Thursday, 29 November 2012

Leveson To Publish Report Into Press Ethics

Lord Justice Leveson's long-awaited report into press standards will be published later amid fears its recommendations could throw the Government into turmoil.
David Cameron will respond to the recommendations in the Commons this afternoon, but in an extraordinary move his deputy Nick Clegg is preparing to make his own statement.
Sky sources say this is not indicative of a major coalition split and aides stress there are areas of agreement, but it will fuel concern about deep divisions within the Government.
Lord Justice Leveson's 2,000-page document will be unveiled at 1.30pm, with the judge widely expected to suggest a new regulator for newspapers underpinned by law.
His inquiry was set up by the Prime Minister last July after it emerged the News Of The World hired a private detective to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

JP Morgan UK Staff Hit By Offshore Tax Demand


JP Morgan workers have been ordered to pay tax - or face legal action - over allegations the firm transferred salary payments offshore, Sky News has learned.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) deemed the money as "disguised remuneration" and not retirement benefits as claimed.
Workers and executives have been told they must agree to pay up to 40% backdated income tax, 1% National Insurance contributions and interest accrued by December 7.
JP Morgan Chase and Co has agreed to pay 12.8% NI contributions for those who accept the settlement terms.
Those who do not agree to the terms face the threat of legal action by the Tax Office.
Sky News understands the money since classified as earnings by HMRC was transferred to Jersey from 1998, with most transferred from the 2005/6 tax year onwards.
The specified amount paid by individuals to the Tax Office to avoid litigation will be determined ultimately by how many agree to the settlement terms on offer. The investment bank employs thousands of people in the UK.
In a letter to the head of JP Morgan's tax department dated September 10, HMRC said: "As you are aware, the Government put in place legislation in 2011 to put beyond doubt the tax treatment of employee benefit trust arrangements.
"In addition, HMRC continues to robustly challenge the taxation treatment of such arrangements under previous legislation.
It adds: "In this context and where we are unable to agree a settlement HMRC will continue to formally progress its enquiries into the taxation treatment of the trusts."
Last year HMRC contacted more than 2,000 employers and offered settlements over disputedemployee benefit trusts (EBTs).
Earlier this year action was taken by HMRC against UBS and Deutsche Bank over EBTs, which contested the Tax Office claims.
HMRC has estimated that up to £1.7bn of tax and NI contributions were at stake in EBTs, including the "dependent fund" plans operated by JP Morgan.
The investment bank's staff who were part of the employee benefit trusts of 1998, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and the 2010 executive retirement plan are affected by the HMRC action.
The ruling impacts both current and former UK-based staff, whether or not they are British citizens or foreign nationals.
The employees' Jersey tax haven funds have been managed by subsidiaries of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), which describe the island as "tax neutral".
RBC's wealth management section actively promotes the benefits of using the island for affluent individuals.
"The chief preoccupation of most ultra high net worth families is wealth preservation," RBCexplains on its website .
"Only by structuring their affairs legitimately and with the advice of professionals, including lawyers, accountants, trust and tax experts, private clients will be able to protect their assets."
RBC Europe Ltd has offered JP Morgan workers collaterised bridging loans of more than £250,000 to fund the Tax Office demand.
JP Morgan's private bank has also offered financing arrangements for those who need more than £300,000, or mortgage arrangements in excess of £1m, to facilitate the settlement payments.
Helplines have been set up for workers in regard to the Tax Office offer by JP Morgan, RBC and advisers KPMG.
JP Morgan still disputes the offshore payments as being salary but has agreed to the settlement to avoid litigation under the recently enacted Disguised Remuneration legislation.
A JP Morgan spokesman told Sky News: "Our employee trust has always been transparent to HMRC, and its independent trustee has consistently paid taxes in accordance with UK tax law.
"In addition to taxes paid by the trust, JP Morgan has paid, on average, more than £1bn of corporation and payroll taxes to HMRC annually over the past decade."

