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Hounding Hogan-Howe

Do we really want a succession of Ian Blairs as Met Commissioners (see here, here, and here)? His attention seemed to be largely focussed on pleasing politicians. He spent inordinate amounts of time on cases/issues that he thought might interest them. Hogan-Howe on the other hand is a proper policeman. I believe him when he starts quoting the number of major cases he has to keep an eye on, with Operation Midland just one of them. He is interested in all of them, so making his life miserable and pushing for him to resign because of mistakes in one (Operation Midland) is completely unreasonable.

A brief recap. As the full horror of Jimmy Savile’s activities gradually became apparent, everyone started to worry what other paedophiles had been operating decades ago. In passing, I my view is that we need a statute of limitations on criminal cases except perhaps for the most serious – murder and maybe a tiny handful of others. Sex with girls aged 15 would not come into that category for me. Sure, it is illegal, but the limit of 16 is something of a cultural matter, it is hard to see it as an objective standard. Sex with children under the age of say 10, I would have no difficulty in making an exception. Where the dividing line should come I am not sure.

But whatever the category of exceptions, the other problem is that it is hard to get a reliable conviction for anything that happened decades ago. All sex crimes pose evidential problems at the best of times, but it becomes really difficult for a sex crime alleged to have happened long ago. It is easy to forget that convicting the innocent is worse than failing to convict the guilty.

Inevitably the pendulum swung too far. The police decided that traditional approaches to dealing with complaints of sexual abuse of children were wrong, because they were too off-putting for the complainant. As often happens in such cases, ACPO appointed someone to take the lead on policy, in this case Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk. He set up a “coordination hub” called Hydrant and produced the “Operation Hydrant SIO Guidance” for dealing with historic cases where well-known public figures were suspected of abuse (SIO is police jargon for the senior investigating officer on a particular case).

The full guidance is not publicly available, but it later emerged that it required SIOs to believe complainants, which (if followed) was more or less guaranteed to end in disaster.

Meanwhile several historical investigations were launched. Operation Fairbank focussed on claims that boys were sexually abused and groomed during parties of gay men at the Elm Guest House. It was about 7 miles from Parliament in a row of terraced houses in Rocks Lane, which runs North from Barnes station through Barnes Common. In the early 1980s it was raided by police following complaints that it had become a gay brothel, and it closed in 1982. The manager, Carole Kasir, was convicted of running a disorderly house. Later in 1990 she died aged 47; the inquest verdict was suicide by an overdose of insulin.

The precise story at this point is getting difficult to follow, because all sorts of documents once on the internet seem to have been taken down and I lack the inclination to search diligently for them on wayback etc. But a key player seems to have been Chris Fay (now 70), a former Labour councillor and social worker who worked for (and set up?) NAYPIC (National Association for Young People in Care, a child welfare charity). He appeared to claim that all kinds of photos and other documents had been shown to him by Kasir which proved that 4 MPs, led by Leon Brittan, the former home secretary, had been involved in abusing children at Elm House. All these (alleged) photos and documents had subsequently disappeared.

[a lengthy interview with Chris Fay by a sympathetic anti-child abuse activist and filmmaker]

He tried to interest a freelance journalist, who lost interest when he was unable to get any corroborating evidence. But all the allegations seem to have been passed to the Met, who also dropped them after failing to find anything to make them sufficiently credible.

The really curious can spend an hour watching the video above (from Oct 2013). Initially, at least, Fay comes across as low-key and credible. But at 28m (and 31m etc) we have the interviewer ranting on about how terrible child abuse by top people is. He is right, child abuse is terrible. But the questions are: did these particular individuals abuse children; and is there enough evidence to convict in court? Halfway through that video I began to see clearly that we could be in either of two situations: some powerful people covered up some terrible things, or we are in danger of re-running a modern version of the Salem witch trials.

The problem is that the internet is full of material by people who have not looked at the evidence available to them at all carefully, or even at all, but instantly react with violent emotion and want vengeance. Worse, it soon gets tangled up with all kinds of other agendas, like a visceral dislike of Tory politicians and policies.

