Category Archives: crime

45 million fake £1 coins in circulation – and how to spot a fake pound coin.

This great feature came from The Bolton News. They show you how to spot a fake £ coin after the BBC announced yesterday there were as many as an eye-popping 45 million of them in circulation

 

WITH about 45 million fake pound coins in circulation and a suspected counterfeiter on the loose in Bolton, we have put together a handy guide on how to spot a forgery.

It comes as chancellor George Osborne announces that a new £1 coin, designed to help reduce counterfeiting, will be introduced in 2017.

Spotting a fake £coin

Mr Osborne revealed plans to introduce the new coin — billed by the Royal Mint as “the most secure coin in the world”— in his budget statement to the House of Commons.

In the meantime, check the pound coins in your own wallet and look for these tell-tale signs of a fake:

  • The date and design on the reverse do not match (the reverse design is changed each year).
  • The lettering or inscription on the edge of the coin does not correspond to the right year.
  • The milled edge is poorly defined and the lettering is uneven in depth, spacing or is poorly formed.
  • The obverse and reverse designs are not as sharp or well defined.
  • Where the coin should have been in circulation for some time, the colouring appears more shiny and golden and the coin shows no sign of age.
  • The colour of the coin does not match genuine coins.
  • The orientation of the obverse and reverse designs is not in line.

Apparent Theft at Mt. Gox Shakes Bitcoin World

Looks like hackers may have put paid to the bitcoin. Six percent of them have been stolen. More than just a bit as this article from the New York Times suggests

Will People Get Their Bitcoins Back?

Garrick Hileman, an economic historian at the London School of Economics, discusses on CNBC the potential impact on Bitcoin by the disappearance of the Mt. Gox exchange.

The most prominent Bitcoin exchange appeared to be on the verge of collapse late Monday, raising questions about the future of a volatile marketplace.

On Monday night, a number of leading Bitcoin companies jointly announced that Mt. Gox, the largest exchange for most of Bitcoin’s existence, was planning to file for bankruptcy after months of technological problems and what appeared to have been a major theft. A document circulating widely in the Bitcoin world said the company had lost 744,000 Bitcoins in a theft that had gone unnoticed for years. That would be about 6 percent of the 12.4 million Bitcoins in circulation.

While Mt. Gox did not respond to numerous requests for comments, and the companies issuing the statement scrambled to determine the exact situation at Mt. Gox, which is based in Japan, the news helped push the price of a single Bitcoin below $500 for the first time since November, when it began a spike that took it above againContinue reading Apparent Theft at Mt. Gox Shakes Bitcoin World

Chinese Implicated in Agricultural Espionage Efforts

This interesting  piece is from The New York Times . We tend to think of China as an industrial thief of other peoples’ intellectual property but apparently  it now crosses over into pastures new…..

 

Corn seedlings in a research greenhouse at Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont, in Johnston, Iowa. Daniel Acker for The New York Times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The case of the missing corn seeds first broke in May 2011 when a manager at a DuPont research farm in east-central Iowa noticed a man on his knees, digging up the field. When confronted, the man, Mo Hailong, who was with his colleague Wang Lei, appeared flushed. Mr. Mo told the manager that he worked for the University of Iowa and was traveling to a conference nearby. When the manager paused to answered his cellphone, the two men sped off in a car, racing through a ditch to get away, federal authorities said.

What ensued was about a year of F.B.I. surveillance of Mr. Mo and his associates, all but one of whom worked for the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group or its subsidiary Kings Nower Seed. The result was the arrest of Mr. Mo last December and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens on charges of stealing trade secrets in what the authorities and agriculture experts have called an unusual and brazen scheme to undercut expensive, time-consuming research.

China has long been implicated in economic espionage efforts involving aviation technology, paint formulas and financial data. Chinese knockoffs of fashion accessories have long held a place in the mainstream. B Continue reading Chinese Implicated in Agricultural Espionage Efforts

Fury as experts say Ecstasy is harmless | Mail Online

I have been having this long (and interesting) debate with my teenage daughter about whether or not drugs should be legalised. She is adamant that MDMA is harmless. The Daily Mail think otherwise…..

one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
molly, e, mdma: one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small

Controversial claims that Ecstasy may not be dangerous and that its adverse effects could be imaginary caused outrage yesterday.
A research team criticised ‘biased’ studies which said the drug causes long-term brain damage and mental problems.
But other experts and parents of Ecstasy victims were horrified by the claims, made in The Psychologist magazine, pointing out that dozens of people die after taking the drug every year.
Paul Riddell, whose 23-year-old son Graham died last year after taking the drug, said their conclusions are ‘ridiculous’.
‘Ecstasy boils the blood and organs,’ said Mr Riddell, 48, of Normanton, West Yorkshire.
‘If it is doing that to the organs, what is it doing to the brain? My son lost his life after taking it on a night out – how can it possibly not be dangerous?’
In July, the Daily Mail told how deaths from the Class A drug have doubled to 56 in the past year, with some young people dying after a single tablet.
The shocking figures, compiled by the independent drug monitoring unit at St George’s Hospital in London, came as Ecstasy claimed its youngest victim, ten-year-old Jade Slack, from Lancaster. She accidentally swallowed five pills she found at a friend’s house.
But researchers Dr Jon Cole and Harry Sumnall, of Liverpool University, and Professor Charles Grob, a director in psychiatry at the Harbor-UCLA medical centre in California, claim the adverse effects of Ecstasy could be imaginary and brought about by the widely held belief that the drug causes long-term harm.
They say this belief has come about through flawed research.
They say that many psychological problems begin in adolescence anyway, Continue reading Fury as experts say Ecstasy is harmless | Mail Online

Panorama: Did Fifa officials and Jack Warner protest too much over bribes? | Metro.co.uk

I had to say I was surprised that the BBC panorama team had chosen this exact moment to publish their findings about corruption within the FIFA organisation. We are a mere 48 hours away from the 2018 World Cup decision. They could have revealed the story last month, or in one month’s time. Enough to make you think that the whole business has been engineered to thwart England’s chances of hosting the World Cup in 2018 — and if not then what other motive from intelligent people like the BBC panorama editorial team?

Whistleblowing may be all the rage at the moment, but this Panorama exposé was dividing opinion long before it aired on Monday night.

Did the programme actually present new evidence, or was it just a facetious re-hash of existing information timed to damage England’s chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup?

In the opening moments, Jeremy Vine admitted that allegations of bribery within the organisation were nothing new, but he promised that the fearless Andrew Jennings had damning new evidence against Fifa.

And he had indeed obtained a document that apparently listed almost two hundred secret payments made in the 1990s by a sports marketing company called International Sports and Leisure (ISL) to Fifa.

One of the Fifa officials named was Paraguayan Nicolas Leoz – but as Jennings conceded, he has already been exposed as having accepted two previous bribes, so this was not exactly brand new information.

Fellow Fifa bosses Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira also came under fire, but it was Vice-President Jack Warner who was presented as the real villain, accused of involvement in the re-sale of World Cup tickets on the black market.

Jennings ran around the world, haranguing the accused and getting nothing but vitriol in return. Warner even called Jennings ‘garbage’ and expressed his desire to spit on the journalist in a stunning display of over-defensiveness.

However, since Jennings mentioned that he had already uncovered Warner’s underhand activity following the 2006 World Cup, once again the allegations hardly constitute new information.

Compelling evidence it may have been, but the revelations simply weren’t revelatory enough to warrant Jennings’ smugness at having televised them.

So, will Fifa prove its annoyance at this English journalist and deny his countrymen victory in three days’ time?

The truth is, the significance of this Panorama programme may not yet be apparent.

via Panorama: Did Fifa officials and Jack Warner protest too much over bribes? | Metro.co.uk.

Guatemala elects a new president and his name is Charlie.

This disturbing article from the Washington Post, which consistently knocks British papers into a cocked hat for the quality of its reportage, shows that Mexican drug gangs have become a force powerful enough to subvert the progress of democracy in Central America.

SAN SALVADOR — Drug cartel violence in Mexico is quickly spilling south into Central America and is threatening to destabilize fragile countries already rife with crime and corruption, according to the United Nations, U.S. officials and regional law enforcement agents.

The Northern Triangle of Central America — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — has long been a major smuggling corridor for contraband heading to the United States. But as Mexican President Felipe Calderón fights a U.S.-backed war against his nation’s drug lords, trafficking networks are burrowing deeper into a region with the highest murder rates in the world.

The Mexican cartels “are spreading their horizons to states where they feel, quite frankly, more comfortable. These governments in Central America face a very real challenge in confronting these organizations,” said David Gaddis, chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

U.S. attention has mostly focused on Mexico. But the homicide rate there — 14 for every 100,000 residents — is dwarfed by the murder statistics in the Northern Triangle, where per-capita killings are four times higher and rising.

In El Salvador, the region’s most violent country, homicides jumped 37 percent last year, to 71 murders per 100,000 residents, as warring gangs vied for territory and trafficking routes. Police and military officials in El Salvador said cartels are increasingly paying local smugglers in product, rather than cash, driving up cocaine use and the drug dealing and turf battles that come with it.

“The more pressure there is in Mexico, the more the drug cartels will come to Central America looking for a safe haven,” Gen. David Munguía Payés, El Salvador’s defense minister, said in an interview here.

The amount of cocaine moving through the region has risen sharply, although the overall volume entering the United States is falling. Cocaine seizures in Central America nearly quadrupled between 2004 and 2007, according to the most recent U.N. data.

