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Justice will only be served if Jon Venables remains anonymous

9 Mar

The news that Jon Venables has been returned to prison* has, unsurprisingly, caused something of a feeding frenzy amongst right-wing tabloids and their readers focused around an alleged “need to know” why he has been recalled. So far, the “need to know” brigade have been unable to explain precisely why anyone unconnected with the case has any need to know anything about it, preferring to deflect such questions with emotive and inflammatory arguments about it being in the public interest, and all about justice for the family of James Bulger (along with lots of silly remarks about NuLiebor** secrecy). However, I can provide a very good reason why not only do we not need to know, but it is actually far better if we don’t. 

Venables is, apparently, accused of child pornography offences. This means there are now a whole new set of victims who have suffered either directly, or indirectly, because of his actions. These children deserve justice every bit as much as James did. 

It’s commonplace to assume that looking at photos of children being abused is, in some unfathomable way, less serious than actually doing it. This is a completely bogus argument. Anyone who looks as such material for enjoyment is complicit in the acts depicted. End of! The children in those images are real, they aren’t ‘posed by models’, they aren’t computer generated. They are real children who suffer for the gratification of others. They deserve to have their suffering recognised, and their abusers prosecuted. As anyone with half an idea about the British legal system knows, these children will not get justice if tabloid newspapers are allowed to print identifying information about Venables because, once identified, there would be little chance of him receiving a fair trial. The Crown Prosecution Service will be forced to drop the case, he will go unpunished, and may even end up back on the streets. 

And no, that’s not because of some left-wing plot to promote criminals’ rights, it’s because our legal system attempts to ensure everyone who appears before a court is tried without favour or prejudice, no matter who they are, and no matter what they may have done in the past. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s a system that’s worked well over many centuries and only the stupendously stupid would consider it should be overturned simply to satisfy the prurient curiosity of armchair vigilantes. 

Furthermore, arrests in such cases often come as part of a wider investigation. It’s entirely possible that, if guilty, Venables is only one link in a very long chain, and that identifying him to the public will compromise the whole investigation. 

Bearing all that in mind: if you genuinely believe you “need to know”, do you also think that should be accommodated at any price? Even at the price of letting guilty people go untried? 

*Technically, it’s not a return because he didn’t serve his original sentence in a prison.

** Not my spelling, but that of the oh-so-witty ranting righties who seem to have overlooked the fact that Venables was last tried under a Tory government when he was named by a judge, leaving the Home Office no choice but to give him a new identity. 


The Story of Thanet’s Water

10 Sep

Thanet. It’s in Kent which itself is just south of London. Here in this sleepy and largely mismanaged corner of the UK a storm is brewing.

Something called the China Gateway is being proposed. Allegedly the local district council (TDC) are invested in it as are county council (KCC) but it is a privately run venture backed with borrowed money to convert farm land into a warehouse site for Chinese companies.

The two big players are EKO LLP which is a project funded and run by the County and District councils and CGP the private firm that will make most of the money. This has raised more questions than answers and local bloggers are wondering if the authorities are able to keep interests separate. More interesting the company was established only to obtain the Thanet site (and one other) and obtain planning permission on it. If the planning permission fails the company goes bust.

But this build were it to go ahead will bring little or no work to the area. Nor will it bring inward investment from the building work and yet there is strong favour at all official levels. Meanwhile the pubic have an altogether different view.

The proposals involve turning 175 acres of countryside into a huge warehousing development for Chinese electronics on Manston business park.

To start with this project will be housed on top of the islands drinking water. People are upset about this. All the same the project leaders are trying their hardest to not spend money to protect the water supply.

There is a suggestion of increased flooding risk which itself threatens the water supply for the 130,000 people that live there.

A criminal investigation is under way because lost documents that turned up in a TESCO carrier bag show that councillors may have lied bout funding for trips to China. (Indeed other scrutiny suggest other minor misdeeds in this case indicating people not being honest). Word is that local newspapers refused to touch a story that hurt their biggest paying advertiser (the local council). So poor was the local paper’s handling of the story that it led to an Assistant Editor at the Telegraph Media Group in London declaring journalism dead in Thanet but for a few blogs in quite earthy language on his blog.

Planning information is still being withheld although public opion is yet to deicide if this is incompetence or deliberate corruption. Vital reports seem to be missing. This is from a local planning committee that is no stranger to suggestions of misdeeds.

The planning application is going to go before the entire District Council by the slim difference of one person’s vote on the planning committee.

The roads can not handle the traffic: China Gateway has over 4,000 car parking spaces and 566 HGV parking spaces so they obviously expect considerable extra traffic, the airport has capacity for 400,000 tonnes of freight and 1,000,000 passengers per year, they will have to invent a new word gridlock doesn’t get anywhere near it. says Local Businessman, Michael Child.

The local search engine Thanet Finder has set up a special page on it’s blog portal to track the topic of the China Gateway.

