Friday, 31 August 2012

Ruling allows sex register appeals

Sex offenders can appeal against having to register with police for life from Saturday, despite concerns raised by a children's charity that they must "always be considered a risk".
Thousands of sex offenders will be able to apply to have their names removed after the Supreme Court ruled it was a breach of offenders' human rights to be put on the register for life with no review.
The Government has already expressed concern about the plans, with Home Secretary Theresa May saying "the minimum possible changes to the law" would be made.
Currently prisoners have to wait 15 years after being released from jail to be able to apply to be removed from the register. Saturday marks 15 years since sex offenders were first required to register with police.
Chief executive of the NSPCC Andrew Flanagan said: "This is a concerning day for our justice system. Sadly, we are told this legal ruling cannot be overturned but the NSPCC's view remains that paedophiles who have been put on the sex offender register for life must remain there as we can never be sure their behaviour will change.
"There is no proven or recognised 'cure' for adult sex offenders who abuse children and they must therefore always be considered a risk. We can only try to control and contain their behaviour through a combination of treatment and monitoring by the authorities if they are released back into the community.
"Physical and emotional harm caused by sexual abuse can damage children's lives. We will monitor the appeals process closely and will raise concerns if we believe the civil liberties of convicted sex offenders are being put before the protection of children."
The maximum number of sex offenders eligible for a review each year was estimated at 1,200 by the Government. Individual police forces will consider applications.
Plans were outlined by Mrs May last year to toughen up registration requirements for sex offenders after the Supreme Court ruling. They included having to tell authorities before travelling abroad even for a day, reporting if they were living with children and tightening rules to stop offenders avoiding registering after changing their name.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We are doing everything we can to protect the public from predatory sex offenders. That is why we have taken action to strengthen the law and close loopholes. The review process for offenders is robust and puts public protection first. It also prevents sex offenders from wasting taxpayers' money by repeatedly challenging our laws. Sex offenders who continue to pose a risk will remain on the register for life."

Paralympic jokes my job, says Boyle

Comic Frankie Boyle has defended his controversial comments about the Paralympics as "celebratory" and said he was just doing his "job".
He was criticised after joking that the Saudi Arabian team at the Games were "mainly thieves", referring to criminals being punished by having their hands removed for stealing.
In another message posted on Twitter during the opening ceremony, he said: "I'm going down to the blind football to shout that the referee's a deaf b******."
He told fans: "I'd say my Paralympic tweets are celebratory. I'll be joking about Paralympics same way I joked about the Olympics. That's my job yo."
He also said people should read the jokes and make their own mind up, adding they were "Celebratory, non discriminatory, pretty funny".
In 2009 Boyle was censured by the BBC Trust for comments about Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, following her gold-winning success at Beijing the previous year.
His remarks, made during an edition of the Mock The Week TV programme, were ruled to be offensive but no further action was taken, which prompted her agent to complain about the "slap on the wrist" when Adlington had been humiliated.
Channel 4, which previously broadcast several of Boyle's shows including Tramadol Nights and The Boyle Variety Performance, distanced itself from the comic.
A spokesman for the Paralympics broadcaster said: "Frankie Boyle was tweeting from his personal account and not on behalf of Channel 4. He is not under contract and there are no shows planned with him."

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Weak UK lending shows challenge for BoE credit scheme

