Monthly Archives: June 2008

A nation of traffic wardens (The Times)

Every new agency, every new initiative that is set up increases the distrust that we feel for the State

Camilla Cavendish, The Times page 27, 12th June 2008

Why don’t we lock up the Cabinet for 42 days? That would stop them spending our money. I was talking to an education spokeswoman last week about the decline in the rigour of GCSEs. She replied, as if it answered the question, that Ofqual had just been set up to monitor exams. What’s happened to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, I asked. It used to do that. The QCA’s still there, she said. I felt like handing myself in to Oftrolley.

It’s not just the cash. Every new agency, every new initiative, nudges down the ratio of normal citizens to busybodies. Britain is starting to feel like a nation of traffic wardens. The mentality of officialdom is increasingly malevolent.

A week ago a senior businessman whom I know was shocked to be treated like a criminal by British Transport Police at the Gare du Nord in Paris. Clutching a business-class Eurostar ticket but unable to find the right queue, he ducked under a barrier. The CCTV chirruped. “Sit down!” screamed a policeman. “Give me your passport!” My friend tried to explain. No one listened. “You have no right!” shouted a hatchet-faced woman, also British, in an unreadable uniform.

Five minutes later the officer returned, all smiles. My friend’s knighthood had done the trick. But, as he says, it shouldn’t have. Such people should never be so rude to any taxpayer who pays their salaries.

I agree, having recently been humiliated by a screeching official at Victoria station. Taller than me, he called for “back-up” on his walkie-talkie because I, with my two small children and our heavy bag, was “obstructing” an empty walkway. We were there because my husband had gone to buy tickets for a train that we were going to miss after Screecher Man had refused our pleas to let us pay on board.

It was his cold hatred that unnerved me, and the acute pleasure he took in making us miss our train. We weren’t trying to slip unnoticed across an international border. We were catching the 14.32 to Sutton.

We have become objects of suspicion to institutions that used to make us feel secure: banks, councils, the police. In turn, we distrust them.

A report by Harriet Sergeant for Civitas describes the recent jump in complaints by law-abiding people against the police. A 19″year old student was arrested and detained for five hours for holding a Tube lift door open with his foot A man was nicked for pulling over to answer a phone call. Each example sounds silly, tabloid. But there are too many -to ignore. Surrey Police’s recent decision to abandon box-ticking is a measure of their concern about the corrosion of their relationship with the public.

A year ago a respected group of midwives, obstetricians and researchers called the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services wrote to the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. Their letter said that “there is now no health professional, or official help line that parents feel they can safely ask for help”: They described people who avoid health visitors, because they see them as “health police”. They told of mothers with postnatal depression who will not go to the doctor for fear of alerting social services. They said that an incr~asing number of children are taught at home because “the educational system is now seen as part of the surveillance process”. Their letter made 15 points, many devastating.

Did Sir Liam question such alarming evidence? Did he ask for more detail? Did he launch an inquiry into whether the joining up of childrens’ services is breaking trust between parents and professionals?

No. He thanked them for the letter -two months later. He said that he shared many of their concerns. And he said how lucky they were that the Department for Children. Schools and Families had been set up.

That was Standard Reply I: “Not my responsibility.” Standard Reply 2 is: “Thanks for your letter, but things are getting better: let me tell you about them at length, even though they don’t relate to your concern.” I don’t know if there is an SR3, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to get any sense out of Whitehall.

Many of us hav~ complained about the lack of “joined-up government”. Now we are seeing the disadvantages of read-across. The Children’s Database, which will contain the personal details of every child. is justified on the grounds that it will make children safer. An absurd claim, given the number of people who will be able to use it at will. Who will be responsible for inputting information on “difficulties in the parents’ relationship”, and “ways in which the family’s income is used”?

The latest proposal by Home Office officials, to hold every telephone call and e-mail in the UK,described as a “crucial tool” for protecting national security and preventing crime, is wholly disproportionate.

Each new measure is justified in the same way -you have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong, But that is no longer true. We have everything to fear from a State that has lost all sense of proportion. In a free society, rights and laws protect people from the government. In a tyranny, rights and laws protect government from the people. Often, the first thing I’ve seen when visiting tyrannies are unpleasant and swaggering officials trying to impound my passport. I don’t want to see them at the Eurostar.

