Sunday, January 24, 2010

Man arrested for email he didn't write, council and police believe they acted correctly

A businessman was arrested at home in front of his wife and young son over an email which council officials deemed ‘offensive’ to gipsies – but which he had not even written.

The email, concerning a planning appeal by a gipsy, included the phrase: ‘It’s the 'do as you likey' attitude that I am against.’

Council staff believed the email was offensive because ‘likey’ rhymes with the derogatory term ‘pikey’.

The 45-year-old IT boss was held in a police cell for four hours until it was established he had nothing to do with the email, which had been sent by one of his then workers, Paul Osmond.

But police had taken his DNA and later confirmed they would be holding it indefinitely.

The businessman, who has asked not to be named, was also fingerprinted in the police investigation estimated to have cost taxpayers up to £12,000.

His computer and other internet equipment were also seized.

The email, from a computer at his company, was sent last August to a website at Rother District Council, in East Sussex, on which the public can comment on planning applications.

It referred to an appeal by gipsy Linda Smith, who wants to keep a mobile home in an area of outstanding beauty overlooking the Battle of Hastings site.

The businessman, a father of two, said last night: ‘I had a sense of total disbelief. My wife and I decided to tell my 11-year-old son I had to go with the police because I had witnessed a road accident.

‘Even though the officers were fairly pleasant to me, I was informed I would be handcuffed if I didn’t go voluntarily. They then confiscated my computer and my wife’s computer and took them to the police station.

‘I was extremely angry. I was relaxing in the comfort of my home on a Sunday afternoon and then I was in a police car under arrest – all for an innocent comment by a colleague.’

He said: ‘I have never had any criminal record and try my best to teach my children right from wrong. This was a ridiculously heavy-handed police reaction to what they perceived as a racist comment. I am not the least bit racist and neither is Paul Osmond. The gipsy family concerned did not complain.

‘I did nothing wrong yet ended up in a police cell for four hours with my DNA stored on a criminal database.’

The case finally ended last week when Mr Osmond, who had been arrested and bailed, was told there would be no further police action. The planning case is continuing.

Mr Osmond, 39, of Icklesham, said: ‘I made it clear to them I am absolutely not racist. I said I was simply registering my objection to this application because it is 200ft from the most important and historical battlefield in the country.

Sussex Police said they had arrested the businessman over ‘suspicion of committing a racial or religious-aggravated offence’.

After consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, it was decided to take no further action against Mr Osmond.

Chief Inspector Heather Keating said: ‘Sussex Police have a legal duty to promote community cohesion and tackle unlawful discrimination.

‘We are satisfied we acted appropriately in identifying the owner of the computer used and through this, the identity of the writer of the offending line.’

Police said they would hold the innocent men’s DNA indefinitely, which they said was in line with national policy.

A council spokesman said: ‘As far as we were concerned it was an offensive comment, so we got in touch with the police.’

Police powers ruled illegal - New Labour tell police to carry on regardless

The number of stop-and-searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act of 2000 has trebled in a year, with police facing protests that they have targeted tourists, photographers and trainspotters under the legislation.

Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the police right under the Terrorism Act of 2000 to question people without grounds for suspicion was illegal.

Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, vowed to fight the ruling.

The European Court ruling was prompted by the case of Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton, who were both searched on the same day in 2003 close to an arms fair at the Excel Centre in London's Docklands. It had been designated under Section 44 of the Act as an area where police were entitled to use wide anti-terrorist powers.

Ms Quinton was a journalist filming near the arms fair, and had already shown police her press card, while Mr Gillan was riding his bicycle past the building.

They decided to challenge the powers in the UK courts. The Court of Appeal and the House of Lords said the powers were legitimate given the risk of terrorism in London.

But yesterday the European Court of Human Rights rejected the Government's argument that Section 44 was a proportionate response. The Strasbourg judges said a police officer's decision to stop and search an individual was one based exclusively on the "hunch" or "professional intuition".

Last night the Government pledged to try to overturn the ruling by taking the unusual step of appealing to the court's grand chamber. But legal experts said the court's unanimous decision (7-0) showed government lawyers would have a steep hill to climb.