 Lending to British businesses and consumers weakened further last month after the biggest fall in credit card borrowing in almost six years, highlighting the challenge faced by the Bank of England as it readies a new scheme to boost credit.
Despite more than 325 billion pounds of government bond purchases over the past three years, lending conditions remain tight for households and smaller firms with the economy back in recession since late last year, prompting BoE Governor Mervyn King to announce a new scheme in June to aid these sectors.
Some economists expect this Funding for Lending Scheme, which opened for business on August 1, to reduce the need for the Bank to buy gilts to stimulate the economy. But BoE official Paul Fisher warned on Wednesday that it would take more than a few months before the FLS takes full effect.
The most striking number from the BoE's July lending data was a 147 million pound net repayment of credit card bills -- the biggest fall in this type of lending since August 2006, when the 150 million pound decline was the biggest on record.
This drove a 220 million pound drop in overall unsecured consumer lending, the biggest since February, but arguably just as important are figures showing that lending to non-financial companies is 3.4 percent lower than a year ago.
"Overall there is little in these data to suggest a break from recent trends. Business lending continues to contract, while household sector lending is rising at a very modest rate," said BNP Paribas economist David Tinsley.
A bigger-than-expected 1.1 billion pound rise in mortgage lending to households helped counteract the fall in unsecured lending, and the pace of contraction in corporate lending seemed to be slowing.
But overall the figures dampen hopes of a strong rebound in economic activity in July after nine months of recession, and back economists' forecasts for British house prices to stay flat or fall slightly over the coming year.
The Confederation of British Industry slashed its economic forecasts for 2012 and 2013 on Thursday, predicting a 0.3 percent fall in output this year and a meagre 1.2 percent rise for next year, in line with the consensus on a Reuters poll of economists published on August 16.
A separate Reuters poll on Thursday showed that most economists expect the Bank to expand its quantitative easing programme of asset purchases once more in November, raising the target to 425 billion pounds from the current 375 billion.
BNP Paribas's Tinsley said the FLS - which offers cheap funding to banks and building societies if they increase lending to businesses and households - may ultimately contribute to a future BoE decision to halt gilt purchases.
"A few people have said the Bank won't do any more conventional QE and focus on the FLS. I think that is right, but I think it is too early for them (in November). That's a plausible thing for February," he said.
However, other economists doubts the FLS will work well, arguing that a lack of capital and a lack of confidence, not the cost of funds, are the main barriers to bank lending.
The European Commission's monthly economic sentiment index for Britain, which combines activity readings for manufacturing, services, construction, retail and consumer surveys, fell back to 91.5 in August from 94.6 in July.
"The current level suggests the economy is roughly stagnant," said Citi economist Michael Saunders. "There probably will be a technical rebound in activity in the third quarter, but this survey suggests that the UK has not experienced an 'Olympics bounce' in activity," he added.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A short history of the Paralympic Games

It is amazing to think that the Paralympic Games had their humble beginnings just over sixty years ago, in Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England.

The earliest beginnings of the creation of athletic Games for people with disabilities can be traced back to World War II and the efforts of a doctor from England named Ludwig Guttmann. Known as
 the “Father of Sport for People with Disabilities,” Dr. Guttmann was a strong advocate of using sports therapy to enhance the quality of life for people who were injured or wounded during World War II.

Dr. Guttmann organized the 1948 International Wheelchair Games to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. His dream was of a worldwide sports competition for people with disabilities to be held every four years as “the equivalent of the Olympic Games.” Twelve years later, his dream became a reality.

The first Paralympic Games were held in Rome, Italy, in 1960 and involved 400 athletes from 23 countries. Originally, only wheelchair athletes were invited to compete. Since that time, the Paralympic Games have grown dramatically. The present-day Paralympic Games include five major classifications of athletes: persons with visual impairments, persons with physical disabilities, amputee athletes, people with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries and Les Autres - athletes with a physical disability that are not included in the categories mentioned above (e.g., people with Muscular Dystrophy).

The Paralympics are held in two seasons: summer and winter. Athletes with disabilities have been competing in the Winter Games since 1976. Sweden hosted the first Winter Games, which included 12 countries competing in Alpine and Cross-Country Skiing events. Initially the Paralympic and Olympic Games were implemented at different times, but in 1992 the approach was modified. Now the Paralympic and Olympic Games are held within two weeks of each other using the same venues and the same organising committee.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann died in 1980, but his vision of sport for athletes with disabilities continues today. Clearly the value of sport in the lives of athletes with disabilities extends far beyond its rehabilitative benefits. Sportsmanship, camaraderie and an active lifestyle are other important benefits. The athletic talents of competitors with disabilities are becoming recognized worldwide, just as Dr. Guttmann intended. The skill and talent of high-performance athletics and competition are evident in the performance of today’s Paralympians from all nations.

Women prisoners' clothes cut off

Inspectors have criticised the "unnecessary and unacceptable" practice of cutting off women's clothes when they are forcibly strip-searched in jail.
Responses to women whose behaviour caused concern were also "excessively punitive", said a report on New Hall Prison in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, which holds 356 women and two babies.
In one instance, a woman who arrived from another jail and refused to hand over clothes she had been allowed to wear there was held down as they were forcibly cut off her.
The practice is unacceptable and women prisoners should only have their clothes removed "using officially approved control and restraint techniques", Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said.
"We were concerned by a small number of supposedly spontaneous incidents where accounts in paperwork indicated force had been used inappropriately."
The newly arrived prisoner from Peterborough jail refused to hand over open-toed sandals and a strappy top which were allowed at Peterborough. She was then "restrained, relocated to the segregation unit and had her clothes cut off her as she was forcibly strip-searched", Mr Hardwick said.
Describing the use of force as neither necessary nor proportionate, he said that a manager's approval was not obtained and that there was no attempt to resolve the issue in other ways.
"The special cell in the segregation unit was little-used but when it was, women were routinely placed in strip clothing and too many had their clothes cut off when forcibly searched. Such practices were unnecessary and unacceptable," Mr Hardwick said.
Some of the "most damaged women" were placed on the prison's segregation unit for "good order and discipline" but efforts to address the causes of their distress and manage their behaviour constructively were inadequate.
While conditions at New Hall improved since its last inspection in November 2008, "the treatment of a small number of women who combine the most challenging behaviour with the highest levels of need is not acceptable", he warned. Prison Service)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