The United States has allocated $258 million in anti-narcotics assistance for Central America since 2007 as part of the three-year, $1.6 billion Merida Initiative. But a report this month by the Government Accountability Office found that only 9 percent of the money promised under the initiative has been spent and that U.S. officials had no reliable way to determine whether it was making a difference in the drug war.

‘A paradise for criminals’

In remote, lawless regions of Guatemala, the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Zetas is setting up training camps and recruiting elite ex-soldiers to serve as assassins, arming them with weapons diverted from the country’s military arsenals.

Last month, four human heads were left near the Guatemalan Congress and elsewhere in the capital. The national police spokesman, Donald González, said the grisly display was the work of the Zetas and other Mexican traffickers.

“Guatemala has become a paradise for criminals, who have little to fear from prosecutors owing to high levels of impunity,” the International Crisis Group, a conflict research organization, said in a June report. “High-profile assassinations and the government’s inability to reduce murders have produced paralyzing fear, a sense of helplessness and frustration.”

Over the past two years, Guatemala’s top anti-narcotics official, two national police chiefs and the former president have been arrested on charges related to drug trafficking or corruption. Two former interior ministers are fugitives. In May, the Guatemalan president appointed, then removed after international protests, an attorney general who U.N. prosecutors say has ties to mobsters.

In Honduras, where a military coup last year toppled the president, Mexican cartels have established command-and-control centers to orchestrate cocaine shipments by sea and air along the still-wild Caribbean coast, often with the help of local authorities, according to DEA and U.N. officials. Ten anti-narcotics officers were caught smuggling 142 kilos of cocaine last July. In December, Honduras’s drug czar, Gen. Julián Arístides González, was killed after trying to shut down clandestine landing strips Continue reading Guatemala elects a new president and his name is Charlie.

People are now dying to get on cheap flights.

Only in Liverpool. Two women try to smuggle a corpse onto their easyjet flight, The Ottawa Citizen reports. Obviously these low cost flights are now producing some stiff competition.


LONDON — Two women allegedly put their dead relative in a wheelchair, dressed him in sunglasses and claimed he was simply asleep as they tried to check in at Liverpool airport for a flight to Germany.

The women convinced a taxi driver that 91-year-old Curt Willi Jarant was well enough for the 45-minute drive to the airport.

However, when they arrived, staff at John Lennon Airport in Liverpool noticed something was wrong.

Andrew Millea, a worker who greeted the group with a wheelchair, said one of the women asked for help lifting her father from the car.

“I did my best to help by lifting the man from his seat,” he said. “To my horror his face fell sideways against mine, it was ice-cold. I knew straight away that the man was dead, but they reassured me that he ‘always sleeps like that.’

“I could see the driver of the taxi was shocked too, he was white as a sheet and looked very shaken, so I placed the body into the wheelchair and pushed the man to the back of the easyJet queue.”

Millea contacted security who tried to check the man’s pulse, but were ushered away by the women. He claimed the younger woman, who was with two children, “encouraged them to ’tell the man that’s how your grandad sleeps’”.

When officials established that the man was dead, one of the women asked if she could still board the flight.

The German women are thought to have decided to sneak Jarant — thought to have died of natural causes — on the flight rather than pay up to $7,650 in repatriation fees for the body.

Police arrested Jarant’s wife, Gitta, 66, and his stepdaughter, Anke Anusic, 44, on suspicion of failing to give notification of death.

Police sources suggested that Mr Jarant died from natural causes on Good Friday – 24 hours before his arrival at the airport. Anusic said: “They would think that for 24 hours we would carry a dead person? This is ridiculous. He was moving, he was breathing. Eight people saw him.”

We are buying fake food at inflated prices.

This nicely written story by Lyndsey Layton appeared in the Washington Post this week. Americans have been disguising food as something more upmarket and selling it at vastly inflated prices. “Sturgeon caviar” was, in fact, Mississippi paddlefish. I bet it happens in the UK.

The expensive “sheep’s milk” cheese in a Manhattan market was really made from cow’s milk. And a jar of “Sturgeon caviar” was, in fact, Mississippi paddlefish.
Some honey makers dilute their honey with sugar beets or corn syrup, their competitors say, but still market it as 100 percent pure at a premium price.
And last year, a Fairfax man was convicted of selling 10 million pounds of cheap, frozen catfish fillets from Vietnam as much more expensive grouper, red snapper and flounder. The fish was bought by national chain retailers, wholesalers and food service companies, and ended up on dinner plates across the country.
“Food fraud” has been documented in fruit juice, olive oil, spices, vinegar, wine, spirits and maple syrup, and appears to pose a significant problem in the seafood industry. Victims range from the shopper at the local supermarket to multimillion companies, including E&J Gallo and Heinz USA.
Such deception has been happening since Roman times, but it is getting new attention as more products are imported and a tight economy heightens competition. And the U.S. food industry says federal regulators are not doing enough to combat it.
“It’s growing very rapidly, and there’s more of it than you might think,” said James Morehouse, a senior partner at A.T. Kearney Inc., which is studying the issue for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the food and beverage industry.
John Spink, an expert on food and packaging fraud at Michigan State University, estimates that 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. food supply is affected but acknowledges the number could be greater. “We know what we seized at the border, but we have no idea what we didn’t seize,” he said.
The job of ensuring that food is accurately labeled largely rests with the Food and Drug Administration. But it has been overwhelmed in trying to prevent food contamination, and fraud has remained on a back burner.
The recent development of high-tech tools — including DNA testing — has made it easier to detect fraud that might have gone unnoticed a decade ago. DNA can be extracted from cells of fish and meat and from other foods, such as rice and even coffee. Technicians then identify the species by comparing the DNA to a database of samples.
Another tool, isotope ratio analysis, can determine subtle differences between food — whether a fish was farmed or wild, for example, or whether caviar came from Finland or a U.S. stream.
The techniques have become so accessible that two New York City high school students, working with scientists at the Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History last year, discovered after analyzing DNA in 11 of 66 foods — including the sheep’s milk cheese and caviar — bought randomly at markets in Manhattan were mislabeled.
“We put so much emphasis on food and purity of ingredients and where they come from,” said Mark Stoeckle, a physician and DNA expert at Rockefeller University who advised the students. “But then there are things selling that are not what they say on the label. There’s an important issue here in terms of economics and consumer safety.”
It is not clear how many food manufacturers, importers and retailers are testing products, but large companies with valuable brands to protect have been increasingly using the new technology, said Vincent Paez, director of food safety business development at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Continue reading We are buying fake food at inflated prices.

Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

This story just had everything: social networking, police, anti-banks, riots, drink, drugs, parties you name it it’s all there. Quite a few papers ran it at the end of the week — — the version I’ve chosen is from the Telegraph

A Facebook-organised party at a squat in a Park Lane town house was broken up by police after hundreds of youths caused havoc in the streets around the £10 million property.
Riot police dispersed crowds in the streets and cleared the building after partygoers pelted them with bottles and bricks from the roof and balcony.

Officers had been summoned to the party, allegedly organised by two teenagers from London, at 11pm after a wave of complaints from terrified neighbours.

Two members of the public were thought to have been injured as the partygoers jumped on cars, threw fire extinguishers and plant pots from windows and drew graffiti before the chaos subsided in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The property was bought for £10m in 2007 by Continue reading Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

Rabbi takes other services.

I suppose we all enjoy stories which involve a holy person’s fall from grace. Lucifer Star of The Morning springs to mind. This story – again brought to my attention by the noble Richard Dean – ran in today’s Times. I was going to make some politically incorrect remark about having a nose for a toot, but as I am going to invite my Manchester Jewish friend Kevin to read this story, perhaps not.

An eminent rabbi was so exhausted after three days of constant cocaine-fuelled partying with escorts that his pimp grew worried and cancelled that day’s supply of girls, a jury was told.
Rabbi Baruch Chalomish, 55, who has a £6 million fortune, was a scholarly academic, an accomplished businessman, a charity giver and a dutiful family man until his first wife died of cancer and his world fell apart.
He turned to alcohol in his depression, then took refuge in cocaine, spending up to £1,000 a week. He lived in squalor, seeking comfort from prostitutes, Manchester Crown Court was told.
The prosecution said that Chalomish was the financier in a commercial cocaine supply business while Nasir Abbas, 54, a convicted drug dealer, provided the drugs and the customers.
The pair rented a luxury flat in Manchester and for ten days over the new year enjoyed a non-stop party. Mr Abbas admitted to police that he procured a supply of girls from an agency called Pure Class. They were also offered cocaine.
The court was told that on the ninth day, and after the rabbi had stayed up for three straight days, Mr Abbas was so concerned about his health that he scrapped that day’s supply of prostitutes. In a text message to a woman called Clio he wrote: “Hi Clio, I have tried to wake Shel up but I don’t want to wake him. He was very tired because he had no sleep for three days, needed to rest, because he is going to his office to work on Monday at 8. Please cancel the party today.”
Michael Goldwater, for the prosecution, said that at 9am on January 5 police raided the flat finding evidence of a substantial drugs operation including cocaine, cutting agents and scales. Officers found an equal amount of the drug at Chalomish’s home in Prestwich, in the heart of Manchester’s Orthodox Jewish community, as well as cutting agents and more than £15,000 in cash.
Chalomish denies supplying the drug but admits having it. Mr Abbas, who said that he was too scared to attend the trial after the rabbi “sent around some heavies” to threaten him, faces charges of having cocaine with intent to supply.
Jonathan Goldberg, QC, for the defence, said that the rabbi’s fall from grace was a tragedy. He said that his client never supplied the drug but hoarded large supplies of pure cocaine to evade “unscrupulous dealers” known to use rat poison and other dangerous mixing agents. The trial continues.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel. Kills 12. Wounds 31.

