DARREN AND SHARON

February 10th, 2016

I was enjoying a cup of tea in bed with my wife, and the conversation turned to my literary endeavours.  With my new book recently launched, time to consider the next step. After all, time and tide wait for no man, as somebody once said, and it could have been me.

There has been a lot of comment in the Press recently about the ever escalating cost of private education, with full time public school boarding fees anywhere between £25,000 and £41,000, which, let’s face it, is a sizeable wedge, and that’s just for one child.  These schools have only themselves to blame, as the fees have increased year on year well in excess of inflation.  A number of schools, even the better known ones, are relying more and more on overseas pupils, whose parents seem to have lashings of money and the required ’empty vessel’ ethos, which makes it all the more surprising that they want to come here at all.

In times of yore, public schools were patronised by the Church, the Military and the Professions.  No more.  A few very successful professionals can just about afford the fees, but the Church and the Military have long packed their bags.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel if the latest reports are to be believed. The word on the street is that state education is not as awful as the Trumpington-Smythes had been led to believe, and they are seriously considering a break with tradition.  Instead of sending them to Ma’s or Pa’s Alma Mater, they are beginning to think the unthinkable.  A good comprehensive, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, is a real possibility, and with Tristram and Abigail to educate, there’s an obvious saving of at least £300,000.  And think of the dinner party  chit chat: “It’s not that we couldn’t afford the fees, on the contrary, but there’s this darling little comprehensive just down the road, so convenient, and so challenging.”  Quite.

So I got to thinking about my next book.  How about a posh parents’ guide to comprehensive education? Something along the lines of Bill and Ben the Flower Power Men, with the ubiquitous Weed to see fair play, or a rewrite of Enid Blyton’s children’s favorites, like Noddy goes on a bender to Toy Town but with bite and street cred.

It goes without saying that before Tristram and Abigail apply for a place, the Trumpington-Smythes need to transmogrify into something more acceptable or risk life and limb. The T-S’s will be known as the plain and simple Smiths, and the kids renamed Darren and Sharon.  Start as you mean to go on is my motto. If it’s possible to cultivate a bit of Estuary English, so much the better, but it’s not essential.  Best if Ma and Pa stay well out of the way.

Chapter One would be devoted to the first day at school, and the induction procedure.  Important information such as ignoring the teachers, how to look terminally bored, and how to download porn on the school laptops give a flavour of the challenges to come.  The induction procedure should also include a visit to the back the bike shed, where most of the school action takes place, such as smoking, flirting and exploring their sexuality.

All this and more.  I feel a bestseller in the making.  Watch this space for Chapter Two.

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JOB FOR PLOD

February 9th, 2016

Continuing the Bernie Hogan-Howe saga, I have been pondering what the future may hold for this redoubtable Plod if his contract is not renewed, and I suspect he is scouring the situations vacant columns even as I write. But I bring him glad tidings, help is at hand, and a vacancy may arise at any moment that will suit his particular take on law and order. In fact, the job specification would fit him like a glove.

News has reached me from Thailand that a suspected gambling den has been flourishing in Pattaya on the east coast, and following a tip off, the ‘den’ was stormed by fifty police officers and soldiers.  Music to Bernie’s ears.  After all, he deployed only 22 men to arrest the 92 year old Lord Bramall which, on reflection, was a high risk strategy and woefully short of man power, especially if the nonagenarian made a run for it.  Far better to go for overkill. It’s what he does best.

The plot thickens.  Once the dust had settled in Pattaya, it was discovered that the illegal gambling den was no more than a British ex-pat Bridge Club, perfectly legal even by Thai standards, so the claims were dropped, but not before the twelve members of the Bridge Club had been arrested and held in custody for several hours. They were all pensioners. Shades again of Lord Bramall.  Keep them in custody till they snap!

Once the enormity of their incompetence was revealed, the Thai government went into damage-limitation mode.  They accepted there had been a ‘misunderstanding’, but no apology, which will please Bernie.  Scraping the bottom of the judicial barrel, the expats will be charged with using playing cards manufactured overseas.  And no, I’m not making this up, even as the tears coarse down my cheeks in uncontrollable mirth. It is apparently the law in Thailand that all official playing cards are printed by the Department of Customs & Excise and carry a government stamp.

I suppose it could be argued that a friendly game of Bridge does not require the use of ‘official’ playing cards, but valid defences in this formerly idyllic country now blighted by corruption and martial law, depend on the whim of the court, or more likely, the whim of the military government.

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THE HARDEST WORD

February 8th, 2016

On any view, the historical abuse complaints made against well-known public figures have been handled badly.  Two public figures in particular have been identified, and by all accounts, by the same complainant who remains anonymous. Who will be next?  It’s anybody’s guess.  After all, in this absurd compensation culture which encourages deviants to make groundless complaints knowing they will be investigated thoroughly, the muck rakers have a field day.  Aided and abetted by secret briefings from Plod to the Media, helicopters hover above a high profile ‘raid’,  and photographers jostle outside the home of a suspect, targeted as they are by little or no evidence, but arrested, held in custody, interviewed ad nauseam and then released on police bail, only to be told several months later that no further action will be taken.  Lives may be destroyed, but no matter in the fruitless and clumsy pursuit by Plod of nonexistent evidence.  And months later, with shed loads of taxpayers’ money down the drain, Plod refuse to apologise for the hurt and distress they have caused.