Chris Fay tried to interest various people in his allegations, including Tom Watson (currently the elected deputy leader of the Labour Party). On 24 Oct 2012 (Hansard col 923) he asked at Prime Minister’s Questions:

The evidence file used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No. 10.

He got a fairly non-committal reply from Cameron:

The hon. Gentleman raises a very difficult and complex case, and I am not entirely sure which former Prime Minister he is referring to. What I would like to do is look carefully in Hansard at the allegations he has made and the case he has raised, and look carefully at what the Government can do to help give him the assurances he seeks.

But, of course, the question was broadcast live and attracted a good deal of attention, including presumably in the Metropolitan Police who were apparently being accused of grossly failing in their duty. Some years later in 2015, Fay was interviewed as part of a BBC Panorama programme.

vippaedopana

[last shown just over a year ago, no longer on BBC iPlayer, but still unofficially on youtube]

I wasted a good deal of time failing to make up my mind. On the one hand, Fay is claiming a large-scale cover-up, apparently masterminded by the security services. He also has a fraud conviction. On the other hand, he is not an obvious fantasist. So has there been a careful and successful cover-up, which has left little hard evidence beyond the odd witness whose uncorroborated evidence would be unlikely to stand up in court, or is he a fantasist?

My meanderings through various links quickly led me to things like Chris Spivey‘s blog. He is an angry campaigner who finds it really hard to attribute anything but bad motivation at every turn to senior Tory politicians. Eminently sane, he has a strong and powerfully-expressed point of view. Then I ran into Brian Heap who claims persecution over a period of several years by a substantial cast of characters (including the police) all because he sacked a teacher for child abuse when he was a headmaster.

As I read through the pages of his “Chronology” I started thinking what an awful time he had had. Then we moved on to his sectioning under Mental Health legislation. Most stories of paranoia are indeed induced by mental health problems, but occasionally they are true. Few people (including consultant psychiatrists) bother to look into such stories carefully, they just take a few salient features of such stories as clear hallmarks of mental illness.

Neither of those two individuals turned out to be relevant (as far as I could see, despite being only a link or two away from the Operation Midland case), but I began to grasp the real difficulty of investigating these “historical cases”. Many of the witnesses who come forward are clearly most unlikely to appear sufficiently credible – for a variety of reasons – in a court case where guilt for a specific crime by a specific person has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The real trouble came when Nick put forward his claims:

Operation Midland arose from claims by “Nick”, a man aged in his 40s who was a child at the time of the alleged incidents. Having written of his abuse, Nick was contacted by Exaro, a short-lived investigative journalism website funded by Jerome Booth. Exaro sold stories to newspapers about the alleged incidents, and a reporter from Exaro accompanied “Nick” to meetings with police.

Nick claimed the VIPs had not stopped at child abuse, they had murdered three children.

Operation Midland’s investigations into these allegations resulted in several VIPs being effectively named and shamed, despite the fact that the Met were unable to find any solid evidence to support the allegations, which later appeared to have been made by a wild fantasist.

Realising that Operation Midland had had a bad outcome, Hogan-Howe commissioned Richard Henriques, a retired High Court judge, to look into it. At the end of October Henriques submitted a lengthy 500 page report. Earlier this month, Hogan-Howe made public the 68 page summary.

The summary is hard-hitting and spells out clearly and forcefully why Simon Bailey’s Hydrant guidance is seriously flawed. Similarly, he spelt out that not only is “believing victims” wrong, so is calling them “victims”. They should remain “complainants” until the allegations are proved. He then went into detail about the Met’s policy on releasing information to the press prior to suspects being charged, and explained clearly why this policy did not work for well-known public figures, whom the press could easily identify from the limited information released.

The summary is clearly and forcefully written and closely argued. I imagine it will be persuasive in changing police practice.

But poor Hogan-Howe is now being criticised for not releasing the full report. This is ridiculous. Some of those under his command quite properly followed ACPO guidance on how to conduct a particular type of case. Hogan-Howe noticed that the case had had a bad outcome and commissioned an enquiry. He published the hard-hitting (and fairly lengthy) summary a few days after he received it. All that seems exactly what we should hope for in a Met commissioner. We really must stop treating highly competent professionals unfairly. Do we want a politicised police force?

