Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

All the best for 2009

With my very best wishes to everybody for 2009. May the New Year be good to all of us!



Nairn in wintry sunshine - Hogmanay 2008

Today, for the first time in several days, the freezing fog in Nairn lifted and we even had sunny, but still bitterly cold, spells in the afternoon; however the freezing fogs have resulted in the pretty frosting on all the trees and grass in the area as we have had no snow in the last few weeks. Well wrapped-up, I took a stroll up into the town today, then down onto the shore path, to get some shots of the area near where I live, on this the final day of 2008.



Nairn - 31 December 2008
Images of the Bandstand and the Links

(Click any image to see an enlargement)









PS/ Brian at MyNairn has some nice 'frosty' photographs taken in other parts of Nairn here.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Season's Greetings and other matters

A belated greeting to anyone who passes this way with my best wishes for a Peaceful and Joyous Christmas. When I began writing this post a few hours ago I was just sitting down, at long last, with my feet up on a foot-stool to watch the last half hour of J S Bach's Christmas Oratorio in a recording from 2000 at the Herderkirche in Weimar being broadcast over the past several days on BBC4 television and was just settling down to watch Handel's Messiah in a recording from 2006 at the Barbican, also on BBC4 television; since then there have been several lengthy family telephone and video (courtesy Skype) calls. Our Christmas Day lunch kicked-off this afternoon at about 3.15pm, just after Her Majesty the Queen finished her annual Christmas address - something of a tradition when I'm hosting a Christmas Day lunch here. Between breakfast and post-Queen lunch my habit is to open a bottle of champagne at around 1pm to go with some canapés; I've still got a few bottles of the cases of vintage champagne I got for the Millennium in 2000 from the Wine Society, so we had one of those and it was excellent (my normal champagne 'tipple' is Veuve Cliquot NV, my favourite amongst regular NV champagnes).

In fact I shouldn't have been here at all today, or this week, nor most of the next couple of weeks, but should instead have left here last Sunday to begin a drive down to Newcastle for a Monday evening ferry departure for Ijmuiden in the Netherlands, spending a night on the way to Newcastle near Edinburgh to break the journey, specially at this time of year with so few hours of daylight. From Ijmuiden, with a scheduled arrival last Tuesday morning it would have been a drive of just a few hours down to the south of the Netherlands near Maastricht, where my mother and I would have been spending Christmas and New Year with my brother and sister-in-law. However, that was not to be; it became clear early on Sunday morning that my elderly mother was not fit to travel, having experienced a severe 'dizzy turn' when she tried to get up that morning - a doctor visited later in the morning and confirmed, fortunately, that there were no other new factors to consider. Even though she had begun to recover by mid-afternoon I felt that it was still unwise to contemplate taking her on a long car and sea journey.

At a completely mundane and practical level our unexpected stay in Nairn presented a few difficulties. The only fresh (unfrozen) food I had in the house on Sunday morning was what was required for breakfast that day prior to our scheduled 10am departure for Edinburgh, so once the doctor had visited at about 1pm my first task was to visit the local small supermarket to stock up on the basic essentials for lunch and dinner on Sunday and breakfast the following morning, until I could get through to Forres or Inverness to do a more major food shopping expedition. Natually enough I had not bothered, either, to put up any Christmas decorations here, nor had I even thought about catering over the Christmas and new Year period as I had assumed that this would be well in hand in the Netherlands (apart from me taking a Virgina-baked Ham over as a small contribution - I do a baked ham every year for my own entertaining and people always say they like it). So apart from a major 'shop' last Monday, I had to undertake several other shopping expeditions on Tuesday and Wednesday after I had thought about what we might eat for Christmas Day lunch (the Virgina-baked ham is usually for Boxing Day) and get the decorations down from the loft, etc. So this evening is really the first moment I've had to think about posting anything on the blog.

