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On why assisted dying/suicide is a human rights and liberal issue the Lib Dems should take up…

This is back in the news as Noel Conway is challenging the 1961 Suicide Act that by stopping his right to die in a dignified manner breeches his human rights. It is an extremely emotive issue for many. MPs debated it just two years ago and the eight Lib Dem Members of Parliament split three ways with three voting for the bill, three against and two sat on the fence.

Back then it was Alistair Carmichael, John Pugh and Norman Lamb who supported the bill. The latter even commenting during the debate that he had changed his mind in recent years. The paragraph that sticks out is below:

I have changed my mind on this issue. I used to oppose change, but I am now very clear in my mind that reform is necessary. We are all shaped by the conversations we have and by our own personal experiences, sometimes within our own families. Talking to people who are terminally ill has forced me to think about the principles at stake and led me to change my mind. I came to this view through one man in particular, Douglas Harding, who, for six years, has lived with terminal cancer, and is now very close to the end. When I hear him argue the case to me about his right to decide when to end his life as he faces the closing stages of a terminal illness, I find it impossible to reject that right. When I ask myself what I would want in those circumstances whether I would want that right, I am very clear in my mind that I would. I do not know whether I would exercise it, but I would absolutely want it for myself. How can I then deny it to others?

It is one of those rare occasions when I am on the opposite side of the aisle to Nick Clegg who voted against the bill. At Conference in 2014 he found that he was in the minority within the party during a Q&A session. A show of hands showed that the majority of Lib Dem members in that room believed that a change in the law was necessary. “I am personally quite sceptical about the ability to capture what is a very, very delicate decision about when you endorse, under the law, the taking of someone’s life” said the then Deputy Minister at the time.

For me though I don’t see it as a tough decision and I think Norman Lamb hit the nail on the head. It is all about rights and if someone is in a position where they want to end their own life but need help, they should have that opportunity. This isn’t about state sanctioned murder but about not criminalising doctors or loved ones for bringing an end to pain.

I have it on record with my mum and my partner that should I ever be in a position where I have zero quality of life, I do not want to live. This is of course a very narrow interpretation that only takes into account two scenarios where I wouldn’t be able to clearly communicate my wishes, firstly locked in syndrome, which would be hell on Earth in my opinion and the other is where I lose so many of my faculties that I do not know who I am or who anyone is around me. For me that isn’t life but existing and again for me, that isn’t life.

This is of course just one persons opinion – mine – but shouldn’t I be able to control whether or not I live or die in such a scenario? If I want the freedom to end my life if I didn’t think it was worth living then how could I ever have the position where I don’t think another person has that same right?

The issue of coercion is a real one and I can fully see that is a potential problem to making this law. If assisted dying/suicide was decriminalised then scrupulous people could get vulnerable people to agree to end their life for a variety of reasons from freeing them of a burden to financial gain. This is where the whole issue hits the rocks as many will argue that if it could be used by people against the wishes of the person then it should be avoided at all costs. This is why safety checks should be put in place and that is plausible albeit difficult.

As liberals we should fight for individual choice in life and in this instance death. I find it hard to constitute that people couldn’t comprehend of a scenario where they see themselves diagnosed with a terminal illness, which is only only to get worse, more painful for them and more painful for their loved ones watching them in pain and slipping away and not want to end the pain for all. For you see dying slowly and painfully whilst watching your loved ones go through this with you must be nearly as bad (or even more so) than going through it yourself.

I’ve always believed in individual freedom and I think assisted dying/suicide comes under that umbrella. I would love the Liberal Democrats to look into this once more. In 2004 at Spring Conference the party promised to, ‘introduce legislation that would legalise assisted dying for patients with a terminal or severe, incurable and progressive physical illness‘ but nothing happened. In 2012 a motion brought by Chris Davies MEP at Party Conference was passed which reaffirmed our support for a change in the law on assisted dying. Still nothing has happened.

This is an issue of human rights and liberalism. One I think the party should seriously take up and not just pay lip service to…

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Yet another reason not to bring back the death penalty – Henry McCollum & Leon Brown edition

I’m sure many people have read the story about mentally disabled half brothers Henry McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46, who were convicted in 1984 of raping and killing an 11-year-old girl in North Carolina. That girl, 11 year-old Sabrina Buie, had been raped and suffocated with her underwear crammed down her throat, her body left in a soybean field. One of them was on death row for the crime and the other was sentenced to life imprisonment. The crime is certainly one that many people would feel passionately should deserve the ultimate punishment but there is one big issue…these two men were completely innocent.

Yesterday a judge ordered that they be released after spending three decades in jail. DNA evidence from the crime had been tested and it ruled out both men and implicated another man who is currently in prison for another crime. That man lived only a block away from where the body was found and was arrested and convicted of a very similar crime weeks after the body for this crime was discovered, however the prosecutor never even looked at him believing that he had the right people and that was that.