West Coast rail deal to be sealed

The Government is set to sign off on a controversial deal that will see the running of the West Coast Main Line removed from Virgin Trains.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening said that, despite the Commons Transport Select Committee wanting to examine the new deal, winning bidder FirstGroup and the Government would put pen to paper soon.
And she claimed that if Virgin had won the bid it would have "been perfectly happy with the process".
The 13-year deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.
A row has raged over Virgin losing its franchise and boss Sir Richard Branson offered to run the route free of charge to allow the decision to be re-examined.
The Labour Party also urged Mrs Greening not to sign off the contract until MPs have been able to scrutinise it in detail.
More than 100,000 members of the public also signed an online petition against the decision, in a campaign supported by double Olympic champion Mo Farah, Apprentice star Lord Sugar and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
Mrs Greening told BBC Breakfast today that all bidders had "bought into" the "fair and well-established process".
She said: "We do plan to push on with signing the contract with FirstGroup and I do suspect that, although I have a huge amount of respect for Virgin and the work they have done on the line, I suspect that, had they won the bid, they would have been perfectly happy with the process."

Monday, 27 August 2012


Cllr Jayne Kenyon

Earlier this year Real Whitby, a local news website, revealed that Conservative  Cllr Jayne Kenyon and her partner Cllr Bill Miller are directors of Belvedere Computers Inc, a firm which was suspended in California in the 1980s for non-payment of substantial debts. 

Cllr Kenyon is chair of the North Yorkshire police authority, a member of both North Yorkshire county and Scarborough borough councils and chair of the Scarborough & Whitby Conservative Association.

Much more recently she was a director and company secretary of wood products company Dales Timber Limited (DTL), which went bust in 2009 owing £225,000 to local businesses and individuals. Cllr Miller was a director of the same company.

Neither Cllr Kenyon nor Cllr Miller declared their interest in their registers of interests - nor that DTL was a supplier to the county council, Ryedale district council and the North Yorkshire moors national park authority.

A complaint was made, including evidence in the form of Companies House documents registering her appointment as company secretary and bearing Cllr Kenyon's signature, she claimed it had been forged.

There was an initial investigation and North Yorkshire council's monitoring officer Carole Dunn said that Kenyon was "unaware" she had been company secretary of DTL and that the complaint had been ‘fully investigated.”

But then Kenyon retrospectively added that fact to her NYCC register after all.

Cllr Kenyon's DTL directorship is currently "redacted" from her North Yorks register as "historical.., sensitive information". But the same information is declared on the SBC register. The section of the North Yorkshire register concerning contracts with NYCC states "none known”.

So we get to the crux to the story. The allegation of fraud by Real Whitby must be answered. At present this incident is being investigated and the Investigating Officer is Mr Stephen Knight

But in an added twist, it was Mr Stephen Knight
  conducted the initial complaint against Councillor Kenyon where allegations made against Cllr Kenyon has “been fully investigated”

Can we expect a transparent investigation? We will have to wait and see.

Source and

The cheapest places in the UK and world for petrol

The bank holiday is an opportunity for people to head out of (or into) town and visit friends, relatives – or even jet overseas for a short break.

But those driving in the UK will not just encounter a change of scenery, but a large difference in the cost of filling up the car.

Figures from Santander show there’s a 16.2p a litre difference in the petrol prices paid by Brits in different parts of the country, meaning filling up could cost you £10 more (or less) depending on where you go.

Where’s cheapest then?

Looking at credit card data, Santander compared the prices paid for unleaded at petrol stations across the country - the cheapest region to fill up in was Grampian in Scotland with an average petrol price of 129.7 pence a litre.

Outside of Scotland, Denbighshire in Wales has the cheapest price per litre of 130.9p.

Regionally, north-west England was cheapest at an average of 131.9 pence per litre of premium unleaded fuel.

