in that interview.
Not that this is the first time recently that Facebook has been an issue for the IDF: ten days ago, The Jerusalem Port reported that soldiers from a secret base had set up a Facebook group, visible to non-members, and which a reporter was able to join without his identity being checked. Amusingly, the article itself could not name the base, and closed with this:
The Israeli Army, as well as the Israeli Military Police, did not return a request for comment on this article. It was, however, heavily censored by Israeli military censors, which require journalists writing stories from within the borders of Israel to pass articles by them. Israeli censors do not allow us to print the name or location of the site in question, nor to describe the role and scope of the base within the Israeli army.
‘There are things we’ll never know’
A little less effort censoring the media, and a little more blocking access to Facebook from IDF computers and confiscating camera phones from frontline troops, would work wonders.
To the kind of people who normally care about what Naomi Campbell does and says – designers, tabloid editors, fashionistas, people with limited self-worth, that sort of thing – her appearance at the Special Court for Sierra Leone may well pass unnoticed. Why go to the trouble of comprehending difficult concepts like “crimes against humanity”, “conflict diamonds“, or the role that Charles Taylor played in the civil war in Sierra Leone, just to know that Naomi spent a couple of hours in a court room? After all, she wasn’t even on trial – this time.
For the rest of humanity, the revelation that Campbell didn’t know where Liberia was, let alone who Charles Taylor is, until she sat next to him at dinner, is more confirmatory than informative. This is, after all, someone who refused to cooperate with the Special Court until it ordered her to testify, and – she now admits – lied about the incident (denying receiving the diamonds) when questioned on it by the media.
That said, I’m having difficulty with the idea that someone would try and avoid giving evidence to a war crimes tribunal because it would be inconvenient, let alone turn up and tell the tribunal to its face that being there is an inconvenience. Distasteful is not the word.
Lucky for Campbell that she was testifying at Charles Taylor’s trial, relocated to the Hague from Sierra Leone; just think how inconvenient it would have been to have to fly all the way to Africa. Actually, it’s probably a good thing for everyone else that she didn’t have to – Naomi doesn’t always do well on aircraft.
Confronted with this case yesterday, my initial reaction was the same as Alison Clarke’s: the Attorney General should be reviewing whether the sentence was too lenient.
And 18 months for a woman’s life? This is definitely a sentence that should be appealed by the Attorney General or whoever appeals these things. Truely shocking.
“Respectable” man given 18 months for killing his wife
Where I suspect I part company with her is over quite how lenient the sentence was. Manslaughter sentences are not as long as some assume; whether they should be longer is a different question. The distinction between manslaughter and murder is (generally) one of intent – where there was no intention to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm, the offence is manslaughter, not murder.
Briefly, the reported facts are these: On April 25 2009, Jonathan Wicks had a 47th birthday party, attended by six friends and his wife, Sarah. Between them, the attendees consumed six bottles of wine. During the meal, Jonathan Wicks complained about the food his wife served, and the present he’d received from her. When the guests had left, Sarah Wicks asked him for help with the washing up, and an argument started.
Wicks’ case was that his wife had thrown five plates at him, and he’d reacted with a single punch (or slap) to her head. She was killed outright. At that point, he fled the house – despite reportedly being two and half times over the drink drive limit – returning 20 minutes later after speaking to a friend by telephone. Only then did he dial 999.
The underlying scenario – a single blow killing – will be familiar to law students. An relatively minor unlawful assault takes place. There is no intent to kill, nor any awareness that the action might lead to death. Death results.
The current guideline case is R v Furby  EWCA Crim 3147, in which the defendant, Andrew Furby, appealed against a sentence of two and a half years for the killing his friend, Mark Skelton.
Both men had drunk heavily (beginning in the afternoon, and then consuming at least a further eight pints of lager while out for the evening) before returning to Furby’s home around midnight, where they both fell asleep. Around 2.30am, Furby’s partner, Louise Tchaikovsky, returned home and tried to wake them. She could not wake Furby, but managed to wake Skelton. For reasons which never became clear, Skelton then kissed her on the lips, causing her to leave the house in a distressed state and go to her sister Leanne. Leanne returned to Furby’s home and attacked Skelton, waking Furby. She then told him what had happened. Skelton initially denied doing anything inappropriate, but when Leanne telephone Louise he then apologised. At this point:
[Furby] then grabbed hold of Skelton’s shirt with his right hand and hit him once on the right cheek, using his left hand. Skelton collapsed to ground. This single blow had caused a traumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage, that is the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain, which had killed Skelton.