Fort Hood, 60 miles north of Austin, is the largest Army base in the United States. More than 53,000 troops are stationed there, and more than 17,000 family members live on the base. An army psychiatrist went on a shooting spree there yesterday. His aunt talks about him and his life below, from the Washington Post, home of proper and good reporting since forever.

He prayed every day at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, a devout Muslim who, despite asking to be discharged from the U.S. Army, was on the eve of his first deployment to war. Yesterday, authorities said Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, a 39-year-old Arlington-born psychiatrist, shot and killed at least 12 people at Fort Hood, Tex.
In an interview, his aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, said he had endured name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had sought for several years to be discharged from the military.
“I know what that is like,” she said. “Some people can take it, and some cannot. He had listened to all of that, and he wanted out of the military, and they would not let him leave even after he offered to repay” for his medical training.
An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. George Wright, said he could not confirm that Hasan requested a discharge.
As authorities scrambled to figure out what happened at Fort Hood, a hazy and contradictory picture emerged of a man who received his medical training from the military and spent his career in the Army, yet allegedly turned so violently against his own. Hasan spent nearly all of his professional life at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District, caring for the victims of trauma, yet he spoke openly of his deep opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hasan, who was shot while being taken into custody, was reported in stable condition at a hospital Thursday night, authorities said.
The Associated Press reported that Hasan attracted the attention of law enforcement authorities in recent months after an Internet posting under the screen name “NidalHasan” compared Islamic suicide bombers to Japanese kamikaze pilots. “To say that this soldier committed suicide is inappropriate,” the posting read. “It’s more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause.”
He steered clear of female colleagues, co-workers said, and despite devout religious practices, listed himself in Army records as having no religious preference.
A longtime Walter Reed colleague who referred patients to psychiatrists said co-workers avoided sending service members to Hasan because of his unusual manner and solitary work habits.
Hasan is a 1997 graduate of Virginia Tech who went on to get a doctorate in psychiatry from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda. From 2003 through last summer, he was an intern, resident and then fellow at Walter Reed, where he worked as a liaison between wounded soldiers and the hospital’s psychiatry staff. He was also a fellow at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Bethesda military medical school.
He had been affected by the physical and mental injuries he saw while working as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed for nearly eight years, according to his aunt. “He must have snapped,” Noel Hasan said. “They ignored him. It was not hard to know when he was upset. He was not a fighter, even as a child and young man. But when he became upset, his face turns red.” She said Hasan had consulted with an attorney about getting out of the service.
On the rare occasions when he spoke of his work in any detail, the aunt said, Hasan told her of soldiers wracked by what they had seen. One patient had suffered burns to his face so intense “that his face had nearly melted,” she said. “He told us how upsetting that was to him.”Hasan “did not make many friends” and “did not make friends fast,” his aunt said. He had no girlfriend and was not married. “He would tell us the military was his life,” she said.
The psychiatrist once said that “Muslims should stand up and fight against the aggressor” and that the United States shouldn’t be fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place, according to an interview with Col. Terry Lee, a co-worker, on Fox News.
At the Muslim Community Center, Hasan stood out because he would sometimes show up in Army fatigues, said Faizul Khan, the former imam there.
“He came to mosque one or two times to see if there were any suitable girls to marry,” Khan said. “I don’t think he ever had a match, because he had too many conditions. He wanted a girl who was very religious, prays five times a day.”
In search of a partner in marriage, Hasan wrote in an application filed with a local Muslim matching service that “I am quiet and reserved until more familiar with person. Funny, caring and personable.”
“He was a very quiet and private person. I can’t say that people knew him very well other than attending prayers,” said Arshad Qureshi, chairman of the board of trustees at the Muslim Community Center of Silver Spring. “You didn’t see him attend anything — school for children or celebrations. He did not go out of the way to engage people. We have thousands of people who come through to pray; he was just one of them.”
A co-worker at Walter Reed said Hasan would not allow his photo to be taken with female co-workers, which became an issue during Christmas season when employees often took group photos. Co-workers would find a solo photo of Hasan and post it on the bulletin board without his permission.
Lee told Fox News that Hasan “was hoping that President Obama would pull troops out. . . . When things weren’t going that way, he became more agitated, more frustrated with the conflicts over there. . . . He made his views well known about how he felt about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
And when he talked about fighting “the aggressor,” he said that his fellow soldiers “should stand up and help the armed forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan,” Lee said.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told reporters after a briefing on the shootings that Hasan was born in Virginia to parents who emigrated from Jordan. The congressman said that Hasan “took a lot of advanced training in shooting.”
Hasan was polite and respectful, according to 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, who was treated by the psychiatrist at Walter Reed while recovering from a gunshot wound suffered in Iraq.
Whiteside remembers Hasan as serious. During his initial evaluation of her, she tried to make light when he coughed by saying, “Bless you.” Hasan replied that he had coughed and not sneezed.Hasan was “like my sons,” his aunt said, spending holidays and free time at her house. Born at Arlington Hospital, Nidal Hasan graduated from high school in Roanoke, where his parents had moved. He enlisted in the Army after high school and attended Virginia Tech, majoring in biochemistry.
Hasan’s parents died about 10 years ago. He had joined the military over their objections, Noel Hasan said. She said he has two brothers, Eyad, a businessman in Sterling, and Anas, a lawyer in Jerusalem.
When Army officials called Eyad Hasan to relay the news from Fort Hood on Thursday, Noel Hasan said, the brother “fainted when he heard it.” Initially, she said, Eyad was told his brother was injured and in surgery and later was erroneously told he had died.
Hasan was an avid Redskins fan. “That was his main entertainment,” his aunt said. “He was not a movie watcher. He worked hard and had been studying for years. He buried himself in his work.”
Noel Hasan was unaware of her nephew’s pending deployment. “He didn’t call or send an e-mail saying anything like that,” she said.
His last e-mail to her, she said, was a little more than a week ago “and it was just, “Hi, Aunt Noel. How are you doing?’ “

Dixon of Dock Green picks up a shooter.

One of the good things about British society has been our unarmed police policy. However, by some strange back door manouevre, it’s suddenly vanished and armed police are here on the streets of London in Brixton and Haringey. Right here, right now. Maybe some part of us doesn’t want to admit what the nice Rasta in Brockwell Park said to me the other morning about where my wife and I used to live in Brixton: “It’s like a war zone, so it is man.”  What bothers me, is that like the villains, the police are toting automatic weapons. Machine guns in streets of crowded people. Has it really come to this? This coverage is from the Independent.

Armed police officers are to patrol the streets of London for the first time in an attempt to tackle a rise in gang-related gun crime.

Traditionally officers from the Metropolitan Police’s specialist firearms unit – codenamed CO19 – have been deployed on the streets only when a response to incidents of gun crime is necessary or to protect VIPs.

The new initiative, announced yesterday, will see CO19 officers patrolling the capital’s most dangerous streets and housing estates alongside neighbourhood officers. It has been described as a “proactive” response to the 17 per cent increase in gun crime over the past six months.

But it was immediately denounced by members of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), the body which governs the actions of Scotland Yard, which was apparently not consulted on the controversial decision. One MPA member described the move as “totally unacceptable” while another called for an emergency meeting.

Joanne McCartney said: “We want fewer guns on the streets not more, and people to feel safe in their community – not scared of those who are supposed to protect them.

“There has been no debate, no consultation and apparently no consideration to the strong opposition that exists to arming the police. This is more than just an operational decision and should be brought before the police authority as a matter of urgency.”

Jenny Jones, another MPA member, added: “This is a totally unacceptable departure from normal policing tactics. I can’t believe that the sight of a policeman with a machine gun will make people feel safer.

“Are we heading down a slippery slope towards armed rather than community policing? I hope the Met will rethink this terrible decision immediately and think of a genuinely proactive way to prevent gun crime.”

Pilot patrols have already begun in Brixton as well as Haringey and Tottenham, where three Turkish men were shot dead earlier this month in an apparent war between rival heroin gangs.

It is the first time the Metropolitan Police has deployed armed officers for routine patrols outside of protected sites such as Parliament and Royal homes. However a similar project did run in Nottinghamshire in 2000 in an attempt to address the issue of drive-by shootings that afflicted the city.

Yet the fact that Britain’s police officers, unlike their American counterparts, remain predominately unarmed is a source of continuing pride to traditionalists who believe that officers should police through consent rather than force.

But Inspector Derek Carroll, who leads the armed unit, said officers have received positive feedback from residents.

He said: “Historically, CO19 was only called out when someone rang up to report a gun crime. But a lot of streets in London have young people in postcode gangs, aged 14 and upwards, and a lot of communities feel that they are controlling areas of estates. We are looking at gangs that have access to firearms and will be robust in dealing with them.”

Now just where did I bury the body? I know, I’ll put it on the sat nav.

I read this story on the BBC News service this afternoon. It’s a bit grim – but hmmmmm.

A man accused of strangling a woman recorded the rough area of where he buried her body in the memory of his car’s sat nav system, a jury was told.

Lukasz Reszpondek, 30, had been seeing Ermatati “Tati” Rodgers, 41, Mold Crown Court heard.

Mr Reszpondek, who denies murder, said she died of natural causes and he had buried her near Wrexham in a panic.

But the prosecution told the jury that “quite simply” innocent people did not bury bodies. The case continues.

Mr Reszpondek, a Polish national and married man, has admitted preventing Ms Rodgers’s “lawful and decent burial”.

At the opening of the trial, the jury was told he had buried her but tried to dig her body up again as police closed in on him.

