Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beautiful England (2)

I took this photograph of Dunsop Bridge, a small village about ten or eleven miles from Clitheroe, on what will probably turn out to be the last sunny day of this summer.
The centre of the village itself is only tiny - the photo actually captures about half of it - but it is a truly beautiful place.
It is yet another of the Ribble Valley's (albeit the locals would probably say the Hodder Valley's) hidden jewels.
Just one word of caution for the prospective visitor; don't turn up expecting to find a village pub at which to slake your thirst: there isn't one!
By the way, who said that Lancashire was a place of dark satanic mills, cobbled streets, flat caps and whippets?
As Lord Melchett might have observed, "Au contraire, Blackadder..."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The English 'Columbine' Two...

Regular visitors to the Throne will recall that I yield to no man in the strength of my support for the presumption of innocence in respect of those charged with criminal offences. For newer, or more occasional visitors, I have written of my support for the concept in cases as diverse as the recent Gerrard ‘affray’ case, of which of course, he was famously acquitted, the Ali Dizaei case and the potential charges to be levelled against the police officer involved in the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protest in London.

That said, any civilised society, and despite the best efforts of the present government, we still just about qualify to consider ourselves as such, requires a robust system for managing the prosecution of (potential) offenders. Every such system of which I am aware is centred on there being independent courts of law in which those accused of criminal behaviour may plead their innocence in front of a jury of their peers.

That, in essence, is what I understand to be role of the criminal courts: to assess whether those accused of offences are either guilty as charged or not.

That is why I am astonished by the tidal wave of legal and journalistic criticism being faced by the Greater Manchester Police and, more savagely, the Crown Prosecution Service, for instituting criminal proceedings against Matthew Swift and Ross McKnight, the teenagers from Manchester who were alleged to have been planning an English ‘Columbine’ massacre.

Indeed, I have looked in vain for a single report into the acquittal of these two boys, which has not indulged in sometimes trenchant criticism of the decision to prosecute them in the first place. To illustrate my point, I have provided links to press reports from across the political spectrum here, here and here and just for good measure to three more here, here and here. I could have linked to more, including the BBC; but I think you get the picture.

All of them refer to the criticism levelled at the prosecuting authorities by defence counsel, Roderick Carus QC, for taking these boys to court in the first place.

Before I go any further, it is only fair to acknowledge that Mr Carus’ knowledge of the facts in this case is infinitely greater than mine, as, I have no doubt whatever, is his knowledge of the law; but let me just examine one or two of the points he made in his court-steps critique of the decision to prosecute the pair for conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions – effectively to potentially commit mass murder, such as:

“Why could they [presumably the police] not take them to one side, slap them on the wrists and say ‘don’t be silly boys, now off you go and enjoy your careers in the Army?’”


“I would hope the prosecuting authorities make more allowances for the frivolity of youth in future.”

Well let me see, Mr Carus. Imagine for a minute that the police had simply taken the pair of them to one side and “slapped their wrists” and then released them to join the Army, where, presumably, they would have access to firearms and explosives. Continue to imagine the firestorm of criticism which would have been levelled at the police had either of them used their access to those weapons and explosives to put their 'frivolous' and ill-conceived ‘plans’ into operation, resulting in the violent deaths of large numbers of people.

That firestorm, hungrily stoked by the same journalists currently criticising the decision to prosecute in this case, would doubtless result in the resignation, or even dismissal, of the Chief Constable of GMP, to say nothing of numbers of his subordinates, and in all probability the resignation of the Home Secretary, were he or she a member of a party other than Teflon Labour.

It may be an unfortunate analogy, doubly so, since the two boys were acquitted, but I wonder what the fourth estate and the critical Mr Carus would have made of a decision to give the parents of Baby Peter a ‘slap on the wrist’?

Mr Carus’ comments aside, what of that decision to prosecute?

The police investigated what they clearly believed to be a plot to commit mass murder; in other words, they did their jobs. The evidence they assembled, albeit ultimately rejected by the jury, was forwarded to the Crown Prosecution Service, who, after mature consideration, decided that there was both a realistic prospect of conviction based on the papers (in other words, in their professional opinion, more that a fifty percent prospect of conviction) and an overwhelming public interest in prosecuting the case.

In turn, two barristers were briefed to prepare and present the case on behalf of the Crown. One of those barristers was the eminent QC, Peter Wright, who led the prosecution of Steve Wright, the Ipswich prostitute murderer, those of the recently convicted ‘airline suicide bombers’ and was junior counsel for the prosecution in the Harold Shipman case; hardly the career profile of a man who would fight shy of advising that an allegedly weak case was not worthy of prosecution.

