Starve Acre book review

I have neglected this blog of late as life has been busy away from the internet. I intend to come back to it, mainly to help me process the events happening politically in the UK as we go through what are, for me, dark times.

Recently I’ve been finding solace in fiction and today I finished the book “Starve Acre” by Andrew Michael Hurley.

Whilst I generally try to avoid Amazon and Amazon-owned properties, the internet being structured as it is makes that exceedingly difficult. So I do use Goodreads to track and encourage my reading.

I’m tempted to see if I can become a better reviewer of the media I enjoy, to stretch those creative muscles I don’t use too often in my daily life.

To that end, here’s my brief review of Starve Acre:

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. Blasted through it in an evening and a morning, which is rare for me. The ending paragraph will stay with me for a while.

Andrew Hurley does a fantastic job of scene setting and location . Being from Yorkshire myself and having travelled to the Dales numerous times in my life, I really understood and appreciated how the area around Starve Acre house was portrayed.

This book is dark however, so potentially not a holiday, beach read. If you’ve read the synopsis you know the themes this book is tackling and it doesn’t shy away from them. I felt that Hurley handled the themes well. Anyone who is/has been parents of a young child will probably resonate with some of the scenes described.

Where the book falls down for me slightly is the character of Juliette. Whilst she is going through what many may imagine could be the darkest of times in a person’s life, as described in the novel sadly she has few redeeming features to help the reader sympathise with her.

However, for me, that was nowhere near enough to detract from the story being told as a whole and I kept reading, eager to see where Hurley was going to take me next.

If you’re looking for a pacey, creepy read, I can recommend Starve Acre.

View all my reviews

Wrote to my MP today

It’s fair to say, my MP, Ian Levy, and myself do not see eye-to-eye politically.

He’s a so called “red wall” Conservative who is eager to keep his job, which means not rocking the boat.

If you want to see his PR page, it’s at:

Sadly, I can’t comment there any more after being banned, on Tuesday midnight, for asking him why he voted against the NHS.

However, he is still my MP and I still need to let him know what’s important to me.

So here is today’s letter:

Dear Ian Levy,

I am pushed to write as I simply cannot believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is STILL pushing, seemingly very eager, to take £20 a week away from the people and families on Universal Credit.

All to “push people into employment”, as if making it so the choice is “employment/not being able to eat” is a humane thing to do.

What finally pushed me over the edge into contacting you again, were a combination of stories in the press:

This one in the Chronicle:

Northumberland foodbank warns Universal Credit cut will force more people through its doors.

“The foodbank in Cramlington has already started supplying people with specially prepared food parcels that only contain food products that can be eaten cold – for people who cannot afford to switch on their cooker to boil pasta or rice.”

“The Trussell Trust distributed 124,224 emergency food parcels across the North East last year. This is an increase on the previous year when 98,521 parcels were distributed.”

That foodbanks have to exist, and have EXPLODED in frequency because of demand over the last decade, is a stain on a so called “wealthy” society. To further this, for the government you are a part of, to push through policies KNOWING that they will push people further into poverty and suffering, is inhumane and awful.

That the government, that you, are doing this at the same time as you are finding ways to “reform” (and we know reform means CUT) disability benefits is mean on a level I can’t even manage.


“They say that rising spending on disability benefits ‘suggests there is more we can do to enable independent living and employment’ and that they want to ‘explore making bigger changes to the benefits system’ that will mean the system is ‘more affordable in the future’.”

INVESTMENT is how you get to growth.

By investing in people, you enable them to do things. By reducing Personal Independence Payments, taking away motability vehicles and more, you actually make disabled people LESS independent.

By reducing funding, you make it so services that support those same people, struggle to function which again, makes people less independent.

I simply cannot understand how you know these cuts are happening, are in a position of power and responsibility to do something, and you can sleep soundly at night.

Please, please, fight against this on-going (and seemingly never-ending) punishment of the less wealthy, of those struggling the most.

Yours sincerely,


Will probably fall on deaf ears but we have to operate inside the system we’re in, so it’s a little better than nothing.

Only a little though…

A minute amount of justice on this corrupt little island.

Today is both a great day and an utterly shameful day for Justice in Britain. A further 39 Sub-Postmasters have had their sentences quashed and their names cleared in Court. Ordeals that they should NEVER have had to go through as their cases should never have reached prosecution in the first place.

The cover-ups and corruption of the Post Office Scandal should shame those who profitied off them but seemingly, their wealth, awards and lives of luxury insulate them from the guilt and shame they should be suffering from daily.

Convicted Post Office workers have names cleared. Screenshot of headline from:

Lord Justice Holroyde, Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey DBE have released their judgements in Hamilton & others -v- Post Office Limited. You can read the whole judgement here:

This follows the Post Office settling with 555 (!!) Sub postmasters in December 2019. See story from Yahoo here: (many other sources available)

These private convictions were undertaken by Post Office Limited (POL) from 2000 – 2014 when Sub-Postmasters reported errors in their banking using the HORIZON IT system.

As the BBC states:

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses – an average of one a week – based on information from a recently installed computer system called Horizon.

It suited both The Post Office and Fujitsu to maintain that the Horizon IT system had no bugs and insist that the fault, and potential thefts, lay squarely at the door of the people running the Post Offices.

These prosecutions were based on lies. Lies that were built on a shakey foundation that, to me, should have been obvious from the outset; No computer system is “bug free”, especially not a gigantic one running the entire Post Office network. Of course there were bugs and of course they were going to manifest in the databases.

As Private Eye states in their absolutley stella report “Justice Lost in the Post” which you can read for free at :

At yet another branch, a shortfall way beyond any possibility of pilfering, amounting to £1.08m, was described by software specialists in July 1999 as “due a known software error which has no been resolved”

Richard Brooks, Nick Wallis, 2020 – Justice Lost In the Post

Thanks to the oustanding hard work of Alan Bates and others who joined together in 2009 to form the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance and take on the might of the Post Office.

