TC Mismanagement Gives Way To More Adizone Stories This Week

Cllr Peter Burch exercising at Canvey's Adizone

AS IF IN AN EFFORT to quickly change the subject, the Echo, this week, decided not to follow-up this Blog’s revelations regarding Canvey Island Town Council’s financial mismanagement. 

Max Orbach, presumably stung into action by a Canvey Island Independent Party source, was, I am told, querying my interpretation of the Town Council’s latest budget; but dispensed with trying to contact me after looking at the actual figures

Interestingly though, the Echo did not run a similar article. Instead it reverted to rehashing an old piece on Kismet Park’s Adizone – with a twist. 

Instead of padding its allegations of yobbish behaviour with comments drawn from CIIP councillors, it introduced the island’s latest local celebrity, Colin Letchford, as the unhappy residents’ spokesman. And Colin, true to form, gave his own inconsistent take on why the public gym should be removed. 

Whenever I go past there are children as young as eight playing on it, even though a sign clearly states it is only meant for 12 years and over. 

It is dangerous for them, but they use it because the neighbouring playground for younger children is so run down. 

Shouldn’t the council have some form of security to ensure younger children are not injured using it? 

This is the same Colin Letchford who, when speaking to Rebecca Harris, in my presence, completely sided with her view (regarding Canvey’s Concord pool) that the Labour Government’s onerous Health and Safety Legislation needed to be rolled-back and a more sensible approach adopted to public facilities. And the same Colin Letchford (whose own report on the Concord pool highlighted its dangers to youngsters) who took the view that those dangers were acceptable and the council need only erect a sign saying that the facility is used at the public’s own risk to avoid any possible prosecution. 

So, having a youngster injure a limb through jamming it in dangerous rock crevices, or falling 1.8 metres from a slippery foothold is acceptable to Colin; but having the same child use the Adizone’s equipment as a climbing frame is not. 

The Echo does not make clear which council Colin is referring to in his statement. Logically, it is the Town Council (TC) to whom residents should first make their complaints; but it seems that the TC, rather than taking responsibility for the island’s yobbery alluded to in the article, would rather remain silent and pass the buck onto the local Borough Council, via Colin, in an effort to gain political points. (The Echo willingly conspired with this strategy later in the week by again raising the Concord pool topic – and quoting more Letchford comments). 

Refreshingly though, Matthew Stanton at the Yellow Advertiser, decided to adopt an objective approach to the Kismet park story. Moreover, he actually chased down Lee Barrett for a comment and succeeded in getting behind the real reason for CIIP-led residents’ protests. Despite the numerous press articles on the Adizone facility’s proposed location; coverage of its installation; announcements of its opening and, some time beforehand, having been informed by CPBC letter of the decision to erect it in Kismet Park, it seems that some 40 residents do not check their letter-box or read the local papers. 

Lee Barrett was reported as saying:- 

… The residents who want the equipment moved feel they were not consulted properly and only knew about the work when it was happening. 

I had a few calls from confused residents asking what was going on but it was too late to do anything about it. 

Meanwhile, on the subject of the Town Council and my Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act requests, the TC has not even acknowledged my last FOI’s receipt. Nor has it deemed to provide any further information regarding my first. It seems that, like denying residents their right to an Annual Town Meeting this year, the Town Council is determined not to release details of the companies and individuals whom have benefitted from their enormous expenditure over the past three years.

No, Bob Is Not An Independent Candidate

PPC for the Independent Save Our Green Belt Party

THIS YEAR, Bob Spink will be standing (as his nomination form shows) as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Independent Save Our Green Belt Party – whose manifesto for government (or even local politics for that matter) has yet to be published.

At last, Spink has revealed his intention to attempt a political coup of the mainland – and also position himself for becoming Castle Point’s first elected mayor.

As first revealed on this blog, and now further confirmed by Dave Blackwell’s support for Spink on the latter’s nomination form, the two leaders are intent on carving-up the borough between themselves. Their purpose? To ensure lucrative government posts for themselves from which they cannot be easily deposed.

Do not expect to hear much of the issues facing the country, or this borough, from either of the independence parties. And do not expect to see much coverage of this campaign’s real issues in the local press.

