Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Fun with the Daily Express

A little little known fact is that Solicitors eat; and occasionally my hunt for something to eat for lunch takes me past the news-stand in my local supermarket.  Daily Express headline analysis has become a mild obsession.  My object; to discover what is going on in their editorial department.

One thing is certain, news as such plays little part in the settling of the front page.  An obvious conclusion is that the editorial department is situated somewhere where there is no news. No news at all.  Perhaps a local black hole. Or some strange experiment in social isolation. Maybe a practice run for a trip to Mars, or even the real thing.

London is  hosting the Olympic Games this year.  But no mention of it or the associated muddles in the main front page headline in the Express.  Also recently absent: The LIBOR fixing scandal, the acquittal of PC Harwood, and The civil war in Syria.

Here is an analysis of recent headlines showing a curious distaste for reporting anything newsworthy.


before that, these themes continue:

22 June: Summer of Flight Chaos
21 June: £67 Billion - the amount we must pay to support doctors' pensions (vaguely related to the doctors' "strike"
20 June: House Prices on Rise at last
18 June: New Pension pain for millions
15 June: Summer starts in September
14 June: 80mph Storm chaos on way
13 June: Arthritis test will end pain for millions
12 June: Now 80% demand vote to Quit EU
11 June: Britain wants Charles as King
10 June: We must stop Germany now
9 June: 70mph Gales to batter Britain.
6 June: Thank you all (they had noticed the Jubilee)
5 June: Show must go on (Jubilee)
4 June: Our Diamond Queen
1 June: Now EU vote is a step closer
31 May: £110,000 a year doctors to strike.. (real news)
30 May: Interest rates on hold for 5 years.
29 May: Benefits Family is "too rich to work"
28 May: EU force new rise in price of petrol
25 May: Seaweed pill will help beat Arthritis.
24 May: Heart attack risk in Health tablets.
23 May: Prisoners to be given the vote.
22 May: Mortgages to soar in Euro crisis
21 May: Simple checks to stop heart attacks
18 May: Easy way to halt misery of arthritis.
17 May: Death of the Euro.
16 May: 25% off your summer holiday.
15 May: New Cold snap to last a month.
14 May: Go to Britain for benefits, says EU
11 May: Pension Pain for Millions
10 May: Kate's daughter will be Queen
9 May: Best way to battle arthritis
8 May: Britain snubs Euro Bail out
7 May: All migrants to get a British pension.
4 May: EU plot to scrap Britain.
3 May: Britain facing new big freeze
2 May: 1 in 6 Patients at Risk from GP Blunders
1 May: How Millions miss out on better pensions
30 April: Flood chaos to last all week.
27 April: 60mp Gales to batter Britain.
26 April: Madeleine: she is alive.
25 April: New Pill stops Arthritis Pain.
24 April: Europe to Ruin British Pensions.
23 April: Outrage at Care Home Abuse
20 April: Proof Aspirin is a life saver.
19 April: Coldest May for 100 years.
18 April: Madeleine spotted in Spain.
17 April: Simple Way to boost pensions.
16 April: New test for Alzheimer's.
15 April: New battle to cure dementia (if only they had waited a day)
12 April: Now Britain is on flood alert.
11 April: Energy Bills to be slashed.
10 April; Eye test to beat heart disease.
9 April: Pension Boost of £312 on way.
6 April: New Hope for Arthritis cure.
5 April: Millions miss out on decent pensions.
4 April: Statins halt Alzheimer's
3 April: Mortgage rise to hit millions.
2 April: Britain facing week of snow.
30 March: Time to stop Petrol Panic.
29 March: Pumps run dry in Petrol Panic.
28 March: £1 for a first class stamp
27 March: Petrol Strike chaos to cripple Britain. (Maybe this helped create the panic).
26 March: Now EU bans plastic bags.
25 March: New Arthritis Cure for £1 a day.
24 March: 5m Pensioners robbed in the Budget.
23 March: Aspirin is key to beating cancer.
20 March; End of free cashpoints.
19 March: Toll roads to cover Britain.
16 March: Diabetes warning on white rice (probably a small one)
15 March: New EU Rules wreck pensions.
14 March: Water Bills to soar in hosepipe scandal.
13 March: £1,000 for using hosepipe.
12 March: How to double your pension.
9 March: Pension bonus for millions.

What can we infer?

  1. The staff are at or fast approaching pensionable age.
  2. They suffer badly from arthritis, and other ailments.
  3. There is a lot of repetition.
  4. They don't like the EU.
  5. They worry about the weather, a lot.
  6. Little respect for statistics.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Blindness of the Great

It is quite remarkable, one might think, how chronic ignorance afflicts those in charge of organisations whose employees break the law to profit those organisations.  "We didn't know anything about it" - a mantra you will hear chanted in boardrooms in the banking sector about interest rate fixing, and, as the Leveson Inquiry has been told many times, also in the offices of News International.

