Archive for January 12th, 2010

Campbell faces the moment of truth

Independent: Alastair Campbell faces potentially explosive questioning today over his role in overstating the reliability of intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weaponry, as he becomes the first major political figure to appear before the Iraq inquiry.

Tony Blair’s former Downing Street director of communications is expected to be quizzed over a key claim that it was “beyond doubt” that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), made in a dossier published in September 2002 setting out the Government’s case for war.

The assertion appeared in a foreword to the document, which appeared under the name of Mr Blair. However, Mr Campbell has already admitted that he was responsible for drafting it.


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Universities tell Gordon Brown: cuts will bring us to our knees

Guardian: Top universities accuse Gordon Brown of jeopardising 800 years of higher education, warning that they could quickly be “brought to their knees” by the government’s spending cuts of up to £2.5bn, thereby damaging Britain’s ability to recover from recession.

In a withering attack, the leaders of the Russell Group of 20 leading universities say: “It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world’s greatest education systems, and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees.”

Writing in the Guardian, they say: “If government targets these huge cuts on university budgets they will have a ­devastating effect not only on students and staff, but also on our international competitiveness, national economy and ability to recover from recession … cuts of this magnitude in overall funding will impact on the sustainability of our research and cannot fail to affect even the most outstanding universities.”

The group, which includes Warwick, Liverpool and Glasgow universities as well as Oxford and Cambridge, say that ministers have failed to appreciate one of the “jewels in the country’s crown”.

“Perhaps the prime minister should consider what his international counterparts regard as being priorities … an investment of €11bn in higher education in France … Germany pumped a total of €18bn into promoting world-class research alongside university education, whilst Barack Obama ploughed an additional $21bn into federal science spending, as well as announcing a decade-long budget doubling $42.6bn for science, technology and energy.

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Northern Ireland power sharing at risk as Peter Robinson quits

Guardian: Peter Robinson temporarily stepped aside as Northern Ireland‘s first minister yesterday amid the storm over his wife Iris’s affair and finances, saying that he needed time to deal with family matters.

In a high-wire act that could still collapse power sharing in the province, the Democratic Unionist party leader installed the enterprise minister, Arlene Foster, as a caretaker first minister – the first woman to lead Northern Ireland – for six weeks with immediate effect.

Sinn Féin appeared to accept Foster (whose father, a part-time RUC officer, the IRA once tried to murder) although the Guardian has learned it is only prepared to wait for up to three weeks for the DUP. After that, Sinn Féin wants an assurance the DUP will agree to the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Northern Ireland; if not, it will consider not renominating Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister, which in turn would bring down the coalition and trigger assembly elections in the early spring.

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Top Met officer Ali Dizaei ‘abused power’ and faked injuries, court told

Guardian: A senior Scotland Yard officer was involved in the “wholesale abuse” of his powers by bullying, threatening and intimidating a man in the culmination of a personal vendetta, a jury heard today.

Commander Ali Dizaei falsely arrested the man, claiming he had threatened him and stabbed him with the end of a shisha pipe during a scuffle, Southwark crown court in London was told. But a medical examiner had concluded that the injuries suffered by the officer were more likely to have been self inflicted.

Dizaei, 47, is one of Britain’s most senior ethnic minority police officers and former president of the National Black Police Association.

He is charged with threatening and falsely arresting Waad al-Baghdadi, who claimed Dizaei had failed to pay him for a website he had designed for him.

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Release of secret child punishment manual ordered

Guardian: The information commissioner has said that a secret prison service punishment manual used in ­privately run child jails should be made public after a three-year freedom of information battle. The 114-page Physical Control in Care training manual details restraint ­techniques authorised for use on children in secure training centres.

They include detailed descriptions of “distraction” techniques, which deliberately inflict pain and were found by the court of appeal to have been routinely unlawfully used in secure training centres.

The information commissioner’s Youth Justice Board was told to publish secret parts of the manual after a complaint from the Children’s Rights Alliance for England in 2007 which was endorsed by parliament’s human rights committee.

MPs and peers said their were alarmed when they saw the headings of some of the redacted sections of the manual covered issues including “hair grab”, “strangle on the ground”, “strangle against the wall”, “strangle on the ground”, “kicks standing” and “kicks on the floor”.

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Gurkha veterans lose pensions test case battle with MoD

BBC: Retired Gurkhas have lost a High Court test case battle with the Ministry of Defence over pension rights.

The British Gurkha Welfare Society was seeking a judicial review against a decision to limit the pensions paid to those who left the service before 1997.

The veterans can get a third of the monthly amount of UK-based soldiers.

The court agreed it was lawful to apply pension improvements only to those in the Gurkhas when the regiment moved to Britain from Hong Kong.

An MoD spokesperson welcomed the ruling, and said: “We have always sought to treat ex-Gurkhas fairly.

“The Gurkhas are amongst the best and the bravest and we will continue to honour and reward their commitment and sacrifice under our existing arrangements.”

The changes to pension rules in 2007 gave serving Gurkha soldiers equal pension rights with their UK counterparts.

But the British Gurkha Welfare Society said about 25,000 men who retired before 1 July 1997 were denied the opportunity to transfer into UK armed forces pension schemes.

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Confirmed, election to be on May 6

Tory Politico: The argument about when the general election will be held appears tonight to be over following a blunder by Chris Bryant.

Speaking to diplomats at Canning House, a diplomatic think-tank, the Europe Minister seemed to confirm the widely held belief that the poll will be held on May 6 – the same day as the local council elections.

Referring to recent tensions between Britain and countries in South America, Mr Bryant said: “I hope that by the time of the general election on May 6, relations will have improved.”

His loose lips will anger the Prime Minister and senior party strategists, as it’s common knowledge that ministers have been told not to talk in detail about when the election will be called, in order to keep the Conservatives in the dark and so not to help them plan for the big day.

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