The Echo has already indicated its intention to pursue ‘its’ Save Our Pool Campaign as a means of bolstering both camps’ support (despite the Borough and Town councils being in private talks) – and we can probably be sure that, in the coming weeks, Bob’s picture will again be adorning their pages.

However, how that paper will be able to justify so much Spink coverage, now that he has adopted the clothes of an unknown political force, remains to be seen. There are strict rules governing the amount of press coverage that can be devoted to individual parties in an election campaign – and Spink may have cut his own political throat.

Had he maintained his independent status, he could have pointed to his support as a Conservative candidate and argued the case for the largest slice of the political coverage pie; but, under his new circumstances, candidates for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party would be entitled to more. (And they at least have a manifesto for government).

No Win No Fee Libel Law Shelved By Election

(Press Gazette) – LEGISLATION to drastically curb the success fees charged by lawyers who take libel cases on a “no win, no fee” basis won’t now pass into law before the election.

The Ministry of Justice carried out a fast-track consultation on cutting success fees by 90 per cent but the changes, which needed parliamentary approval, were held up last week when they were voted down at the committee stage.

Four Labour MPs joined opposition parties in voting against the order.

The MPs argued that the move could deny access to justice to people of modest means who felt they had been libelled but may be unable to find lawyers willing to take on their case.

Justice secretary Jack Straw said last week he was hopeful the changes would still go through before the general election.

He said: “I think there was quite a lot of misinformation about it and what they were arguing is if the maximum bonuses from winning a defamation action were cut from 100 per cent to 10 per cent defamation lawyers would refuse to act.

“The ten per cent figure was not plucked out of thin air; it was done on the basis of some quite sophisticated calculations.

“What I am saying is, whether it’s 100 per cent or ten per cent does not make that much difference to the finances of the very big national and international media chains, but what it affects is local papers.”

But following Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday calling an election for 6 May, the CFA rule-change will not now have time to pass into law.

Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors, said last night in an email to members: “Despite splendid personal lobbying efforts by editors, sadly the reform of CFAs has fallen at the last hurdle because of backbench MPs’ interference for a variety of reasons and a failure to convince government whips that they should provide time for debate.

“We have presented an overwhelming case that has been accepted widely. We may only speculate on the motives of those with vested interests or at least vested grudges against parts of the media.

“The irony is that by opposing a sensible reform on the grounds that it might be have some interest for News International or the Daily Mail, their actions in fact continue to damage the parts of the media of which they approve.”

Methane Mud & Memories: What Happened To Your ‘Anne Wood’ Post?

The correspondence between Colin MacLean and Anne Wood

THE POST entitled Independents are our most avid readers, concerning Anne Wood and another party, called Christine, who Colin MacLean noted were leaving comments on his blog from the same IP address, has mysteriously disappeared from the Methane, Mud & Memories blog site tonight.

Such disappearances are often the first sign of a publisher being served a Libel injunction.

Neville Watson, himself apparently an avid reader of this blog, has been asked if he has any knowledge of the matter; but, at the time of writing, remains silent.

Colin MacLean has also been emailed (but he may be unable to reply).

More information as it becomes available…

… Colin MacLean has now responded. He explained that he was concerned that Anne Wood and the Canvey Island Independent Party would portray himself and James Parkin as ‘bullying,’ so he decided to voluntarily remove the post concerned.

The correspondence between Anne Wood and himself, which led to his decision, can be seen via the inset image. It is a salutary insight into CIIP and far-wing venom, which is always accompanied by allegations of being a liar (and often a legal writ that, fortunately, was not the case this time).

In this case, one is tempted to ask, just who the liar is…

… (06/04/2010) – Readers will note that the inset .jpg, detailing the conversation between Colin and Anne Wood, has now been redacted to remove the personal email addresses of Anne Wood, Neville Watson and Martin Tucker. This was at the request of Colin MacLean, which, I understand, is in response to further harassment from Anne Wood.

Contact details for Cllrs: Wood, Watson and Tucker, are all available via the Castle Point Borough Council’s Website, here.