Mr Johnson said: "Stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is an important tool in a package of measures in the ongoing fight against terrorism. We are considering the judgment and will seek to appeal. Pending the outcome of this appeal, the police will continue to have these powers available to them."

Not a single stop-and-search under the new anti-terrorism powers has resulted in a conviction for terrorism, despite police officers in England and Wales used the powers to search nearly 200,000 people last year.

The year before 124,687 people were searched, up from 41,924 in 2006-07.

After the ruling, Ms Quinton said: "The court has shown that Section 44 is an invasion of people's right to liberty and privacy."

Corinna Ferguson, a legal adviser to the civil rights group Liberty and acting for Ms Quinton and Mr Gillan, said: "The public, police and Court of Human Rights all share our concerns for privacy, protest, race equality and community solidarity that come with this sloppy law."

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Officials now have 1,200 powers of entry to private homes

A fresh bid to curb wide-ranging powers for officials to enter private homes was launched in the Lords yesterday.

Spearheading the move, Tory Lord Selsdon said he had unearthed about 1,200 powers of entry in dozens of different Acts of Parliament.

He called for a code of practice to put strict limits on entry powers for all cases except those involving suspected serious crime or terrorism.

Introducing his Powers of Entry Bill, Lord Selsdon said he had been pursuing the issue for more than 30 years and had introduced several previous Bills.

He said the problem was that no one knew exactly how many powers of entry there were, adding: "Worse than that, the householder has no idea either. "The householder feels more and more insecure. He fears the knock on the door."

Under the Bill, entry would have to be authorised by a judge or magistrate and the householder would have to agree to it.

A maximum of four officials would be allowed in, only between 8am and 6pm on Mondays to Fridays, or between 8am and 1pm on a Saturday.

Backing the Bill, crossbencher Lord Scott of Foscote, a law lord and former Attorney General, said far too many powers of entry were exercisable not only without the consent of the occupier but also without the authority of a warrant.

Tory Lord Marlesford welcomed the Bill as an attempt to overthrow "overbearing, disproportionate and intrusive" powers. Too often, powers of entry were made without a magistrate and followed by "every officious officer", he said.

For the Liberal Democrats, Baroness Hamwee supported the premise of the Bill but cautioned that the situation required a "rather more complex and detailed, more subtle approach".

For the Tories, Lord Skelmersdale said: "Powers of entry have become so widespread and so draconian over this Government's time in office that there has arisen a considerable amount of unease to put it mildly, both in and outside Parliament." He added: "The whole purpose of this Bill is that we can't go on like this and I commend Lord Selsdon for bringing this issue forward."

Government spokesman Lord Brett suggested the Bill amounted to an "inflexible approach" towards limiting powers of entry. He told peers the Government did recognise there were "difficulties" that needed to be addressed.

He added: "What we are proposing is that any new or amending powers of entry are put before Parliament for consideration, in that case the sponsoring department must comply with a code of practice that sets out the considerations that I believe, many of the points that peers have raised today."

The Bill gained an unopposed second reading but without Government support is unlikely to become law.


Pompous oaf Peter Vaughan is too important to go shopping

This is Peter Vaughan.

Recognise him? Probably not.

He's the new Chief Constable of South Wales police.

He believes that he is so important, that he is unable to walk round a supermarket.

Speaking to the 'Police Review' he said

"There are additional pressures now that I am a chief constable. I used to be able to walk around my local supermarket, but now someone else will do my shopping, for security reasons."

The level of pomposity and lack of self-awareness is astonishing.

I doubt anyone in South Wales could even pick him out of a line-up.

Peter Vaughan - a man who is so full of his own importance that he is afraid to walk round Tesco without a bodyguard.

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WMD inspector Hans Blix told Tony Blair that there was no evidence of WMDs in Iraq

Hans Blix, who has not been called to give evidence to Sir John Chilcot's inquiry, said his team had grown suspicious of the quality of intelligence pointing to Saddam Hussein having WMDs.

The inspectors visited many sites said by intelligence services in the UK, the US and elsewhere to contain WMDs, but had only ever found conventional weapons, documents or nothing at all, he said.