They have been fighting for 11 years + to clear their names and today, for most of them, they achieved that goal.

This appears, on the surface, to be “justice”.

It is yet to be anything of the sort.

Take Seema Misra as an example. Convicted in 2010 it’s taken just under 11 years for Misra to clear her name, some of those she’s spent in prison. For a theft she NEVER committed.

She was sentenced in November 2010 to 15 months imprisonment for theft and false accounting, it was her son’s 10th birthday and she was eight weeks pregnant at the time.

More than a decade later, and Mrs Misra said she still feels the ramifications of her conviction, including when it comes to finding full-time work.

There have been suicides of people whose lives the Post Office ruined, Fiona Cowan and Martin Griffiths are two that were focussed on in Private Eye’s Justice Lost In The Post report.

Until those who made the decisions to prosecute are hauled in front of the courts, today is just a re-balancing of the scales, legally marking people as innocent who had been innocent all along.

That powerful, rich people were able to prosecute 736 sub-postmasters only to now step back and for 80% + of those prosecutions to have been settled and, as of today, more quashed is utterly galling.

In paragraph 132 of the judgement in Hamilton & others -v- Post Office Limited, the justices state:

In each of the “Horizon cases” it is now rightly conceded that those human costs and consequences were suffered after the denial by POL of a fair trial.

Hamilton & others -v- Post Office Limited

I hope I can update this blog and write that a detailed Public Investigation has been held by the Johnson Government and those on the Post Office boards from 2000 – 2014 have been rightfully proscuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Until that happens, justice will not have been done.

For now, I encourage readers of this blog, if there are any of you, to follow the journalist Nick Wallis on Twitter and, when it’s published, buy his book about the Post Office Horizon IT Scandal.
Nick has been outstanding in covering the Post Office trials
and supporting the Justice for SubPostmasters Alliance.

Nick has been updating throughout.

As mentioned earlier, Nick was part-writer of Private Eye’s special report, published in April 2020. That’s available free as a PDF:

Keep up with the Justice for SubPostmasters Alliance at

UK Foreign Aid Scandal 2021

The government of the (frequently less and less) United Kingdom has made some contentious decisions over the last few months (understatement of the year). Each decision building upon a previous, eventually showing the character, aims and goals of the government. For this picece today I’m going to focus on the Foreign Aid budget scandal.

Another piece of evidence into the character behind the Johnson government.

What is the “Foreign Aid Budget Scandal”?

In 2015 the UK passed a bill enshrining in law the government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid. There’s a news story on the law’s passing in the Guardian. This had been in party election pledges for many years before but had taken time to actually happen.

This was in part of the government of the time signing up to support the United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals:

Millennium Development Goals from the United Nations:
1) Eradicate Poverty and Hunger
2) Acheive Universal Primary Education
3) Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
4) Reduce Child Mortality
5) Improve Maternal Health
6) Combat HIV/AIDS, Maleria and other diseases
7) Ensure Environmental Sustainability
8) Global Partnership for Development
Good intentions from the UN

The 0.7% being enshrined in law was a good thing, but it just dictactes an amount. As for whether that amount was enough (it wasn’t) and whether it was being spent properly (sometimes yes, sometimes no), that required further conversations.

This law is still in place and indeed, the target was championed in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto:

We will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development, and do more to help countries receiving aid become self-sufficient.   Building on this Government’s existing efforts, we will end the preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children by 2030, and lead the way in eradicating Ebola and malaria.

So what changed?

Well, in the middle of global pandemic, the Johnson Conservative goverment abolished the Department for International Development in June 2020. At the time PM Johnson claimed:

“abolishing the separate Department for International Development
(DfID) would mean aid spending better reflected UK aims.”

Johnson also claimed:

However, [PM Johnson] pledged DfID’s budget – which at 15bn last year dwarfed the £2.4bn spent by the FCO – would be maintained, with the UK commited to continuing to spend 0.7% of national income on aid projects.

This was further re-inforced by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in September 2020:

“Press reports suggest Chancellor Rishi Sunak will cut aid spending to help pay off rising debts in his Autumn budget. But Mr Raab said the 0.7% target was a manifesto commitment that was written into law.”

That lasted until November 2020 when this happened:

Breaking: UK cuts aid budget to 0.5% of GNI
By William Worley // 25 November 2020

LONDON — The U.K. government will not spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance next year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed Wednesday, despite being legally committed to the target.
Nice commitment you have there, shame if something were to happen to it…

Using the cover of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the reduced tax income of the Government (mostly thanks to the Government’s own bad decisions fighting the pandemic) the Chancellor broke the Manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on Foreign Aid.

As the Devex piece notes, we were a good performer with the 0.7% commitment, with USA only spending 0.12% and German 0.6% (though due to size, the USA’s 0.12% is more in $$$ terms than our 0.7%).

Essentialy the government is saying “we have to cut Foreign Aid spending because we can’t afford it right now”.

Why is this a scandal?

Obviously the renaging on an election manifesto commitment is an important reason.

Stepping back as a supporter of people in need around the world at the same time you’re promoting your country as “Global Britain” seems two-faced.

I’ve one more important reason: Yemen.

UN: Yemen faces world’s worst famine and needs $3.85 billion
By EDITH M. LEDERERFebruary 24, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Conflict-torn Yemen “is falling off a cliff” and will face the worst famine the world has seen for decades unless donors, and especially its Gulf neighbors, contribute generously to this year’s U.N. humanitarian appeal for $3.85 billion, the U.N. humanitarian chief warned Wednesday.