Where to avoid

As well as the cheapest place to fill up in Britain, Scotland is also home to the most expensive – with a litre of unleaded the Shetland Islands costing 145.9p on average, more than anywhere else.

After the Shetland Islands, Humberside was the next costliest place to fill up, where petrol costs 137.9p a litre. That high price helped push Yorkshire and Humberside to the top of the most expensive region table.

Average petrol costs by region
Yorkshire & Humberside133.4 pence per litre
South West133.2 pence per litre
Wales133.1 pence per litre
West Midlands133.0 pence per litre
Scotland132.8 pence per litre
East Midlands132.8 pence per litre
North East132.5 pence per litre
London132.3 pence per litre
East of England132.3 pence per litre
South East132.2 pence per litre
Northern Ireland132.1 pence per litre
North West131.9 pence per litre

Heading overseas

The savings available to people in different countries dwarf those available to people in different parts of the UK.

New research from car dealers Evans Halshaw shows Venezuela is the cheapest country to by petrol in for the second year running.

At just 8p a litre, the South American state has a bigger petrol smuggling trade than a drug smuggling one – especially given that residents of neighbouring nation Columbia pay more than 40 times as much for their fuel.

After Venezuela, Egypt (9p a litre), Saudi Arabia (10p a litre), Qatar (12p a litre) and Bahrain (15p a litre) are the cheapest countries to but petrol in.

By contrast, Norway was found to be the most expensive country to fill up in – with petrol costing an astonishing 1.64p a litre in the Scandinavian state.

Turkey (£1.62 a litre), the Netherlands (£1.48 a litre), Italy (£1.46 a litre) and Greece (£1.45 a litre) were the next most expensive.

The 10 cheapest countries to buy petrol

Lansley obesity policy criticised

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has been accused of a "dereliction of duty" in his efforts to tackle Britain's growing obesity problem by one of his former public health advisers.
Professor Simon Capewell, who served on Mr Lansley's Public Health Commission while in opposition, said the minister had "moved Britain back" in terms of public health since the general election two years ago.
He labelled the Government's Responsibility Deal as "a pantomime" and said the plan to work together with manufacturers to introduce voluntary cuts to fat, sugar and salt levels in food was like "putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank".
Prof Capewell, a member of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges committee on obesity, said: "Andrew Lansley, in my opinion, is guilty of a gross dereliction of duty in relation to public health. He has actually moved Britain back in terms of public health from where we were before he was elected. He has officiated over a responsibility deal which is a pantomime - and has been a huge public relations coup for the industry."
The Responsibility Deal, launched in March last year, encourages companies to voluntarily help to improve the health of the nation by labelling food in restaurants with calorie counts and reduce saturated fat, salt and sugar in products. However consumer group Which? reported earlier this year that only a handful of the top 10 restaurants and pub groups had agreed to provide calorie information on menus.
In its report into the Responsibility Deal, the House of Commons Health Select Committee concluded it was "unconvinced" that it would be "effective in resolving issues such as obesity". It called on the Department of Health (DoH) to set out clearly how progress will be monitored and tougher regulation applied if necessary.
Prof Capewell told the Independent: "Even a moment of reflection should show that this is a spectacular conflict of interest. It is breathtaking that when deciding on public health policy in relation to food you should be sitting around the table with the very people who make large amounts of money from selling this stuff."
But a DoH spokesman said: "In the last decade, Britain had some of the fastest rising obesity rates in Europe and successive attempts have failed to tackle them. The Responsibility Deal has delivered far more action, more quickly than before and more than could have been achieved through regulation in that time.
"We have shown real leadership, working in partnership with industry to find an approach that delivers results. We are seeing the results in our everyday lives - calories on menus in our high streets, less salt in the food we buy and artificial trans fats are being taken out of food. This is helping people around the country to live healthier lives."
The DoH pointed out that more than 70% of fast food and takeaway meals sold on the high street will have calories clearly labelled by the end of this year. Every major supermarket chain has committed to removing artificial trans fats and promoting alcohol unit awareness in their stores, it added.