Tomorrow will also see more lengthy international video (Skype) calls - Skype is an absolutely marvellous innovation, one I've been using pretty regularly for three or so years now. After tomorrow (Boxing Day), which is my mother's birthday, which will be another 'big day' for catering, I should have a little more time to write on the blog. Meantime I raise a late Christmas-evening glass of champagne to you, whilst watching the final few moments of the Messiah.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Wicked, but oh so true, thoughts on spending our way out of debt

Former Presidential-hopeful Fred Thompson tries to rationalise and explain for thickos like me (and indeed himself) why continuing and accelerating past borrowing into the future, at public and private levels, is the only way to get out of the recession and to return to the sunny uplands of economic prosperity:



Still not convinced? Nor me. I didn't like some of his antedeluvian views on social matters (OK, I'll come clean, on 'gay issues'), but he sure does talk sense on economics.

(Posted here for the benefit of those, probably few, people who don't read the writings of Guido on a regualr basis. I do, and so should you. That includes most of the Cabinet who, if what he writes irritates them almost beyond endurance, need to get a life and remember this is still, marginally, a democracy.)

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Serious flaw found in 'IE' - recommend switch to 'Firefox'

A serious security flaw has been found in Microsoft's internet browser Internet Explorer (IE) affecting the latest version IE7 - apparently Microsoft are working urgently on a fix, but until this is released it is being suggested that users switch to a rival such as Firefox.

I tend to use Firefox most of the time anyway (and have done so for about 3 or so years), as I've never liked IE and find it 'clunky' and inconvenient to use, but I also use Opera from time to time - if you don't have Firefox already, you can download it for free; just put Firefox into your Google search box and it'll come up with links to the Mozilla website.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Far from alone

Fraser Nelson nails it; Gordon Brown has much less support in the wider international community for his catastrophic economic policies than he would have us believe. Peter Hoskins follows through with a quotation from an article in today's Independent newspaper:



"Frustration is growing among Labour backbenchers over the Government's rescue plan for the economy. Several MPs believe a VAT cut was the wrong way of spending the bulk of the fiscal stimulus package, and others fear more should have been funded through tax reforms.

'Going shopping last week I was offered a little over a pound off a £35 item," the former environment minister Michael Meacher said. "It really isn't doing anything. It seems obvious that at a time when consumers are already being offered much bigger discounts, the VAT cut will have little effect.'

John Battle, the former energy minister, said: 'I always favoured injecting cash in at the bottom by boosting benefits. We should be using this money to take on poverty.'

The only major redistributive tax reform introduced by the Government is a new 45 per cent tax rate on those earning more than £150,000.

Disquiet on the back benches could expand to wider disapproval if it emerges that the VAT cut has failed to boost trade over Christmas."

Whilst I accept all that Peter Hoskins says, I think it needs to be borne in mind that the loss of the support of a few Labour MPs is possibly regrettable, but not disastrous for Labour (because most Labour MPs and the bulk of its core vote will probably continue to vote 'Labour' until Hell freezes over), but the more likely loss of a significant proportion of the middle classes who, unfathomably, put this shower of incompetents into power with such sizeable majorities for going on 12 years is altogether more serious. Or indeed hopeful, if the eventual restoration of some level of economic sanity in this country is what one desires to see happen - as I do.

Recent opinion polls seem to show an increase in support for Brown's failed policies, a phenomenon that I find completely inexplicable; maybe I went to sleep in May 1997 and have re-awakened in some kind of parallel universe where the normal rules of economic management and basic self-interest don't apply. Frankly that explanation makes as much sense as anything else I can come up with.

USD50bn hedge fund fraud - the clue is possibly in the name

Yes, Bernard Mad[e]off (sic) seems to have made off [geddit?], or lost, or mislaid, a great deal of other people's money through what is now being described by the man himself, according to comments he is reported, in the US Attorney's criminal complaint filed in court, to have made to three employees during last week describing it as a giant Ponzi scheme.