Mark Lowcock said Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which contributed generously to U.N. appeals in 2018 and 2019, cut back drastically last year. This forced aid agencies to reduce the number of Yemenis receiving food and other humanitarian aid from 13-14 million every month in 2019 to just 9 million in 2020, he said.

The 4 million people who didn’t receive food last year “are among those essentially in the long, slow, brutal, painful, agonizing process of starving to death,” Lowcock told a virtual briefing for a group of reporters.

He spoke ahead of Monday’s pledging conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will appeal for $3.85 billion.

“Without that funding, a lot more people will die, there could be catastrophic prospects unleashed in the country,” Lowcock warned. “Because of the state in the country now, where there (are) already pockets of famine, what we’re going to see is the worst famine the world has seen for decades. So, there is a lot at stake and there’s an urgency.”

Yemen is currently suffering a dire state of affairs. Trapped in the midst of a Civil War that’s being manipulated by outsiders, ordinary people have seen their lives ruined. As Unicef highlights:

Half of Yemeni children (under the age of 5) – half – are chronically malnourished.

The UK government knows this.

They knew it when they made the decision to merge the Department For International Development and the Foreign Office.

They knew it when they decided to cut the rate of Foreign Aid.

They know it now.

James Cleverley (a man ribbed as being very mis-named) Foreign Office Minister said that this year the UK would contribute “at least £87m” to Yemen.

However, Sky News notes:

This is a fall of 59% from 2020/21, when the figure stood at £214m.

The move to cut funding has been resoundingly condemned by a large number of MPs (from both sides of the aisle) agencies and charities:

“Care International chief executive Laurie Lee said:
“If the government cuts aid to Yemen today, which is the worst humanitarian disaster
in the world, it will take aid away from hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine.”

This from Conservative former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell:

Lewis Goodall from BBC Newsnight Tweeting on March 1st 2021

It gets worse?

Sadly, it does get worse because we’re cutting aid to a region in desperate need, whilst at the same time being in large part responsible for some of the damage, deaths and destruction caused.

What many people forget about the United Kingdom is we have a thriving industry for selling weapons and vehicles around the world. We are still selling arms to Saudi Arabia who are actively bombing Yemen.

Last month, the latest government figures showed that London authorised the sale of $1.88bn worth of arms to Riyadh – including missiles and bombs – between the period of July and September 2020.

There’s more here from Oxfam:

Figures released today, Tuesday 9 February, show a big increase in licences issued for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, many of which will be used in the war in Yemen. Since the conflict started, nearly six years ago, over 4 million people have been forced from their homes with over 18,500 civilian casualties.

Martin Butcher, Oxfam’s conflict adviser said: “The UK government’s decision to issue licences allowing £1.36 billion of new bombs missiles and rockets to be exported to Saudi Arabia is immoral. Once again UK politicians have put profit before Yemeni lives. Both the US and Italy have stopped arms sales supporting Saudi and UAE offensive operations in Yemen in the past week and President Biden has said the war in Yemen has to end. The UK government should now follow their lead and end all support for offensive arms in Yemen as well as immediately stopping arms sales that risk being used in serious violations of International Humanitarian law.

“This is the largest increase in arms exports to Saudi Arabia since March 2015 and takes the known total of licenses up to £6.7 billion since the Saudi intervention in Yemen started. Yemen is living through the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with two thirds of the population reliant on food aid and yet people are profiteering from the misery caused by these arms sales.”

Licencing resumed in July 2020 after a one-year suspension imposed by the UK Court of Appeal which ordered a review of the licensing process to see if Saudi use of UK arms in the Yemen conflict contravened International Humanitarian law.
Good job Britain, good job *slow clap*

The Oxfam piece is fully sourced, please do take the time to read:

We’re cutting the funding for an area that desperately needs it so people don’t starve to death, whilst at the same time making a profit selling arms to some of the countries causing the death and destruction.

That’s it though right? There’s no more?

Oh dear reader how I wish that were true.

5th March 2021 Open Democracy has published this scoop:

UK government accused of ‘grotesque betrayal’ as full foreign aid cuts revealed

Exclusive: Leaks reveal plans to slash aid to world’s poorest countries. Bob Geldof brands move ‘shameful’ while Tory MPs call for Commons vote

Open-Democracy 5th March 2021

I recommend you read the piece as it’s vitally important and well sourced and researched.

I’m going to highlight 2 quotes:

“In the budget this week, the FCDO – which has subsumed the Department for International Development – had its departmental budget cut from £12.7bn to £9.9bn.”

“A British government spokesperson said: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.”

So notice that now the FCDO has control of the Department for International Development, one of he first things the Conservatives did is slash its operating budget.

Notice again, the government blaming “lack of money” for the reason.

On a completely un-related note, here’s Lord Frost (un-elected Minister for Brexit) writing in the Telegraph 6th March 2021:

Picture source:

Let me pick the relevent quotes out for this discussion:

“Finally, this country now has a huge opportunity to shape the international scene for the better.

In recent years it was too often claimed that Britain was no longer interested in playing a major international role…

The British people are internationalist and want to make a difference in the world.”

Well, we’re certainly going to do that indeed, by starving a load of people it seems.

But it gets better, remember that, over the period of several months now the government has complained of lack of funds for Foreign Aid?

And we are bolstering our armed forces with the biggest increase in our defence budget since the Cold War, comfortably exceeding the Nato pledge of 2 per cent of GDP.

Oh, oh…right’o.

So we’re sailing above a 2 percent GDP (not GNI) target for funding the defence forces but struggling to find money for staving people in South Sudan?

What does that say about the priorities of the Johnson Government?

In South Sudan, where millions face catastrophic famine, the UK’s aid spend is set to drop from £110m to just £45m.

Peter Geoghegan – Open Democracy

To sum up

The UK Government has broken its own manifesto commitment to keep foreign aid at 0.7% GNI.