©Sky News

40,595 animals abandoned in 2011


Almost 16,000 more animals were abandoned last year than in 2007, according to the RSPCA, who warned that pet owners are struggling to make ends meet in times of economic hardship.
The charity said 40,595 animals were abandoned in 2011, compared with 24,638 in 2007, a near 65% increase. Over the same period, and despite efficiency savings, the charity's running costs have risen 8% from £111 million to £120 million.
Despite the recession being over, animals are still facing "dark times", according to RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant. He added that with the charity having to do more to help animals in need, they are "struggling to cope", and called for people to donate to the RSPCA.
The charity said it is finding it harder to find new homes for abandoned pets, with 12,711 dogs rehomed in 2011, compared with 16,659 in 2009. The RSPCA rehomed 29,880 cats in 2011, less than the 36,070 two years before. Both species are taking longer to rehabilitate and rehome than a year ago, meaning their average cost of stay is also rising.
The average stay for a dog in the year so far is 59 days, five more than last year, and their average cost of stay has risen from £810 to £885. Cats have also averaged stays of 59 days this year, four more days than in 2011, and the average cost of their stay has risen to £554.60 from £517.
The charity said it is currently responding to more than 25,000 calls a week from the public and has seen a 23.5% rise in cruelty convictions in the last five years. The first nine months of this year alone have seen 1,176 cruelty convictions involving work by the RSPCA, a 6% rise on the same period in 2011, which saw 1,108 convictions.
As the number of animals in need grows, welfare expenditure by the RSPCA - which relies entirely on public donations - is already exceeding forecasts set for 2012. The charity said it predicted a further 6,000 dogs and cats will be abandoned between now and the end of the year at a cost of nearly £5 million.
Mr Grant has called for emergency help from the nation's animal lovers. He said: "The recession may be over but these are very dark times for its silent victims - the animals. They have never needed our help so desperately.
"Preventing cruelty and helping the animals most in need are the RSPCA's absolute priorities but the number of abused and abandoned animals is soaring. At the same time, we have more animal abusers to investigate, prosecute and hopefully prevent from hurting animals than anyone can remember.
"This is a real crisis and despite the immense dedication of our staff and volunteers, we are struggling to cope. We really need our country's animal lovers to step forward and open their hearts, homes and purses in these extremely difficult times."

©Press Association

Fewer children treated for drugs


The number of children and teenagers under 18 who are being treated for drugs such as heroin, cocaine or ecstasy dropped by more than two-thirds over the last five years, figures have shown.
The number of young people in England being treated for Class A drugs fell to 631 last year from a peak of 1,979 in 2006/07, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) said.
But experts warned that stronger strains of cannabis may be partly to blame for an increase in the number of cases involving youngsters seeking specialist help for the drug, up 3% to 13,200 from 12,784 last year.
With evidence suggesting that overall young people's cannabis use was declining, the rise "could be down to a combination of stronger strains of the drug causing more harm", greater awareness, and specialist services being more alert and responsive to the problems the drug can cause for under-18s, the NTA said.
Nine out of 10 of the 21,000 young people accessing specialist substance misuse services in 2011/12 were seeking help mainly for cannabis or alcohol, the NTA figures showed. But the proportion of young people successfully completing treatment for drugs was up, rising to 77% last year from 50% five years ago.
Rosanna O'Connor, the NTA's director of delivery, said: "Any substance misuse among young people is a cause for concern. The signs that fewer need help, and that a higher proportion are successfully completing their programme of support, is encouraging.
"In the current climate of increased pressure on local authority funding, these figures give a clear message that any disinvestment in young people's drug and alcohol programmes will be detrimental."
She went on: "The numbers needing specialist interventions remain low and evidence shows that fewer young people are using drugs. However, the advent of new substances and risks of ongoing cannabis and alcohol use in particular present a significant challenge."
Overall, the number of young people accessing specialist substance misuse services was down for the third year running, falling to 20,688 from a peak of 24,053 in 2008/09, the NTA said.
The number of young people seeing specialist services for alcohol also dropped, down to 5,884 from 7,054 last year, the NTA figures showed.