Tram crash

croydontram2

The crash was between Lloyd Park and Sandilands. The schematic map above is confusing. The map below is clearer for orientation but less detailed. The shape of the track from Sandilands to Lloyd Park is like a Z:

croydontram1

The Google aerial map is:

croydontram3

Lloyd Park tramstop is the tiny blue and white symbol in the centre bottom. The track goes West a short way and then North-North-East up the dark gap between the two green lines. Near the top right it turns sharply left. The blue and white symbol a little further on is Sandilands Station. At the sharp left another track comes from Sandilands and takes a sharp left to Addiscombe tramstop way out of the picture to the NNE. A larger scale of the crash area is:

croydontram4

The speed limit on the long straight run up from Lloyd Park, much of which is in a tunnel, is 50mph. The speed limit on the sharp bend is 12mph. Apparently, the tram was going far too fast around the bend, derailed and killed 7 people, injuring many more. The driver was arrested.

We now have the classic media protest. Heart-rending sob stories from the injured and relatives of the deceased and demands that something be done. That translates, of course, into someone must be found to take the blame for the tragedy. The unfortunate driver looks like the fall guy.

When will people learn?

Blame enquiries are not the way to improve things. We know that. The paradigm is the air accident investigation. Because aircrashes tend to kill many people at once, they attract totally disproportionate attention. But at least we focus that in a constructive way. The investigations are usually extremely thorough. They are not about blame. You find that the pilot pressed the wrong button, say. Instead of demanding that he suffer for his terrible crime, the investigators ask what can be done to stop pilots doing that in future. Maybe the button is in the wrong place, or easily confused with another button, or needs some kind of interlock, so you have to twist it first. So you get carefully nested systems where several things have to go wrong before a tragedy can happen, instead of just one.

Medicine and the police tend to be different. There it is usually about blame. So what happens? Progress in eliminating bad behaviour is extremely slow. Those involved close ranks. Evidence mysteriously goes missing, and so on. But there are the occasional notable exceptions. When I was young it was common for patients to die in operating theatres as a result of errors in anaesthesia. The anaesthetists got together and started no-blame inquiries. Instead of blaming the harassed anaesthetist for pressing the wrong button, they redesigned the buttons. Today almost no one dies from anaesthesia.

I remember a few years ago falling into conversation with someone in Dillons (now Waterstones) near University College London and saying that. He turned out to be an anaesthetist/researcher. Yes, he said sadly, unfortunately we seem to have solved the problems! [Meaning that research was now less exciting.]

Named Persons

I have to confess to a secret vice: I enjoy reading law reports. My favourites are the Supreme Court judgments, but even the lowly Commercial Court can provide some enjoyable reading. I am not quite sure why I read them. Partly it is because many judges write beautifully clear English, partly because I quite enjoy knotty legal problems.

My attention was recently caught by reports of [2016] UKSC 51 (the “Named Persons” case). I suppose I should pause briefly to wail against LexisNexis and its ilk. They are for law reports what learned journal publishers are for university research. The problem LexisNexis has is that it does not own the copyright of law reports, so you might think that would make it difficult to charge lawyers large fees for providing them. But no.

RELX Group plc (reg no. 02746616) (Reed Elsevier Group plc until 2002) is dual listed. So RELX PLC is listed on the UK Stock Exchange (ticker LON-REL), current price £14.40, mkt cap £29.8 billion, and owns 52.9%. RELX NV is listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (ticker AMS-REN), current price €15.02, mkt cap €32.8 billion, owns 47.1%. So over £50 billion market cap for repackaging material mainly already easily available, not bad.

relxsp1

[share price of RELX PLC in pounds]

relxsp2

[share price of RELX NV in euros]

euro10y2nov16

[plot of euro against pound]

Those who enjoy such things might want to figure out the scope for arbitraging the two companies and the related currencies. Note that 2016 has seen a 20% rise in the euro, a flat euro price and a 17% rise in the sterling price. One would need to look carefully at the effect of currency movements on the profits of RELX Group.

Elsevier, of course, is a major academic journal publisher. In 1991 it took over Pergamon Press, the notorious Robert Maxwell (aka Jan Hoch ) vehicle – he being the first to grasp that university libraries bought almost any academic journal, no matter how useless. See here and here for rants about journals and academia that I wrote nearly a decade ago.