The lead prosecutor still believed up to a week ago that the right people were convicted, you have to worry that people like Joe Freeman Britt are allowed in positions of power. He was a bible quoting DA who sought the death penalty more than any other DA in his era, I know I struggle to believe that a Christian could be so tied to the death penalty but there you go.

One of the two men, Mr McCollom confessed to the crime following a marathon interrogation where they weren’t allowed to see their family or a lawyer. They initially came under suspicion because they were new to the small town and people saw them as outsiders. Long story short, there was no evidence against these two young men and yet one of them has spent thirty years on Death Row and to most people he should’ve been executed a long time ago. Those people no doubt would feel very little remorse today.

People will tell me that one wrong conviction shouldn’t mean anything and that mistakes happen. Mistakes do happen but if the state put to death an innocent person then that is just not on. Just because it is someone that you don’t know doesn’t mean you should feel any differently about it. If it was someone you knew that had been falsely convicted of a crime based on shaky (at best) evidence but the raw emotion had led to a jury filing a guilty verdict and a judge because of the emotion of the case imposing a death penalty then how would you feel?

The death penalty is something that I cannot stomach because of cases like these. When people say to me that it should only be used for people who are ‘guilty guilty’ and do ‘horrific crimes’ then I try and point out that we only have two verdicts in the UK, ‘Guilty’ and ‘Not Guilty’, there is no ‘Guilty Guilty’ verdict for people that are just clearly guilty of a crime. Also the people that make up a jury are human beings, they can be influenced my emotion.

I have been on a jury and have seen such a thing where people wanted to convict solely based on the crime they were accused of and not on the evidence presented. The jury system is the best we have but it isn’t perfect and in the US of A the jury can impose the death penalty in certain states and situations.

State sanctioned murder is not for me. Not for people who have committed horrific crimes and nor for those who actually hadn’t done so. Making mistakes happens to us all and sending innocent people to prison happens but they can get released and still live their lives. If they are put to death and then found they are innocent then there is no recourse.

Bringing back the Death Penalty in the UK would lead to nasty people being killed by the state but it would also no doubt lead to innocent people being put to death as well and I’d like to know what ratio of nasty people to innocent people being put to death would be acceptable to people who back the death penalty because to me, even one innocent person being slain is one too many.

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Carisbrooke College fails Ofsted and is failing their pupils and they failed me

This morning someone posted a screenshot of the Isle of Wight County Press about an article where a UKIP candidate forged signatures on their nomination form. I didn’t really care about this story but at the bottom of the screenshot there was another story entitled ‘Carisbrooke fails Ofsted’ and I did some research. Basically Carisbrooke College has been on special measures since being judged inadequate in all four core areas – pupil achievement, the quality of teaching, the behaviour and safety of pupils and leadership of the school.

Now why do I care about a school that is 150 odd miles away from me?

Well this was my high school. It isn’t a high school any more as it has been rebranded a college but it is where I went to school, doing my GCSEs on this site and staying on to the VI Form to get my A-Levels. It is a shame to see the school in such a state but reading up on what has been going on, it isn’t the anomaly on the Isle of Wight, with three of the six secondary schools having been placed in special measures within the past year. The Isle of Wight is clearly failing its secondary school pupils, that is clear. Since I left the island they have really messed around with the school system and it doesn’t seem to have been for the better.

Now I do know people – friends – who work in the Isle of Wight school system as teachers. I do know people who work as teachers at Carisbrooke College and of course there are a handful of teachers who are still working there from when I was there, so it is a tricky one to be too critical of.

The thing is I have written about the school once before on this very blog, in a piece entitled I wrote about the current uniform policy and how much I despised it. My main beef was with these two lines:

Hair must be worn in an appropriate style.
No extreme styling or designs of hair or eyebrows e.g. lines, intricate patterns. Only hair of one natural colour allowed and no false nails or coloured nail varnish is allowed.

Look I understand the need for a school uniform as without one then you can easily have a situation where pupils are bullied for not having the latest style of blouse or the right trainers but I don’t think school uniforms should be very strict. No trainers, black shoes, white t-shirt or shirt and dark coloured skirts/trousers or whatever. I certainly don’t think that if you are all dolled up in a blazer then you’ll suddenly act like a better student.

However when it comes to hair then I believe children – teenage children – should be allowed to express some form of identity and individuality. Young people develop their own sense of who they are are at high school. Schools shouldn’t feel that purple hair for example will rock the boat. I don’t recall any such rule in place when I went there and I do recall people with what I’d call ‘extreme styling’ of hair. Has the school improved with such strict uniform policy? Clearly not.