The UK Government has broken a legal agreement for the same.

They have done this whilst at the same time increasing funding to the arm forces in excess of its agreed target and whilst knowing that, because of its actions, thousands of people will suffer and starve.

All the while selling arms to countries that cause the destruction that causes the need for aid.

That is a scandal.

Thank you for reading.

Please click the link to make a donation to the UN relief fund for Yemen.

One example of “How the law in England is broken”

Following my reading of both books written by The Secret Barrister I’ve been paying more attention to crime stories reported in the local press, because they reveal many different aspects of how Britain is broken at the moment.

I’ve already done one piece analysing the structure of a news story and how they’re designed to manipulate as a primary focus, rather than inform; I’ll definitely be doing more in the future. Crime reporting stories are often desgined to produce an emotional response from the reader, rather than simply relying the facts of a case as they were set-out.

Today’s focus is going to be on how the justice system in the England and Wales simply isn’t functioning as intended. That is the main premise of The Secret Barrister’s first book Stories of the Law and How it is Broken (a great review of which can be found at Legal Hackette’s blog).

The premise (which the Secret Barrister writes more eloquently than I could ever hope to) is simply that a smooth running and functioning justice system is “essential to the peaceable democratic society” (quote from SB’s book). That being so, we should fund the justice system so that:

  • Police forces have the staff, resources and time needed to examine cases thoroughly
  • Cases are heard promptly
  • People are represented by well qualified solicitors and barristers who have the funds and time needed to prepare cases
  • Judges and magistrates have sufficient training, time and knowledge to examine cases in the detail needed
  • Punishments aren’t overly strict or overly lenient
  • People wrongly accused aren’t left out of pocket or in difficulties due to failures of the state
  • Failures of the state don’t add undue pain or suffering on families of the accused or families of the victims.

It’s the last point I want to focus on today and I’m going to use one recent example to do so. In doing so I will be commenting not on the content of the case, guilt/innocence, but on the likely effects of it. This case is a sad one indeed and I endeavour to write with respect to those affected.

1st October 2019

On the 1st October 2019, there was a collision near Blyth in Northumberland between a Yellow Skoda and an HGV. In that collison sadly one person, Hannah Jane Inman, passed away. She was a passenger in the Yellow Skoda.

The first reporting of the story in the local press I can find is here, from the 3rd October 2019:

This story focuses on the passing of Hannah Jane Inman and it is tragic, 21 is no age at all and no parent should outlive their offspring. The Chronicle’s report states:

A 22-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of causing
death by dangerous driving and has since been released under investigation.

Now obviously police and trained investigators have to do their job and do it thoroughly and well. My bullet point above “Police forces have the staff, resources and time needed to examine cases thoroughly.”

Investigating a road-traffic collision (RTC) takes skill and time, as well as scientific study to recreate the scene of the accident based on the available evidence. During that time, families of those effected are dealing with the outcome of the RTC, in this case, the passing of a 21 year old young woman.

It is in everyone’s interest that the case is handled as swiftly and efficiently as possible.

In our society, part of the way we often handle grief when the justice system is involved is that the case is “dealt with” and justice is seen to be done. For people who have lost a loved one, being dragged to court repeatedly over a long period of time just keeps the wound open longer, causes more pain.

This pain is shared, albeit in different ways, by the accused. In this case a 22 year old man who was arrested and then let out on bail whilst the case continued.

Going by comments on the Facebook post for this story (I’m aware not a 100% reliable source) it seems that the young man in question, Cameron Holdsworth, was in love with Hannah Jane Inman.

Poor lad lost the love of his life, inseparable, never seen one without the other. Nobody involved wants to see him serve time for the accident. Chin up pal

So now we have a different perspective on the case, one even more tragic. A young woman has passed away and the driver, the love of her life and her the love of his, is potentially partially responsible. But Cameron has also lost something and will be suffering also, as will his family.

In addition to which, Cameron is now under police investigation, on top of his grief. But this is the social media age and, again going from the comments, it does seem like the community has thrown anger and insults his way.

Because he’s under investigation, Cameron won’t have been able to do anything pretty much; life in stasis until the investigation is concluded and the system has done what it’s meant to do. Some will argue “serves him right”, others will say, as Georgie alleges above “Nobody involved wants to see him serve time for the accident” .

This is strong justification for an impartial, objective justice system to handle the case as swiftly as possible.

Which is why it’s a shame the case doesn’t progress until:

24th November 2020

So now over a YEAR has gone by.

Hannah’s family dealing with their grief, Cameron’s with theirs. I imagine all sides will be wanting closure and to move on as best they can.

And yet, we have the justice system, under-funded after years of cuts by both political parties in the UK, unable to handle the case in a timely manner. Now, obviously, the Covid pandemic will be a feature in the delay but as the above linked 2018 Guardian story shows, the under-funding of the Justice System has been a constant for many years. See the quotes below from 2018:

“when the Ministry of Justice has suffered the deepest cuts of any Whitehall department
and closed more than 220 courts across England and Wales.”

“Given that the MoJ is facing the deepest budget cuts of any government department…”

So November 2020 roles around and Cameron is charged with Death by Dangerous driving (links to local Chronicle news report). He was due to appear before magistrates on December 7th 2020.

7th December 2020

As per Choronicle reporting Cameron appeared in Magistrates court and the case was passed along to the Crown Court due to the seriousness of the charge. This doesn’t take place until February 2021.

Fast forward to:

19th February 2021

Again, as per Chronicle reporting, Cameron made a “brief appearance” in the Crown Court where:

Judge Christopher Prince told him: “A sentence of immediate custody is inevitable
in this case so put your affairs in order in preparation for that sentence being imposed.”

Cameron is due back for sentencing on May 10th 2021.