It almost makes one wish for the halcyon days when it seemed that Enron was a one-off exceptional case. It now seems clear that financial regulation in the US, seemingly so detailed and exhaustive, specially after the improvements supposedly put in place in the wake of the flaws revealed by the Enron scandal of 6 or 7 years ago, is still in practice worth very little.

What fresh blows to confidence will be revealed in coming months? I'm afraid even to contemplate what might be in store - almost certainly it is not good. Just one more sign that the 8-year Presidency of George W Bush will not be remembered by historians as one of the more glorious phases of US or western capitalist history.

Property values to fall further, Sterling through the floor ...

... We're doooooomed...!

The head of Barclays Bank is predicting that we are perhaps only half-way through the process of house price decline, with values to fall by 30 per cent in all, according to John Varley. He also thinks that unemployment may rise to 7 or 7 and a half per cent by the end of 2009, with an additional 700,000 becoming unemployed. One hope that he is being realistic in his assessment, but my worry is that he is instead being somewhat optimistic.

As for Sterling, after a week of steep falls during which it reached an historic low against the Euro, in early hours of currency trading today the Pound has remained near it record lows against it, even if the USD is showing losses based on speculation that the US Federal Reserve may cut interest rates further, whereas there are suggestions from European Central Bank officials that the interest rate for the Euro may not drop too much further, which seems to be supporting that currency. On the other hand that 'not too much further' implies it will drop, not that it will not drop at all. In any case Yvette Cooper MP, Treasury Minister, speaking on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday stated that the main focus of the government is not to support the Pound, but to target inflation so I suspect we have not seen the floor on the value of the Pound against the Euro just yet.

Incidentally, I just posted an article in my Spanish blog today about moves by the Spanish government to support the economy there, which I'm afraid I ended on a rather apocalyptic note:



In summary, who can tell if the Spanish government's plans will prove genuinely helpful or simply prolong the agony. I'm afraid what is happening now makes me ponder again on what is said to be an ancient Chinese proverb (or curse): May you live in interesting times. It may well be that before the present economic downturn runs its course that the world will go through a period of considerable tubulence of which economic dislocation will be only a small component.

I'm tempted to end this with a trite 'Have a Nice Day', but that hardly seems appropriate.

- at the least, however, I can hope that you will Go in Peace.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

That inimitable Germanic humour

Frankly I had never heard of this Freddy Frinton sketch before, but I read it is a cult classic in Germany, where it has been broadcast on television every year on New Year's Eve for around forty years. I've now watched it for the first time (that I can recall); it is certainly mildly amusing and probably at least as good as much of the rubbish that passes for Hogmanay entertainment here. See what you think:

"Dinner for One"

New blog template up and running

I have now uploaded and 'tweaked' the new blog template. I'm not entirely happy with the way the header banner is displayed, because it is not centred and depending on the screen size and resolution of your monitor it may be very off-centre; I will continue to try and devise a workaround for this, but as it does not seem to be a very major 'glitch' I will let it go for the moment. Apart from that, the new template seems to look alright on several PCs I have checked it on, but if you notice any unexpected effects in your browser, please let me know. Thank you.

New basic template uploaded - awaits customisation

I have just uploaded the new basic template; although all the articles are just as they always were, the template now requires full customisation. At present there are no links or other utilities shown in the right column. Adding all the coding for this will take me several hours to accomplish, but I hope to have most of the work done by this evening. Throughout this afternoon the 'look' of the blog will evolve to become pretty close to what it was in my old 3-column 'classic' template, although it will now be a 2-column blog. Please bear with me whilst I carry out all the customisation.