The wheeze for law reports seems to be that there is copyright in arrangement as well as content. Fortunately, the UK has got much better about providing free law reports. The Supreme Court reports are easily available on its own site, and the last five years of appeal court decisions on the government site. A more extensive range of reports, including High Court cases, is on bailii, which is funded by a large collection of Inns of Court, chambers, individual barristers, firms of solicitors and a handful of major companies (see sponsors).

The Named Persons case is one of a small number where statutes passed by Holyrood have been overturned by the courts as ultra vires. It is also a horror story which might give pause for thought to those eager to extract us from the European Court of Human Rights.

It started with GIRFEC published by the Scottish government in 2008:

girfec1

Like many disastrous schemes it was begun with good intentions, in this case a desire to get better outcomes for Scottish children. The original document (revised in 2012) has bizarrely bad layout and typography as well as the expected poor English (eg Core component 8: “Maximising the skilled workforce within universal services to address needs and risks as early as possible”). After several years of consultation the scheme was enshrined in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (“the Act”).

caypsa

The centrepiece of the Act is Parts 4 and 5 on Named Persons and the Child’s Plan, which were due to come into force in August this year. The basic idea was to improve coordination between the umpteen agencies which might come into contact with a child by assigning every child a “Named Person” responsible for the coordination.

In practice it was hoped that two benefits would flow: parents would have a single point of contact when they wanted help, and where intervention by the state was needed it would be delivered more effectively. The second was the difficulty. This was eloquently explained by a civil liberties campaigner in the Isle of Man.

I am answering this call for written evidence because the ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’ – GIRFEC policy contained in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill is very similar to the ‘Every Child Matters’ (ECM) policy introduced in the Isle of Man several years ago. That policy had adverse consequences for both the local community and children’s & families social services.

… First indications that ECM was causing problems [came a year after its introduction] when the Government had to ask the Tynwald for £498,000 additional funding for a further 10 children’s social workers. The Minister stated that due to new policies “workloads for new cases and for support to the Courts have risen by approximately 500% in the last year”. Fierce debate ensued in Tynwald …

The statistics are startling because there are just under 1000 children born per year in the Isle of Man. So, with circa 959 referrals to children’s social services per year, it is likely that most children will be the subject of a referral before they are 18 – with at least 70% of the referrals being utterly unnecessary. In plain terms, nearly three quarters of all children will be the subject of intrusive enquires by social services at some stage in their childhood. This hugely intrusive policy is a direct consequence of over broad referral criteria …

Evidence … cited a range of adverse consequences and public health issues resulting from over involvement with children’s social services. These include including fear of accessing medical care, distrust of health visitors, concealment of post natal illness, more marital separations and breakdowns and lack of help for those in need. The point being that parents, entirely understandably, fear needless involvement with children’s social services and, consequently, avoid contact with public authorities …

GIRFEC makes further deep inroads into the sanctity of family life. For example, the National Risk Framework 11 says a child is at risk if he/she is under 5 years, has more than 3 siblings, is adopted or a step-child, has a ‘difficult temperament’, parents are contesting contact, does not speak English, has a parent aged under 21, or a parent whose partner is not a biological parent, is a child that lacks trust towards ‘workers’ or shows culturally inappropriate behaviours. These risk indicators are over broad.

A miscellaneous group of parents and pressure groups sued, lost in the Court of Session (the top Scottish court), and appealed to the Supreme Court, where they got a unanimous judgment in their favour at the end of July this year.

The somewhat coded language of the (single) judgment indicated that the judges thought the Act was a dog’s breakfast of bad drafting, because of its obscure interaction with the Data Protection Act 1998, but ultimately concluded that was not sufficient reason to strike it out as ultra vires the Scotland Act 1998 (which gave Holyrood its limited powers).

On the other hand, they found that the Act did fall foul of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to privacy) and so Parts 4 and 5 had to be suspended whilst the Scottish government tried to redraft them.