Local environmental groups are worried The Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is against plans for a large industrial estate at Manston, which it believes will eventually expand and encroach on the countryside. says Kent News. Indeed many think it may already be too late after the hugely disruptive “Thanet Earth” project slipped though almost unnoticed only to start causing harm that was somehow not reported anywhere before.

Even Private Eye had a pop at our council over the Tesco Carrier bag mess. Yet despite all signs of back handers and misdeeds (not least of which is the failing to inform the public properly about planning) things continue apace.

Unsurprisingly it was a bit cramped in the hall when a local film maker Christine Tongue called a public meeting on the subject. Even non bloggers are getting a word in and that word is largely “no thanks”.

Planning stories like this happen every day in every part of the world. Many go unnoticed by the press and when the press do notice they often say nothing because they don’t want to offend the biggest source of money. What will scare you is that just 30% of the people voted in the last election and the suggestion sit that the current power in Thanet was put there by just 18% of the people or 23,500 people which is about the size one would expect for the political party’s paid up membership (and their friends and family).

The budget in Thanet is in and it shows that even if those on benefits are treated most roughly the council will have a hard time covering the over spend. The truth is that the local council is not skilled enough to run the area – councillors from other councils point at Thanet’s council and laugh. Yet even in more able districts of the UK the story is similar – businesses and authorities silently getting on with developments that any right minded local would oppose.

So what’s the answer?

The story of the Tesco carrier bag was broken because a blogger was handed what the paper’s refused to touch. Even the Assistant Editor at the Telegraph Media Group in London suggests in his blog that the blog format is the only way forward. Informed and insightful local blogging could be the only power on earth able to slow down the damage the current system is doing. It costs nothing but a little time to blog and you area needs you.

Please note I blog about Thanet but much of my information is sourced from other blogs and news sites and is only as accurate as my sources. I add this now because one or two of Thanet’s rich types have got a bit trigger happy with the legal team, as it were.

There is no unlimited

20 May

Lots of UK ISPs offer ADSL (Broadband) packages that have an “unlimited bandwidth” option but this is nowhere near realisticly unlimited. As I have mentioned in “iPlayer and BitTorrent: The truth about so-called unlimited broadband” you are likely to get the same throughput (bandwidth) as a cheaper “limited” package but with a decreased quality to stretch it out over the month. New technologies are exposing this “unlimited” bandwidth and showing us that simply is not there.

“The Ofcom Consumer Panel has called on regulators to pull their fingers out and demand that ISPs are more honest with us about the limitations of broadband.

“The group wants a new mandatory code of practice to force providers to qualify their dodgy ‘up to’ speed claims, which accompany virtually all broadband marketing. The slowdown effects of contention, distance from the exchange, and network status should be made clear, it argues.”

Your “up to” 8 Meg line might run effectively at 4 Meg, or maybe only 64 Kbps and this is within the product description. That “up to” is a way of ISPs promising you everything but then not having to give you anything. If you try to complain that the speed is not as advertised they will tell you that your speed is reliant on the conditions of the cable and your distance from the exchange. What they do not tell you is that if they are unable to provide what they offered you will need a damn good solicitor to sue them for breach of contract because the terms and conditions say that whatever they offer you get whatever you get. Sorry.

The full truth is even more shady. You have no actual way of knowing how fast an effective speed (after network errors, throttles, shaping, resets, delays and network lag are taken into account) you get. Your ISP can choke the effective speed down to save the budgeted bandwidth for business users (who pay better).

In “The truth about so-called unlimited broadband” I examined how the BBC had braught this issue to a head:

If you live in the UK you will be sure to be aware that the BBC (known fondly as Aunty) has launched it’s own peer-to-peer media player. The BBC’s iPlayer uses software called Kontiki (similar to BitTorrent) which also powers “Sky Anytime” and “4od”. This enables the BBC to off set the massive requirements of distributing it’s “free” media by having the consumers take part in providing the stream.

Kontiki is basically a peer-to-peer system and so like BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer programs it sends lots of data accross the network.

Plusnet, according to Bob Pullen from plusnet (see my blog post for more on that), tells me that plusnet do not offer an unlimited package and that they use a “quality of service” system to give priority to things like Aunty’s iPlayer while thier site says peer-to-peer traffic is down at the bottom of the priority list. Take from that what you will.

ISPs have to transmit the packets through their networks and they do not really like it. The issue here is that the previous monopoly (BT) charge ISPs in a bizzar way. When ISPs get connected to the BT network the only cost to BT is the man power and connection equipment. Once it is set up it is effectively cost free but for the ISP the cost is just starting as they are charged for every packet of data that passes through that connection.

This increase in bandwidth usage is not so sudden and should have been easily predictable by the ISPs but they have been caught with their pants down. What they should have been doing is investing heavily in scalable solutions so that as the demand increased so could they. Woops no – they are worried that if you use what you paid for they will go bust.