However, one immediate improvement should be that the page now loads much more rpaidly than before.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

An update on planned template changes for "Bill's Comment Page"

At long last I am almost ready to roll-out major changes to the template I use for this blog - I hope to get the final version ready and made 'live' here in the next 48 hours. I wrote at the beginning of the month that these changes were then imminent, but I'm afraid that various things delayed the rapid progress I anticipated then. However, during the next couple of days, visitors to this blog will notice some major changes to how the blog looks; eventually the basic theme will end up looking similar to what is here now, but there may be some interim stages when it looks very decidedly different, whilst I get the layout 'tweaked'. However the basic blog content articles won't be changing in any way.

Rather than repeat myself entirely, I'm reproducing below much of the earlier post, referred and linked to above, as this explains why I am making these changes and some of the major differences between what is visible now and what will be visible after the changes are complete:





I am in the process of changing the blog 'template' by converting it from a 'classic' Blogger mainly HTML format to a more modern 'layout' template, heavily reliant on CSS. This should dramatically increase the speed with which my page loads. If you have been trying to visit my blog over the past few weeks you will undoubtedly have noticed that it has become VERY, VERY SLOW to load and I think the basic problem is that Blogger (i.e. Google) must have made some changes to its database structure for blogs recently which means that 'classic' templates are no longer so fully supported by their systems.

In any case, I realised about a week and a half ago that something was seriously wrong and since then I have been working on a parallel test blog to work out some of the technical issues with doing the conversion here. I am now at the stage when I will probably begin to roll-out the new template in the next week, but it is possible there may be some rather curious initial side-effects (based on my experience with my Spanish blog, which has just today been converted to a similar updated template to the one I propose to use here); please bear with me during this phase. The pay-off will be a dramatic improvement in page-load times.

PS/ One important change when the template changes is that my 'comments' provider will change from the externally-provided Haloscan to the Google/Blogger equivalent; as a result, any comments made prior to the switch-over will be lost. I am sorry about this, but I have been thinking about making the switch for quite some time and rather than running the two 'comment' scripts in parallel for a while think it is better to make a clean break. In many ways I much prefer Haloscan, but as with any externally-sourced code can cause its own problems from time to time, specially during website down-times or software upgrades; nevertheless I shall be sorry to say 'goodbye' to Haloscan.



Two final observations:

- apart from the switch of my 'comments' from Haloscan to the Google/Blogger equivalent (and the loss of all the comments made on Haloscan when the changeover happens), the other major change is that this blog will revert to using a '2-column' format instead of the rather more elegant (in my view) 3-column format in use here for about the last 4 years. I'm afraid I have been obliged to do this because the new template 'layout' format does not easily permit a 3-column format, at least with the level of programming skill which I possess. There are negatives and positives to the format change, though - whilst the links in the right hand column will now extend much further down the page and be somewhat more confusing to navigate (in my view) than the clear split between external and internal links in my 3-column format, a welcome result of the change is that the main window (where my articles are posted) will occupy a much wider part of the screen than had been possible with the 3-column format.

The new working template is already 'live' in a parallel test-bed blog I operate. It now remains to transfer all the coding to this blog's template - as I'm quite tired now (and 'cross-eyed' having developed the changes using three different PCs with different sizes of screens and operating systems and testing the results using different browsers for most of this afternoon and evening), I plan to do no more until tomorrow.

Whilst doing all this blog-development, I've been watching yet more repeats on ITV3, currently the very watchable Taggart - one of the better UK-produced police dramas I think, and that will suffice for the rest of my evening's entertainment before bed. OK that's quite enough blogging 'onanism', something I rarely indulge in here.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Jury at de Menezes inquest delivers only possible verdict

The jury at the inquest into the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes, erroneously shot by police in July 2005 in the wake of the of 7th July London bombings, today delivered an 'open verdict'.

The coroner had ruled out a verdict of 'unlawful killing' (a decision I thought outrageous at the time I heard about it) and had left the jury with only two options, being an 'open verdict' or 'lawful killing'. All the eye-witnesses called to give evidence had flatly contradicted the evidence given by several of the involved police personnel that they had called out a warning to Mr de Menezes before killing him and that he had started to walk toward them before being shot. The jury did not believe the testimony of the police; nor did I. My impression is that it was a concocted story after the event to try and justify their criminally reckless behaviour.