The thing is I went to the Carisbrooke College website today and what is one of their latest news stories? – – Yes. They are still banging on about uniform and appearance. Ofsted believe that the standing of teaching is inadequate, too many teachers have come in from middle schools where they have been merged and they haven’t been trained to teach secondary school pupils, isn’t this a far bigger fundamental issue?

Whilst I may have left the place in 2001 after my A-Levels, one of the inadequacies the Ofsted inspection noted really hit home:

Students do not make enough progress because too many teachers do not have high enough expectations of them.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

I’m not going to sit here and say I was a great student because that would be a lie. In fact I was incredibly lazy and would always do the bare minimum to go forward. The fact is though I was (and still am) actually rather bright. I moved to the Isle of Wight after Year 8, so I had been at a secondary school on the mainland and was in all the top sets – and at the very top of them all as well. That school was a far better school than Carisbrooke but when I rolled up there, they placed me in the middle sets across the board and I was on the biggest easy street of all time. I wasn’t even placed in any set for maths (clearly a great school) and I just told the head of maths to put me in the highest set but she was happy to place me very low down, luckily I won the debate (even at just 13 at times I could stand up for myself) and I stayed in the top set throughout my stay at the school.

Basically Year 9 was a complete waste of time as I learned nothing pretty much. I was placed in set four (out of seven) for English and we did a spelling test. I got 50/50 but the teacher said I only got 49 and he said eerie was spelt eery instead of eerie. At the time we were actually reading a book that had the word eerie in it and it was spelt eerie. I pointed this out and he decided that both spellings were acceptable but it took a good five to ten minutes of shall we say ‘debate’ (it was really me lambasting him).

At the end of Year 9 we had the CATS tests (Cognitive Abilities Test) which are widely used to understand ability. According to their website, ‘The Cognitive Abilities Test Third Edition (CAT3) is the most widely used test of reasoning ability in the UK.’ I went into these tests in middle sets across the board (apart from in maths where I told them I was going in the top set as they didn’t have a set assigned to me) and promptly went and bashed the tests out of the park. So much so my mum was called into the school and told that I was a genius and in the top percentile in the country. This wasn’t news.

She knew I was gifted. I always had been. However my marks weren’t living up to my ability and they didn’t understand why. The fact is I wasn’t being challenged so didn’t bother. Children need to be challenged otherwise they’ll become disillusioned and just get by on natural ability. I have never failed an exam in my life and I have gone into many wholly unprepared. Natural ability though and what I call ‘exam nous’ can only get you so far though.

When I actually got challenged (or chose to challenge myself) I was right up there. For example in GCSE history we did the American West and it interested me. So I read all about it and actually ignored the teacher in class, instead choosing to read the text books and assimilating knowledge on the subject. I’m told that the person who marked my exam paper actually rang my history teacher to tell him I was a genius. I scored 100% on that GCSE paper, including writing an essay at the end of the exam talking about what a bastard the white man was towards the native American just for the hell of it and I wanted someone to know my thoughts on the subject.

In A-Level geography we did modules and had five exams with one piece of coursework. In two modules I scored an A/B borderline and I told the head of Geography that I wanted to resit as I believed I could get far better. He actually agreed and had faith in my abilities and I didn’t want to show him up so that he felt my resits were not worth the extra money. On the day of the results we also had a new module, so I had three exam results. We heard the news the results were in and basically all A-Level geography students piled into his office to try and get their results. I got there just as he said that he had to go and register his form so to come back at break, he stood up and saw me and said – and I remember the words well, ‘here comes the star of the show’ and sat back down and told me to come over. I had scored 119/120 in one paper and 89/90 and 88/90 in the other two. I had dropped four marks out of a possible 300 for a 98.7% result across those three modules. In another module I actually answered a question that we weren’t taught as I had a better understanding of it (renewable energy over ecosystems which we were taught) and I still got an A on that paper. So when challenged I came through.

The problem at Carisbrooke was they didn’t identify this. They believed they knew me better than I did. They failed me in not identifying my ability. I don’t know if they didn’t get my records from my old school or what but you don’t go from the top of the top at a really good school to being average at a much worse school based on exam results. I’m not guilt free in all of this but when you are 13 years-old and realise you can go through school basically in first gear, you don’t speak up. The Cats tests should have been the moment the school just threw me in the deep end to challenge me. They chose not to. This was a mistake that I believe has cost me to some degree in my life. I have many GCSEs, I have A-Levels, I have a degree so I’m still an educated man but I could have done better and I do believe that they failed me in that respect – and they are clearly doing it to many others.

Teachers and school staff need to get students interested and stimulated. Without that then they’ve already lost the war. Now of course if a kid has no interest in learning French for example then you can’t drum it into them, but school staff need to identify what makes every single pupil tick far more than they do. This sounds like a big challenge but surely that is far more important to spending hours of staff time on telling off students for not wearing a blazer, or having a blue streak in their hair or wearing brown instead of black shoes.