News Websites End Subscription Charge Trial

(BBC) – ONE OF THE UK’S BIGGEST local newspaper groups has stopped charging readers to read news articles on six of its websites after a four-month trial.

Johnson Press was the first regional newspaper to introduce a fee to read full articles. It cost £5 for a three-month subscription.

Sites in the pilot scheme included the Worksop Guardian, the Ripley & Heanor News and the Whitby Gazette.

Whether online readers will pay for news is a topic of fierce debate.

With revenues declining, news groups are looking for new ways to raise money.

In 2009, Johnston press saw its overall revenues fall by almost 20%. Advertising revenue was 27% lower than the previous year.

The charging trial was part of efforts to create new sources of revenue while cutting printing costs and staff numbers. It also involved the Carrick Gazette, the Southern Reporter, and the Northumberland Gazette.

In its annual report earlier this year, Johnston said that as its local news content was “unique”, it felt it was “well positioned to test whether users would be prepared to pay for their content”.

A spokesperson told the BBC that “the trial was conducted for internal study purposes” and said it was always intended to be a short trial. The company would not comment on whether the pilot had been a success.

News International, which owns the Times and Sunday Times, recently said it would start charging for access to its news websites from June this year. Users will pay £1 for a day’s access and £2 for a week’s subscription.

Simon Singh’s Resounding Victory Raises Hope Of Libel Reform

(Guardian) – A LEADING SCIENCE WRITER has won a “resounding victory” in the court of appeal over a libel battle which has become a catalyst for the reform of English libel laws, which critics claim stifle scientific debate. Today’s decision will strengthen the position of other science writers facing libel suits as the judges made clear that court was not the place to settle scientific controversies.

The landmark ruling, which cited Orwell and quoted passages from Milton in defence of free speech, will allow Simon Singh to rely on a “fair comment” defence of his statements about chiropractors, for which he is being sued. The court of appeal overturned an earlier ruling which would have meant that Singh would have had to prove in court that his comments about chiropractors were factually correct to avoid a libel judgment against him.

Singh was accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over an opinion piece he wrote in the Guardian in April 2008. In the article, he criticised the BCA for claiming its members could use spinal manipulation to treat children with colic, ear infections, asthma, sleeping and feeding conditions and prolonged crying. He described the treatments as “bogus” and based on insufficient evidence and criticised the BCA for “happily promoting” them. The BCA denies these criticisms.

Following today’s ruling, Singh’s comments are recognised by the court as a matter of opinion which did not imply that the BCA was being consciously dishonest.

On the steps of the court, Singh, who faces further court action, described the ruling as “brilliant” but added: “It is extraordinary this action has cost £200,000 to establish the meaning of a few words.”

Singh’s lawyer, Robert Dougans, said: “Scientists have been – rightly – concerned about the consequences they might face if opponents seek to counter their arguments with a libel claim rather than engage in debate and research. The court of appeal’s brave decision today gives hope that important research on scientific matters will be protected against libel threats and will hopefully make people think again before embarking on legal action hoping to shut down debate.

“It is clear from the judgment that the court of appeal is not satisfied with the current state of English libel laws and recognises the absurdities and injustices that can result from them as they currently stand.”

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer, said the judges should be “warmly applauded for avoiding turning court 13 into an Orwellian Ministry of Truth”. He said libel lawyers had tried to make litigation over what is an opinion “increasingly technical” and “increasingly expensive”. Since the ruling, he had already advised a client facing a libel suit that he was in a better position than before.

Allen Green, the writer of the 2010 Orwell Prize-longlisted blog Jack of Kent, said of Singh’s appeal: “His victory is cheering, but for him to have got here has been a complex, depressing, and obscenely expensive journey.

“This is not an example of the English libel laws working. Instead it is a horrifying example of how bad they really are. For him to have to struggle to win in this way signals the urgent need for libel reform.”

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who has led the cross-party parliamentary campaign for reform, welcomed the judgment but said it was no substitute for libel reform. He said: “The political parties must now all commit to reform of the law to free scientific speech and responsible journalism from the threat of penury.”

