Another week, another Craig Humphrey scandal

Last week, Craig Humphrey featured in the Private Eye ‘Rotten Boroughs’ section. The article featured allegations of conflict of interest. This stems from the fact that he works at Horts estate agents in Rugby as a sales consultant (he stresses that he doesn’t work ‘for’ Horts, but he clearly is working at the firm based on their website’s Sales Team page (Craig is at the foot of the page).

In the latest council budget passed in February, Humphrey and the Tories approved the £1M ‘Local Authority Mortgage Scheme’ which helps reduce rates for first time buyers. At that time, he did not declare any interest in the item, which would usually be expected given that encouraging mortgages encourages sales of houses, and his job is to… sell houses.

What’s more, when the scheme was publicised in March, the local paper featured quotes from a local estate agency… Horts.

Despite what looks like at the very least a case of mutual backslapping, if not a conflict of interest, Humphrey insists that he’s done ‘nothing wrong’.

This week, it emerged that he had been caught driving his car without valid insurance. Some kind of ‘administrative error’ or something. It’s a good job he doesn’t have a position of responsibility with that level of competence, eh?

Oh. He’s still leader of the council, and a couple of years ago took over some of the work usually undertaken by the Chief Executive.

What will he be up to for next week’s papers?

So it begins…

If this is the kind of thing that the new NHS will bring in – Doctors in Rugby paid £30 to cancel appointments (Cov Telegraph), then how can anyone defend the government Bill?

I had a hernia which was picked up a couple of years ago. My GP was reluctant to refer me to the hospital. When the consultant took a quick look he booked surgery straight away. This is why I am not sure that giving GPs (or companies hired by commissioning groups set up by GPs) control over most of the NHS is really a good idea.

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A victim of privatisation – Justice

Forensics blunder ‘may endanger convictions’

Shortly after the Tory-Lib Dem coalition came to power, the Home Secretary announced that the UK’s public Forensic Science service would close. It would save a bit of money, apparently.

Of course, the police and prosecutors still need forensic science done in order to proceed with cases. So they had to go private. Unfortunately, one such private forensic lab, LGC Forensics, has managed to get some DNA contamination into the results in a rape case, leading to a collapsed case and the need to review loads of others.

That’s a false economy, surely.

Lib Dems fail geography

A new year in Rugby was heralded by a new leaflet from our friendly local Lib Dem councillors. The Eastlands edition is full of self back-slapping stories about how they have been fighting crime (ahem – finding a bunch of discarded needles is not the same thing as actually removing  a drugs problem, it’s just noticing one after the fact).

One bit was about how they had acted after complaints from Braids Close about youths hanging around the old College site. The confusing thing about that is that Braids Close is not next to the old College. It’s not even in Eastlands (it’s on the north of the railway off of Ridge Drive). The road name was not only used in the text, but in a photo caption as well.

It’s not obvious whether they meant Brodie Close (part of the new development alongside the college site, off Hopps Lodge Drive), or Bronte Close (behind the college site and where some of the garages are). Maybe they meant a different road completely.

Along with trying to get some of the glory from Operation Laser (which is part of a national programme and was run by the police) it’s a lovely puff piece but not much more. As per usual, they do the trick of telling you what other people have done (the College, the Police, a bus company) and claiming that it was only through their councillors that anything happened.

Much of what they do in their ‘Focus’ leaflets is to trail stuff that the councils and other agencies are about to do (that they find out about as councillors) and then pretend that it was originated by them. An example was the recent checks on bridges over the old Great Central railway cutting. It’s effective and what the party does all over the country. Whether it will save them from the meltdown that the coalition with the Tories is going to cause will be interesting to see.

Still, it would come across better if they actually knew the name of the roads where people complaining to them lived.

Birch Ward

But, seeing as I’m back, here’s my thoughts on the recent announcement that one of the wards at St Cross Hospital is about to close:

Birch Ward’s shut down at the end of the month is appalling for the town. There hasn’t been any real consultation. It seems that some people heard about it before others – Jerry Roodhouse and Mark Pawsey were quick to comment, but the local PCT – who commission medical procedures at St Cross for the people of the town were not (so I am told) asked for their opinion.

The Tories will blame the last government, and their pals in the Lib Dems will play the same card. However, the pressures on hospital trusts are being imposed by this government despite promises to ‘ringfence’ the NHS. On top of taking a hard line on budgets – causing one hospital to have been transferred to the private sector where the company itself has suggested that care may suffer – they are pressing ahead with the plan to impose a massive restructure. even though the Health Bill has not been passed yet, they have closed agencies and started to spend some of the £3billion that the reorganisation will cost.

Still, the local Tories and Lib Dems can do something. They can work with the Rugby Labour councillors who have called for UHCW to reconsider the decision, and they can join the calls for a Judicial Review.

Police cuts… Crime rises… Who could predict it?

I know it’s been ages since my last post. I’ve been feeling disillusioned with the internet and bogging of late, and have been pretty busy in real life, so let it slip.