But he could not recover the body and went to the police.

Ms Rodgers was missing for 14 months before her body was eventually found by police in March 2009.

Prosecuting barrister Michael Chambers QC said Mr Reszpondek killed Ms Rodgers, who was originally from Indonesia, on the day he returned early from Poland by car without his family on 4 January, 2008.

He said he had lost his temper and strangled her “against a background of the emotional and conflicting demands of the eternal triangle of a wife and another woman”.

The defendant watched the police looking for the body from the top of a nearby slag heap, hiding in bushes, wearing camouflage clothing and using binoculars

He then set about disposing of the body and might well have got away with it if he had not made certain fundamental errors, the prosecutor claimed.

Quite simply, innocent people do not bury bodies, Mr Chambers told the jury.

Mr Reszpondek and Ms Rodgers met in the summer of 2004 when they both worked together at a dairy at Marchwiel near Wrexham.

They formed a close relationship which continued after the defendant’s wife came over from Poland to join him in Wrexham.

At Christmas 2007 the defendant – a father of two – returned to Poland. His family travelled by plane but he went separately by car.

He returned to Wrexham on 4 January, 2008 and took Ms Rodgers to his house in Rhostyllen after a 900-mile car journey. It was there that he killed her, said the prosecutor.

In police interview, Mr Reszpondek claimed he had gone upstairs to take a shower and had come back down to discover her collapsed and dead.

He claimed that he had buried the body because he had panicked, the court heard.

The following day he bought a spade, a large suitcase and other items which he used to help him bury the body, with his credit card which police were able to trace.

He then recorded the approximate area of the burial site in the memory of his car satellite navigation system and named it “Tt”, the court was told.

Police surveillance found he kept returning to that area and when they began digging in the surrounding fields looking for her body, “the defendant made the error of taking the bait”, said Mr Chambers.

“The defendant watched the police looking for the body from the top of a nearby slag heap, hiding in bushes, wearing camouflage clothing and using binoculars,” he said.

“What he did not know was that the police were watching him, watching them.”

By Sunday afternoon, 22 March, the police digging was getting close to the actual field which contained the body, Mr Chambers told the jury.

“The defendant must have thought that on the Monday morning they were likely to move into the actual field and find the body,” he said.

“So on that Sunday night, he tried to move it.

“However it was more difficult that he anticipated so after about three hours he had to stop.

“It was only at that stage that he went to Wrexham police station.

“He gave the account that she had suddenly collapsed and died, he had panicked, and buried her.”

Home Office pathologist Dr Brian Rodgers conducted a post-mortem examination and he said that there was no sign of any natural causes which would have explained her sudden death.

But he did find bruising and a fractured thyroid cartilage consistent with strangulation.

Mr Chambers told the jury that police had found deleted “glamour photographs” of Mrs Rodgers on his digital camera which included her in under-wear and semi naked poses.

That, he said, indicated the nature of their relationship.

He said that it could be inferred that the defendant lost his temper and strangled her in the “context of the emotional and conflicting demands of the eternal triangular relationship of wife and another woman.”

The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.

4,000,000 to 1 coincidence in the Bulgarian lottery

The Bulgarian lottery has been going for fifty odd years. This week the same numbers came up twice in a row. What are the odds? Over four million to one. The Bulgarians say it’s coincidence.. ..this story is from Reuters.


SOFIA (Reuters) – The draw of the same six winning numbers twice in a row in Bulgaria’s national lottery was a freak coincidence, officials said Thursday.

Sports Minister Svilen Neikov ordered an investigation after the numbers 4, 15, 23, 24, 35 and 42 were selected, in a different order, by a machine live on television on September 6 and 10. The results caused suspicions of manipulation.

An investigation found no wrongdoing in the draw or determining the winners, its chairman Konstantin Simeonov said.

“We cannot talk about any manipulation,” he said.

The chance of the same six numbers coming up twice in two consecutive rounds was one in more than 4 million but was not impossible, respected mathematician Michail Konstantinov has said.

An unprecedented 18 people guessed all six numbers when they were drawn the second time and each got 10,164 levs ($7,700). Nobody won the top prize the first time.

The lottery organizers say it is impossible to tamper with the lottery machine. The draws take place in the presence of a special committee and is broadcast live on national television which guarantee no cheating, they say.

“This is happening for the first time in the 52-year history of the lottery. We are absolutely stunned to see such a freak coincidence but it did happen,” a spokeswoman said.

(Reporting by Anna Mudeva)

You get more than kicks on route 36.

Thanks again to Richard Dean for this story from the Guardian – it’s a bar in Bolivia where they serve you a drink and….yes a toot of your choice. Hmmmmmm. I have seen something similar in Thailand but of course it wasn’t a toot on offer. Coming soon to a British city of your choice? To be honest, despite my determinedly liberal outlook part of me hopes not.

Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram.” The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.

The waiter arrives at the table, lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets. He is so casual he might as well be delivering a sandwich and fries. And he has seen it all. “We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. They would take turns sleeping and the only time they left was to go to the ATM,” says Roberto, who has worked at Route 36 (in its various locations) for the last six months. Behind the bar, he goes back to casually slicing straws into neat 8cm lengths.

La Paz, Bolivia, at 3,900m above sea level – an altitude where even two flights of stairs makes your heart race like a hummingbird – is home to the most celebrated bar in all of South America: Route 36, the world’s first cocaine lounge. I sit back to take in the scene – table after table of chatty young backpackers, many of whom are taking a gap year, awaiting a new job or simply escaping the northern hemisphere for the delights of South America, which, for many it seems, include cocaine.

“Since they are an after-hours club and serve cocaine the neighbours tend to complain pretty fast. So they move all the time. Maybe if they are lucky they last three months in the same place, but often it is just two weeks. Route 36 is a movable feast,” says a Bolivian newspaper editor who asked not to be named. “One day it is in one zone and then it pops up in another area. Certainly it is the most famous among the backpacker crowd but there are several other places that are offering cocaine as well. Because Route 36 changes addresses so much there is a lot of confusion about how many cocaine bars are out there.”

This new trend of ‘cocaine tourism’ can be put down to a combination of Bolivia’s notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic “anything goes” attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower. (Coca is the leaf, and cocaine is the highly manufactured and refined powder.) Morales has diligently fought for the rights of coca growers and tossed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) out of Bolivia. While he has said he will crack down on cocaine production, he appears to be swimming against the current. In early July, the largest ever cocaine factory was discovered in eastern Bolivia. Capable of producing 100kg a day, the lab was run by Colombians and provided the latest evidence that Bolivia is now home to sophisticated cocaine laboratories. The lab was the fourth large facility to be found in Bolivia this year.

Nowhere in South America is cocaine production growing faster than Bolivia. Reports by the UN show that in Colombia, production dropped 28% last year [2008], while in Bolivia it rose nearly 10%. “There is more interest and and investment in purifying coca paste here and exporting it, rather than sending it to Colombia for purification,” Oscar Nina, Bolivia’s top anti-drug official, said recently.

As the US and Colombian military put pressure on drug traffickers, operations are migrating into nearby countries, especially Bolivia, where the turf for illegal operations is as fertile as the valleys where the locals have grown coca for the last five centuries. Stopping cocaine tourism in La Paz could be as difficult as keeping Americans from drinking during prohibition.

Down in Route 36’s main room, the scene is chilled. A half-hearted disco ball sporadically bathes the room in red and green light. Each table has candles and a stash of bottled water, plus whatever mixers one cares to add to your drink. In the corner, a pile of board games includes chess, backgammon, and Jenga, the game in which a steady hand pulls out bricks from a tower of blocks until the whole pile collapses. If it weren’t for the heads bobbing down like birds scouring the seashore for food, you would never know that huge amounts of cocaine were being casually ingested. There’s a lot of mingling from table to table. Everyone here has stories – the latest adventures from Ecuador, the best bus to Peru – and even the most wired “why-won’t-he-shut-up?” traveller is given a generous welcome before being sent back to his table, where he can repeat those stories another 10 times.

“Everyone knows about this place,” says Jonas, a backpacker who arrived two days earlier. “My mate came to Bolivia last year and he said, ‘Route 36 is the best lounge in all of South America.'” It is certainly the most bizarre and brazen. Though cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, Route 36 is fast becoming an essential stop for thousands of tourists who come here every year and happily sample the country’s cocaine, which is famous for both its availability, price (around €15 a gram) and purity.

The scene here is peaceful; there seems no fear that anyone will be caught. (“The owner has paid off all the right people,” one waiter says with a smile.) A female backpacker from Newcastle slips on to one of the four couches arranged around the table. “We’ve brought some [cocaine] virgins here. This will be their first time, so we are just rubbing it on their lips. But they are lucky – you could never get such pure coke back home. In London you pay 50 quid for a gram that’s been cut so much, all it does it make your lips numb and sends you to the bathroom.”

Travellers’ blogs also give the place a good writeup. “I travelled the world for nine months, and for sure La Paz was the craziest city and Route 36 the best bar of my entire trip,” writes one, while another says, “Like to burn the candle at both ends? Well, here you can bloody well torch the whole candle.”

And torch your brain as well. Cocaine, as everybody knows, is highly addictive, destructive and easy to abuse. The rationale for outlawing cocaine was to protect public health – but instead the now 40-year experiment in prohibition has done little to protect the lives of millions of users worldwide who will snort whatever white substance is placed before them. The billions in annual profits have corrupted governments worldwide, and La Paz, without intending it, seems to have mutated into the front line of this failed drug war.

“Pop, I’ll be right back, because we have to talk.”