What irks me most is that “they” don’t know us, only our data. Getting to see my GP requires tenacious redialling and extended grovelling. An appointment lasts seven minutes. But the practice regularly writes to query my children’s vaccinations. They seem unable to accept that these are done by my father-in-law. That doesn’t fit their box.

One day, I fear, they11 compare notes with Victoria station Screecher Man: “Subversive … wild-eyed … suspiciously large handbag.” If “incitement to hatred by officials” becomes an offence, I’ll be first to go down. Let’s not get that far.
Feed Shark

MP’s Bold Stand on Liberty

I’m not a Conservative, but good on you David Davis (Conservative MP who resigned today on principle). He wants the country to debate what is really going on to the invasion of our civil liberties by this Database and authoritarian government, who are so willing to erode our privacy for indefinitely.

Lock up the terrorist on conviction, not on suspicion. Other wise, we are treading down the dangerous path where by we all could be locked up ‘under suspicion’. And stop the constant surveillance of individuals by the state, we want freedoms and we will not be controlled by our servants.

Response from Staffordshire Police

I received a speeding fine back in October 2006. I was doing 47 in a 40 zone, but had been confused by the signage. I payed the fine, but complained. I obviously hit a raw nerve somewhere, because I received a 3 page reply from…

STAFFORDSHIRE POLICE

Direct Dial No: 01785235034 CENTRAL TICKET OFFICE
Telex 36107 PO BOX 2117
Fax: 01785232693 STAFFORD
Email: Michael. [email protected] ST169ZR.
Our Ref: C13465538

The person dealing with this correspondence is P.c. 4817 Kim ber 14th January 2008

Dear Mr. Nicholls

I have been asked to respond to your letter dated 16th December 2007 addressed to the Deputy Corporate Director, Staffordshire Highways.

It is not our normal practice to correspond any further with a motorist who has admitted and complied with tl1e fixed penalty process but on this occasion, I felt that the issues you raised needed a response.

I shall cover the points you have raised in the order you have given.

The Highway Code and the Road Traffic Act 1988 have been designed and enacted to give guidance and direction to all motorists using public roads in the UK. There is no “Spirit” of law. A motorist makes a decision as to whether they are going to comply with the law or not. If they decide the latter, then they should expect, if caught, to receive the appropriate punishment.

There is no “Trend” by this or any other council in the UK to cheat the driving public. If anything, all are trying to assist the motorist as much as possible in complying with the rules and regulations. There are plenty of signs, advertisements on local media stations and council websites to advise and warn motorist where speed cameras and now our mobile speed detection vehicles will be sited on a daily basis. Our static cameras are painted yellow and our vans have so much reflective material on them, they cannot be missed. The only people cheating the public are themselves. If everyone complied with all the rules and regulation.s, our dep;?,lrtment vvou!d not exist.

The signage on the A34 at Tittensor is all clearly and correctly marked and displayed. All repeater signs within the 60mph speed limit sections on the A34 between Stafford and Stoke on Trent are of the same size as the one you have mentioned. The only difference between all the others and the one you have highlighted is that all the other signs have the 60mph and speed camera signs mounted on grey backgrounds. The reason why the one you have highlighted is on a yellow background is to warn motorist of a change of speed limit ahead. From the position you have taken this photograph, the 40mph speed limit signs which also incorporate the speed camera sign are clearly visible. They are also on yellow backgrounds to warn motorists. There is a smaller 40mph repeater sign after the two 40mph change of speed limit signs which is some 50yds prior to the camera. If a motorist were to miss the change of speed limit signs (one on either side of the carriageway) then there is enough time for the driver to brake safely prior to the camera even if they were still traveling at 60mph.

I am confused about your description of the Cheddleton site on the A520. I have revisited the location to confirm the situation. I believe you may have been describing the location of one of our cameras again on the A520 but just prior to Cellarhead.