Taking the argument one step further, if the case against the two was as weak as Mr Carus suggests, why wasn’t he successful in submitting that his client had no case to answer at the close of the prosecution case? If he did make such a submission, it was clearly rejected by the judge, who in doing so made the tacit observation that there was indeed a case for his client to answer. If, on the other hand, he didn’t address the judge on that matter, then he clearly accepted that there was such a case himself; he cannot have it both ways.

But let me return to the point I made at the beginning of this post.

The criminal courts are there to assess whether those put in front of them by the Crown are guilty of the offences with which they have been charged. They do not, and should not, exist to simply rubber-stamp the conviction of those against whom the evidence of guilt is so overwhelming that there can be no question of their possible acquittal.

Similarly, when a case has reached a jury for a decision as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, the prosecuting authorities have done their job: the verdict on that work is then in the hands of the twelve people on the jury who have to be satisfied so that they are sure of the guilt of the accused, before they can convict him.

To criticise those same authorities for failing to secure convictions when the power to do so is ultimately (and rightly) in the hands of twelve people with little or no previous knowledge of the law is grossly unfair, as indeed it is to criticise the system of justice in this country when it has demonstrably worked in this case as it was designed to do.

On mature reflection and when no longer basking in the triumphalist light of the headline hungry media, Mr Carus may just agree with me.

Meanwhile, Matthew Swift and Ross McKnight are free to resume their lives, having had the presumption of their innocence confirmed at the end of their trial.

That is our system; and whatever the results, perverse or otherwise, long may it remain so.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Heart attacks and the smoking ban...

I read this article from The Times (it also appeared in a number of other papers, notably the Daily Mail) with more than a little interest.

The reason for that is quite simple; my father died at the age of 47 – younger than I am now - of a heart attack, having suffered his first two such episodes at the incredibly early age of 38.

Up until suffering those first two attacks in the mid-sixties, like the vast majority of his contemporaries, he had smoked about twenty-five untipped cigarettes a day, in addition to regularly smoking a pipe. After those early attacks, however, he never smoked another cigarette, nor touched his pipe again for the rest of his life – all nine years of it.

As you might imagine, losing my father to heart disease at such a young age (I was 14) has had what I now understand to be a significant effect – and ongoing - on my psyche; in fact all the more so as I grew older. For instance, odd as it might sound, turning 39 without having suffered a heart attack or another, related condition was an important milestone for me. More important still was the day on which I actually surpassed my father’s age; a date, moreover, that I had calculated months in advance. And just in case you think I’m a little odd, I took a great deal of comfort from the fact that my elder brother (five years older than me and still hale and hearty, I’m glad to say) did exactly the same.

I also have no doubt whatsoever that my enthusiasm for keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight similarly arise from my father’s (and therefore my family’s) experience.

So, as I observed in the first sentence of this post, the article in The Times suggesting that the ban on smoking in public places has led to a 10% fall in heart attack rates in England was of the greatest interest to me, irrespective of the fact that I have never so much as put a cigarette to my lips.

But having read it more than once, a nagging doubt about the accuracy of the story occurred to me.

I cannot think of a single person who has stopped smoking because of the ban of doing so in public places; all they do is simply troop off to the smoking area-cum-shelter-cum-lean-to where they are allowed to indulge their habit. What’s more, I can personally vouch for the fact that non-smokers tend to join them, in order that the night out, and whatever conversation is taking place, isn’t unduly interrupted, or in some cases, ruined.

What’s more it has been my experience that smokers deprived of the right to indulge their habit inside buildings – chiefly pubs, of course – have taken to doing so in the comfort of their own homes, lubricated by large quantities of cheap the supermarket beer I have written about before.

So why have the heart attack statistics reportedly gone down by such a significant percentage?

The simple answer is, I simply don’t know; but I would be very sceptical of any suggestion that, given the absence of any significant evidence proving the wholesale cessation of smoking by those engaging in it ‘first hand’, the reduction was exclusively due to non-smokers no longer being exposed to the deleterious effects of ‘secondary smoking’, a concept on which the jury is still out.

I am not an epidemiologist, and nor do I claim any medical expertise, but if there has been a ten percent reduction in the national heart attack rate, could the fact that people may be taking more exercise, or eating more sensibly, or advances in drug treatments not be partially responsible for it, too?

Sadly, I remain unconvinced by their theory that the smoking ban alone has been responsible for this reduction, because hand in glove with that claim comes the suggestion (or should that be demand?) that the ‘ban’ should be extended still further, into cars carrying children, or most sinisterly of all, into private houses where there are children present.

I’m afraid to say that I see the use of this as yet unsupported statistic as more emotive grist to the bansturbators’ mill and as much as I would like to do so, I simply don’t believe it.

Beautiful England...

Every now and again, myself and Mrs RToK enjoy a lengthy stroll in the countryside, particularly in the area around Malham in North Yorkshire.