This one really pulled my heart-strings, written by Maria Glod at the Washington Post
40,000 dead bodies lie waiting to be identified across the US. The Namus system attempts to identify them. I’ve included more about that system at the end of this article.

Authorities in Virginia have identified the body of a teenager who went missing 14 years ago in their first success using a new nationwide database that seeks to put names on thousands of dead people who have gone unidentified, sometimes for decades.

Prosecutors in Maryland hope to use the same system to finally close a homicide case that has resulted in a mistrial and a hung jury.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, is an online tool aimed at naming the countless John and Jane Does whose remains have been shelved in the offices of medical examiners and police forensic labs across the country. It matches missing persons cases with the nameless bodies or skeletons.

Police, medical examiners, coroners and family members all have access to the database, and they try to take information from the years-old missing persons reports and match them to details from the dead bodies.

In the Virginia case, a detailed description of Toussaint Gumbs’s body — down to a scar on the 16-year-old’s thigh — was entered on the site. A volunteer surfing the Web flagged the similarities with reports of Toussaint’s disappearance in Richmond. Using the latest DNA technology, officials helped confirm the teenager’s death and finally gave his family an answer.

For Robert Gumbs, who was convinced that his son had gotten into drugs and run off with friends, the truth brought pain but also a chance to mourn.

“I just started screaming in my room,” said Gumbs, who lives in New York and learned of his son’s death in recent weeks. “I never thought that he was dead. The last words he said to me was, ‘Pop, I’ll be right back, because we have to talk.’ ”

Kristina Rose, acting director of the National Institute of Justice, said the potential for NamUs is extraordinary. “Instead of having this fragmented system where people go to coroners, to medical examiners, to law enforcement, we have everything in a central repository,” she said. “People can participate in identifying their loved ones. They are the ones who are going to work late into the night to go through the case files.”

Each year, about 4,400 sets of unidentified human remains turn up in parks, woods, abandoned houses and other places, according to a 2007 federal report. Although authorities quickly identify most of them, about 1,000 are still unknown a year later. Estimates of the total vary widely, from 13,500 to 40,000.

The Web site linking the rolls of the missing with the descriptions of the dead is growing daily as authorities and family members add entries. It is a sad catalogue of clues, some gruesome, some mundane. A woman who died in Rock Creek Park in February 2008 carried lip balm and a bag of wrapped hard candy in the pocket of her blue winter coat. A young man killed in a fiery 1983 car crash in Montgomery County had a mustache. In 1976, a woman’s headless, fingerless body, naked and bound, washed up on an island in the Chesapeake Bay.

“There are mothers and fathers that, for years, wake up every day wanting to know what happened to their child. That’s why we do this,” said Arthur Eisenberg, co-director of the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, which works to identify remains and provides free DNA testing to family members of the missing.

The database gives hope to people such as Darlene Huntsman, who has never stopped searching for her sister, Bernadette Caruso. One day in 1986, Caruso, among the more than 100,500 people reported missing nationwide as of this month, left her job at a Baltimore County jewelry store. The young mother has not been seen by her family sinceHuntsman painstakingly entered each known detail of her sister’s disappearance in NamUs, knowing that any fact could be the one to trigger a match. Caruso probably wore her Mickey Mouse watch. She was dressed in a black tank dress, with a pink tank underneath, and pink flats. She left Eastpoint Mall about 5:05 p.m. that September evening.

Huntsman and other family members also gave genetic samples to be compared to those from bodies and skeletons. “It makes you feel like you are doing something for that person,” Huntsman said. “You feel that she knows that you are still trying.”

The concept of the database was born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, when the challenges of matching missing people with human remains became clear. Medical examiners and coroners began to enter descriptions of unidentified remains in 2007, and there are now 5,225 in the database, including 273 from Maryland, Virginia and the District. This year, missing persons cases were added; there are 1,772 open cases.

This month, NamUs began automatically comparing profiles and sending alerts to law enforcement or families when a missing persons report bears similarities to unidentified remains. But so far, successes have largely come from family members of victims, or others, who scan the site.

Those possible matches are critical to forensic sleuths, who can then work to match facial features or dental records, said Kevin Whaley, a Virginia assistant chief medical examiner. At the same time, the latest DNA testing allows scientists to extract genetic material from bones and compare it to samples from surviving family members.

In Virginia, the Department of Forensic Science and the medical examiner’s office have been awarded a $443,682 federal grant to help identify almost 100 sets of human remains stored by medical examiners in the state and investigate an additional 177 cases dating to the 1970s.

Brad Jenkins, a Department of Forensic Science analyst who worked on the Toussaint Gumbs case, said that by using mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists might be able to get answers where traditional genetic testing falls short. “We have bones and skeletons that are 10 or 20 years old,” Jenkins said. “We can go back and revisit those cases.”

NamUs might have provided an answer, and more evidence, for Anne Arundel authorities who twice have tried to prosecute a homicide case without the body of a 21-year-old man authorities say was killed in 2007. The first attempt ended in a mistrial, the second in a hung jury.

A forensic scientist looking at the database noticed that a partial skeleton found last year in Baltimore that had an orthopedic screw in the leg seemed to match a description of Michael Francis. Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel state’s attorney’s office, said there are indications that the remains are Francis’s but that her office is awaiting the results of DNA tests.

“We have taken this case to trial without a body, and we are prepared to do that again,” Fleckenstein said. But she added that seeking a murder conviction without a body “does present a hurdle.”

For Bernadette Caruso’s family, July marks a sad milestone: She has been missing for as long as she had been with them. Caruso would have celebrated her 46th birthday July 2.

“We never thought it would take this long to find out what happened to her,” Huntsman said. “We’d like to see her remains be found. We’d like to give her some justice.”

The NamUs System

There are perhaps 40,000 sets of unidentified human remains held by medical examiners and coroners across the country, according to government estimates. A patchwork of record-keeping policies govern the related data.

With that in mind, the Justice Department has created the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a searchable database of “unidentified decedents,” in hopes of matching remains to missing persons, an estimated 100,000 of which exist in the U.S. at any given time.

The more information in a NamUs profile, the more likely a match can be made. NamUs has created a five-star rating system indicating how much information is in a file, a hint at how likely it might be that the remains can be identified. Information about the system for rating profiles of unidentified persons is below.

The Rating System (click through to see the real thing)

1-star
One-star listings include the location, date and condition of a found body (or body part).
See an example.

2-star
Two-star entries require distinctive physical features, clothing or jewelry.
See an example.

3-star
Three-star listings include fingerprint data, dental information or a facial photo (or artist’s rendering).
See an example.

4-star example
Four-star ratings add a DNA profile to the information required for a three-star profile.
See an example.

5-star example
Entries with five stars include a recognizable face along with a photo, artist’s rendering, fingerprint, DNA and dental information.

A tale of two brothers.

This story is about a pubic school educated terrorist, found in today´s Telegraph

The picturesque village of Frenchay on the edge of Bristol with its expansive green and imposing Grade II listed church, backing onto open countryside should have been the perfect setting for Andrew Ibrahim to grow up. His father, an eminent consultant pathologist at the nearby hospital and lecturer at the university, had bought an imposing Victorian stone house at the end of a private lane and could afford to send his two sons to the 300-year-old Colston’s private school, housed in a former palace of the Bishop of Bristol in nearby Stapelton.

For one son it was a recipe that led to success in athletics, school prefecture, Oxford University, bar school and a career with a US law firm in the City of London.

For the other it led to a series of obsessions with drugs, computer games, Islam and terrorism, and eventually to the dock of Winchester Crown Court.

“The two brothers could not be more different,” a senior police officer involved with the case said. “It’s a perfect example of nature versus nurture.”

Their father Nassif, 61, a Coptic Christian originally from Egypt, is a collector of antique pottery, stamps, coins and, his son says, Nazi memorabilia.

His wife, Victoria, known as Vicky, originally from West Yorkshire, is a church-going Christian who took the children on coach holidays and works as an administrator at Bristol University Medical School.

Andrew was always in the shadow of his older brother Peter, six years his senior, and reacted by constantly seeking attention.

Overweight but far from stupid himself, he played the class fool so successfully that he was expelled from a series of private schools, becoming every middle class parent’s nightmare.

He smoked cannabis at the age of 12, became hooked on “role playing” computer games, and used his father’s computer to look up material on Osama bin Laden and explosives alongside his Latin homework.

“I didn’t like football,” he said. “It’s difficult to know how to put it, it made me feel cooler. I didn’t have friends or a social life and it made me feel better about myself. I felt not such a sad loser.”

His parents moved him from Colston’s junior school to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital School, an even older public school in the centre of Bristol which boasts the Queen as its patron, where they hoped he would escape from the shadow of his brother.

Instead he hung around with older pupils and started taking cannabis to be “different from the other kids of that sort of age,” he said.

He bragged about using drugs to his fellow pupils, leading to his suspension on January 24 2002, the day before his 13th birthday.

Returning to Colston’s, Ibrahim’s weight and lack of sporting ability helped other pupils label him a “loser” and his increasingly unruly behaviour led the school to ask him to leave in December 2002, shortly before his 14th birthday.

His next stop was Downside, a Catholic boarding school near Bath founded in 1606 that counts the journalist Auberon Waugh and hotelier Sir Rocco Forte among its old boys.

Bullied and laughed at, he again turned to cannabis and experimented with ecstasy, sneaking out at night and inviting local boys back to his dormitory, leading to his suspension.

Ibrahim joined Bristol Cathedral School in September 2004 – then the bottom of the heap of Bristol private schools and now a government academy – but the school helped him pass eight GCSEs in June 2005, including English language at grade A, five at grade B and one each at grades C and D.