The last word should go to the Scotsman (21 Oct 2016):

The ease of access that … [pressure groups] have to the centre of political decision making is one of the key characteristics of Scottish politics. This has led to the development of a revolving door … Former lobbyists now sit as MSPs and former MSPs work as lobbyists. Similarly, former civil servants have taken jobs with … [pressure groups]. Often these organisations receive a substantial part of their funding from the public purse and can have an important influence in shaping the development of Government policy and legislation …

The Scottish Government claimed that owing to the success of the [pilot] scheme in the Highlands in reducing referrals to the Children’s Panel, the scheme should be rolled out across the country. It worked closely with various children’s charities in developing the legislation. Understandably, these groups are keen to support any measures which they think might improve the outcomes for disadvantaged children.

[Deputy First Minister John Swinney claims] that … the pilot scheme … was responsible for a 68% decline in referrals to the Children’s Panel between 2007 and 2013. The problem is that a closer look at the data shows that the results in the Highland Council area are far from exceptional. Over the last 10 years there has been a decline in referrals across the whole of Scotland by 72.6 per cent. Highland ranks only 11th out of 32 local authorities in its track record on reducing referrals. Other councils which piloted the Named Person scheme, such as Angus and South Ayrshire, performed much worse, with Angus sitting at 20th and South Ayrshire at 30th in the ranking. Councils which did not pilot the scheme, such as Aberdeen and Glasgow, performed better than Highland with drops in referral rates of over 80 per cent. It appears, therefore, that the decline in referrals to the Children’s Panel is due to other factors …

One lesson … is the need for improved scrutiny of the evidence base which underpins new legislation. Too often decisions about which organisations to take oral evidence from are taken very early in the legislative process, before the deadline for submission of written evidence has expired. Parliamentary committees should wait until all the written evidence has been collated and read before deciding from whom to take oral evidence.

In other words, they meant well, but listened exclusively to charities and pressure groups worried about child abuse – and then, having made up their minds what to do, closed them to the evidence and tried to spin the data.

Box Office Phil

philiphammond

[photo from government website]

Hammond’s ironic nickname is because his boring interviews are guaranteed not to contain unpleasant surprises, witness this extract from his recent Conference speech:

Successful negotiation with the EU27 will demand patience, experience, meticulous planning and steely resolution. And I know of no-one better-equipped to lead us through those negotiations than our brilliant new Prime Minister, Theresa May. And we should approach that negotiation with self-confidence.

For those who have failed to notice him entirely over the last few years, here are the basics:

b 4 Dec 1995 (60)
Shenfield School (local state school in Essex, now an Academy). 1st in PPE University College, Oxford.
1977-83 Speywood Medical Ltd, a small medical equipment company, long since taken over.
17 Jan 1984 set up Castlemead Ltd (reg no. 01783537), a housebuilding company. Its main subsidiary appears to be Castlemead Group Ltd (reg no. 02985505) inc 1 Nov 1994, 2/3 owned. Its most recent accounts showed turnover down to £10M and £0.75M loss. Castlemead Ltd is now owned by a trust, presumably for Hammond’s benefit – the standard device for claiming that a member of the government has no influence over a commercial company which he owns.
He also seems to have made a significant income from consulting work before entering Parliament.

An article in the New Statesman in 2009 claimed he was worth £9M, £5M of which was Castlemead. There does not appear to be enough information yet in the public domain to assess what Castlemead is worth today (if anything).

chairman Lewisham East Cons Assoc 1989-96
Elected 1997 (newly created) Runnymed & Weybridge, majority 9875
1997: Hague made him front bench spokesman for Health
2001: Duncan Smith moved him to Trade & Industry
2002: Howard moved him to Local Government
2005: [post election] Howard promoted him to shadow Chief Sec
2005: Cameron moved him to Work & Pensions
2007: [when Brown became PM] Cameron moved him to Chief Sec
2010: [post election] SoS Transport
2011: [post Liam Fox resignation] SoS Defence
2014: Foreign Sec
2016: May moved him to Chancellor

I have just wasted an hour trying to find out rather more about him than the bare bones above, with precious little success. I could find nothing that might give me some insight. His Conference speech was loyal, but fairly dull and uninformative.