''I think this was one of the most significant things of the whole story,'' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

''We got tips not only from the UK but from other intelligence, the US as well, so perhaps some 100 all in all.

''We had time to go to about three dozen of these sites and in no case did we find any weapons of mass destruction.''

He added: ''We said if this is the best (intelligence), then what is the rest? Doubts arose from that.''

Dr Blix said he spoke to Mr Blair in February 2003, ahead of the March invasion, about his team's findings.

''I said to Mr Blair 'Yes, I also thought there could be weapons of mass destruction', but I said 'Are you so sure? Would it not be paradoxical if you were to invade Iraq with 200,000 men and found there were no weapons of mass destruction?'.

''His response was 'No, no', he was quite convinced, the intelligence services were convinced, and even the Egyptians were convinced, so I had no reason to doubt his good faith at the time. But I was doubtful.''

And he said the Iraqis were finally making progress in opening up to inspections and should have been allowed more time.

''We warned the Iraqis that they needed to be more active and they became more active and we reported that to the (UN) Security Council, that we were actually making a great deal of progress,'' he said.

Dr Blix added: ''We could not exclude that there was still something hidden, because you cannot prove the negative, but I think they should have taken to heart that there was a change in the Iraqi attitude, that there was more cooperation and that things that were unresolved were becoming resolved.''

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New Labour invents 33 new crimes every month

Thanks to New Labour, it is now illegal to swim in the wreck of the Titanic or to sell game birds killed on a Sunday or Christmas Day – eventualities overlooked by previous governments.

New Labour has made 4,289 activities illegal since the 1997 election, at a rate of about one a day – twice the speed with which the previous Conservative government created crimes.

Gordon Brown was the worst offender, with his government inventing 33 new crimes a month. Tony Blair's administration made 27 new offences each month.

Some of the more inventive crimes dreamt up by New Labour include "disturbing a pack of eggs when directed not to by an authorised officer" and reporting the door of a merchant ship to be closed and locked when it isn't.

New Labour also introduced laws against activities which would already have been covered by previous legislation – such as "causing a nuclear explosion."

Liberal Democrat home office spokesman Chris Huhne, who brought the figures to light, will criticise the government's administrative binge in a speech tonight.

He will say New Labour has spent 12 years "suffering from the most acute and prolonged bout of legislative diarrhoea", calling the rate of 69 new Home Affairs Bills in 12 years "staggering".

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Police to use military drones to spy on public

Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the routine covert monitoring of the public, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.

The arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which produces a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for war zones, is adapting the military-style planes for a consortium of government agencies led by Kent police.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates UK airspace, has been told by BAE and Kent police that civilian UAVs would "greatly extend" the government's surveillance capacity and "revolutionise policing". The CAA is currently reluctant to license UAVs in normal airspace because of the risk of collisions with other aircraft.

BAE drones are programmed to take off and land on their own, stay airborne for up to 15 hours and reach heights of 20,000ft, making them invisible from the ground.

Previously, Kent police has said the drone scheme was intended for use over the English Channel to monitor shipping and detect immigrants crossing from France. However, the documents suggest the maritime focus was, at least in part, a public relations strategy designed to minimise civil liberty concerns.

"There is potential for these [maritime] uses to be projected as a 'good news' story to the public rather than more 'big brother'," a minute from the one of the earliest meetings, in July 2007, states.

Behind closed doors, the scope for UAVs has expanded significantly. Working with various policing organisations as well as the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the Maritime and Fisheries Agency, HM Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Agency, BAE and Kent police have drawn up wider lists of potential uses.

One document lists "[detecting] theft from cash machines, preventing theft of tractors and monitoring antisocial driving" as future tasks for police drones, while another states the aircraft could be used for road and railway monitoring, search and rescue, event security and covert urban surveillance.

Under a section entitled "Other routine tasks (Local Councils) – surveillance", another document states the drones could be used to combat "fly-posting, fly-tipping, abandoned vehicles, abnormal loads, waste management".

Military drones have been used extensively by the US to assist reconnaissance and airstrikes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Their use in war zones has been blamed for high civilian death tolls.

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