The camera at the Cellarhead site is positioned some 20yds past the 30mph change of speed limit signs. This is justified for two reasons. Near enough immediately opposite the camera is a petrol station which can be busy at times and has large goods vehicle using it. The second reason is some 300yds further along the road is a bUSy crossroads junction of the A520 and A52. Although this junction is controlled by traffic lights, when some traffic wants to turn right onto the A52 from the A520, it causes a backlog of traffic. The siting of the camera is to reduce the speed of traffic prior to this junction and thus reduce the number of collisions where vehicles drive into the back of each other haVing not expected the traffic tailbacks.

The Cheddleton site has a sweeping left hand bend prior to the 30mph change of speed limit signs and these can be seen some 100yds before their position giVing drivers plenty of time to see them and reduce their speed safely. The two 30mph signs are clearly and correctly marked and displayed. The right hand one is sited on a central refuse which also helps to give the appearance that the road narrows and encourage drivers to slow down naturally. About 150yds past the 30mph sign is a roundabout at the junction with Basfordbridge Lane. The speed camera is then positioned some 50yds north of this roundabout on the A520.

All road signs in the county of Staffordshire are placed in accordance with regulations covering their size, colour and positioning. This also includes its siting to give the earliest warning to approaching motorists. The use of “Countdown” markers for changes in speed limits are used within Staffordshire and are only usually put in places where reinforcement and extra warnings are need for a specific problem sites.

Since 2001 Staffordshire has complied with guidelines set by the Department for Transport covering the siting of Safety Cameras and there is a strict criteria we have to adhere to before a new camera can be sited. We also use other means of encouraging drivers to comply with speed limits including flashing speed and warning signs.

It is the “resolve” of the Staffordshire Casualty Reduction Unit (formerly known as the Safety Camera Partnership) to help create safer roads in this county. The important word in that sentence is “help”. We cannot do this on our own. We need the help of the general public and especially drivers to reduce the number of casualties and deaths on our roads. They can do this by complying with the Highway Code, Road Traffic Act and set speed limits.

I hope that I have gone some way to answering the points you have raised in your letter. If you require any further advice or information, visit our web site. There are links on there that should be answer any further questions you have. The address is:

www.staffordshire.gov.uk/cameralifesavers.

Respectfully yours

Michael Kimber Pc 4817 Enquiry Officer Staffordshire Casualty Reduction Unit

“But, Parliament will get a vote on extension!”

One of the many concessions that the Government had to put in the Counter Terrorism Bill is for Parliament to take the decision  in a case to extension without charge.

Firstly, the home secretary needs to be satisfied there is a “grave exceptional terrorist threat”. Secondly, top prosecutors and police issue a report setting out why they need the power. Once the home secretary signs the order, she must inform Parliament within two days and both houses must approve the move. The special powers for 42-day detention are only available to the home secretary for 30 days, after which she must reapply for the powers. Even while she has these powers, each suspect will be able to challenge any application to hold them beyond 28 days in front of a judge.

BBC News Website, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7447218.stm

This sounds like a good safeguards which would guarantee proper checks and balances against arbitrary treatment. The Telegraph’s legal editor, Joshua Rosenberg, clarified the exact process in an interview just on BBC News:

The Home Secretary has to lay an order before Parliament. It’s not as complicated as people think, because she [the Home Secretary] doesn’t have to persuade Parliament that there’s this grave, exceptional terrorist threat; all she needs to get is a request from the Director of Public Prosecutions and a Chief Constable, or equivalent … , and then she can make The Order and then it survives, even if Parliament votes [against it], for at least a few days … Once the order is granted, the police can detain any number of people while the order is still in force for up to 42 days.

So Parliament will be given the information it needs to vote responsibly on the case?

… the intention is that Parliament will not be given the sort of information about individual cases that some people seem to be expecting, because … if that was made public that would prejudice a forthcoming trial. So, there’s no need for that information …

Pardon? This means that absolute trust must be placed in as few as three people for the liberty of ‘any number of people’. Is this right and fair?

Who did the 42-day pollsters interview?

Views on the BBC News website (http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?forumID=4931&edition=1&ttl=20080611185757) beg the question, how did the pollsters come to their conclusions? I might have the answer: most of those in favor of the extension of detention without charge don’t relaise it is without charge and they also don’t realise how the new powers could potentially be used against anyone. 

There’s no smoke without a fire!? See my previous posts to see that these new powers could very easily be used against normal everyday people and misused by the authorities. Servants of the people? The butler is running the mansion house.