Curiously, Anthony Hilton, the long-standing Evening Standard business columnist in the Evening Standard, whom I quite like, found much to criticise in Hammond’s Conference speech. His article yesterday was headed:

Phil’s six impossible things to do before Brexit

tilfordreport

Hilton’s first point was to quote some data from a recent report by Simon Tilford (its deputy director) for the Centre for European Reform ( pdf ). The CER is a think-tank founded 20 years ago, broadly pro-EU, which appeared to campaign for Remain. Tilford (an economist formerly with the Economist and Nomura) claims that whilst the UK’s GDP growth appears better than other leading European countries:

gdp1

that is because we are looking at GDP in local currency (in 2010 prices). But the pound has fallen over the period since 2000 from about 1.6 Euros to 1.14 Euros

poundeurorate2000-oct2016

If one adjusts for that, and indeed goes further using “purchasing power exchange rates”, then one gets a different result

gdp2

I think I mainly come away thinking that this kind of comparison is tricky, but that we seem to have done better than Italy and Spain recently, and not too much worse than Germany. I certainly cannot see much reason to share Hilton’s gloom about the UK’s growth prospects outside the EU.

He is obviously correct to dismiss Hammond’s

We will do it by making the British economy the most outward-looking, most dynamic, most competitive, high wage, high skilled, low tax economy in the world” as hype. His comments on UK productivity require a whole article to analyse properly.

as hype, and I agree with him that the thorny subject of the UK’s productivity requires a full article, but then he has a canard about all our best (academic) researchers will be leaving because of worries about losing their EU research grants. The government has already indicated that it will essentially made good those grants post-Brexit from UK funds.

He then worries that many Silicon Roundabout entrepreneurs are immigrants but they would no longer be allowed in under a points-based system. That is obviously a reasonable concern, but we are way off getting that kind of detail about future immigration policy agreed. The domestic pressure for less immigration is hardly coming from high-tech areas in London, it is coming from depressed Northern towns in low-tech or old-tech areas.

Hilton then went on at some length about the housing shortage and the difficulty of dealing with it. I agree, but it is hard to complain about Hammond’s passing praise for one of his colleagues getting started in that area. Finally, Hilton complains:

Sixth was a statement breath-taking it its audacity from a Chancellor and a government about to embark on the biggest and potentially most reckless economic gamble this country as ever seen. “Conservatives … carry the burden of ensuring that Labour can never again wreck the British economy”.

I find that a revealing complaint. Surely democrats have to take democracy seriously. Hilton may spend his time hobnobbing with overpaid businessmen who would rather not face the challenges of leaving the EU, but the electorate decisively decided that was what it wanted. Fighting a rearguard action to reverse the decision is not helpful. What we need now is to make Brexit as successful as we can.

Spoilt brats

Homage a Melanie Phllips (65), commentator.

melaniephillips

My father’s father – who, according to family mythology, was given the name Phillips because the immigration officer couldn’t pronounce his Polish name – would stand on the street corner every week in the often unrealised hope of being selected for work.

[From her “Guardian Angel: My story, my Britain”, 2013, revised for CreateSpace Aug 2016]

It is just over two weeks ago that we heard the bizarre story of the six-hour closure of London City Airport (LCY). It has proved a magnet for commentators. Nine people rowed across to the runway and chained themselves in a line as a protest that “Black Lives Matter”. So far, so good.

We all have our hobby horses. One of mine is the bizarre length of time it takes the police and other authorities to clear away obstructions to transport links. I am in danger of apoplexy every time I read yet another account of the police closing a motorway or other key link for hours whilst they prat about collecting evidence about the death of one of those involved. Just as bad are the endless delays whilst London Underground gets a “sick” passenger off a tube train (although to be fair that one has speeded up a little over the last few years). Any attempts to protest about this nonsense tends to bring outrage from those who think I should have more concern for the dead or sick. It has nothing to do with that; it is about devising and implementing procedures to avoid holding up thousands of people (at huge cost) unnecessarily.

But even by normal standards leaving the protesters alone for six hours seems to me completely bizarre. I would have thought a runway was a protected space under the Terrorism Acts, but even if not there is clearly good reason to clear them away in the first five minutes. The idea that a chain is a significant problem is ludicrous. Any cycle thief can give you a pair of bolt cutters that will cut through almost any chain effortlessly. For once I agree with Jeremy Clarkson who published a rant about it at the weekend. He could even be right that the basic reason for this kind of nonsense is the self-importance of the minor officials involved who see it as their moment of glory.