But I saw this today that just shows how the Coalition Government’s cuts may be having a directly negative effect:
Police departures led to surge in crime (Rugby Observer)

Basically, Warwickshire Police are faced with having to make massive cuts. To help them manage, they moved experienced officers from Rugby to Nuneaton to cover gaps. But after that happened, the incidence of home burglaries in Rugby leapt up by about 75%. So they ended up having to bring some of them back again.

Which is fine for Rugby, for now, in that the effect was pretty quick and crime went down again. But it strikes me that other parts of the County will be lacking full cover as a result.

When the Tories (backed by their yellow pals) went for 20% cuts in policing, they claimed it could be done without affecting the front line and that predictions of an effect on crime was ‘scaremongering’. But the evidence suggests that, as senior officers themselves said at the time, the cuts are forcing the Police to make tough decisions, with some areas losing vital cover.

Tories at play

Last night, the Tories of Rugby had a little shindig at the Grosvenor. Black tie (a few spivvy types had come in lounge jackets, standards have slipped), evening dresses and lots of jolly fun. Unfortunately for them it was at the Grosvenor Hotel in Rugby (recently featured in ‘The Hotel Inspector’) rather than the one on Park Lane. Not only is the former a far cry from the elegance and opulence (and quality) of the latter, but I suspect that they would have found the food a little sub-par. Oh, and it’s the kind of place will let the likes of me into. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rugby Town Centre – missing out

80m a year going out of Town Centre

I saw this headline when I walked past a copy of the Rugby Advertiser at the weekend, and now that they have put the report up on their website I had a chance to read it properly.

Essentially, the suggestion is that ‘more affluent shoppers’ are not catered for. I’m not sure what that means, really. Yes there are a number of cheap shops, a growing number of charity shops, and the main in-town supermarkets are Asda and Morrisons, which compete on price rather than quality.

What I find, however, is that Rugby lacks mid-market shops and certain sectors. We have one independent bookshop, Hunts. Read the rest of this entry »

A Sacrificial Lamb #notw

The News of the World is closing down (hooray?)

It looks to me like an attempt to provide a sop to the masses, to remove a tainted brand. But there are several reasons why this should not be the end of the story.

Firstly, there are people who were involved and knew (or should have known if they were anywhere near competent) who are still working in News International and at other places.

Secondly it’s more than just listening to voicemails now. It seems to involve the systematic corruption of police officers, first to obtain information to assist in hacking, and secondly to help cover up the extent of the problem. It involves a company trying to bury the truth and pretending that they know nothing, while threatening and bullying real investigative journalists and politicians or anyone else who questions them. It involves a regulator, a police force and parliamentary committees and senior politicians content to accept ‘assurances’ even as evidence mounts up and becomes more and more clear.

Thirdly, News of the World and News International are far from the only ones to have been suspected of illegal story-gathering. The private investigators that the NotW use and the Sun use are often the same ones that other newspapers use. Journalists move around from paper to paper on the backs of their reputations – which are based on their ‘scoops’ as much as anything. I can’t believe that there won’t be other tabloids dragged in. The Sun is a definite candidate, as are the Mail, the Mirror, the Express and the Star.

Fourthly, this leads to major questions about the suitability of those connected to News International to run any media outlet, let alone one as influential and market-dominating as BSkyB

Fifthly, while Cameron can’t be blamed any more than any other politician for sucking up to the press and the Murdoch press in particular, and while he may be able to claim he didn’t know what was going on when he first hired Coulson in 2007, after 2009 there were many more things coming out and there are claims that after the 2010 General Election specific issues were raised with Cameron concerning Coulson and illegal acts and the PM still appointed him to a position at No10 – paid for by the tax-payer.

I never bought the News of the World, and so cannot do more than I usually do to boycott it this weekend. I hope as many people as possible leave it alone. Rather than buy it so some money goes to ‘good causes’ we should leave it to rot and give a bit to a charity this weekend.

And then seriously consider whether we want to encourage the other tabloids ever again by buying them when they continue to lead with splashes about the private lives of minor celebrities, or the minutiae of horrific crimes.

Yes, it is worse

Since I wrote my last post, it’s been alleged that families of the 7th July bombing victims and families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan were targeted by News of the World.

And that despite having known about payments to ‘a small number’ of police officers at the Met, the Met are still in charge of the overall investigation. The original investigation (which resulted in convictions but only concerned hacking of phones linked to royalty) did have access to a huge amount of information from Glenn Mulcaire, which it has since transpired could easily have identified many other potential victims. There are real questions as to whether there are police officers who didn’t just turn a blind eye in order to maintain an easy relationship with the media, but have been corrupted into helping cover up crimes.

Quite a few of the private investigators used by the media are themselves ex-police, and so would have friends in the force. But it’s those very PIs who were having to commit the actual acts of hacking and bribery etc to obtain information, paid for by reporters. I don’t believe that the News of the World is the only paper that has been involved in this – the Daily Mail has recorded a lot of payments to PIs over the period that these actions took place, including to some of the same individuals.

Former coppers who are commiting crimes? Active coppers who are taking money? Senior officers who deny that evidence exists when it’s been sitting around at Scotland Yard for five years?

Dixon of Dock Green had it right: “There’s nothing worse than a bent copper”.