Chief Plod, the grandly named Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Commissioner of Police, is soon to be frog marched, kicking and screaming, before the Home Affairs Select Committee, and he has been left in no doubt that an apology to Lord Bramall is the very least to be expected if he is to save his job.  I remind my readers that Lord Bramall is a highly decorated soldier, now aged 92, whose home was raided by 22 officers in the presence of his dying wife before he was interviewed under caution for hours on end. Until very recently, Chief Plod had refused to offer any sort of an apology, but he has been told, very firmly, that no apology means no extension to his contract.  He is now panicking, but it may be too little, too late.

I am not suggesting that allegations of serious historical abuse against well-known public figures should not be properly investigated.  Nobody should be above the law.  But I am suggesting that once the allegations have been properly investigated and found to be wholly without substance, there needs to be some sort of reckoning, and where it is found that Plod handled the investigation crudely and insensitively, they should be brought to book. In addition, where part of that reckoning cries out for an apology, Chief Plod should have the decency to offer one.  It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of maturity as well as contrition.  Perhaps Plod are fearful of an action against them for compensation.  That would be a turn up for the books.

For some, and Chief Plod is one, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

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DAMNED IF YOU DO

January 22nd, 2016

Social workers have an invidious task, particularly when dealing with vulnerable children who may be at risk. Who can forget the tragic case of Ashya King, who was suffering from a brain tumour and whose parents took him away from Southampton General Hospital against the wishes of his carers? The Hounds of Hell were unleashed upon this unfortunate family as they were pursued to Spain and arrested on an international arrest warrant. Common sense prevailed when it was obvious that Ashya’s parents had only his best interests at heart, and they were allowed to take him to Prague for treatment.  The most recent prognosis is very encouraging.  A clear case of an ill-judged overreaction from uninformed social workers, and not the first time.

Social workers are regularly called upon to make life-changing decisions which will affect the entire family unit, and if they get it wrong, the consequences are too  awful to contemplate.  If children are left with abusive parents, their lives are literally at risk.  If they are taken away when there is no good reason, the family can find it impossible to rebuild confidence, even where they have been completely exonerated. Nobody, least of all I, would pretend that exercising the judgment of Solomon is easy for underpaid and poorly trained social workers, but when they get it wrong, they need to accept their share of the blame, and try and learn from their mistakes.

Sadly, and all too often, these social workers refuse to take any responsibility for their incompetence, and worse still, try and suppress the truth.  I refer to the recent tragic case of Poppi Worthington, who died three years’ ago aged 13 months.  The exact causes of her death have yet to be determined, as a fresh inquest has been ordered but not yet held.  Was it ever thus as the legal juggernaut trundles along at its own snail’s pace, ignoring the adage that justice delayed is justice denied. The initial findings, which bordered on the absurd, was that Poppi had died from ‘severe constipation’!  But bringing some degree of sanity into this insanity, Mr. Justice Peter Jackson ruled that Poppi had died of a penetrative assault by her father Paul.  It was also noted that Poppi had two fractures to her leg which were never reported.

And what has been the response of the Social workers to this very tragic case? A total bunker mentality, and not for the first time. Instead of admitting serious errors of judgment, apologising and promising to do better next time, they sought a secrecy order to prevent Poppi and her case being identified until 2029.  It beggars belief!  Of course they are not alone.  Chief Plod of the Metropolitan Police is refusing to apologise for the appalling way Lord Bramall was treated.  I say take away his knighthood and reduce him to the ranks where he belongs. This bunker mentality amongst public servants seems to be embedded in their psyche, assuming they have one.

How many years have passed since Baby P, or Victoria Climbie? Have they learned nothing? To them, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

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STANDING ROOM ONLY

January 20th, 2016

Cast your mind back to 2010, the year when David Cameron became Prime Minister by a whisker, with the help of the Liberal Democrats, or not as the case may be.  He appointed Ken Clarke to be the Justice Minister, with the laudable aim of reducing the prison population. By all accounts, easier said than done.  The prison population in May 2010 was 85,500, way too high for a civilised country.  Six years’ later, good news indeed, the prison population has come down by 258.  Yes, you read it here first!

So what does this statistic tell us about crime and punishment?  First and foremost, it tells us that the sentencing guidelines, used by judges throughout England and Wales, need to be revisited as a matter of urgency. Prison sentences are being passed where prison is not the answer, and prison sentences are way too long. And worse still, the number of overcrowded prisons is going up and spiraling out of control.

Another interesting and depressing statistic is the number of prisoners who re-offend after release.  Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that 8.6 per cent of adults released from custody were convicted of a further offence, which was committed within 18 days of leaving prison or detention.

The sad reality is that little or nothing is being done to rehabilitate prisoners prior to release or to offer them anything other than a life of crime. The Prison Service spends most of its time on crowd control, so is it any wonder that re-offending levels are so high?  The easy answer, for the Prison Service at least, is to keep prisoners under lock and key all day and all night long, allowing them out only to eat or a short period of exercise.

Perhaps it’s the sentimental old fool in me that believes there is no such thing as a lost soul. Everybody, regardless of background or education, has something to contribute.  It’s all about finding and exploiting it.  This benefits the prisoner, it gives him self-respect and a feeling of worth, and it benefits society by releasing a genuinely reformed person with something to offer.

On average, it costs over £30,000 a year to keep a prisoner in prison. This money could be better spent on rehabilitation, but that will only happen once the prison population comes down by half.  Michael Gove has promised to speed up  the release of prisoners, especially short term prisoners who shouldn’t be in prison in the first place, but I see no progress in that regard.  Another broken promise?

With chronic overcrowding, little can be done to reduce the level of re-offending, and nothing can be done to make life more tolerable to serving prisoners.  If you treat them like animals, or even worse, you can’t blame them if they behave like animals.

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