Given the choices of verdict available to them, the jury chose the only one which remotely fitted what had occurred. I do not know what pressure, if any, may have been brought to bear upon the coroner, although I'm afraid I believe that some pressure must have been applied to him to persuade him to 'hobble' the deliberations of the jury and to prevent them having the option to issue a verdict of 'unlwaful killing'.

The family of Mr de Menezes are quite correct to describe the inquest proceedings as a 'whitewash'. The only crumbs of comfort I can draw from this sorry affair are that the jury refused to be cowed by the restrictions placed upon them by the coroner and that Sir Ian Blair is no longer Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Gordon Brown - 'saviour' of the world

Today at PMQs, Gordon Brown displays the full extent of his delusions, with this revealing Freudian slip:



Did a glimmer of self-awareness flicker across his face, just after he made this amazing gaffe? If so, it was speedily shut down and it was back to his own private world where increased borrowing against future tax rises (safely after the next General Election, of course) is considered the 'prudent' thing to do.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The club expands - Slovakia will adopt the Euro wef 1JAN09

Slovakia will become the 16th of the current 27 members of the European Union to adopt the Euro as its currency on 1 January 2009. The fixed conversion rate between the Euro (EUR) and the existing Slovak national currency (SKK) is €1 = 30.1260 SKK.

The 15 EU countries currently using the Euro as their currency are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

Of the other 11 countries, two (Denmark and the UK) have negotiated opt-outs which mean they have no obligation, ever, to adopt the Euro as their currency if they do not wish to do so. The main Swedish political parties have agreed not to join the Euro until approval in a national referendum is given; a referendum in 2003 rejected adoption so Sweden has chosen not to join ERM II. Full details of each EU member's status vis-a-vis the Euro may be viewed here.

You can see images of the Euro coins being issued by Slovakia to coincide with its adoption of the Euro as its currency here. Euro notes are uniform throughout the Eurozone and show no differences from country to country.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Positive DNA ruling!

A small step has just been taken by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to rein in the authoritarian tendencies of the British government by ruling that DNA samples and fingerprints taken from persons who are not subsequently charged or convicted cannot be retained on file. This runs a coach and horses through Labour's apparent desire to have the DNA of everyone in the country in a database, just in case.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith opines she is 'disappointed' at the ruling. For its part the ECHR has ruled that keeping the information:



"could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society"

Is the UK, in the fullest sense, still a 'democratic' society or has it morphed into some kind of Dystopian nightmare society? I am angry, embarrassed and scared that I can no longer, in all honesty, answer that question with a resounding and unequivocal 'Yes, the UK is still a democracy'.

Meantime, back at 'stately Wayne Manor' (i.e. the House of Commons) the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has just been reporting on that other little local difficulty - the row resulting from the arrest of Damian Green MP and the searching of his parliamentary office on obviously spurious fears of terrorism as a cover for the government's embarrassment about 'leaks' which have nothing to do with terrorism. Dominic Grieve MP has just sat down after making his response and now Ms Smith is speaking again - more later.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Michael Martin - 'it wisnae me!'

What a pathetic creature Speaker Michael Martin MP is! I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry this afternoon as I watched Speaker Martin make his statement to the House of Commons that he did know of the possible police raid on the House of Commons office of an MP; not only that, he knew the identity of the MP before the raid took place! We know this because Speaker Martin stated this in his statement today - and the person he heaped blamed upon for having allowed access to Damian Green MP's office, Serjeant-at-Arms Jill Jay, without a search warrant was the person who told him the day before the raid occurred that it might happen and the following morning she was the person who told him the identity of the MP concerned.

Speaker Martin says he 'regrets' that she agreed to allow access without asking for a warrant. Did he tell her during either or both of their conversations before the raid occurred to ensure that a search warrant had to be presented before granting access? Evidently not. Why not?