But he had once again alienated fellow pupils and by the end of the year he was experimenting with drugs again, this time magic mushrooms, ecstasy and cocaine.

Ibrahim had also become addicted to on-line computer games involving “role playing” such as Diablo II, Mass Effect and Metal Gear Solid.

During the school holidays he would play from 7am until midnight but after leaving school, the addiction led to him dropping out of City of Bristol College where he was supposed to be studying for A-levels.

His father became increasingly exasperated with his behaviour and asked Vicky to move out with their son when Ibrahim came home drunk from a party with his eyebrow pierced.

Mother and son moved into a flat nearby but Ibrahim walked out when his mother found ecstasy and ketamine tablets in the flat.

Despite his increasing addiction, his parents stood by him, splitting the rent with him on a flat in Kingswood, a suburb in North East Bristol, with his mother doing a weekly food shop for him.

At the flat, Ibrahim had videos of women’s feet he had taken on his mobile phone at college without their knowledge, which he admitted were part of a “sexual interest” and he had searched for pictures of Kiera Knightley’s feet on the internet.

He had become hooked on heroin and crack cocaine, using the drugs several times a day and stealing to fund his habit.

He was reprimanded by police for possessing heroin in May 2006 at the age of 17 and warned for shoplifting on two occasions in September and October 2006.

By the end of 2006, Ibrahim had lost what little he had built up around him – his girlfriend of 18 months, teetotal and clear-headed, eventually walked away when he started injecting heroin in front of her.

“In the end she didn’t want it any more. I was quite upset, I was heartbroken,” he said.

He was still holding down a job at Lloyds Bank but turned to a new addiction  steroids, attending the Empire Gym in the run down area of St Paul’s in Bristol where he took up body building and started injecting Deca-Durabolin and Sustanon 250.

Alongside his various addictions, Ibrahim had five tattoos done during 2005 and 2006, including “Hardcore” across his stomach and “HTID” on his right bicep to represent “Hardcore Till I Die” after a style of rave music.

He also had a variety of hairstyles and colours along with a series of facial and intimate piercings.

On his Myspace internet account in April 2006, Ibrahim was pictured with spiky red hair and described himself as “Andy” and his religion as “Muslim.”

By early 2007, Ibrahim was forced to move into the St George’s House hostel in central Bristol because he was not paying the rent.

He sold the Big Issue magazine for the homeless on the street, using the money to fund his £60-a-day drug habit.

When his father came across him outside the Broadmead Shopping Centre he started meeting him once a week to buy him food and take him for a meal.

Already struggling with their son’s various obsessions, his turn to Islam came as yet another blow to Ibrahim’s parents – his mother’s reaction was simply: “Don’t start that now.”

Ibrahim said he traveled to Birmingham in the summer of 2006 with a friend of his father’s and converted at the Green Lanes mosque around the time of the anniversary of the July 7 bombings.

He decided to study to be a Muslim scholar in the Yemen but instead settled on a seven year course in Birmingham, which his mother agreed to pay for.

By December he had grown a beard and was wearing white robes, sandals and an Islamic headscarf.

But he soon dropped his interest and returned to drugs until, returning to City of Bristol College to study for AS and A-levels in chemistry, biology, history, English language, and science of public understanding, he started praying again with fellow students at a room at the college.

Ibrahim said, he “wasn’t so much interested in Islam as the politics” particularly Palestine and Iraq and he used a college computer to download videos of US troops being killed in Iraq, along with speeches by the jailed cleric Abu Hamza.

But his most serious obsession became that of the suicide bomber, looking at the videos made by the July 7 bombers and Asif Hanif, Britain’s first suicide bomber who died in Israel.

“I did spend a lot of time looking at [internet sites]. It was an obsessive interest, I accept that,” he said.

He was eventually given a council flat in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol where he began building bombs.

Ibrahim had been playing the computer game Assassin’s Creed and claimed he was just “role playing” the part of a terrorist.

As he struggled to come off drugs, he said he decided to make a suicide vest to “occupy my time,” using a video he found on the internet for instructions.

“I wanted it to look good because I was going to film it like I did with the explosives and put it on YouTube,” he added.

Christopher Fraser to stand down as Tory MP for Norfolk after claiming 140 cherry trees on the taxpayer

To be honest I’ve found this week’s news a bit dull – it’s wrong not to include one of the MP standing down stories, especially one who claims for 75 red cedars on the taxpayer. Can’t see the wood for the trees I guess. Thanks to the Telegraph for running this one. When are they going to get to the real story behind corruptibility amongst MPs? I’m looking out for it I can tell you. Might even start writing it myself if the newspapers keep on getting diverted by the relatively small fry expenses stuff.

The South West Norfolk MP, said he would not contest the next election because of his wife’s continuing ill-health and said his decision was not to do with the controversy over the way he designated his “second home” allowing him to claim money for his £350,000 property in East Anglia.

Mr Fraser also lives on a farm worth £1.2 million in Dorset, where he was an MP between 1997 and 2001, before being voted out and re-elected to the Norfolk seat four years later.

He designates the farmhouse in Dorset as his “main home”, while letting out a smaller farmhouse on the same estate and the surrounding land. He also rents out another property in London.

Mr Fraser used the money claimed on his Norfolk home to buy 140 cherry laurels and 75 red cedars. The MP made the claim for trees worth £933 and fencing worth £875 in February, 2007.

It was initially challenged by the Commons fees office. An official who approved the claim said: “This is a property without any natural boundaries. Mr Fraser felt that in order to provide security and privacy, fences and hedges were required.”

In a statement today the MP said: “I have never sought re-selection for South West Norfolk because I have for some time been seriously considering whether to go forward after the next General Election. My wife’s ongoing health problems and the major operation that she had last year have made it difficult to juggle my family life with my duties as an MP.

“It has been a privilege to serve South West Norfolk, and I have enjoyed the work enormously. I hope that I have in some small way been able to make a difference for the people who have come to me for help.

“With great sadness, I have decided not to seek re-selection for the next election.

“I pledge absolute support to David Cameron and the Conservative Party, and will work between now and the general election for the Conservative government that the country urgently needs.”

Between being elected in May, 2005, and October, 2006, he rented another farmhouse in the constituency for £1,200 a month, the cost of which he claimed back on expenses.

He also claimed £240 for a lawnmower and £70 for the emptying of his “sceptic (sic) tank”. He said: “I purchased the cheapest lawnmower that I could find, and cut the grass myself to save costs.”

Mr Fraser then bought his current “second home”, and made an emergency claim. Officials noted that he “needs money urgently”.

Did plain clothes police incite crowds to violence at the G20?

I have to say I didn’t expect to find a story like this in The Observer. The International Times maybe, or some other scurrilous lefty rag from the 1970’s might have run a piece about how the police planted plain clothes men in the crowd of protestors at the G20 summit, inciting other crowd members to throw stones and bottles…….I don’t believe that, said my 16 year old – here it is in the Observer I said……..apparently witnessed by an MP…..

An MP who was involved in last month’s G20 protests in London is to call for an investigation into whether the police used agents provocateurs to incite the crowds.

Liberal Democrat Tom Brake says he saw what he believed to be two plain-clothes police officers go through a police cordon after presenting their ID cards.

Brake, who along with hundreds of others was corralled behind police lines near Bank tube station in the City of London on the day of the protests, says he was informed by people in the crowd that the men had been seen to throw bottles at the police and had encouraged others to do the same shortly before they passed through the cordon.

Brake, a member of the influential home affairs select committee, will raise the allegations when he gives evidence before parliament’s joint committee on human rights on Tuesday.

“When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said, ‘There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police,'” Brake said. But when the crowd became suspicious of the men and accused them of being police officers, the pair approached the police line and passed through after showing some form of identification.

Brake has produced a draft report of his experiences for the human rights committee, having received written statements from people in the crowd. These include Tony Amos, a photographer who was standing with protesters in the Royal Exchange between 5pm and 6pm. “He [one of the alleged officers] was egging protesters on. It was very noticeable,” Amos said. “Then suddenly a protester seemed to identify him as a policeman and turned on him. He ­legged it towards the police line, flashed some ID and they just let him through, no questions asked.”

Amos added: “He was pretty much inciting the crowd. He could not be called an observer. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories but this really struck me. Hopefully, a review of video evidence will clear this up.”

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has received 256 complaints relating to the G20 protests. Of these, 121 have been made about the use of force by police officers, while 75 relate to police tactics. The IPCC said it had no record of complaints involving the use of police agents provocateurs. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “We would never deploy officers in this way or condone such behaviour.”

The use of plain-clothes officers in crowd situations is considered a vital tactic for gathering evidence. It has been used effectively to combat football hooliganism in the UK and was employed during the May Day protests in 2001.

Brake said he intends to raise the allegations with the Met’s commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, when he next appears before the home affairs select committee. “There is a logic having plain-clothes officers in the crowd, but no logic if the officers are actively encouraging violence, which would be a source of great concern,” Brake said.

The MP said that given only a few people were allowed out of the corralled crowd for the five hours he was held inside it, there should be no problem in investigating the allegation by examining video footage.

Antisocial media. Would you like some snot with that fast food?