The ruling, by England’s two senior judges, the lord chief justice of England and the master of the rolls, together with Lord Justice Smedley, was scathing of the way the BCA began libel proceedings against Singh rather than taking up the Guardian’s offer of a right to reply. It acknowledged that the action had a “chilling effect on public debate” which it described as a “surprising consequence of laws designed to protect reputation”.

It said the BCA’s actions had created the “unhappy impression” that “it is an endeavour by the BCA to silence one of its critics”.

In a development which would strengthen the position of any science or health writer facing libel threats, the judges also made it clear that they believed court was not the place to settle scientific controversies. They wanted to avoid “an Orwellian ministry of truth” in which an author had to prove in court what he had asserted.

The case has led to a campaign to raise awareness of Britain’s libel laws, which many consider to be among the most anti-free speech in the world.

The BCA posted a statement on its website today saying it was not its intention to suppress free speech and it was simply seeking to clear its name. It was considering whether to seek permission to appeal to the supreme court in the light of what it described as a disappointing ruling.

Richard Brown, the group’s president, said: “This is not the end of the road.”

Independent Wins ‘Hugely Important’ Victory For Vulnerable

(Independent) – A CONTROVERSIAL COURT which hears all of its cases in secret will open its doors to the media from today, following a successful legal challenge by The Independent which was immediately hailed as a “hugely important” victory for transparency.

Until now, all cases heard at the Court of Protection – which makes decisions about people incapable of managing their own affairs, including those with Alzheimer’s disease, brain-damaged soldiers and others with limited mental capacity – have been held in private.

But yesterday, three of the country’s most senior judges cleared the way for journalists to attend hearings provided they had “good reason” to do so. The Lord Chief Justice Sir Igor Judge, Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, and Sir Mark Potter, the President of the Family Division and the Court of Protection, ruled that the presence of selected journalists “will ensure that matters of legitimate public interest may be drawn to the attention of the judge”. The judgement, handed down at the Court of Appeal, sets an important precedent which opens up future cases to media scrutiny.

Over the past six months The Independent has been in touch with a number of people who say that the court has treated them unfairly. They include:

  • A woman who was forcibly separated from her adopted son, who suffers from severe epilepsy and ME. The court ruled in favour of the local Primary Care Trust, which claimed she was a bad influence and that her son should be removed to a specialist care home.
  • A woman who was prevented from caring for her elderly, blind aunt, following a dispute with her nursing home and a local authority over a number of care lapses. Her aunt died four months later.
  • A woman whose access to her elderly sister, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was restricted to one hour every fortnight after she complained to her local authority that the care home was not equipped to meet her needs.

In each case the facts have proved extremely difficult to establish, because the media have been prevented from attending the hearings.

Yesterday’s ruling stated: “[The judge] is not qualified to determine what is or may be of interest to the public: that is the function of the media. In any event, it would be an inappropriate exercise of a judge’s responsibility… Therefore, while the presence of a small number of media representatives would somewhat reduce the privacy of the proceedings, it would enable those representatives to be fully aware of the issues which may be of legitimate interest to the public.”

Dan Tench, a media lawyer with Olswang LLP, said: “This could have significant consequences in terms of freedom of information and allowing access for the media to situations from which previously they have been barred. From now on, if the Government wants to restrict such access, it will at the very least have to have a good reason for doing so.”

The change in the law was prompted by a test case brought by The Independent and supported by other media organisations. It centres around a severely disabled but gifted young man, whose talents have brought him international fame. Lawyers for this newspaper argued that there was a strong public interest in the media being given access to “appropriate” cases in the interests of open justice.

The court has so far taken control of more than £3.2bn of assets, acting in cases where people do not leave a lasting power of attorney which hands control of their assets to family or friends.

In November, the Justice Secretary Jack Straw ordered a review into the workings of the court, after it emerged that it had received more than 1,200 complaints from members of the public in its first 18 months of operation.

“It is valuable for the public to be fully informed of what happens in a court in which the overwhelming majority of cases are … to be conducted in private,” the judges concluded. “That is a particularly significant point in the light of the concerns which have been expressed about the new Court of Protection.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have always said that it is open to the press to make an application to attend the court on a case-by-case basis.”