R v Furby  EWCA Crim 3147 at 4.
What the judgment in Furby makes clear is that the law does make allowances for situations in which an offender is not truly culpable, but none the less causes serious harm. It also makes clear that drinking is not necessarily an aggravating factor, in and of itself. It’s worth quoting the concluding four paragraphs of the judgement in full:
To summarise these authorities, Coleman, where a sentence of twelve months was imposed is the starting point where there is a guilty plea and no aggravating circumstances. But where there are aggravating circumstances an appropriate sentence can rise as high as four years, depending on the particular facts. Getting drunk and resorting to violent behaviour under the influence of drink will be a significant aggravating factor, particularly where the violence occurs in a public place. Lord Lane drew a distinction between the facts in Coleman, where the victim sustained his fatal injury as a result of being knocked to the ground by the blow and striking his head, and the case where the injury that results in death is directly caused by the punch. That may be a valid distinction where the fatal injury is caused because the blow is particularly severe. However, we can see no reason to draw that distinction where the severity of the injury was not reasonably to have been foreseen. This is such a case. A subarachnoid haemorrhage is, happily, a very unusual consequence of a punch. We have referred to the evidence in Grad, which indicates that heavy drinking can result in dilation of the blood vessels and increase the vulnerability of an individual to such injury. In this case the appellant could not reasonably have foreseen that the single punch that he delivered would have such tragic consequences.
The judge treated the fact that the appellant had been drinking heavily during the previous evening as an aggravating factor. We question whether this was justified. The evidence does not suggest that the appellant was liable to behave violently when in drink, nor that drink had made him violent on this occasion. He had, furthermore, been sleeping off the drink for three hours or so before the offence occurred. His violence appears to have been a reaction to learning that his friend had behaved in an unacceptable manner towards his (the appellant’s) partner. This did not excuse the reaction, but such a reaction on his part was explicable, whether affected by drink or not. Apart from drink, there was no other aggravating factor.
There were mitigating factors. The appellant struck a single blow of moderate force. He showed responsibility after Skelton fell to the ground in assisting in attempts to resuscitate him. There is no doubt of his remorse. He had killed a close friend. He has the benefit of a guilty plea made at the earliest opportunity.
We turn back to Coleman. We can see no reason on the facts of this case to go beyond the recommended starting point of twelve months. Accordingly, we quash the sentence imposed and substitute a sentence of twelve months’ imprisonment. To that extent this appeal is allowed.
Against this standard, the sentence received by Jonathan Wicks seems lenient. The starting point for a prompt guilty plea and no aggravation is twelve months’ imprisonment, but Wicks has no credit for a guilty plea, and there are factors which arguably aggravate – notably that he fled the scene without first seeking medical assistance for his wife. We do not know, from the reported facts, whether it would have made any difference if Mrs. Wicks had been attended by paramedics. If it would, her husband’s failure to summon assistance must surely be treated as an aggravating factor.
Whether Wicks’ sentence is unduly lenient is another matter. You would generally assume a discount of 20-30% for a prompt guilty plea. Given the twelve month starting point, and the lack of any credit for a guilty plea, you might therefore expect Wicks to receive a sentence of between 15 and 18 months. To this could – should? – the be added some element in respect of any aggravation, but in this case it’s unclear whather Wicks flight was treated as aggravating.
It is clear that cases involving significantly greater violence will result in significantly longer terms. The CPS’ sentencing guidelines highlight a number of “fight” cases: A sentence of nine years was upheld in R v Fisher  2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 34, where a gang chased, caught a man, and kicked and stamped a man, who died three days later; a sentence of six years was reduced to four in R v Jones  1 Cr.App.R.(S) 73, in which the victim died of his injuries a month after being pulled down a flight of stairs and kicked and stamped.
Given these parameters, it’s doubtful that Wicks could ever have expected a sentence of more than two years, and in that context a sentence of 18 months is unlikely to be unduly lenient – the test for having the Court of Appeal intervene – even if it is lenient..