They may even be telling the truth.  They may all have no idea how their companies work: no idea how profits bear no resemblance to performance. That might explain a lot.... 

O Blindheit der Großen! Sie wandeln wie Ewige
Groß auf gebeugten Nacken, sicher
Der gemieteten Fäuste, vertrauend
Der Gewalt, die so lang schon gedauert hat.
Aber lang ist nicht ewig.
O Wechsel der Zeiten! Du Hoffnung des Volks!

from Brecht's "Caucasian Chalk Circle"

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

It's a tricky question, isn't it? How does one conclude that someone is "not a fit person" to run a major international business?

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee's report into News International and Phone-hacking, published on 30 April 2012, reaches this conclusion.  However a minority of MPs, all made up from the Conservative Party's ranks, begged to differ, not with the facts set out in the report, but with its judgement of unfitness; saying instead that such a view was outside the scope of the enquiry.

It is, I think, beyond question that 'phone-hacking took place in News International newspapers almost as a matter of common practice.  We do not know how many other newspapers indulged in this practice, and we may find out at some time.

The phone-hacking led to newspaper articles which brought the personal details of victims' lives into the public domain, and which in many cases were sensational. 

The mindset which produced these articles was one which asserted that there was no real right to privacy from the rich, the famous, and those who had been exposed to the public eye, sometimes unwillingly, such as the parents of Milly Dowler.

Despite what has been said by various witnesses, who have sought to play down the degree to which those "in charge" were complicit,or even aware, of what was going on; it is hard to believe that these people, who read the headlines, who paid the bills, who were supposed to know how information was gathered and used, did not well know what was happening. It is as if they concluded time and time again that these scoops resulted from the intervention of a journalistic fairy godmother; as if Eichmann had told his trial that he thought the massacred Jews of Europe had all gone on holiday. 

But let us cast aside our doubts and assume that the Murdochs are telling the truth, concealing nothing, that these things went on under their noses, unseen and unsmelt; emails went unread, minions were dutiful enough not to pass on their knowledge of illegality, but happy to be complicit in it, the sources of incredible stories not questioned.

In such a case, I submit that there is a total failure of oversight here. And this failure of oversight, if a deliberate withdrawal from the management of his business, would be an outrageous and reckless abandonment of responsibility warranting an assertion of unfitness; if a failure through incapacity then an admission of unfitness.

In every case there is no logical alternative to the majority conclusion of the Committee.

It is the function of our legislators to seek to protect the public, and to suggest that it is not is fatuous in the extreme.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Plot Sale Scams

Over the past couple of yearsI have had a number of enquiries from people who have "invested" in land plot sale schemes.

Beguiled by hard selling boiler room style salesmen, they have parted with sums from £5,000 to £20,000 in exchange for small plots of land.

The premise behind such sales is generally that sooner rather than later planning consent "will" be granted for the development of the plots and instead of a field or wood, we will see rows of neat little houses, smoke gently swirling from chimneys, happy children playing with their hoops in the tidy streets.

Nice, eh?

But unfortunately fantasy.  What actually happens is that unscrupulous and greedy swindlers purchase agricultural or forestry land for peanuts and then sell portions of it to the gullible for maybe twenty or thirty times the amount they paid for it.

The land will generally have absolutely no development value at all. if you are being told otherwise, then you are being lied to. Frequently the plots offered are too small for much more than a shed.

The Government has done little about this scam, which if done "properly" is perfectly legal.  The FSA is powerless unless the promoters can be caught running an unauthorised "collective investment scheme", which they often are not. By the time the slow moving and underfunded trading standards staff get to these operations, they have moved on, cash rich and chuckling, to their next venture.

So could anything be done?

A simple step would be to deprive these schemes of the veneer of legality by making the offering for sale, either as principal or agent, of multiple plots of undeveloped land without planning consent, a regulated activity under FSA supervision.

Exceptions would need to be made for land sold for agricultural purposes only of at least 4,000 square metres.

I have started up a petition about this on the No 10 website, and will post the link shortly, when it has been "vetted" and, one hopes, approved.

If you have any sudden urge to invest in a plot of land, you should see a Solicitor before signing anything or paying over money.  Sites maintained by these swindlers will suggest that you don't need a Solicitor - "would you use one to buy a car?" - one of them says - but the answer to that is that you can check the car and see if it works before you buy it. Don't become another victim.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The power of indecision

"What would you do?" I have lost count of the times I have been asked this question by people buying property, particularly if something "comes up" which means that what they thought they were getting isn't quite what they are getting as a result of defective or prejudicially drawn documents, unco-operative freeholders, missing planning consents, removed walls, or a combination of those things.