Osborne 'will miss deficit target'

The Government is "most unlikely" to meet its target to eliminate Britain's structural deficit by 2015, a think-tank has warned.
Chancellor George Osborne will also fail in his economic goal to stem the increase in public debt before the next general election, according to the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS).
In a report, the CPS said: "The coalition came into office in 2010 with the stated aim that it would eliminate the current structural deficit within five years and stem the increase in public debt as a proportion of GDP. It is not achieving these aims.
"Though it correctly asserts that the deficit has fallen by around a quarter since 2010, the cyclically-adjusted current deficit (the part it said it wanted to eliminate within five years), had only fallen by 13.2% by the end of 2011/12."
The study found that the the majority of the reduction in the deficit has come from cuts to investment spending and tax increases rather than public spending cuts. It said that only 6% of the coalition's planned cuts to current expenditure had so far been implemented. The right-leaning think-tank's report also said that official national debt is forecast to rise by £605 billion over the course of this Parliament, or from 53% of GDP in 2009/10 to 76% of GDP in 2014/15, despite the deficit falling.
"This week's growth and borrowing figures make it all the less likely that debt will be on a downward path until the next Parliament, meaning the coalition's hard mandate will not be met on unchanged policy," the study added.
It said the Government's problems are exacerbated by the fact that the difference between "deficit" and "debt" is still widely misunderstood by the public. A poll found that 47% of people believe that public debt will actually fall by around £600 billion by 2015. Only 39% of people also correctly identified that the budget deficit has fallen since 2010.
Ryan Bourne, one of the report's authors, said: "It's becoming increasingly probable that, on current policy, neither of the coalition's original fiscal mandates are going to met. With the recent dreadful borrowing figures, now would be a good time for the Coalition to restate the scale of our fiscal problems, and to set out how they will be addressed."
He added: "Only by having a clear knowledge of the problems and solutions on offer from the different parties will the electorate be able to make an informed choice in 2015."
The Treasury rejected the CPS analysis. A spokesman said: "The Independent Office for Budget Responsibility's (OBR) most recent assessment is that the government is broadly on track to meet its debt and deficit targets. The OBR will update its forecasts in the autumn."

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Climbdown over bankers' bonuses

Plans to cap bankers' bonuses are reportedly close to being scrapped amid fears the reforms would only serve to drive up salaries.
Legislation to limit bonuses to 100% of salary was proposed earlier this year by members of the European Parliament in response to public outrage over pay following the financial crisis.
But the Sunday Times has learned that the proposals are now being opposed by bureaucrats in Brussels and Berlin after the banking sector argued that overseas rivals would poach the most talented dealers from Europe, while big American banks have said they would be forced to move jobs out of London.
Investors also opposed the move, arguing that restricting bonuses to a percentage of basic pay will allow bankers to demand higher salaries, which would push up costs and dent shareholder returns.
A climbdown would be a major victory for the City and remove one of the biggest threats to the bonus culture in banking.
Big bonuses have been blamed for contributing to the financial crisis by incentivising bankers to take risks.
They have sparked mounting anger in recent years after Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group were bailed out by the taxpayer as the wider UK economy struggles to cope with austerity measures.
Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Stephen Hester gave up his bonus for 2011 worth nearly £1 million in response to the public outcry.
The pay proposals were to be tacked onto a new piece of European legislation that contains stringent rules about how much capital banks must hold to help reduce the chances of future bailouts.
A number of European governments have raised concerns over the principle of allowing Brussels to interfere in private sector pay and German officials are worried that the plans could be deemed illegal by the constitutional court.

Church acts over gay marriage plans

A letter criticising the Scottish Government for supporting plans to legalise gay marriage will be read out in all of the country's Catholic parishes.
The Roman Catholic Church has declared August 26 as National Marriage Sunday and is calling on politicians to "sustain rather than subvert marriage".
The letter, which will be read in all of Scotland's 500 Catholic parishes, will urge followers to continue to act against efforts to "redefine" marriage.
The Scottish Government has said it is right to introduce same-sex marriages, but has stressed no clergy would be forced to carry them out.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Church in Scotland, last week broke off discussions on the issue with First Minister Alex Salmond.
In a strongly worded message, the letter will highlight the church's "deep disappointment that the Scottish Government has decided to redefine marriage and legislate for same sex marriage."
It will also announce the launch of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family to co-ordinate a campaign against gay marriage.
Cardinal O'Brien, who has described gay marriage as a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right", said: "The Church's teaching on marriage is unequivocal, it is uniquely, the union of a man and a woman and it is wrong that governments, politicians or parliaments should seek to alter or destroy that reality."
He added: "With this letter we will announce the creation of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family, a body which will be charged with promoting the true nature of marriage, it will develop an online presence and produce materials and organise events which will help Catholic families to support and sustain marriage."
The Scottish government has pledged to bring forward a Bill on the issue later this year, and has indicated the earliest ceremonies could take place by the start of 2015.