Two employees of Domino’s video themselves horribly messing up food they are about to deliver to people and post it on YouTube. The result isn’t very funny – and it’s not even interesting viewing. However, it does totally wreck Domino’s carefully nurtured brand image, according to this story published in the New York Times. The thing about “social media” like YouTube is that it gives everyone a voice and the chance to publish their views to millions of people. I think anyone who works on the internet knows the downside of this. How many times have we had to consider how to deal with people who think it’s funny to be totally obscene to other undeserving people for no good purpose. Call me conservative. I don’t think I am. I’m certainly no fan of fast food. I’m certainly no defender of “big name brands” at all costs. I’m not sure where this leaves me with my view of social media – other than that perhaps we should rename it antisocial media. Or perhaps – media that reflects society like it really is, and it’s too much to bear.

When two Domino’s Pizza employees filmed a prank in the restaurant’s kitchen, they decided to post it online. In a few days, thanks to the power of social media, they ended up with felony charges, more than a million disgusted viewers, and a major company facing a public relations crisis.

In videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere this week, a Domino’s employee in Conover, N.C., prepared sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose, nasal mucus on the sandwiches, and violating other health-code standards while a fellow employee provided narration.

The two were charged with delivering prohibited foods.

By Wednesday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. References to it were in five of the 12 results on the first page of Google search for “Dominos,” and discussions about Domino’s had spread throughout Twitter.

As Domino’s is realizing, social media has the reach and speed to turn tiny incidents into marketing crises. In November, Motrin posted an ad suggesting that carrying babies in slings was a painful new fad. Unhappy mothers posted Twitter complaints about it, and bloggers followed; within days, Motrin had removed the ad and apologized.

On Monday, Amazon.com apologized for a “ham-fisted” error after Twitter members complained that the sales rankings for gay and lesbian books seemed to have disappeared — and, since Amazon took more than a day to respond, the social-media world criticized it for being uncommunicative.

According to Domino’s, the employees told executives that they had never actually delivered the tainted food. Still, Domino’s fired the two employees on Tuesday, and they were in the custody of the Conover police department on Wednesday evening, facing felony charges.

But the crisis was not over for Domino’s.

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” said a Domino’s spokesman, Tim McIntyre, who added that the company was preparing a civil lawsuit. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

In just a few days, Domino’s reputation was damaged. The perception of its quality among consumers went from positive to negative since Monday, according to the research firm YouGov, which holds online surveys of about 1,000 consumers every day regarding hundreds of brands.

“It’s graphic enough in the video, and it’s created enough of a stir, that it gives people a little bit of pause,” said Ted Marzilli, global managing director for YouGov’s BrandIndex.

The Domino’s experience “is a nightmare,” said Paul Gallagher, managing director and a head of the United States crisis practice at the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. “It’s the toughest situation for a company to face in terms of a digital crisis.”

Mr. McIntyre was alerted to the videos on Monday evening by a blogger who had seen them. In the most popular video, a woman who identifies herself as Kristy films a co-worker, Michael, preparing the unsanitary sandwiches.

“In about five minutes it’ll be sent out on delivery where somebody will be eating these, yes, eating them, and little did they know that cheese was in his nose and that there was some lethal gas that ended up on their salami,” Kristy said. “Now that’s how we roll at Domino’s.”

On Monday, commenters at the site Consumerist.com used clues in the video to find the franchise location in Conover, and told Mr. McIntyre about the videos. On Tuesday, the Domino’s franchise owner fired the employees, identified by Domino’s as Kristy Hammonds, 31 and Michael Setzer, 32. The franchisee brought in the local health department, which advised him to discard all open containers of food, which cost hundreds of dollars, Mr. McIntyre said.

Ms. Hammonds apologized to the company in an e-mail message Tuesday morning. “It was fake and I wish that everyone knew that!!!!” she wrote. “I AM SOO SORRY!”

By Wednesday evening, the video had been removed from YouTube because of a copyright claim from Ms. Hammonds. Neither Ms. Hammonds nor Mr. Setzer were available for comment on Wednesday evening, said Conover’s chief of police, Gary W. Lafone.

As the company learned about the video on Tuesday, Mr. McIntyre said, executives decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down. “What we missed was the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations,” he said.

In social media, “if you think it’s not going to spread, that’s when it gets bigger,” said Scott Hoffman, the chief marketing officer of the social-media marketing firm Lotame. “We realized that when many of the comments and questions in Twitter were, ‘What is Domino’s doing about it’ ” Mr. McIntyre said. “Well, we were doing and saying things, but they weren’t being covered in Twitter.”

By Wednesday afternoon, Domino’s had created a Twitter account, @dpzinfo, to address the comments, and it had presented its chief executive in a video on YouTube by evening.

“It elevated to a point where just responding isn’t good enough,” Mr. McIntyre said.

Man sprays his own toxic waste over food in shops

This story is from this week’s  Birmingham Post. I had driven past the Air Balloon pub near Cheltenham just yesterday where this chap did some of  his dirty work. I had to think why this story had caught my attention. Something about the way cats and dogs behave….something about a personal statement about our society….I don’t know. Nowt as strange as folk as the people in Yorkshire say.

An unemployed chemist was jailed for nine years today for contaminating food and wine by spraying his own urine and faeces in supermarkets in Gloucestershire.

Algerian Sahnoun Daifallah also sprayed the slurry over children’s books and in a pub as he carried out his foul campaign by concealing a 1.5 litre weed killer container in a lap top bag modified to allow the nozzle to poke out. And it was revealed that he intended to bring his campaign to Birmingham.

Daifallah, 42, was last month found guilty of four counts of contaminating goods at Tesco, Morrisons, Waterstones bookstore and a pub in Gloucestershire on May 14 and 16 last year.  The incidents caused £700,000 of damage to products and in lost businesses when the stores had to close.

When police searched his house they found stockpiles of the mixture and plans to spread the muck in other cities including Bristol and Birmingham.

Daifallah, who had fantasies about biological weapons to cause public alarm, was also found guilty of having an offensive weapon, namely a catapult with marbles.

Judge Carol Hagen said security agencies had labelled Daifallah, who has a degree in industrial chemistry, a very high risk to public safety. She sentenced him on Tuesday at Bristol Crown Court to concurrent sentences of three years, five years and two of nine years for the contamination offences and 12 months for possession of a weapon.

She told him that during the seven day trial, in which he had represented himself, she found him to be “arrogant and inflexible” in his thinking.
She added that she had wanted to jail him indefinitely but the law would not allow her to.

“Your actions showed a callous disregard for public safety and you caused considerable alarm and anxiety,” she said. “You caused substantial police and forensic involvement given that the nature of the substances were not known.”

Proceedings to deport him have begun.

Daifallah first visited the Air Balloon Pub near Cheltenham at 12.45pm on May 14 where police were called after he made offensive comments to a barmaid.

When officers arrived Daifallah was no longer there but he had left a trail of stench behind him which was his ‘calling card’.

He then moved on to Waterstones bookstore in Cirencester where he sprayed the brown substance all over a toilet in the coffee shop.

Staff noticed the smell but it was not until after he had left that they discovered a 20 metre area of 38 shelves, from the classics to the children’s section, had been doused in the foul substance.

In total 706 books were contaminated, most of them in the children’s section.

Two days later at 11am Daifallah visited the Tesco store in Quedgley where a shopper saw him reach into his bag and produce a jet of brown fluid over the frozen chips.

He then moved on to the wine section where a member of staff saw a fine vapour come out of his bag and on to the wine, leaving the brown substance over the shelves.

Daifallah then drove four miles to the Morrisons store in Abbeydale where an employee in the wine section noticed him acting strangely and gagged at the overpowering stench.

Both supermarkets were cordoned off and shoppers were locked in for safety reasons while the source of the contaminant was traced. The stores were closed for two days for cleaning and shoppers reported skin rashes and nausea.

Police officers called by staff at Tesco identified Daifallah on CCTV and arrived at his home in Bibury Road, Gloucester, while he was still spraying in Morrisons.

On searching the flat they found several bottles of the noxious mixture and several plastic sachets containing excrement marked with the names of cities on them.

They also found messages scrawled over the walls referring to biological weapons, smuggling uranium into Britain and micro-organisms being spread.

One of the messages said: “The ants get out to every direction to get food, then they bring it back to Tesco and Asda. If you poison those then you kill the ants.”

A map of Gloucester with ‘Contaminated 83% Ammonia’ written on it was also found in his bedroom.

His house was sealed off for two weeks while forensic scientists worked out what was in the packages.

Daifallah was questioned by police about another four incidents in February last year when brown liquid was sprayed at four pubs in Stroud.

Property speculators could make a killing on Death Row

According to the Telegraph Californian authorities are considering selling Death Row to property speculators.

Death Row’ could go up for sale Legislators in California are considering “selling Death Row” which could raise up to $2 billion (£1.4 billion) in much-needed funds thanks to the correctional facility’s prime location and enviable vistas.

The San Quentin State Prison, which was built in 1852, houses more than 5,300 inmates, including 635 prisoners sentenced to death. Situated in picturesque Marin County, it occupies a 435-acre site in one of Northern California’s most desirable locations, and boasts panoramic views over San Francisco Bay.Estate agents estimate that the land would be worth over $2 billion on the open market, and predict there would be considerable interest from property developers keen to build luxury apartments and offices on the site.
 If plans to sell the prison are approved, lawmakers in California will build a new correctional facility – complete with expanded accommodations for the state’s growing Death Row population – with the proceeds, a project that will cost an estimated $1 billion (£700 million). Profits from the sale would go towards stemming the Golden State’s burgeoning budget gap, which is projected to reach $42 billion (£29 billion) within two years.
San Quentin, like many of California’s prisons, suffers from chronic overcrowding. In 2003, $220 million was allocated to finance a new, state-of-the-art Death Row facility on its grounds. Spiralling costs mean the figure would now be closer to $400 million, money critics argue could be better spent during times of economic hardship.
“It makes little sense, at a time of unprecedented state budget deficits, to pour $395.5 million more (if that is indeed the final figure) into a facility that should have been shut down and sold off when Gov Ronald Reagan first proposed it in 1971”, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Despite its reputation as a liberal state, California has the nation’s largest number of condemned prisoners. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, however, only 14 inmates have been executed, as the time between sentencing and death is typically between 20 and 25 years. By contrast, 38 people have died of natural causes while awaiting their fate.