"Would you buy it?" Or more usually: "Would you buy it if you were me?" I do conveyancing, not out of body experiences. "I just need your 'off the record' view." By email, preferably of course.

What is really required of course is a plug in decision machine, attuned perfectly to the needs and desires of the pluggee, which will produce a judgement which the pluggee can ignore just the same.

In the absence of such a device, maybe this will assist.

First question. Will the problem affect your enjoyment or use of the property?

The Lease says: "No pets", and the managing agents don't like little Fluffy the loveable cat. No problem as long as you can bear to leave your snuggly friend in the hands of the taxidermist.

But if you hate cats, and Fluffy belongs to a neighbour, what's the problem?

We all hate carpets, but sorry, "you need to keep your floors carpeted." That's fine if you don't mind your friends laughing at you, and you can control your asthma with drugs.

And on the other hand, if you live in the flat under the man who does tango in stiletto heels, carpets might not be quite so risible.

You are buying a flat with the intention of letting it out. the Lease says that you need to get written permission for each time you let it. There will be fees to pay - perhaps £800 or more, each time; and delay. Is it a good idea to buy the flat for letting?

On the other hand, take the same facts, except for the fact that you intend to live in the flat. No temporary residents might well be a good thing,

A key wall has been removed without any building regulation approval. The seller refuses to have the council round to inspect. Will an indemnity policy be the solution? Will it protect you if the roof falls in on your head? You decide.

Second question. Will it make selling your property more difficult? You should bear in mind that the harder a property is to sell, the less money it will realise. Is that obvious?

Imagine, if you will, a large room. A very large room in fact. It's filled with all the people who are looking to buy a property.

You stand in front of them behind a powerful microphone and one by one you list the attributes of your property. After each announcement, people will leave. They don't want your property.

After you have announced that the property is a flat on the second floor, has no garden and is in Penge, only a few people remain. "No pets", and leashes strain as owners are dragged out. "Lease only 75 years." Just a few faces remain to look at you eagerly. A man with a parrot on his shoulder is gently escorted out by an attendant dressed in white.

You mention that letting needs permission, and that it could do with a bit of paint, and suddenly you look down, and there is one person left. You announce the price with trepidation.

She laughs at you. As she leaves the hall to you and, you alone, you can see Fluffy's beady eyes staring at you through the window.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Rants and Ranters

The hysteria over the Court decision to allow the "radical cleric" Abu Qatada out of prison and offer him extremely stringently conditioned bail is both predictable and deplorable. Predictable, because the tabloid press is very happy to focus on the "Preacher of Hate", and attack the Courts and Europe.

But what is actually going on? Mr Qatada has been locked up for six and a half years. He has not been prosecuted, much less convicted; and one can only assume that whatever he might have said and done, there is in the opinion of the Crown Prosecution Service insufficient evidence to charge him with any offence, including one of the plethora of new offences created to deal with the threat of terrorism. In addition, although Mr Qatada is apparently wanted for terrorist offences in the United States, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and his native Jordan; it is only a Jordanian request for extradition that has been received and processed, and unsurprisingly, given the state of human rights observance in Jordan, extradition there, where a fair trial could not be guaranteed, was not compatible with our own human rights legislation.

Unfortunately, Mr Qatada is not someone whon attracts sympathy: indeed the opposite is true. There is no doubt at all that he has come to this country, originally to escape religious persecution in the UAE, without any intention of accepting the welcome offered by the UK to those who settle here, on the terms that they play a part in British society and contribute towards the common good. Instead he has preached what amounts to religious apartheid, and has done more to undermine the cohesion of the communities here than the BNP could ever have done.

But there are three elementary principles of our justice system which are being tested here:

  1. That a person is treated as innocent until proven guilty;
  2. That a person who is accused, is entitled to a fair trial;
  3. That all those who come before the courts are entitled to expect the same treatment, irrespective of their opinions or background.

By imprisoning this man for over six years, we have failed the first of these. But this does not mean that this state of affairs should continue. The other two appear to dictate that Mr Qatada should be charged or released, and perhaps his release will galvanise the authorities, who presumably have been complacently inactive, into deciding if charges should be brought; and determining once and for all if indeed he is a criminal or just a deeply unpleasant ranter. if the latter, he could perhaps get a job with the Daily Express,

But the most important lesson is for us, and for the tabloid press. What have we come to when a person can be thrown into an oubliette for over half a decade without a public outcry? What guarantee have we that we will not be next? For those papers that claim to seek to defend our traditions, what is wrong with defending the legal structures and the attendant derived principles of justice that have over the years been the basis of our freedoms?

Sadly the answer has more to do with prejudice than any sort of conviction.

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