Whilst I understand Judge Prince’s use of language here, meaining it is likely that Cameron will go straight from court to prison on May 10th, his use of the term “immediate” for a case that, by the time of sentencing, will have been on-going for 587 days, is laughable.


At this point both Hannah and Cameron’s families have been waiting for closure for a ridiculous amount of time, causing an in-humane amount of suffering on both sides. I can imagine all involved, including Cameron, will be wanting this case to be over.

587 days

Let that figure sit with you for a while.

Five hundred and eighty seven days.

From the arrest of the “22 year old male” until the time of that persons’ sentencing in court.

How can we as a society truly say that “Justice is being done” when we have a system that delays closure for the families of all involved for over 580 days?

Imagine being ANYONE affected by this case and having to wait for the wheels of justice to grind slowly around to you.

How can any politican claim we have a Justice System that works for the people when it can take nearly 600 days to investigate and pass sentence on a Road Traffic Collision for a defendent who pleaded guilty?

My review of “Fake Law: The Truth about Justice in the Age of Lies” by the Secret Barrister

Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cannot emphasise enough how vital reading this book is to understanding the reality of the press, the government, the justice system & the people in modern day Britain.

The Secret Barrister takes many high-profile news stories from the UK press and breaks down the hype the media generated compared to the legal reality in the courtroom. This is done in a comprehensive and easy to understand manner, with elements of humour to grease the wheels along the way.

It is to the Secret Barrister’s credit that they do not shy away from the difficult cases; from the prorogation of Parliament to the care of Alfie Evans, they analyse the context, furor and legal realities of each. Also tackled are the Legal Aid system, employment law and more.

Ministers who have worked for governments of both parties come under The Secret Barrister’s judgmental gaze and they take no prisoners. Indeed, by the end of certain chapters there are certain names the very mention of whom should draw your ire (looking at Chris Grayling in particular here).

Seriously, please take time out to read/listen to this book. You will understand modern Britain more thoroughly and be able to cut through the chaff of day to day news stories to find what really happened.

Highly recommended.

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

The UK’s slow descent into authoritarianism.

Looking out for you????

In the throws of a pandemic, on the 24th September 2020 the UK Government introduced this “Spycops” bill into Parliament.

The gist of the Bill, as I understand it, is for agents of the state to obtain permission for their CHIS (Covert Human Intelligence Sources) to commit crimes. The person commiting these crimes would then be free from legal recourse as their crimes were legally authorised. There is currently no restriction in the bill on WHAT these crimes can be.

Writing on “The Phantom Whippy” stated the following:

“The fact that the amendment features absolutely no restrictions on the criminal actions which agents can take whether it be murder, torture, etc is not only beyond terrifying but it is baffling.”

“This amendment is incredibly dangerous for the public. It is pushing towards levels of authoritarianism reminiscent of medieval England. Not only is this bill incredibly authoritarian it is a point of no return, once a government has legal methods to justify any killing they choose to do that can only end badly. As stated by multiple people already, the rule of law must be equal.”

I fully recommend reading the above article on SecJuice as it includes the text of the Bill as it stood in November.

Thankfully, it seems the “ping-pong” passage of the Bill between the Commons and the Lords has forced the government to introduce safeguards that weren’t in the Bill as it was originally presented to Parliament.

The Bill is nearly done. So a major concern for members of the public is “What crimes can the state now commit against us?” After all, a government wouldn’t legislate excessive harm against its citizens right? (that was sarcastic).

The UK Government has been reluctant in limiting what an undercover source, authorised under the CHIS 2021 Bill could do. Reading the latest debates in the HOL it seems that the reasons given for NOT restricting what crimes a State Authorised Source (CHIS) can commit was to avoid putting the CHIS in danger. The thinking being:

  • Handler obtains permission for CHIS (undercover operative) to break law
  • Permission given,subject to list of crimes that CHIS absolutely cannot do
  • CHIS put in difficult situation with “BAD PEOPLE”
  • “BAD PEOPLE” knowing what’s on the “absolutely cannot do” list, ask CHIS to do an act on that list (violence, murder, rape etc).
  • CHIS refuses, is thus outed as a spy for the poilice/other department of the state and is brutalised or killed.

So Government doesn’t want there to be any restrictions on what CHIS can do. That this is farcical on its face is neither here nore there. If someone is CHIS, one assumes they are good enough at it to come up with several reasons for refusing the request to commit crimes asked of them.

The Government insists that nothing that’s against the HUMAN RIGHTS ACT will be authorised.

In addition there are concerns about the oversights of the powers once applied for, the back and forth between the authorising body and the person requesting the powers. It seems the requests the government are asking for are going to be more limited in reality then we really should desire.

In the latest minutes from the House of Lords on this bill, Lord Paddick is down as saying:

“Not only can the police or security services continue to task a source to commit a crime against the independent determination of a senior judge, but that source has complete legal immunity, despite the judicial commissioner saying that the criminal conduct authority should never have been granted. If ever there was evidence of a Government simply giving operational partners whatever they asked for, whatever the consequences, this Bill is it.”

On top of that Baroness Kidron highlighted how, in reality it’s entirely possible that 16/17 year old undercover sources are going to be put in very difficult positions without adult supervision due to lack of insistance in regulations that this be done. Kidron also highlighted:

…My, albeit reluctant, view was that the best way in which to protect children from being exploited by gangs was to allow the possibility of a child CHIS but to shroud the process in robust protections. We have failed to do that for 16 and 17 year-olds.