It seems completely bizarre to me to have a Speaker of the House of Commons who doesn't know the absolute basics of his role and its historic significance and more damningly who did not take the trouble (even when alerted the day before that a raid might occur) to ensure that he made himself aware of all the implications of what might happen in the near future? I imagine he has a staff of lawyers who could have advised him what his options were, if he had taken the trouble to ask them. His predecessor, Betty Boothroyd, may not have had much more formal education than Speaker Martin, but she did have one commodity in abundance that Michael Martin lacks - common sense, not to mention a sharp brain. Watching Speaker Martin today reading out his statement in his most ponderous voice was to be brought face to face with the reality that he is a man completely out of his depth; this is not a surprise as his mediocrity in his current role has been obvious to all since soon after he became Speaker. I have no wish to see the poor man humiliated, but a way has got to be found, and soon, to prevail upon him to resign and to let someone more capable take on the role. It would be sad if MPs were forced, reluctantly, to seek his removal through a vote of no confidence - it is clear that even most Opposition MPs have no wish to see that happen.

Finally, part of his statement included the observation that the Police had erred in not advising Serjeant-at-Arms Jill Jay that she did not have to agree to allowing them access in the absence of a search warrant and that she had the option to decline their request. Dominic Grieve MP (who is a lawyer) seemed to confirm this evening on Newsnight tonight that the Police should have told her this. It is clear that the Police knew they were on shaky ground and seem to have deliberately 'tried it on', deliberately waiting until Parliament was in recess before making their move when they hoped that the lack of a full complement of staff and MPs would allow them to gain access by default. Furthermore, the Police then proceeded to prevent their actions being filmed, apart from the first few moments until they told those in the office to stop filming because it was 'inappropriate', completely without any legal authority to do so.

This is what it means to live in a 'Police State' - it is time people recognised this and stopped calling people like me alarmist for stating a simple truth.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

A welcome splash of cold hard economic reality

John Redwood may not be my absolute favourite politician (his views on Europe don't sit well with me), but he is consistently on the button when it comes to talking about desirable economic outcomes and how to get there. His latest post Sterling is Warning the Government and the MPC is a welcome and long-overdue splash of reality - to summarise his message, real living standards will have to decline in both the UK and the US (and some other western countries, too), because we have been living beyond our means, on borrowed money, for far too long. And the lending countries over the past few years, and much more overtly in recent times, have begun to call a halt. How does the Government/Bank of England expect to get its debt sales away successfully, to support yet more expenditure on bloated social policies, with the prospect of further interest rate cuts looming? The markets are answering that question by sending Sterling lower.

The present Labour government has successfully squandered the pretty good financial situation it inherited from an unpopular Conservative government in 1997 over the past 11 years, and caused a balloon of public and private debt. Unfortunately, when there is too much pressure, balloons have tendency to burst. That's where we are now. It's not pretty and its not comfortable to live through, but unless politicians (both Labour and Conservative, not to mention the Republican and incoming Democratic administrations in the US) begin to lay out the facts for their electorates in stark terms, then there is no way forward. Potentially electorally disastrous of course, but pretending that we can somehow borrow yet more to get ourselves out of the present economic pit we are in is not going to help anyone in the long run. Electorates need to face up to where their profligacy has led - if they (we) continue to elect politicians who won't tell us the truth, then we deserve all that will likely follow.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Upcoming template changes for "Bill's Comment Page"

Over the next week, visitors to this blog will notice some major changes to how the blog looks; eventually the basic theme will end up looking similar to what is here now, but there may be some interim stages when it looks very decidedly different, whilst I get the layout 'tweaked'. However the basic blog content articles won't be changing in any way.