Until staff remember what their priorities should be then they will continue to fail students. All of us will be influenced primarily by our home life but after that our next biggest influences will be our schooling and the teachers we have. I won’t say I had any really bad teachers but I could sit here and name several who were just wholly inadequate. When studying GCSE English Literature we had a teacher who spent three to four months basically just playing us a recording of someone reading To Kill A Mockingbird. We weren’t asked questions on it, she just came in and played the audio and stopped it when the bell rang. That stimulated me less than a Michael McIntyre ‘joke’ stimulates my body into an attempt at a laugh. She was an inadequate teacher. There is no doubt about this. I won’t name her in case she is still teaching and more than three people ever read this blog, but she was not earning her money.

I did have some good teachers, I did have some that challenged me. I had a teacher I thought was a complete tosser but he challenged me because I thought this and wanted to prove him wrong. I did. Good teachers aren’t always the ones you like the most, they are the ones that get under your skin someway, somehow. Good teachers are the ones that let you realise your potential and not those who let you have a good time.

Carisbrooke College is an inadequate school as it stands. It wasn’t always this way. Carisbrooke failed me to some degree but I wouldn’t have ever said the teaching as a whole was inadequate like Ofsted did. I had a good handful of lousy teaching but I also had a good solid handful of good to inspiring teaching. I suspect if I was a student at Carisbrooke College now I’d be a lot worse off than I was when I went there and that makes me despondent for the young people of the west part of the Isle of Wight and those in Newport who go to Carisbrooke and not Medina. The fact that Cowes and Sandown Bay Academy are also in special measures shows that the problem isn’t specific to Carisbrooke, but instead a larger problem for the people who run education on the Isle of Wight and they need to answer questions, serious questions about how they are failing young people on the Isle of Wight.

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‘Let your friend drive home drunk’ school tells pupil

Every so often you come across a news story that you just can’t understand. This afternoon that happened to me. An American teenager (Erin Cox) gets a call from her friend who is drinking underage. Bad girl. However the underage drinker was old enough to drive and had indeed driven to a party but knew better than to drive home, so she called her friend to come pick her up. Her friend came and picked her up to take her home. Good story, no?

Well between the phone call and the girl picking up her drunk friend, the police raided the party and broke it up. When the girl who came to pick her up arrived to pick her up she was told she’d be hauled before court for underage drinking. Police arrested 12 and issued court summons to everyone else at the venue. Uh oh. However the police officer at the scene did tell the court that Erin Cox was not drinking and had indeed just shown up to drive someone home. Case dismissed. All sorted.

As Lee Corso would say, ‘not so fast my friend…’

What happened next was Ms Cox was stripped of being captain of her High School Volleyball team and suspended for five games because she was around alcohol. Any high school athlete at her school can be suspended just being in the vicinity of alcohol. They are the rules. She launched legal action against the school for suspending her but the Court decided they didn’t have the jurisdiction to overturn the school’s decision.

The lawyer for the school said outside the courtroom, “The school is really trying to take a very serious and principled stand regarding alcohol and we all get that. Teen drinking is a serious problem.” Yes and we have no problem with that but at some point common sense prevails. If Ms Cox says she can’t pick up her friend then the logical next step is for that friend to get in her car and drive home. What is worse in the grand scheme of things, underage drinking or drinking and driving? Anyone…?

Of course it is the latter. The school is taking a strong stand against drinking but being a good friend and stopping a drunk person getting behind the wheel is clearly something they aren’t in favour of. The people behind this decision are clearly idiots and will defend themselves to the nth degree. Rules are rules and there is nothing that can supersede a rule.

This young woman would not have been punished had she allowed her friend to get behind the wheel drunk that night, yet she is for going to pick her up to stop her drink-driving. There is no logic behind that notion. It is drummed into young people that underage drinking is bad but if you do then don’t drive home drunk – call someone and get them to pick you up. We all know this but North Andover High School administrators clearly believe differently. Ms Cox said she would do nothing differently but this story could easily propel others in similar situations to not come to their friends aid, in turn putting more drink-drivers on the road and who knows what happens then.

I just think these idiots could indirectly lead to people dying and I don’t think that is a stretch. So kids listen to these idiots. They say let friends drive home drunk because if you are around alcohol then you will be punished. What a great message to send our young people.


You can read the full story from the Boston Herald

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Michael Le Vell found not guilty but how and why does the jury reach such a verdict?