The village is, of course synonymous with the Cove which shares its name, but there is far more to the area than even that majestic feature, as the photograph to the left of this post so amply demonstrates.

For the uninitiated, this waterfall, which is about a mile and a half from the centre of the village, is known locally as Janet’s Foss. Legend has it that Janet (or Jennet), the queen of the local fairies, lives in a cave behind the waterfall.

Fairy stories aside, it is a truly beautiful sight and let me assure you that the water in the pool at the foot of the waterfall itself really is as crystal clear and inviting as it appears on this shot.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Dramatic England...

Having posted a picture of the Cross of St George flying from the illuminated inner keep of Clitheroe Castle a few months ago, I doubted that I would ever find a better image of our national flag, hence the absence of any further photos in what was, until that point, a short series of such shots.

I still think that shot is the best one I'll ever take, but the one which appears to the left runs it a very worthy second, even though this photo hardly does it justice.

As regular Thronistas may have gathered, I took it on my mobile as it dominated the skyline above the town of Settle in North Yorkshire.

In point of fact, stood at the vantage point from which I took this shot, I was spoilt for choice in terms of the sheer number of English flags I could see flying fom shops and other buildings in what is a very pleasant, old fashioned, and highly presentable English town.


Of course the most important one I can possibly imagine taking will be of the CoSG flying above the Palace of Westminster.

I'm really looking forward to taking that one...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Kevin Myers and an uncomfortable truth for the English...

For those of my readers labouring under the misapprehension that my favourite columnist, Kevin Myers of the Irish Independent, is an unreconstructed Anglophile, for whom our (English) national heroes can do no wrong, have a look at this article, in which he savages our war time 'saviour', Winston Churchill.

Uncomfortable reading, isn't it; probably because - Heaven forfend - every word is the unvarnished truth...

Michael Mansfield QC and his 'missing' Knighthood...

The 'Ephraim Hardcastle' column in today's Daily Mail contains a story about the famous radical barrister Michael Mansfield QC.

As I cannot link directly to that item in isolation from the rest of 'his' column - it's a pretty open secret that the name 'Ephraim Hardcastle' is a nom-de-plume for the Mail's regular columnist, Peter McKay - I'll reproduce it here in its entirety:

"Michael Mansfield QC, 67, says in his rather naffly-titled book, Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer, that, in his 1950s youth, growing up in the London suburb of Barnet, his mother 'cajoled me into joining the Young Conservatives so I could learn the quickstep and meet the right sort of girl'.

He had two wives - Melian Bordes, by whom he has five children, and documentary maker Yvette Vanson, with whom he has one.And his quickstep? Envious colleagues say few have niftier footwork when it comes to bagging lucrative criminal briefs. But why no knighthood for a QC of his eminence?

Surely it isn't being withheld because he represented the Royal Family's erstwhile friend, Mohamed Al Fayed? Mansfield says in his memoir that Prince Philip referred to Dodi Fayed as 'an oily bed-hopper'."

I don't think that's the reason at all. The reason he hasn't been honoured with a knighthood - frankly few barristers are, however eminent - is rather more straightforward; Mansfield is an avowed republican, as the following excerpt from website of ‘Republic’ The Campaign for an Elected Head of State, tends to confirm:

"The republican movement has been buoyed by Republic's recent success in challenging the oath of allegiance and launching its "Royal Finance Reform Charter". Republic's campaign is backed by many high profile republicans including Polly Toynbee and Michael Mansfield QC."

So, accepting for the purposes of this post that Mansfield is a man of principle, I would expect any self-respecting republican (a perfectly legitimate position to adopt, irrespetive of the Throne's profound disagreement with it) to reject the offer of a knighthood out of hand, or risk the accusation of hypocrisy.

Just two futher observations.

Firstly, I wonder why a 'republican' actively sought the status of Queen's Counsel; couldn't a self proclaimed socialist such as Mansfield have had just as successful and as high profile - not to mention lucrative - a career at the Bar without those two post-nominal letters, or did he seek them for the financial rewards they would bring?

And secondly, with people such as the increasingly comical Polly Toynbee and Mr Mansfield supporting the abolition of our monarchy, I'm reassured that my grandchildren will be celebrating the coronation of King William V's successsor in about seventy years' time...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Kevin Myers, 'Irish' America and Irish Shibboleths...

As regular readers will doubtles be aware, The Throne is something of a fan of Irish Independent columnist Kevin Myers.

One of the reasons for that, in addition to his highly readable style, is his preparedness to write potentially unpopular articles, a number of which I have linked to here in the past.

True to form, his latest column attacks what he describes as "the national addiction for a tale of oppression, " based on the reaction to the death of (the unlamented) EM Kennedy, whilst simultaneously firing a broadside at 'Irish' America.

I recommend that you read it in its entirety.