I am in the process of changing the blog 'template' by converting it from a 'classic' Blogger mainly HTML format to a more modern 'layout' template, heavily reliant on CSS. This should dramatically increase the speed with which my page loads. If you have been trying to visit my blog over the past few weeks you will undoubtedly have noticed that it has become VERY, VERY SLOW to load and I think the basic problem is that Blogger (i.e. Google) must have made some changes to its database structure for blogs recently which means that 'classic' templates are no longer so fully supported by their systems.

In any case, I realised about a week and a half ago that something was seriously wrong and since then I have been working on a parallel test blog to work out some of the technical issues with doing the conversion here. I am now at the stage when I will probably begin to roll-out the new template in the next week, but it is possible there may be some rather curious initial side-effects (based on my experience with my Spanish blog, which has just today been converted to a similar updated template to the one I propose to use here); please bear with me during this phase. The pay-off will be a dramatic improvement in page-load times.

PS/ One important change when the template changes is that my 'comments' provider will change from the externally-provided Haloscan to the Google/Blogger equivalent; as a result, any comments made prior to the switch-over will be lost. I am sorry about this, but I have been thinking about making the switch for quite some time and rather than running the two 'comment' scripts in parallel for a while think it is better to make a clean break. In many ways I much prefer Haloscan, but as with any externally-sourced code can cause its own problems from time to time, specially during website down-times or software upgrades; nevertheless I shall be sorry to say 'goodbye' to Haloscan.

Police State Britain - police exposed as brutal liars

This is ironic; I have for many years been deeply concerned at the growth of CCTV surveillance in Britain - the UK is now apparently the country with the most CCTV surveillance in the world, bar none. At one level I accept that there may be some benefits, but I have always questioned whether the balance of these benefits outweighs the risks and loss of privacy. The police repeat the mantra of "If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear", assuming one supposes that it is never going to be they who will regret such rash assumptions.

And so we come to the cases of three lying, cheating police officers in Wigan who got a man convicted for a crime he never committed. At Wigan magistrates court on 22nd September he was charged with two counts of police assault and the public order offence of swearing at the officers and 'the three officers read statements to the court that Mark had been “behaving violently” and “issued challenges” ' and as a result he was convicted and 'ordered to pay PC Lightfoot £100 in compensation and one of the other officers £150', despite the magistrates having viewed a video recording of the events that night - but we'll come to that in a moment. He was also ordered to do 200 hours of community service and given a three-month suspended prison sentence.

It so happens that the person the police picked on, on this occasion, was not just some drunk (well he was drunk, but he was not violent or issuing challenges) but was a man highly praised by his commanding officer for bravery against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where he fought in the army with the rank of Lance Corporal. Of course if Mark Aspinall had actually done what the police said he had done that night his courageous military service would not have absolved him from responsibility and he would have deserved to be punished.

In any case Mark Aspinall, whilst accepting he had been 'leathered' that night, vehemently disputed the police version and decided to appeal and at Liverpool Crown Court on 13th November his conviction was quashed by Judge Phipps who on seeing the video footage below asked "Where is this man of violence?":




So far all that has happened is that Mark Aspinall has received back the payments to the two officers the GBP250- they extorted from him by their lies a couple of months ago at the magistrates court hearing. One of the police officers has had his duties restricted and the other two are being investigated. Why haven't they simply been sacked and charged with perjury?

This is the country I am 'happy' to call home, a country where police officers seem to be growing accustomed to behaving as if they operate in an environment where they think they can act with complete impunity in the style of the police in some kind of quasi-fascist police state. Much as I dislike the ubiquity of CCTV surveillance, it is only the existence of clear video evidence to contradict police statements under oath in a magistrates court that has allowed this clear miscarriage of justice to be challenged and defeated. If the Sunday Mirror report is accurate in reporting that the magistrates at the earlier hearing convicted Mr Aspinall despite having viewed the video footage, incidentally, then their continuing suitability to be Justices of the Peace must certainly be investigated urgently. If the UK is not already a police state, then it is rapidly on the way to becoming one.