If the sentence is not necessarily open to criticism, the judge’s comments may be. Alison Clarke highlights these passages:
You are a man who has led a respectable and successful life. That success encompassed what I believe to be a loving and harmonious domestic life that was brought to a tragic end during a tiff between you and your much-loved wife, which resulted in a blow from you, which in many other instances would have caused bruising, but in this instance caused her death.
It is an important feature of this case that the argument arose very quickly and in your own home. This is not a case of the sort of yobbish violence in public which is so often a feature of one-blow manslaughter cases.
Taken as these are from the reports of the case (specifically the London Evening Standard report), it’s difficult to know whether they reflect the totality of what was said.
One point that should be noted relates to the judge’s statement about “yobbish violence”. It would be easy enough to take this as creating some kind of distinction between domestic violence and “yobbish violence”, but there is a context which needs to be appreciated.
In 2009 the Attorney General appealed against the sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment received by Richard Wyatt following his guilty plea for manslaughter. One of the live issues in that case – which involved an unprovoked attack on a stranger – was the appellant’s previous convictions for what the Court of Appeal called “yobbery”, and the fact that the killing itself was of this ilk. Like the Wicks case, the Wyatt case involved single blow manslaughter, but the level of violence was significantly greater, and the Court of Appeal increased Wyatt’s sentence to one of three years’ imprisonment.
It’s entirely possible – and it would be entirely proper – for the judge sentencing Wicks to have explained how he was distinguishing the incident case from the guidelines cases – such as Wyatt – which he must take account of. In that context, referring to “yobbish violence in public” has a different import.
Reading the comments on various news reports of the case, it’s clear that many people have formed the view that this wasn’t the first incident of domestic violence in the Wicks’ marriage. On the reported facts, there was no evidence of this, and the judge has to sentence Wicks on the evidence before him.
What this case really demonstrates is the need for more information about sentencing and judgements to be put into the public domain – without the filter of the media. Publishing the judge’s statement would remove many of the question marks that can gather round a case like this.
These orders, which could be issued by Police inspectors and above, would require people accused of domestic violence to leave their homes, and not return for two weeks. In principle I’m against giving that kind of power to police officers – it should be something a magistrate has to grant – and the orders themselves raise difficult questions. Do they strike the right balance between the rights of alleged victims and alleged offenders?
The word “alleged” is key here – these orders are intended to be imposed without a conviction (another reason why I’m uncomfortable with the police handing them out) and amount to making an individual temporarily homeless. Against this has to be set the very real benefits of allowing the alleged victim to remain in their home, especially where there are children involved. With some kind of judicial scrutiny, it seems like a reasonable balance in a difficult situation.
What doesn’t sit so well is the reason for the cancellation – cost. Such orders should, on their face, save money – they should save police and CPS time, allowing offendors to be imprisoned for breaches of the order, a much simpler and more straightforward matter than convicting for domestic violence. Cutting such a scheme should, then, be a question of cost-benefit analysis, not simply identifying and realising a financial saving.
It’s difficult to know if the Home Office did such an analysis. The Independent’s story looks like a straightforward plant by Labour – the total lack of sourcing for the meat of the story, the direct quotes from David Hanson, the brief final response from the Home Office – so any reasoning behind this decision remains to be seen. It’s up to the Home Office to explain itself, and it needs to do so as a matter of urgency.
As a side note, David Hanson needs to read his prepared statements before he, well, reads them:
Domestic violence should be a priority for ministers. It has been a hidden crime for far too long. The first duty of a government is to protect its citizens.
Quick question, David – which party was previously in government? So under whom would domestic violence have been a hidden crime? Are you then suggesting that party failed in the first duty of government?
Find yourself a better scriptwriter – your current one’s useless.
I’ve long believed National Museums Liverpool to be a Good Thing, having spent a childhood in and out of them, and last Saturday showing a visiting friend around the Walker Art Gallery.
I’d be concerned if NML said it might have to close some of its museums and galleries. Oh, wait, NML’s telling me that it might have to close some of its museums and galleries:
Your museums are under threat because of central government cuts. We are being forced to consider closure of some of your museums.
Please show your support by signing this petition to help prevent closure of your museums. We will present the petition and signatures to central government in October.
Does this mean the end of the Walker’s excellent children’s programme, the closure of parts of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, or reduced opening hours at Sudley House? What fiendish reductions in service have the evil bureaucrats in Whitehall forced through?
Wish I knew; NML certainly aren’t telling.