Court services 'pressured' by cuts

The court service is under "unprecedented pressure" and the fair administration of justice is being "severely undermined" by cost-cutting, a union has said.
Napo, which represents family court and probation staff, said serious concerns have been raised by its members across England and Wales over the six months up to July this year.
They say problems have been caused in magistrates, crown and family courts by the rolling programme of 135 court closures, cuts to legal aid and shrinking budgets for the police, probation and prison services.
Additional problems have also been reported about interpreters, with Napo members saying they are failing to turn up at court and can be under-prepared and under-qualified, getting key information wrong. Applied Language Solutions has already faced criticism since it won the contract to provide court interpreters, but the Ministry of Justice said it has seen improvements in the past few months.
Napo said a lack of expert reports has also led to inappropriate sentences being used, for example curfews being imposed in domestic violence cases, which leaves victims at risk.
Assistant General Secretary Harry Fletcher said: "A combination of court closures, financial constraint and curtailment of legal aid is having a negative impact on the administration of justice."
He added: "It is of concern that staff are reporting that often inappropriate sentences are handed down, such as curfews in domestic violence cases, and that the absence of interpreters is routinely leading to matters being adjourned and often defendants being remanded unnecessarily."
The probation service is facing a 15% reduction in its budget up to 2015, while the CPS will have its funds cut by a quarter, and police forces across the country are being forced to make savings of around 20%. The legal aid budget will also be cut by a third.
Mr Fletcher added: "The Government justifies the cuts and closures on the grounds that it needs to save money. However, increased delays and adjournments, and cases taking longer in both family and criminal courts, will lead to increased costs in the medium and long term.
"It is also impacting on the effectiveness of the court system. It is critical that the administration of justice is fair and that all parties, be they victims, witnesses, children or defendants, are treated properly and have adequate representation. This principle is being severely undermined."

Games row over wheelchair tickets

The organisers of the Paralympic Games have been accused of discriminating against the disabled by making wheelchair users book tickets for events via business rate phone lines.
Those trying to book wheelchair tickets or check their availability can only do so by calling an 0844 number costing up to 41p a minute, while able-bodied people can buy their tickets online from organiser Locog without incurring extra costs.
The arrangements have caused outrage among some disabled people who say they have been kept on hold for long periods of time running up large bills before being told there are no seats available.
Many have complained about the situation on blogs and social networks with a Facebook campaign group called "Stop the Olympics from discriminating against wheelchair users!" attracting close to 700 members.
The London 2012 website has a specific section for disabled people wanting to buy tickets to the Paralympics, which start on Wednesday. It says: "If you require a wheelchair space, you will be able to purchase one, subject to availability, by calling 0844 847 2012."
According to communications regulator Ofcom, 0844 calls are charged between 1p and 13p per minute for landline customers. Calls from mobile phones are typically charged between 15p and 41p per minute, depending on the network provider.
Nicola Carlin said she called the ticket hotline more than 20 times on her Orange mobile phone, which charges 40p per minute, and on some occasions spent up to half an hour on hold.
The children's nurse, whose disabled five-year-old Matthew suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, told the Daily Mail: "I can't understand why the organisers made it so difficult for people like us to get tickets. There's no mention on the phone line of how much it costs, and people like me who have been desperate to get tickets would have held on for ages."
The 31-year-old, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, eventually got through, but added: "The Paralympics, of all occasions, should be making it easier for disabled people to enjoy sport, not putting up barriers such as this."
An online petition has been set up by Beth Davis-Hofbauer calling for the rules to be changed and has attracted nearly 40,000 signatures.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Elisabeth Murdoch takes aim at brother on media morality

