Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 27th January 2003

Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- Mother Sally Clark cleared on Second Appeal of double child murder (29 Jan 2003)

- Lamy inquiry into Victoria Climbié tragedy issues report (29 Jan 2003)

- Gordon Brown's reputation for 'prudence' under scrutiny, at last (29 Jan 2003)

- On the eve of Holocaust Day, Blair talks of re-examining human rights laws (27 Jan 2003)

(If you wish to see other articles, please click on the 'Archives' link above to go there now)

Mother Sally Clark cleared on Second Appeal of double child murder (29 Jan 2003)

Sally Clark, a mother of three, was convicted in November 1999 of murdering two of her children. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. She was said to have shaken or smothered to death her sons Christopher, aged 11 weeks and Harry, aged 8 weeks, within 14 months of each other. The earlier assumptions of 'cot deaths' were discounted at the trial.

A First Appeal against her conviction failed during 2000.

The Second Appeal has succeeded today for the following two main reasons:

- during the original trial, Home Office pathologist Dr Alan Williams failed to disclose the existence of medical tests, which he had ordered and the results of which he had in his possession, which suggested that baby Harry had a severe staphylococcus aureus bacteria infection (a type of meningitis). Asked during the trial by the jury whether there were any test results available which might suggest that Harry had died of natural causes, Dr Williams responded in the negative. The existence of these test results only came to light in late 2001 when Stephen Clark, the husband of Sally Clark, demanded that Macclesfield Hospital hand over all the infant's  records.  The test results had at some later stage, probably after the trial, been 'shoved' into the file. Dr Williams has so far declined to comment upon his evidence at the trial.

- during the trial, the prosecution presented expert evidence that the chances of two cot deaths in one family were very small, of the order of one in 73 million. This evidence was the key issue raised in the First Appeal in 2000, which failed. However, research carried out on behalf of Mrs Clark by her defending counsel shows that the evidence at the trial was "grossly misleading" (words of the Judge at the Appeal hearing) and that the likelihood was more accurately of the order of 1 in 100 to 1 in 4.

In other words, the 'murders' never happened, the verdict was quashed and Sally Clark was freed.

Why did this miscarriage happen? Whatever views I may have on this aspect of this sorry story, I prefer to wait until the fallout from this case is clearer. I suspect that this is not the last occasion that the circumstances surrounding this event will be the subject of a court hearing.

How did Sally Clark succeed in getting this travesty of justice corrected in such a relatively short period? Some injustices have taken decades to come to light. I think this is rather easier to speculate about. Sally Clark was, before the conviction added to the nightmare of having lost two babies, a professional person (a solicitor) and quite obviously someone who is well-educated, articulate and for want of a better expression a member of the 'middle-class'. Stephen Clark is also a lawyer and appears never to have doubted for one second that his wife was innocent. Upon his wife's conviction at Chester Crown Court in November 1999, his only statement was the following: "My wife was a caring and devoted mother to our sons. She is innocent." It is highly likely that had Mr Clark not exhibited intelligence and tenacity in his efforts to free his wife that she would still be languishing in her cell.

Lamy inquiry into Victoria Climbié tragedy issues report (29 Jan 2003)

I have written about this horrific case, sadly not unique though, twice in the past  (see my articles during October 2001  and January 2001) so I won't write lengthily today.

In the Lamy report is included the following poignant quotation of pleas by the young, and apparently normally quiet and docile Victoria Climbié, which outrageously were not followed up , but were rather explained away as a ruse by the great-aunt (Marie Therese Kouao, one of her two murderers now serving a prison sentence) to get them out of Carl Manning's flat (he is the other convicted murderer) and on to a housing list. The young Victoria is reported to have, quite uncharacteristically, shouted at the social worker during a visit to Haringey Council's offices on 1 November 1999: "I am not lying. I must tell you more. It is true.", in relation to her allegations that her great-aunt's boyfriend, Carl Manning, had been sexually abusing her.

The report has 108 recommendations, of which Lord Lamy says 46 should be implemented within three months, 38 within six months and the remainder within two years. I wonder just what will happen to these recommendations; I suspect that many will be resisted or thwarted by public services seemingly interested only in protecting their own turf and the reputations of too many officials, still in post, who should resign or be sacked. I hope I am wrong.

Gordon Brown's reputation for 'prudence' under scrutiny, at last (29 Jan 2003)

The recent drastic fall in the stockmarket is making clear just how disastrous have been Gordon Brown's monetary and fiscal polices over the past five and a half years for the medium- and long-term health of the British economy. This is no surprise to me, unfortunately.

Gordon Brown has prided himself publicly on his 'prudence' whilst undertaking a massive transfer of resources from the productive private sector to the non-productive state (mainly 'benefits') sector - all this based on healthy and growing tax receipts bequeathed to him by the last Conservative Chancellor, Kenneth Clark (the man who, if there were any justice in the world and who if the Conservative Party membership had any common sense, would now lead their Party). It is easy to appear to do well when the economy is going swimmingly, but when a world recession comes (as there has been for the past two or three years) then the so-called 'prudent' policies of Brown are seen for what they are - 'profligate'. In reality, Gordon Brown is not so different from every other Labour Chancellor of the past - a failure.