When the Michael Le Vell verdict came through this afternoon I wasn’t surprised. Not because he’s famous and famous people get off. Not because I didn’t believe the accuser. Not because I thought he looked like a good guy but I wasn’t surprised because I have been there – in the jury room on a very similar case where it came down solely to whether we believed the accuser or whether we believed the defendant and I saw how a jury swayed from what their gut instincts were to how we found the man.

You see the legal system is skewed against the defendant all the way until court where in fact the defendant who has the weight of the law on his or her side. You are instructed clearly by the judge that your gut opinion counts for nothing and that only what is said in court should influence you on your decision. So what the defendant looks like shouldn’t come into play for example. All that matters is what the witnesses tell you and what the lawyers and judges say.

In our case we saw no medical evidence and the reporting on the Le Vell case says that the judge instructed them that the medical evidence was neutral and therefore shouldn’t carry any weight either way. This meant for them as it did us – it came down not just to who we believed but did we believe the accuser to such a degree that we were confident that the accused had done the alleged crimes.

I have written about this before but we walked into the jury room and after an initial vote we were 9-3 in favour of not guilty. One of the nine was a young lady who actually didn’t care and wanted to go with the majority just so she could go home so its hard to fully gauge what she really thought – if she thought anything at all. The three guilty voters were two young men who felt that anyone accused of such a crime is probably guilty and one mother who believed that in the same situation her daughter (who was of the same age) would tell the truth and therefore she believed this girl totally and any accusation that her daughter wouldn’t tell the truth would crush her.

The impasse didn’t last long with the two young men, they agreed that following what was actually said in court (and one particular comment from the girls mother) meant that her testimony could not be taken as gospel and due to the lack of evidence bar from the accuser they changed their vote to not guilty and therefore we were 11-1 within an hour or so but we’d be deliberating for several more hours whilst the final member of the jury still equated the accuser for her daughter and how bad she would feel is people didn’t believe her daughter. She eventually was persuaded that her daughter and this girl were two different people and should be treated as such and we were unanimous and acquitted on all charges.

Obviously I was not in the Le Vell jury room but I wouldn’t be surprised if the discussion went along a similar front. It came down solely to whether the accuser was a solid enough witness to prove the case, now that is the key part of the whole thing, proving the case. The jury didn’t say that they thought the accuser was a liar, they didn’t say that she made up the allegations, they didn’t say that she embellished the truth, they didn’t say that any of the things she said happened to her didn’t happen, they simply said that her word alone wasn’t enough to confirm beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did what he was accused of.

So to those who are asking about whether the girl will now be arrested for making up allegations then just shut up. There was no proof that she made anything up, no-one has said or even intimated that. All that has happened is a jury has decided that her word alone against the word of one other person isn’t good enough to prove a case. This happens day in, day out in court cases. When it comes to one persons word against another it is hard to convict just because as humans we find it hard to take one person who we don’t know’s word above another person we don’t know – certainly to a significant degree which ‘reasonable doubt’ makes a jury think about.

Did Michael Le Vell commit these crimes? I don’t know but I suspect the jury were in a position where it was very hard to be sure that he did and subsequently acquitted and as a society we should take that verdict as fact unless any further evidence comes out. Le Vell should be free of any stigma and allowed to get on with his life. As for the accuser she should also be allowed to get on with her life and not face any questions about whether she was telling the truth or not.

The reason our criminal justice system is setup is to make the CPS prove their case and not for the defence to prove their own. You are innocent until proven guilty and if you are not proven to be guilty then you are innocent in the eyes of the law and should be in the eyes of society as well. Being a jury member is not easy as you have a lot to weigh up but you are instructed very clearly as to what you can use to form your verdict and that ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ thing always looms large in your thought process.

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The problem of dealing with online abuse…the twitter ‘report abuse’ idea.

I agree with Owen Jones. It might not be as catchy as I agree with Nick but in the context of this blog is it far more applicable. Do I agree with everything he has to say? No, no I don’t. No-one agrees with everything another person has to say, so what exactly am I agreeing with here? Well Owen’s piece in the Independent’s Voices section entitled Trolls, Caroline Criado-Perez, and how to tackle the dark side of Twitter.

He makes some extremely salient points but the one I want to talk about is the difference between trolling and disagreement, ‘It’s also important to make a distinction between passionate disagreement and trolling,’ he says. This is the reason why I think the twitter report abuse button/idea is more than a problematic one. I have had conversations with people where they think I am being abusive whereas I would just say I was disagreeing with their Point of View. I know of many people who see disagreements as abuse. If you don’t think the same as them then you must be being abusive. That is how a not insignificant number of people think.

So how do we deal with genuine abuse of the sort Caroline Criado-Perez has receive in recent days following her appearance on television over having a woman appear on a banknote? That is the old $64,000 question. Firstly of course we have the law, and people who are threatening someone whether it be over twitter or face to face are indeed breaking the law and should face the consequences of their actions. I think everyone knows that abuse is abuse whether it is anonymous on the internet or publicly in the street. Ignorance is not any sort of defence.