Elisabeth Murdoch urged the media industry on Thursday to embrace morality and reject the pursuit of profit at all costs, which her brother James championed before scandal engulfed News Corp.
In a speech offering a chance to show her credentials to take over her father Rupert's empire, she said profit without purpose was a recipe for disaster, and the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World newspaper showed the need for a rigorous set of values.
Elisabeth Murdoch - a successful television producer who was overlooked for senior jobs at News Corp that went first to her brother Lachlan and then James - said a lack of morality could become a dangerous own goal for capitalism and for freedom.
She made the remarks in the MacTaggart Lecture at the annual Edinburgh Television Festival, three years after James Murdoch used the same platform to confront a largely hostile audience.
"News (Corp) is a company that is currently asking itself some very significant and difficult questions about how some behaviours fell so far short of its values," she told the packed and receptive audience of British media executives.
"Personally I believe one of the biggest lessons of the past year has been the need for any organisation to discuss, affirm and institutionalise a rigorous set of values based on an explicit statement of purpose."
Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World last year amid public anger that its journalists had hacked into the voicemails of people from celebrities to victims of crime. A number of former executives have appeared in court in connection with the case, which prompted the government to set up a judicial inquiry into press standards.
The comments from Elisabeth Murdoch, who has powerful friends in the British establishment and the support of her PR husband Matthew Freud, are likely to be examined for whether she could one day run the News Corp empire.
She has rarely spoken in public, despite her role as the founder of the successful production company Shine.
Her highly personal speech appeared designed to win over any doubters, with references to childhood conversations at the breakfast table with father to her continuing affection for the much-loved British playwright Alan Bennett.
She even lavished praise on the state-owned BBC, previously the butt of jokes by James Murdoch.
Referring to her younger brother James's 2009 speech, she said his assertion that the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of media independence was profit had fallen short of the mark.
"The reason his statement sat so uncomfortably is that profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster," she said, perhaps in an allusion to charges that News of the World journalists broke the law to produce ever-more salacious stories and maintain circulation.
"Profit must be our servant, not our master," she said, adding that colleagues needed to accept that they had a responsibility to each other and not just the bottom line.
"It's increasingly apparent that the absence of purpose - or of a moral language — within government, media or business, could become one of the most dangerous own goals for capitalism and for freedom."
The sharp different tone, with its emphasis on personal responsibility and moral emphasis, was warmly received xx ,
It also underlined just how much has changed since the now 39-year-old James Murdoch used his own MacTaggart lecture to accuse the BBC of having "chilling" ambitions.
That speech, delivered in his role as chairman of the pay-TV group BSkyB and head of News Corp in Europe and Asia, consolidated James's position as heir apparent to his father's role, with its echoes of Rupert Murdoch's own 1989 speech that broadcasting was a business that needed competition.
Since then, both men have been chastened by the fallout of the phone hacking affair which has damaged the reputation and value of the company and the family name in Britain.
At the height of the scandal they had to halt a $12 billion bid to buy the rest of BSkyB they did not already own, angering investors and sowing doubts as to whether James had what it took to run the $55 billion empire.
While brother Lachlan was often pictured with the family last year, Elisabeth stayed in the background. Lachlan stood down from his role as News Corp deputy chief operating officer in 2005 after clashing with senior executives.
Now James Murdoch's fall from grace has turned the spotlight onto Elisabeth in the long-running debate over who will one day replace their 81-year-old father at the head of the company.
Stressing her links to her father and the vision he espoused when he built his company over 60 years ago, she spoke in glowing terms of his 1989 speech.
"A quarter of a century later, I am still wholly inspired by those words and they are still deeply relevant today," she said. "My dad had the vision, the will and the sense of purpose to challenge the old world order on behalf of ‘the people'.
"I understood that we were in pursuit of a greater good- a belief in better."
(Writing by Kate Holton; editing by David Stamp)

©Reuters 2012

Women's refuge boss slams 50 Shades

The director of a women's refuge is calling on people to burn copies of the smash hit erotic novel 50 Shades Of Grey, claiming it is degrading and encourages sexual violence.
While some critics have sneered at the quality of the writing, the book which features sado-masochistic sex, has become the fastest-selling paperback of all time. Author EL James has been plucked from obscurity and has made a fortune from her trilogy of novels which charter the travails of virginal Ana and the older Christian Grey.
Clare Phillipson, director of the Wearside Women In Need, is urging people to bin the book and wants to make a bonfire of them on November 5.
She said: "Our concern is not the graphic depiction of sex - this is an abusive relationship presented as a love story. It normalises abuse, degrades women and encourages sexual violence.
"There is lots of abuse in the book, not just sexual abuse. Do millions and millions of women suffer from secret self-loathing? Do they all want to be treated this badly? Some of what happens in the book, Fred West did to his victims in his cellar. I fail to see what is erotic about that."
Ms Phillipson believed if the author had been a man, the books would not have been published.
"There is emotional and sexual abuse of a 20-year-old with no sexual experience who is persuaded that being hit is good fun."
She said the way Grey hurt Ana then later made it up to her with expensive gifts and thoughtful emails was typical of a domestic abuser.
Speaking at one of the refuges it runs on Wearside, she said one victim of domestic violence who had read the book told her it left her confused: "She told me 'If this is a love story, how come it didn't feel like this when it was happening to me'."
Ms Phillipson agreed that campaigning to burn the book was controversial: "There's an assumption that Nazis are the only people who burn books. What we are saying is, this book is rubbish and we would like to reduce it to ashes. We are not burning the Bible or a political philosophy, we are burning the depiction of an abusive man as a romantic hero."
(Wearside Women In Need)

Ecuador urges talks over Assange

Ecuador has urged the UK Government to drop any threat to storm its embassy so that fresh talks can be held over the future of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been inside the building for the past two months.
Officials expressed optimism that a "compromise" could be reached over Mr Assange, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden over claims of sexual assault.
But they made clear that the 41-year-old Australian can stay inside the London embassy for "as long as it takes" to resolve his future.
"He can stay here for eight years... two centuries. However long he wants," said one official.