The above quote is the sum total of the explanation for their petition. On the petition page itself, you appear to be signing the following
We value National Museums Liverpool and urge government to do all in its power to maintain adequate funding for our museums.
which is one of those wonderful phrases that most people will agree with.
My innate scepticism may be showing here, but I’m driven to wonder if NML is simply trying to avoid doing anything. As a centrally funded body, it may well have found itself considering changes in what it does, which could, at one extreme, include closure of some of its “museums” (let’s pause to note that the International Slavery Museum and the Customs and Excise Museum are really grandly titled galleries within the Maritime Museum). It could also mean cutting some outreach programmes, increasing charges in its cafés and gift shops, or reducing the benefits NML members receive.
Personally, I’d happily see my discount on exhibition catalogues cut in a good cause.
It’s always easier to build opposition to a non-specific threat (think Bush and Blair speechifying about the evil doers), but it’s also intellectually dishonest, and risks undermining your ability to fight real threats when they come.
NML should be communicating facts, not creating panic.
Should we be surprised by the revelation that William Wilberforce condoned, indeed facilitated, a slave trade in Sierra Leone – after the 1807 Slave Trade Act had supposedly abolished it?
This blow to Wilberforce’s image as the great abolitionist comes in a new book by Stephen Tomkins. Having previously written a biography of Wilberforce himself, Tomkins now turns his attention to the Clapham Sect, and in the process (reports the Guardian) uncovered a dirty little secret:
But, what to do with the rescued slaves? “They could have set them free. But what they did was hand them over to the authorities in Freetown,” said Tomkins. Sierra Leone became a crown colony in 1808, but was still managed by Wilberforce and his friends. “So with their knowledge, and their acquiescence, the navy would hand the slaves over. Some the colony kept themselves, others they sold to landowners and they put them to slave labour.”
Men and children were “indentured” for $20. Women were given away. They did not call them slaves, they were “apprentices” – not purchased, but “redeemed”.
They received no wages, just food. And those that escaped were recaptured, in irons. The only distinction between them as “slaves” and as “apprentices”, was that they must be freed after 14 years.
William Wilberforce ‘condoned slavery’, Colonial Office papers reveal
Indentured servitude was common in the 17th and 18th centuries, and many white British immigrants to the United States paid their passage that way. Although it was less common during the 19th century, that it should have continued in Sierra Leone is less shocking, to my mind, than Tomkins’ claim that Wilberforce dismissed the colony’s governor, Thomas Perronet Thompson, in order to prevent him publicising the matter. After all, the institution of slavery itself (as distinct from the slave trade) continued until 1834; that Wilberforce was prepared to dispose of Thompson in this way is a more interesting revelation.
Never meet your heroes, eh?
Tomkins offers an explanation, citing Wilberforce’s need to continue the momentum towards full abolition, but this shows Wilberforce playing realpolitik forty years before Bismarck. Was a man subsequently held up as driven by Christian belief and moral principle honest enough to acknowledge to himself that the ends justified the means?
Whether those slaves delivered to Freetown for “redemption” felt the ends justified the means is another matter.
The Clapham Sect: How Wilberforce’s Circle Transformed Britain is released on 20 August.
It may already be obvious that I’m a great admirer of the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis and his polemical visual essays on the development of the modern world.
Writing about Zac Goldsmith’s encounter with Jon Snow, I recommended Curtis’ “The Mayfair Set” for anyone feeling nostalgic for Sir James Goldsmith.
The man himself picked up the theme at length a few days later, on his BBC Blog, drawing some interesting parallels between the forces Goldsmith Sr. helped create, and ultimately feared, and those Goldsmith Jr. is now living through.
Hopefully we might get an update of The Mayfair Set before too long – it would be interesting to see Sir Alan Budd updating his earlier contributions!
If you’ve read any of my posts on the subject (1; 2; 3) , or simply been following the Ian Tomlinson case in the press, you must read this post from Benjamin Gray. In a detailed and carefully researched post he provides the clear account of the legal position the CPS did not, and addresses the questions which it either left unanswered or raised.
While not agreeing with all of his conclusions (I think he’s too quick to accept the time it took the CPS to make reach a decision, and I prefer Jack of Kent’s conclusions on Misconduct in Public Office) he’s provided a extremely readable and comprehensive account of the law in this area.
If only the CPS (or the Attorney General) could have brought that kind of analysis to bear!