So my main interest when I first heard about LCY was why on earth it had taken so long to clear away nine protesters. But there soon turned out to be some other odd features. News junkies and others will know that Black Lives Matter started in 2013 with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a security guard at a gated community in Florida, for killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in 2012.

Black Lives Matter is not an organized protest movement. According to Wikipedia, the moniker first appeared as hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter. I first noticed it after the 2014 incident in Ferguson, Missouri when the local police apparently shot and killed Michael Brown (18) as he was running away. After endless investigations it seems (from blood spatter evidence) that Brown was actually moving towards the shooter (see Wikipedia for more details).

blacklivesmatteruk

[a CNN interview in July 2016 with a London activist supporting the US protests]

Clearly too many black Americans are getting shot by the authorities. Of course, the picture is complicated and protesters are often getting it wrong, but on the whole they seem to have a good deal to protest about. A few months ago, we started to get “solidarity” protests in Europe. Fair enough.

But early radio accounts suggested that the nine at LCY were protesting about the lack of respect for Black Lives in the UK. Specifically, global warming was killing disproportionately many blacks because the resulting smog was worse in London than elsewhere and blacks lived disproportionately in London. So bizarrely mad as to defy rational comment. Bring on the comedians.

Indeed, there was a kind of stunned silence for a few days. Then the first comment I saw in the serious press was by a comedian with a comment column. Then two days ago came a lengthy article by Melanie Phillips (MP) in the Times.

I quite enjoy listening to MP – she is a regular on Radio 4 – and reading the occasional article, although she seems to suffer from a common tendency amongst those with Jewish ancestry of being over-eager to excuse Israel’s failings. On this occasion she started by referring to Radical Chic ( pdf ), a 1970 essay by Tom Wolfe on how New York’s cultural elite ludicrously lionised the Black Panthers.

She went on to name one of the Nine as Natalie Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes. The surname will be familiar to Old Wykehamists. I am fairly sure that the boy who at the end of the half offered the entire Odyssey, Iliad and Aeneid, plus several other works, all in the original Greek and Latin, as the lines he had learnt during the half, was a Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (but I have just spent five minutes failing to pin down the name, or indeed find the story online).

In any case, it emerged the day after the incident that none of the Nine was actually black. MP’s headline was

spoiltbrats

MP claims that the rationale was not the effect of global warming on London, but its disproportionate effect on sub-Saharan Africa and hence on blacks. That makes slightly more sense, although still bizarre. But MP was unsympathetic. After noting that a colleague of the Nine in the self-elected Black Lives Matter UK had jetted off to a luxurious beach resort in Brazil to address a crowd of feminists, she continued

… such people want to do good but their hypocrisy is epic. Posing as anti-racists, they stigmatise the whole of white society by smearing it as institutionally hostile to black people. Yet they themselves hardly achieve what they aim to do …

I think I can live with being smeared by the likes of Natalie TWF, but MP’s basic point is correct. She goes on to quote from Shelby Steele (70), whom I had not previously heard about. He claims white anti-racists have turned black people into permanent victims and that

no group in human history has been lifted to excellence or competitiveness by another group

So I have just ordered

contentchar

to find out more …

Unfortunately MP then starts to go slightly off the rails. After

Obviously, only the spoilt and self-indulgent can afford to posture in this way

which borders on the gratuitously insulting, she goes on to berate Robert Fisk, one of my favourite Middle East correspondents:

This pathology of self-hatred was brought into ironic relief in 2001 when … Robert Fisk was beaten up in Afghanistan by a gang of young robbers who smashed stones into his face and head. Whom did Fisk blame for this brutal assault? Why the West, of course, for inflicting humiliation and misery on the Muslim world.

That is not quite the way I read him. I thought he was attacking Western policy in Afghanistan. There is then a bizarre finale in which she claims that

… white guilt creates disorder … The weaker society is, the more protest is likely even when there is no injustice.

That seems to me fairly confused. Maybe it is influenced by her “Israel can do no wrong” credo.