This is a failure of which the Front Bench of the Official Opposition in the other place should be ashamed, given that they have not fought for it. I am further disappointed that the Government have used their majority to walk through the Lobby rather than to protect the citizens they are elected to serve—in this case, vulnerable children being made more vulnerable at the behest of the state. All that is being asked here is that every child has an appropriate adult whose role is to make sure that what the child is being asked to do meets the bar of exceptional circumstances, and is understood, agreed to without pressure and in their best interests (my emphasis)

Lord Adonis, a man who has shown himself in…er…often problematic lights on Twitter made a good contribution in the Lords debate:

“If this House does not exist to see that murder, rape and torture cannot be committed by agents of the state, then I am at a loss to understand why we are here at all.”

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb further stated:

“This Bill provides blanket legal protection for undercover police and their informants—who could be criminals—for crimes with pre-authorised immunity.”

Arguing for the government, one of the sponsors of the Bill, Baroness Williams of Trafford responded to concerns:

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, raised the reporting of the recent Court of Appeal hearing as to whether MI5 had authorised offences as serious as murder; the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, also mentioned this.

I have been clear throughout that the Bill does not provide a licence to kill and that our commitment to the safeguards in this Bill is firm. All authorisations issued under the Bill must comply with the Human Rights Act or they will be unlawful. I can therefore confirm and place on record that the Human Rights Act binds all authorised activity of undercover agents, alongside the state itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked me a specific question to which he required a specific answer: could I commit to there being no authorisation of murder, torture or rape? Obviously, I cannot be drawn on the crimes that can or cannot be authorised, for reasons that have been stated throughout the course of this Bill, but I note that all authorisations must be necessary and proportionate and must comply with the Human Rights Act. The independent IPC will be notified and see every authorisation in as close to real time as possible.

Baroness Williams does highlight that some portions of this bill are “closed” for security reasons and will be seen not by MPs but but PM Johnson and Home Secretary Patel only.

Given that, very recently, Patel has been chastised by numerous charities over her treatment of asylum seekers in Napier Barracks and PM Johnson is currently a great deal responsbile for the UK having one of the worst death rates from Covid 19 in the world, alongside many other things, I doubt their judgement in the attention to details in the CLOSED portions of the Bill.

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill 2021 as it passes, and it is going to pass, won’t change things overnight. But now the state has more powers than it did before.

Bad actors in the State, and as we are all human there will be some, will use the powers in the Bill to excuse themselves when committing injustices.

I believe that the state this SpyCops bills was in during the original reading of the Bill in September 2020 was abhorrent. The bill has changed in a big way since then. It is still far from ideal and its passage, and the lack of pressure from the Labour front bench, is a HUGE stain on Keir Starmer’s leadership in my opinon.

The Bill as it passes now contains safeguards and restrictions that weren’t in existence in September. However, that this government, a government that hates unions and wants to create a “British Bill of Rights” seemingly lesser than the rights we enjoy at the moment, is inisisting that “Human Rights Act” bind the state, when it does not bind the Home Office in other affairs is blatantly seethrough.

Anatomy of a press release

Today (3rd February 2021) Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, ‘unveiled’ the British Government’s intention’s with regards to it’s State Aid scheme. I feel the manner with which he chose to do so, and the content of the press release itself, bears some analysis in “post-Brexit Britain”.

First, here’s the announcement:

Notice the primary link was to The Telegraph

Just two tweets and already I need to unpack some things:

  • Primary link wasn’t to the announcement itself, but to a favourable write up in government supporting news paper. That’s concerning when the general public are relying on the journalism sector for critical analysis of policy.
  • Notice the dig at “bureaucratic EU”. Bureaucracy is the administration of government policies. It’s a ‘necessary evil’ of our modern age.
    • Kwarteng’s implication that “EU Bureaucracy” is bad but this system we’re now setting up will be much more nimble would be a lot more believable IF the British government hadn’t just VOLUNTARILY created MOUNTAINS of its hated “Bureaucracy” and “Red Tape” through a terribly managed exit from the EU.

I’m going to put the Telegraph’s fawning coverage to one side for the moment and look at the announcement itself.

Firstly, as a lay-person, initially it is unclear what’s actually been announced to the general public.

Going by the headline “Business Secretary sets out new subsidies system that works for the UK“, it sounds like the new subsidy system is ready to go and open for applications but, as we will see, that is not quite the case.

This Press Release, as expected from the Johnson administration, is really preaching to the Brexit crowds. I honestly feel for the soul of the people tasked to write it, unless they are true-Brexit believers in which case I hope they see the hurt that Brexit is causing sometime soon.

 new UK-wide system for providing more flexible and tailored financial support to businesses has been set out under plans by the Business Secretary today (Wednesday 3 February), taking advantage of the UK’s newfound freedoms as an independent trading nation.

The new subsidy control system, which will be the long-term replacement for the EU’s prescriptive state aid regime, will allow the UK to be more dynamic in providing support to businesses, including in innovative, R&D-focused industries, to encourage job creation and growth across all parts of the UK.

Previously, public authorities had to follow a bureaucratic, detailed set of EU controls – and may have needed prior approval from the European Commission before providing vital funds to viable businesses or pursuing key domestic policy objectives.

So, first three paragraphs of this release and we see again that this “new UK-wide system for providing Flexible and tailored financial support…has been set out” So we have our buzzwords here that I’ve put in bold.

Except this system…er…hasn’t been “set out”, it’s not linked from the press release anywhere. For something that’s being announced that’s weird. We’ll see what has actually been set-out later on.

Let’s just bounce over these Brexit buzzwords: FREEDOMS and INDEPENDENT TRADING NATION. and focus on the fact that there’s going to be a new subsidy system. Kwasi Kwartend hasn’t announced anything revolutionary here, a state aid system was anticipaticated since we left the EU.

Our new system will replace the “EU’s prescriptive state aid regime” and this will allow us to be “dynamic and “innovative”, to encourage “job creation and growth” and already I’m so over-loaded with Brexit Bingo Buzzwords that I need a lie down.