Secondly though it is education. Now this situation has caused the old ‘misogyny’ word to appear left, right and centre. I won’t be tackling this one because internet abuse can be sent to men too, by men and then misogyny obviously doesn’t play in as a factor. It isn’t funny or cool to abuse anyone and it is never harmless. The best way to tackle this type of behaviour is to get people to see it from the victims PoV. Would they be so blaze if this abuse was being sent to them, or their parents or their little brothers or sisters? I suspect they wouldn’t. This is an issue society has failed to tackle and the whole ‘treat others how you’d like to be treated’ thing is kinda old-fashioned to some people and that makes me sad.

Thirdly the actual practicalities behind the proposed report abuse button on twitter. Who is going to pay for the extra staff who are going to monitor all the reports of abuse? Who gets the final say on what is abuse or isn’t? Tweeting someone that you are going to rape them is a pretty slam dunk case and should be passed on to local law enforcement authorities. What about a sinister tweet saying they shouldn’t go down dark alleys late at night? Threatening but do these get passed on as well? How about when someone reports abuse when there was no abuse? Do those people get their accounts suspended for wasting twitter’s time? Do twitter pass on every abuse report and then people who claimed abuse get arrested for wasting police time?

As with many of these things the practicalities of what seem like a good idea need to be thought through carefully. As the Yorkshire Gob puts it (her words – not mine) ‘A report abuse button which is easy to click on is easy to click on for EVERYBODY, not just those who are genuinely being abused. So the EDL will probably click on it for the English Disco Lovers. And homophobes will click on it on the accounts of gay people. And TERFs will click on it on the accounts of transfolk.‘ and she is right. The report abuse button would be open to abuse itself. How easy would it be to go to all the people’s tweeter feeds you don’t like and click on a button to report them and hopefully get their account suspended for a bit just to piss them off? You can set up a fake tweeter account in an instant so it wouldn’t even put your proper account at risk.

Sometimes good ideas just don’t work in the real world (or in this case the online world). This lady received some vile abuse and one person has already been arrested this morning and hopefully more will follow. This type of abuse is not just morally wrong but is legally wrong too and the people who deal out sickening abuse should face the consequences. However just throwing up a ‘report abuse’ button might create far more problems than it solves and the real abuse may well just get swallowed up in all the noise as people use this tool to troll even more.

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Caroline Criado-Perez petition on female representation on bank notes…

I just received the following e-mail:

Neil —

In April the Bank of England announced that they would be removing the last remaining female from English banknotes — the social reformer Elizabeth Fry who appears on the £5 note — meaning that, other than the Queen, there will be no women featuring.

Caroline Criado-Perez believes that having an all-male line-up on English banknotes sends out a damaging and untrue message that no woman has done anything important enough to appear.

That’s why she started a petition calling on the Bank of England to reverse their decision and ensure a female is on a banknote. Click here to join her.

Since Caroline launched her petition over 30,000 people have signed it — and yesterday she received a response from the new Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, that they would be reviewing the decision.

This is a fantastic achievement for everyone who has signed Caroline’s petition and shows that their message is getting through — but they need to keep the pressure up.

Tomorrow Caroline will deliver her petition to the Bank of England — will you add your name before then?

Thanks for being part of this,

Brie and the team

Interesting. I agree that the bank notes should not be all male but here is one line that riled me enough to actually write a short post on the subject:

Caroline Criado-Perez believes that having an all-male line-up on English banknotes sends out a damaging and untrue message that no woman has done anything important enough to appear.

Holy shit. No. No. No. No. No. It doesn’t send out a damaging and untrue message about this – and do you know why – because no-one actually looks at who is on the bank note. I suspect I’m pretty typical in how I deal with bank notes. I get them out of the hole in the wall and stuff them in my wallet. I then exchange the bank notes for food or other supplies. At no point do I look at the bank notes and say ‘oh look at whose on the £5/10/20/50 note’ – no-one does that. No-one.

I agree with the sentiment but seriously it doesn’t really send out too much of a message because no-one notices. I won’t say nobody cares because clearly 30,000 people at least do but if you asked 1,000 random people to name who the woman on the £5 note is today then if more than 5% can name her then I would be stunned. Stunned.

It isn’t a huge issue. It is an issue but not a huge one but yet again people are starting to foam at the mouth. I wish people would foam at the mouth for things on equality that actually mattered…

For the record should you wish to sign the petition then you can do so here.

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Is carrying on a mobile phone conversation at a checkout rude or not?

Sometimes Twitter really is great and most of those times are when I get to see a story that I would never have seen otherwise. Today that story was entitled Hang up or I won’t serve you: Sainsbury’s worker gives shopper ‘lecture on checkout etiquette’ and was in the London Evening Standard.