In April this year there will be further tax rises, in addition to the 50 already imposed since Labour came to power in 1997, which will add the equivalent of 3p in the £ to the tax bill - resulting from the rises in employer and employee National Insurance contributions of 1% each with allowances frozen.

The initial so-called 'windfall tax' on utilities raised a one-off £5bn for his 1997 budget and there has been a further annual £5bn raised by the abolition of tax credits on dividends - this has crippled pension funds, so it should have been no surprise that so many 'final salary' pension schemes would have to be wound up having become unviable. It is estimated by Gabriel Stein, an economist at Lombard Street Research, that 'Tax freedom Day' (the day after which we start earning for ourselves rather than the State) has moved back from 27 May in 1997 to 15 June this year.

Corporate profits have plummeted with the recession, but Mr Brown's spending plans were predicated on healthy and growing tax revenues - it seems he will either have to cut spending (on the redistributive polices dear to his heart) or raise taxes, breaking pre-election pledges, or increase borrowing - and risk pushing up our unprecedentedly low (for the last 4 decades at least) interest rates. This would be disastrous for business, but also for many citizens whose borrowing levels are at an historic high.

There is so much more, in agonisingly pessimistic detail, that one could write about this sorry state of affairs ... but that is enough for now. What a shambles.

On the eve of Holocaust Day, Blair talks of re-examining human rights laws (27 Jan 2003)

To summarise what I feel about this shameful development: "Difficult cases make bad law"!

Under the guise of combating the threat of terrorism, the Prime Minister yesterday raised the possibility that the United Kingdom might have to re-examine "fundamentally" its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). By extension, this would necessitate that our obligations under the United Nations 1951 convention on human rights would have to be looked at again.

It is highly ironic, and shameful, that this subject should be broached on the eve of Holocaust Day, however much the present need to combat terrorism may seem to make such a re-examination necessary. It would appear that the motivations for writing the UN Convention are being brushed under the carpet - the need to permit those with a well-founded fear of persecution to claim sanctuary in a country where they can be protected. It seems that some, such as the Prime Minister and some within the Labour and Conservative Parties, are taking the intellectual leap [downwards and backwards!] of contemplating a dilution of rules designed to protect the weak and defenceless.

Only last week, David Blunkett (Home Secretary) stated in Parliament that the United Kingdom would not weaken its obligations under the ECHR.

Am I weak and unwilling to face up to the gravity of the situation which faces democratic societies in the face of terrorism? No, I don't think so and I will attempt to explain my thoughts on the matter.

Some are focussing on Article 3 of the ECHR, which forbids returning anyone to a country where they may suffer inhumane or degrading treatment; this is an absolute right and it is not possible to 'derogate' from it, as was done in the aftermath of the terrorist outrage of 11 September 2001 in respect of Article 5 - this is the article which forbids incarcerating people indefinitely without trial. This was done, probably with some justice (and I hate to write this), as a way of taking out of circulation those persons suspected of terrorism, but who could not be deported because of Article 3. However, are we really returning to the days of locking people up in 'oubliettes', effectively forever and without trial? Democratic societies need to protect themselves against destabilising influences and sometimes, even I would have to admit, some corners may need to be cut to ensure that terrorists do not succeed. However, I am under no illusion that anyone can now be locked up without trial, for lengthy periods (perhaps indefinitely) on the 'suspicion' that he or she is a terrorist. This is exactly what is occurring in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Except, of course, in the case of US citizens whom it is difficult to deprive of their constitutional rights (John Walker Lindt, the so-called  'American Taliban' and another who is I think held in someplace like South Carolina, without trial, for his suspected involvement in the 'anthrax' scare, if memory serves) - we in the United Kingdom do not have a written constitution so it is worryingly easy for these legal safeguards to be circumvented.

Asylum-seekers are supposed to claim refuge in the FIRST safe country they arrive at; a very large proportion of those arriving in the United Kingdom, however, arrive from other member countries of the European Union, so asylum should (under the conventions - U.N. and ECHR) be claimed there.  Some say that we are a 'soft touch' and, in some respects, I suspect that this may be the case. However, I strongly suspect that the major reason is that most people wish to end up in a country where the main international [business] language is English, rather than one where (for example) German or French is the local language - I think this basic aspect is much under-rated. Having said all this, Germany, for example, has taken control of its immigration policies by not permitting those who arrive from 'safe' countries even to enter a claim for asylum - period. We really need to adopt similarly strict policies - and the dangerous precedent of weakening our human rights laws needs to be stopped before our own freedoms are further endangered. This Government needs to face up to its obligations both to citizens of this country and to genuine refugees who really do need our help.

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Copyright © 2003 William Cameron