The Cambridge dictionary defines “Prescriptive” as:

saying exactly what must happen, especially by giving an instruction or making a rule

So is our new system, that’s replacing “EU Bureauacrcy” remember, not going to say what must happen? Is it going to be less rules based?

Of course not, as anyone currently dealing with any form of UK governemnt department will attest to.

For me, the most explicit recent examples of this have been provided by Daniel Lambert who runs his own wine business and has been writing about trying to sell wine post-brexit “Brexit has severely damaged the Wine trade FOREVER.” is his expert opinion. I recommend reading his threaded tweets to see the reality of dealing with the government in 2021

PM Johnson’s government has put up walls and dramatically increased bureaucracy and costs for the fishing industry; fashion industry; cheese industry and more. So any claims about reducing “red-tape” and costs have to be viewed in that context.

We move on to paragraph three and run headlong into more buzzwords “bureaucratic, detailed set of EU controls”.

Ah, so our replacement controls are going to be better just by being British?

Again, please note that the government is pushing the idea that having to fill in forms is a bad thing and not just an accepted part of every day life. Also note the heavy lifting that “may” is doing in this next sentence; you “may” have had to, but it doesn’t clarify on how likely being referred was/is.

Quick sidenote: obviously it’s the DESIGN of the buraucracy that makes it good or bad.
Is it easy to use and understand?
How long is it going to take to complete?
How much is it going to cost me?

Next paragraphs four, five and six of the press release:

Under the proposed UK system, local authorities, public bodies and the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast will be empowered to decide if they can issue taxpayer subsidies by following a set of UK-wide principles. These principles will ensure subsidies are designed in such a way that they deliver strong benefits and good value for money for the UK taxpayer, while being awarded in a timely and effective way.

The new system will be designed to be more flexible, agile and tailored to support business growth and innovation as well as maintain a competitive market economy and protect the UK internal market. At the same time, it will help protect against wasteful spending.

The system would also better enable the government to deliver on key priorities such as levelling up economic growth in the regions, tackling climate change, as well as supporting our economic recovery as we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Principles? Sounds prescriptive to me…

Ok, so there’s some detail here:

Access to taxpayer cash is going to be through “local authorities, public bodies and the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.” Now forgive me if I’m being naieve but I have to assume that there’s going to be some bureaucracy involved in accessing this cash? Like, you won’t be able to just ask for it and get it? Obviously not becuase the next paragraph, and forgive me for laughing as I type this, says these plans will “protect against wasteful spending”.

That this government, of ALL governments, DARE try and pretend that they care about wasting taxpayer cash when they are headed by a Prime Minster who wasted £40 million on the Garden Bridge sceheme when Mayor of London and then, most appallingly, refused to particpate in the review of the scheme.

This government, who has been so openly corrupt the National Audit Office called them out on it back in November:

A recent National Audit Office report revealed that suppliers put on a “VIP list” — through recommendations by ministers, MPs or senior officials — were 10 times more likely to receive contracts. A small family company selling pest control supplies, called Pestfix, received a deal worth £350m after being put on that list due to an “error”, the report disclosed.

Another NAO report last week disclosed that 195m pieces of PPE had turned out to be unusable while the government had ended up paying £10bn more than it would have done if it had bought the kit a year earlier.

So paragraphs five and six of the press release are pretty much buzzword bingo, including the claim that that they’re going to protect taxpayer money. Oh please, do stop, my sides are aching from laughing so much. But yes, we get levelling up; supporting recovery; flexible; agile; growth; innovation etc etc.

Let’s move on:

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said:

    This is a significant milestone on our historic journey as an independent, sovereign nation.

    Our new, more flexible system will empower public authorities and devolved administrations, and ensure fair competition for businesses across the UK.

    Now we have taken back control of our money and laws from the EU, we want to use our newfound freedoms to propel the UK to the forefront of innovation and help create the jobs of the future, while also making the UK the best place to start and grow a business.

    With a modern, tailored approach to supporting businesses, we will also be able to press ahead with our long-term ambitions to tackle climate change and to level up opportunity as we build back better from the pandemic.

The system will ensure the UK honours its international obligations under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement and other free trade agreements, and will not be a return to the 1970s approach of government trying to run the economy or bailing out unsustainable companies.

The consultation will seek views from businesses and public authorities on a number of areas, including:

    whether the UK should apply its own additional principles on subsidy control, as well as those set out in the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement
    how best to ensure transparency across the system
    the possible roles and responsibilities of the independent body that will oversee the new system
    how this independent body could have some role in supporting enforcement of the principles, alongside normal judicial review standards

Here we are, halfway down the press release and it’s there, the big one, the king of all buzzwords: taken back control .

Phew, wouldn’t be able to recognise a press release from Johnson’s goverment otherwise. We also get levelling up (again); build back better; tackle climate change etc etc. All empty slogans at this point.

We also finally reach what’s ACTUALLY been launched today. Kwasi Kwarteng has actually launched a CONSULTATION on the new state aid scheme, not the scheme itself. Whilst a logical part of the process, from the way the press release has been framed, to the way the Telegraph article has been written, you’d assume we’re all ready to go.

Instead, the government has announced a consultation period. Theoretically a good thing but seeing as how badly consulting with people went for the Brexit negotiations and deal, I’m sceptical over whether this government will be actually listen. Still, I would recommned you visit the site and add your input.

Looking at this section also, it’s clear to see that, well, there’s definitely going to have to be bureaucracy involved, and our scheme is also going to have to be fairly prescriptive if we have to follow “World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement and other free trade agreements” . Sounds quite complicated to me.

It’s also clear from looking at the bullet points, that this system is in its early stages and nowhere near ready for the prime time yet. If the government don’t even know “how to best ensure transparancy across the system” then surely this is has to be in the the early stages?