What ISPs see as an answer is called “traffic shaping” – they throttle the bandwidth so that the connection speed might be 7.5 Mbps but your effective speed is sometimes likely to be more like 0.4 Mbps. When it comes to peer-to-peer they get even more aggressive and attempt to block your use of such services (such as peer-to-peer services iPlayer or BitTorrent) using a range of techniques that can include data fraud and spying. Some ISPs may actually “spy” on every packet of data you transmit through their network and when they see peer-to-peer packets they inject extra data into the steam as it passes through which is a “reset signal” that disconnects you from peers.

This inspection is not so different to automated wiretapping and definitely threatens your privacy. This may or maynot be against the law but this has never been tested. One answer is to use an encrypted connection whenever you can but not all sites have https support and not all peer-to-peer clients support it but as the ISPs get more aggressive in not giving you what they promise so to the users are getting smarter.

This is not an issue that is going to go away and without strong calls for increased transparency over the methods used to “shape traffic” ISPs will do whatever they like. Where does this leave us?

Well… it leaves us asking more questions and seeing few answers. I’m going to quiz Bob as he has stepped up to join in so keep an eye on me here and else where as the answers start to arrive (or fail to).

Prince Harry: the spare heir

27 Apr

Over the last week or so a debate has raged in the UK media about the issue of whether or not one Henry Wales (aka Prince Harry) should be deployed in Iraq. Many arguments both for and against have been expounded, most are logical and rational. However, today I came across an article which is so incredibly dumb it really defies belief that anyone could have thought of writing it in the first place.

Writing in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section, Mark Lawson says this:

Harry Wales cannot be treated equally, because soldiers are expendable and princes are not

My first thought was, surely this man knows that kind of thinking went out with the divine right of kings, but then I realised it didn’t even apply then. Princes have always been expendable. It wasn’t so very long ago that kings and princes led their armies into battle. And, after all, Harry is not the heir to the throne, he is simply one of a long line of emergency back-up heirs. If anything were to happen to him, there are numerous people ready and waiting to step into the breech (sorry, couldn’t resist that).

It is astounding that there are still people who genuinely believe that members of the royal family are somehow better than the rest of us. I was going to say, I wonder if they would say that to the families of service men and women who are currently on active duty, or the families of those who don’t make it back, but anyone who genuinely believes in such ridiculous notions probably would be crass enough to do so. Suffice it to say, the average soldier is significantly more important to their family and friends (and probably society in general*) than some posh bloke, no matter who his grandmother happens to be.

As a little aside – I noticed quite a few commenters discussing the old rumour about Harry’s parentage. I have never understood this theory because I think he bears a striking resemblance to Prince Philip. On the other hand, his brother . . .

* After all, the country isn’t going to grind to a halt if we don’t have royal folk to open hospitals.

Should the BBC sign up for the bloggers code of conduct?

11 Apr

Over the last couple of weeks the BBC have been reporting the news about a possible code of conduct for bloggers, this follows their coverage of the Kathy Sierra case. Curiously, although Auntie seems to very keen to discuss acceptable standards of behaviour in the blogosphere, she doesn’t enforce the same standards on her own forums, or at least, not on the ‘Have Your Say‘ (HYS) section of the BBC news site.

At one time HYS was a great place to visit, one found a wide range of views and opinions being discussed in a vigorous, but articulate manner. Sadly, this has changed in recent months, and the boards have been infiltrated by what I can only describe as a bunch of Daily Mail* reading morons. It is easy to spot these folk, they have a tendency to blame anything and everything on either immigrants, single parents, the working class or just women in general. Today, conversation sunk to a new low – the castigation of low income pensioners**. For example:

Should’ve saved up and funded their own retirement properly…….

Stephen J Brown, Down South, United Kingdom

The fact that some commenters hold these views isn’t the problem, everyone is entitled to their opinion. No, what I object to is the BBC publishing the sweeping and derogatory statements made by these individuals which stereotype and insult vast sections of society. These people are nothing less than trolls, if they posted this kind of content on any other blog, it is likely that their comment would be deleted, or only allowed on a blog which encouraged inflammatory remarks. However, the BBC isn’t just any other blog.

The British Broadcasting Corporation is a publicly funded body. Every single television owning household in the country pays a compulsory television licence fee which is used to fund the BBC. In other words, the BBC belongs to the people of Britain, we are it’s shareholders and amongst those shareholders are a sizable number of immigrants, single parents, working class people and women (and pensioners). Bearing all this in mind, surely the BBC has a greater than average responsibility to keep it’s blogs and message boards free of insulting (and inarticulate) comments.

I believe everybody has the right to voice their thoughts, but there is a world of difference between arguing passionately but logically, and a bigoted rant. I do not want to read the latter, nor do I wish to pay for the privilege of doing so.

* Notorious for it’s support of Hitler in the 1930s
** You may need to click back a few pages, posts were coming in very quickly

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