©Press Association

Woman Sought In Train 'Racial Abuse' Inquiry


Police have launched an appeal for witnesses after a video appearing to show a woman racially abusing passengers on a train was posted on the internet.
British Transport Police have released CCTV images of a woman they would like to speak to about the incident, which is believed to have taken place on a Woolwich Arsenal to Abbey Wood train in south east London on Tuesday.
It came after a 40-second clip appeared on YouTube showing a middle-aged passenger arguing with other commuters on board a busy train.
During the film, the woman is heard shouting "go home where you belong".
Detective Inspector Jeremy Walley, investigating the incident, said: "We have isolated images of a woman we believe may be able to help us with our investigation into the incident, which took place around 3.20pm.
"At this stage, we urge anyone who witnessed this incident, or who recognises the woman, to get in touch and help us build up a full picture of exactly what took place.
"We treat all allegations of racism very seriously and urge anyone with information about this incident to contact us."

© Sky News

Doctor 'shocked' by benefits system

The system for claiming sickness benefits is deliberately complicated to reduce the number of claims, a GP has suggested.
Dr Anne Dyson said the system is so complex it is likely to fail the people who are most in need of help.
Dr Dyson, who works as a general practitioner in South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, said she was "shocked" by the bureaucracy of the system after trying to claim employment and support allowance following a breast cancer diagnosis.
Due to her illness and subsequent treatment, she has been unable to work since July and wanted to claim the benefit. Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Dr Dyson, who has worked as a GP since 1986, described her experience.
She said she was surprised to find that she could not complete an online form but instead had to ring an 0845 number, was put on hold for 30 minutes and then had to complete a 40-minute interview.
Dr Dyson said a form was sent for her to check and sign but contained basic errors, which meant she had to spend a length of time calling the same number to rectify them. She also had to provide various forms and certificates which had to be processed before she could access her claim.
She said: "I do not feel ill or unwell as such, otherwise I might not have had the strength and perseverance to persist with my claim. And nor do I have hearing loss or a speech impairment, which would make a telephone interview impossible.
"It is a scandal that the system is so complicated. It is likely to fail the very people who are most in need of help. I suspect this may be a deliberate Government ploy to reduce the number of benefit claims and reduce the overall cost of welfare. If so this should be publicised and shown for what it is - the Government withholding funds from sick and needy people through a bureaucratic claim system."
A Department of Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: "It is simply not true that the Government is trying to stop people claiming benefits through the process of applying for ESA. In assessing someone's claim for benefit we need detailed information of their medical condition and circumstances to establish whether they are eligible for the support.
"We offer a number of ways to fill out the claim form: by an 0800 telephone number, by textphone for those with hearing or speech problems or a form that can be filled in online and put in the post."

©Press Association

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Pirate Party Press Release: launch of a "virtual shelter" to allow people to share banned and censored materials



Reporters without Borders have announced the launch of a "virtual
shelter" to allow people to share banned and censored materials, at
www.wefightcensorship.org

Ed Geraghty, Pirate Party UK International affairs spokesperson, said

"We welcome the news, it's just a shame that this sort of thing is
still needed"

"Even in western democracies we're seeing a slide towards censorship;
whether it's "morality filters" being applied to our internet
connections, newspapers scared of publishing cartoons of the prophet
Mohammed, increasingly fatuous super-injunctions or the embarrassment
that was the Twitter Joke Trial"

"And of course, in oppressive regimes things are even worse. So it's
good to see the weight of Reporters Behind Borders behind the
initiative. It's a welcome addition to established sites such as
WikiLeaks and Cryptome.org"

"We also welcome the "hackathon" approach - transparency and openness
are a real benefit to security, something our government might
consider when it's looking to set up its own secure systems"