Of course, we all know the government’s idea of transparency: Have none at all.

Final secion:

So, despite the earlier claims of avoiding paperwork, helping companies be flexible and all that, it turns out that this is going to be a complex and require a great deal of work and effort to ensure that providing state aid to one company or sector isn’t putting another to harm.

So what’s the takeaway from this press release?

Well, that the announcement was actually for a consulation period and not for the new state aid system that is going to be hugely complex and, despite claims, is going to involve a great deal of paperwork and bureaucracy.

The government are hoping that as you read the press release you forget about everything they’ve done since coming to power and how they’ve squandered £millions upon £millions of “taxpayer” money.

Instead this government wants you to approach its every utterance with a blank slate of a brain, open to swallowing the buzz words and nationalism as you follow them into oblivion.

Please, I implore, do not do that.

Bye Bye Trump

To celebrate Biden’s Inauguration today, it seems apt to briefly reflect on what an utter awful mess the last four years of the Trump administration has been.

Thankfully, in this modern era, I don’t have to do this myself (although I would like to), because others more talented than I have done so.

First to the outstanding Randy Rainbow (links to his twitter feed). If you haven’t happened across Randy before, you’re in for a treat:

Randy at their best

Then for a more serious review of the last four years, you can trust the Some More News team to bring the goods and boy did they:

An hour long but wow

As Cody points out in the video, looking back it’s utterly insane how Trump’s presidency started with affairs and lies which is what started to collapse the Clinton administration. Though, in history repeating, in both cases (Clinton and Trump) the Senate refused to impeach the President of their own party.

The writer of this blog is exceedingly happy to be able to say:

Bye Trump.

Anatomy of a News Story

Aka: How a news article can manipulate you

For this article I want to look at a particular story, published on the Chronicle Live website. The story was highlighted by the all powerful algorithm that curates my Facebook feed.

Screenshot of Newcastle Chronicle Misleading headling showing up on my Facebook feed. Claiming “Millions of people could receive a Universal Credit Bonus Payment”.

What struck me about the headline was how deliberately misleading it is. There is NO bonus payment. None. And I’m sure the journalist writing the story knows this.

Thankfully, earlier on in the day I had seen the following tweet thread from Steven Swinford, the Deputy Political Editor for The Times:

Steven Swinford setting out the fight to avoid giving money to people out of work.

When I saw the Chronicle story on my FB feed, I already had a rough idea what was actually happening. Which meant I was able to take a step back and study the story.

So how does The Chronicle mislead its readers?

Story from the Chronicle website claiming people on Universal Credit are due to receive a £500 bonus payment.

It's lies.
Look how many times the word “bonus” appears here.

The Chronicle knows that the issue of “benefits” and “scroungers on benefits” is an emotional one in the UK after so many years of Conservative governments. So Neil here has chosen to lead this story with the headline that people on “benefits” might get a £500 bonus, knowing hat many of its readers will react to that with dismay/anger. They are priming you for an emotional reaction.

Neil begins his story with a quote from a mysterious DWP spokesperson stating that people could be due a bonus payment of £500.

From the Cambridge English Dictionary defintion of bonus:

an extra amount of money that is given to you as a
present or reward for good work as well as the money you were expecting:

*a productivity bonus
*a Christmas bonus

The company used to give discretionary bonus payments.

So the Chronicle is implying that people on Universal Credit will receive a £500 “present” or “reward”.

This will lead many of their readers to react with a varient of “What for?!?!” or “WHY?!” as evidenced by the comments on the FB post, linked to at the start of this article.

Let’s read on:

Have you been keeping track of how many times the idea of a bonus payment has been repeated by now? It’s 6 by the end of the second sentence.

It’s not until a couple of sentences later that the audience reaches the real perspective on this issue: “An uplift in benefits which is worth £20 a week, or £1,000 a year, is due to end in April.” (my emphasis).

“The £500 payment is seen as part of the soloution…”

Here’s the reality then.

Following the headline, multiple references to “bonus payment”, the title-card for their video and more, people who haven’t already switched off in annoyed disgust finally see some truth to the article.

The actuality is that it’s not a bonus at all. Instead of keeping the increase to Universal Credit of £1,040 a year, the government wants to CUT that completely but give the recipients a one-off £500 payment NOW as a sweetner.

So the headline and first screen, past which many people won’t go, was deliberately designed to mislead and produce an emotional response.

The Chronicle, like many “local” papers these days, knows this is how many people consume news these days. Indeed, it seems to me that headlines are now THE focus on the story. Intended to produce an instincual reaction so that you will act on social media, which will get more eyes on the story and, more importantly for for Reach plc, the advertising.

(yes I’m aware I just explained click-bait, I apologise but it fits this post).

Look at those reactions and shares…

The downside? It seems to work.

Let’s look at some of the responses to the FB post:

“What about…”

Notice how all 3 here (there are others) start with “What about?”

By implying that some section of society might recieve a (non-existent bonus) people react on impulse. That’s what the Chronicle wanted. It’s also what Sunak (and the media handlers at the Treasury) want, people fighting amongst themselves, rather than paying closer attention to what the government is actually doing.

The Chronicle story does go on to provide more details on the actual situation but by now the ‘damage’ is done.

So how else could this story be phrased? I personally would suggest:

“Government conisdering ending £1,040 Universal Credit uplift.
Plans for one-off £500 payment instead.”

However, that doesn’t acheive the goal of “emotional response”, or “driving engagement” that I imagine the Chronicle’s analytics team want.

By focusing on the article’s intended audience’s dislike of people receiving a bonus they don’t “deserve”, the Chronicle starts by framing this story so as to mislead, safely in the knowledge that they do EVENTUALLY get to the reality of the situation. However far too many wil have switched off by then.

The moral of this article? Always read the whole story.