A young woman called Jo Clarke was talking on her mobile phone when she got to the checkout and the checkout assistant informed her that she wouldn’t be carrying on putting her items through the till until she got off her phone. Miss Clarke has since slammed the ‘rude’ assistant and has informed Sainsbury’s that she will be shopping in Waitrose from now on.

Sainsbury’s are busy falling over themselves to apologise profusely but they should read the comments on the article – the vast majority are in support of the checkout assistant and you can count me among them. I have never worked on a till at a supermarket but have worked on a till in other shops and agree that someone talking on their phone is extremely rude. Whilst I won’t say that I wouldn’t put through their items if they were on the phone I would do what most Brits do and that is curse under my breath about lack of manners.

When shopping I often have an iPod in and I ensure I either take one earphone out how I can communicate with the person on the till if needs be or turn the iPod off for a minute or so. It is just basic common decency.

I hope that Sainsbury’s don’t discipline the checkout assistant involved and I dislike the way they are fawning over themselves to apologise. By carrying on with your conversation on the phone Ms Clarke was showing that she had no concept of manners and was in fact being rude herself and not vice versa. I would like more checkout staff to do this and quickly we could eradicate people using phones when at a checkout.

Whilst I’m on this subject can people please learn how to queue properly? In my local shop the amount of times I see people pick up a paper and go directly to a till even if there is a queue is ridiculous. We are British so we should know how to queue and yet I see it all the time. Even if someone is being served at a till I will see people go stand right behind them even if people are queuing up in the designated queuing area. I mean come on people…

Basic checkout etiquette is simple and when I see people failing to adhere to it is really bugs me. Ms Clarke clearly thought she was in the right and is now getting pilloried by the general public she was hoping to get sympathy from. I do hope that the checkout assistant gets a job at Waitrose and is there the next time she shops because that would be truly magic.

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Banning takeaways from serving hot food until 5PM? Excuse me…?

Just checking the date folks. Bear with, bear with, bear with…wait it’s not April 1st. What the hell? Seriously what the hell? Ok I suppose I should probably explain what I’m going on about. Well Salford Council are proposing not allowing takeaways from selling hot food until 5PM in the vicinity of a school in an attempt to force children to live a healthier lifestyle. In a way it is a noble cause because as a nation we eat worse and have less exercise than we used to. The health of us all should be a huge concern but where do we draw the line between individualism and the state dictating what we can eat and when?

Cllr Margaret Morris, assistant mayor for health at Salford Council, said: “Takeaways create jobs and provide a service but these ideas are to make sure that they are opening in the right places and not having a negative impact in our city.

“We don’t think they should be serving hot food over the counter before 5pm near schools, as children should be encouraged to eat healthily, so we have made this clear in our proposal.

“Public health and helping to reduce obesity levels are a top priority, and while planners cannot control the food that is sold, we would like every new premise to offer well promoted healthy alternatives so people can have an informed choice about the food they eat.”

Now the debate about whether takeaways have a negative impact is a fair one to have. Just today I saw a video from the local police appealing for help in identifying a man who decided to kick off in a local kebab place. There is certainly only a finite number of these establishments that should be in any single area. That is plain for all to see and dictating what hours they should be open is a legitimate issue for the local council but linking it to the health of our nation’s youngsters is something I can’t go with.

Children should be encouraged to eat healthily but at what point do the council stop? Do they stop newsagents from selling sweets? Do they rip out the tuck shops in schools? Vending machines? Should students bags be searched for chocolate at the gates? It is a slippery slope when you start saying that certain foods should be accessible to people at certain times but others should not be.

The problem with public health and obesity levels do not lie at the feet of local Councillors. It lies in educating people about being healthy and looking after themselves. Focusing on young people is all well and good but where do they learn from? They learn from us adults. If we don’t take good care of ourselves then why would the little ones? As a nation we need educating but we also have the right to choose how to live our lives.

I hope this idea never makes it into practice as all it does is open the door to Councillors to dictate far more than they ever should. People should have an informed choice about what they eat – the lady makes a fine point but also if they choose to eat the less healthy option then that is their choice and not yours. It just reminds me of the day when I was the foreman of a jury and the key witness was an 11 year-old girl and there was a mother in her 40s in the jury room who kept on saying, ‘I don’t think my 11 year-old daughter would lie’ and we’d constantly retort that it wasn’t her 11 year-old that we were having to decide whether they were a credible witness or not. Sometimes people think they should run other people’s lives how they would like to run their families and that my friends (and I suppose foes) is not the role of local Councillors.

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Should those arrested for sexual offences be named in public?