GCSE Pass Rate Falls For First Time

The GCSE pass rate has fallen for the first time, with English, maths and science results all down on 12 months ago.
National figures show that 69.4% of all GCSE exams were given at least a grade C, down 0.4% on last summer and the first drop since the exam was introduced in the 80s.
Across the 600,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there was also a fall in the proportion of top grades handed out.
Some 7.3% of entries were given an A*, down 0.5 percentage points on 2011, while 22.4% were handed at least an A grade, down 0.8 percentage points.
The results have sparked a row over the introduction of tougher exam standards as teachers complain grade boundaries have been hiked too dramatically.
The number of pupils awarded at least a C grade in the core subjects of English, maths and science are all down.
Some 63.9% achieved at least a C in English, compared to 65.4% in 2011, and 15% were awarded an A or A*, down from 16.8%.
In English Literature, 76.3% of exams were given A*-C - down from 78.4% last year and 23.2% were given As, down from 25%.
A*-C grades in maths fell 0.4% to 58.4% and A* and A grades in the subject were down 1.1% to 15.4%.
In science, 60.7% exams were marked A*-C, down from 62.9% and 9.8% were given As or A*s, down from 11.6% in 2011.
The gap between girls and boys stalled at the very top grades, with 18.9% of boys' entries achieving an A* and A, compared to 25.6% of girls' entries - a gap of 6.7% and the same as 2011.
At grades A* to C, girls are pulling away, with 65.4% of boys' entries attaining that level, compared to 73.3% of girls' entries. Last year, it was 66% to 73.5%.
There was good news as the long decline in the take-up of modern foreign languages appears to be slowing, with smaller falls in take-up of French and German and a 10% rise in numbers taking Spanish.
But concerns have been raised that the English exams were marked too harshly, with schools reporting an unprecedented number of fails among their pupils.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said there seemed to be a particular problem with C/D borderline grades in English.
ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said: "We expected results to plateau because of the Government taking steps to peg them to previous levels, but we certainly didn't expect anything like this and schools have been taken by surprise."
Dozens of teachers took to the Times Educational Supplement's website to express their anger.
One who pointed out that C grade boundaries had shifted by 10 marks complained: "They've not moved the goalposts, they've put them on a different chuffing planet."
Another wrote: "Our results have been decimated. We're 10% lower than last year. Members of my department are in a state of shock as they say they've never worked harder and this is the result."
Andrew Hall, chief executive of exam board AQA, declared: "This year has got more change in it than I think I've seen in my time at any awarding body."
Adrian Prandle, from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Children's chances in life are at stake here and it is hugely unfair to make today's 16-year-olds the victims of political football."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "Shifting the goal posts for grades, in particular the C/D boundary, has had a huge impact on individual students and the future of schools.
"It is not only very unsettling but also extremely irresponsible. These are arbitrary changes which in no way reflect the work of students and teachers and are clearly unfair."
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "We need to understand why results have fallen in these subjects. Is it because of pressure from Ofqual to shift grade boundaries?
"As well as ensuring standards remain rigorous, we must ensure all pupils are treated consistently and fairly."
However, John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, said: "Enhancing the rigour of our examination system will help to improve performance compared with our international competitors.
"Improving attainment in our schools is critical to the future success of our economy and society. Raising ambition and aspiration for all should be the focus of our school system."
The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) insisted the drop in A*-C English results was partly down to more candidates sitting the exam earlier, during the winter exam season.
It also said science entries had risen by more than a third and blamed the fall in results partly on the increase but also on "more demanding" standards.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb released a statement congratulating pupils but did not comment on the row and no-one from Government was made available for interview.
The tougher marking could have serious consequences for some schools, which have all been forced to ensure 40% of pupils achieve at least five good grades, including in English and maths.
Ministers have warned that schools falling short could be closed or pulled out of local authority control and turned into independent academies run by a third-party sponsor.
Failing academies could undergo a change of leadership.