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.

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