It is a question that comes and goes with various media stories and people have fairly entrenched views on either side of the debate. I am one of those people. I have strong views that due to the fact a not insignificant proportion of society equate an arrest or a charge sheet to guilt. I’ll ask these two questions and I want you to think about it and not just read past it.

If a friend of yours was charged or even just arrested for burglary would you treat them any different? If so, by how much? If the same friend was charged or even just arrested in relation with a sexual offence, certainly one involving children would you treat them any differently? If so, by how much?

Now i don’t have any statistics to back up my point but most people I know would be far more cautious with regards to someone who had been linked to a sexual offence. Certainly if you are a parent then would you want this person around your children? I’d pretty sure you wouldn’t even though they had not been found guilty of anything. An arrest or charge of burglary is a serious crime but there is a distinct different in how many of us perceive sexual crimes and all other crimes. We (rightly) find them more vile but we are also far more ready to err on the safe side in removing those people from our lives before the judicial process has played out.

The old adage of ‘mud sticks’ isn’t there because it isn’t true. It most certainly is true. Anyone who has been arrested or charged with a sexual offence will have that on file for the rest of their lives and it will follow them like a bad smell even if they were found not guilty or the charges were dropped or even if they were never charged. It is fair that innocent people are victimised (I don’t use that word lightly) because we as a society err on the safe side?

This brings me nicely on to my next point. At what point do we decide who the victim is? Do we decide that the victim is the person who has alleged a sexual crime against them from the off or do we decide they are a victim when a jury reaches a guilty verdict? Do we decide that the person arrested/charged is the victim if they are found not guilty or do we still perceive the person who alleges the crime as the victim?

Now clearly this isn’t an easy one to answer because there is a situation where both people can be victims, the person who alleges the crime may well have been the victim of a crime but the person arrested/charged with that crime might not be the right person. In that situation are they both victims or is one of them more of a victim than the other?

We all have different views on this case and one of the most prominent liberal voices out there, co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice Stephen Tall has his and they are vehemently to mine. In his post Rape anonymity for the accused: well-intentioned but wrong, he concludes that, ‘Ultimately the best safeguard for maintaining a free and open society is an accountable and open system of justice. Secrecy, however well-intentioned, is hardly ever preferable to transparency, however messy.

Whilst on paper that seems the best way forward I would contend that in the real world that is not plausible. Justice can be seen to be served in a not guilty verdict but that verdict cannot undo the months (and sometimes years) the accused has suffered on multiple fronts. They find their social circle dramatically decreases whilst they await trial as people don’t want to associate with someone charged with such serious offences. They probably are at best suspended by their employer but in many situations they will be fired and are unable to find any more work until they are cleared and if they do it is unlikely to be in a similar field. Also as I hinted at earlier a not guilty verdict doesn’t ex-sponge people’s memories nor does it disappear from your criminal record. Yes you can have a serious criminal record without even being a criminal. A rape/sexual offence arrest/charge stays with you forever.

Some would say they would prefer to know if someone they knew was arrested or charged with such a serious offence as they have to think of their safety as well as that of their children. This is a fair point but at what point does a person constitute a threat? An allegation? An arrest? Being charged? Being found guilty of the crimes? I honestly don’t know but what I do know is that innocent people charged with such serious offences are victims. I’m not saying they are more or less of a victim than the alleged victim but they are victims. Yes a not guilty person can rebuild their life but they will always carry baggage with them and they will also always be looked at through narrower eyes.

I think I should put it out there that I believe the vast majority, let me reiterate that, the vast majority of allegations are made in good faith. We all know there are a number of malicious allegations made but we’ll ignore them for now even though they are a relevant debate. This is about a situation where there is a victim who has been attacked but at what point does the person the police decide is the person who attacked them deserve to have their name made public?

I know many (including Stephen linked to above) bring up the Stuart Hall case where him being named brought forward more victims and ensured a guilty plea and a sexual predator brought to justice but that is but one example. You could make a case for any piece of legislation based on one example. However I always ask the same thing – if you were an innocent person arrested and subsequently charged with such an offence, you lost all your friends and your job and lived a life of limbo for say a year or so before being found not guilty, finding that your social circle still weren’t sure and most of them still didn’t want to know you and then you couldn’t return to your job – or a job of similar standing – then would you feel aggrieved?

Darn straight you would. Your life would have been turned upside down through no fault of your own. Now whilst it is true that rape victims have exactly the same in that their lives are completely turned upside down, do two wrongs make a right? No. No I don’t think so – and more than that – I never will.

So to round this thing up one of two things need to happen, We as a society have to learn the difference between someone being found guilty of a crime compared to being charged or even arrested in connection with a crime (which I don’t think we can do) or we need to keep both the accused and the accuser anonymous until we can find out which of the two (or even if both) are victims.

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