Mexico falls further into war zone territory

America’s real president speaks out against the drug wars that are turning Mexico into another Colombia. Failed State? War Zone. The picture below shows a relatively small haul from an army raid in Mexico City recently.
The main story is from  The Washington Post, more even handed than me, that’s for sure.

MONTERREY, Mexico, March 26 — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that Mexico and the United States had agreed to develop a “checklist” of tasks for both sides to intensify the fight against Mexican drug gangs engaged in a bloody turf war.

Speaking near the end of a two-day visit, Clinton said the list would include timelines committing the United States to speed up delivery of drug-fighting aid and getting Mexico to move faster on reforming its judicial and law enforcement institutions.

Clinton also said she was “confident” that a trade tiff with Mexico over trucking would be resolved quickly and that Mexico’s recent decision to slap tariffs on dozens of U.S. products “will be withdrawn.”

Clinton’s visit came as the U.S. government expressed alarm over the surge of drug violence in Mexico, where President Felipe Calderón has deployed the army in a desperate effort to restore order. More than 7,000 people have been killed since January 2008 in attacks by traffickers on their competitors and security forces.

Clinton called on Mexicans to support their government’s fight against the gangs and urged students to use the Internet to send tips on illegal activity to authorities.

“This is the responsibility of citizens as well as leaders,” she said at a speech at the Tecnologico de Monterrey university. “It is a mutual responsibility, and it’s particularly important for the young people of Mexico, who have enormous power right now, to strengthen your democracy, to call for more reforms, to shine a bright light on corruption.”

Monterrey, about 130 miles south of the U.S. border, is Mexico’s third-largest urban area. It is home to some of the country’s most prosperous families, known for their multinational businesses and pricey collections of modern art. But it has seen its former tranquillity shattered by drug violence.
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On the eve of Clinton’s trip, authorities announced the arrest of a man they called a leading cartel figure in the Monterrey area, Héctor Huerta Ríos. Days earlier, they picked up a suspect accused of organizing a gun-and-grenade attack on the U.S. Consulate in the city last October.

During her trip, Clinton emphasized that the United States shares responsibility for the drug war because of the millions of Americans who abuse cocaine, heroin and other drugs that fuel the trade, as well as the traffickers’ easy access to U.S. guns. That stance won her glowing headlines in Mexico, where many people say the American government has neglected its responsibility for the problem.

On Thursday morning, Clinton visited a gleaming new police training facility in eastern Mexico City that is receiving funds through the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative, a U.S. effort started last year to help train and equip Mexican security forces.

She watched police with dogs practice sniffing suitcases for drugs and carrying out a hostage-rescue exercise. She then walked through a hangar to observe two new Black Hawk helicopters purchased by the Mexican government for drug-fighting operations. The U.S. government has pledged to provide more helicopters, but the delivery has been delayed, to the dismay of Mexican authorities.

Among other priority topics during her visit was the dispute over the U.S. Congress’s recent decision to end a pilot program that allowed some Mexican trucks to transport goods in the United States.
U.S. labor unions fought the program, arguing that the vehicles were not safe. Mexico said the move violated the North American Free Trade Agreement and imposed tariffs on such U.S. products as wine and sunglasses.

Between meetings, Clinton met with indigenous students and visited the Basilica of Guadalupe, a shrine to Mexico’s most beloved religious icon.

Fernando Alvarez, 48, was part of a crowd of people who gathered outside a police line to catch a glimpse of Clinton. “Mexicans like her because of President Clinton,” he said. “President Clinton is worshipped. He is very human. He is not very formal. That’s kind of the Mexican way of living.”

In Washington, Dennis C. Blair, the top U.S. intelligence officer, sought to crush perceptions that the United States was worried about Mexico’s stability.

“Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state,” he told journalists. Blair said the spike in violence in Mexico showed that the CalderÃn government’s anti-drug policies were having an effect.

Blair said recent U.S. aid to Mexico included assistance in intelligence-gathering to give CalderÃn an advantage against the cartels. He offered no

Blitz mentality sadly lacking according to the States

 This story appeared on the website boing boing this week.I was quite taken aback by the tone of it at first and then found it interesting – because naturally there’s quite a strong liberal American consumerist feel to the site….but surely they don’t feel an affinity with bomb-makers?

The London police have bested their own impressive record for insane and stupid anti-terrorism posters with a new range of signs advising Londoners to go through each others’ trash-bins looking for “suspicious” chemical bottles, and to report on one another for “studying CCTV cameras.”

It’s hard to imagine a worse, more socially corrosive campaign. Telling people to rummage in one another’s trash and report on anything they don’t understand is a recipe for flooding the police with bad reports from ignorant people who end up bringing down anti-terror cops on their neighbors who keep tropical fish, paint in oils, are amateur chemists, or who just do something outside of the narrow experience of the least adventurous person on their street. Essentially, this redefines “suspicious” as anything outside of the direct experience of the most frightened, ignorant and foolish people in any neighborhood.

Even worse, though, is the idea that you should report your neighbors to the police for looking at the creepy surveillance technology around them. This is the first step in making it illegal to debate whether the surveillance state is a good or bad thing. It’s the extension of the ridiculous airport rule that prohibits discussing the security measures (“Exactly how does 101 ml of liquid endanger a plane?”), conflating it with “making jokes about bombs.”

The British authorities are bent on driving fear into the hearts of Britons: fear of terrorists, immigrants, pedophiles, children, knives… And once people are afraid enough, they’ll write government a blank check to expand its authority without sense or limit.

What an embarrassment from the country whose level-headed response to the Blitz was “Keep Calm and Carry On” — how has that sensible motto been replaced with “When in trouble or in doubt/Run in circles scream and shout”?

After 10 years of peace….

I’ve sort of flippantly ignored a major story in the last week or so – the return to violence in Northern Ireland – a topic which had dominated the years of my youth. Again, it takes an outsider to properly objectify this story – rather than the message seen in graffiti on Ulster’s walls, ~an eye 4 an eye, back 2 war~ I think David Park in the New York Times has captured the essence of this difficult moment wonderfully.

IN Northern Ireland the squalid and brutal murders of two unarmed, off-duty soldiers taking delivery of pizzas, followed by the execution of a police officer who was responding to a call for help, achieved what all acts of terrorism intend — the release into the body politic of the poisonous spores of fear.

In this case, the fear was all the more potent because it infected the psyche of all those who had lived through the Troubles, regenerating the memories of the darkness. The stigmata of those partly repressed memories were suddenly uncovered and they seemed as vivid as when we first encountered them. There was that almost forgotten surge of fear, then the uncontrolled free fall of emotions rushing through sorrow to anger before stalling in a sense of helplessness.

We recognized and acknowledged, too, the rituals that accompany such deaths — the television pictures of swaths of flowers that transform murder spots into temporary shrines; the bewildered expressions of those who lay them; the white-suited forensic experts carrying plastic bags; the voices of politicians in competitive condemnation. The fear also infected our children, many of them asking their parents questions about history to which it was difficult to find coherent or explanatory answers. In schools some children — and not just the children of police officers — openly expressed an ominous apprehension about the future.

The spoken and unspoken question was whether we were about to see the return of the Troubles. There was an implicit fear that the period of political agreement had merely been a mirage, what Seamus Heaney in his poem “North” described as “exhaustions nominated peace” — a temporary and arbitrary pause for respite.

Certainly, the dissident Republicans who carried out these murders, whether they called themselves the Real I.R.A. or the Continuity I.R.A., must have exulted over what their bullets had achieved, and like all jihadists who believe that killing people is the blood-petaled path to glory, must too in those immediate hours after the killings have felt a gratifying sense of their newly claimed power.

But something quite remarkable has happened in this country as the hours have turned into days. It started with ordinary people interviewed on television and radio who invariably expressed an abhorrence of “returning” or “going back.” At first it was clearly the product of a deep-seated fear of regression towards the abyss, a fear that the peace process itself would crack asunder with the impact of violence, but then the fear turned to anger — an anger that a small group of fanatics with little or no popular support should seek to subvert the will of the people of Ireland.

Across towns and cities people of all traditions assembled to protest in dignified but powerful silence. There was a constant reiteration that what had been achieved could not now be lost, that a peace process, for all its problems, could not be usurped and subverted by the gun.

Something else remarkable happened. In a country where politicians can argue about which way the wind is blowing, they instead lined up shoulder to shoulder, so physically and rhetorically close there was not the tiniest chink or warp of divergence, and expressed their unity in uncharacteristically crystalline language. So we saw Martin McGuinness — once a senior commander in the I.R.A., now a deputy minister in the local government — standing alongside the province’s Protestant first minister and chief constable as he labeled the killers “traitors,” his anger palpable.

Indeed, it was a crossing-the-Rubicon moment for many nationalists as their leaders condemned the killings and urged their followers to pass on any information to the police. What only a decade earlier would have been denounced as “touting” now became the moral responsibility of every citizen.

And then there was Jackie McDonald, a hard-bitten leader of the Ulster Defense Association — a Protestant paramilitary organization that had engaged in many sectarian murders — among the thousands who turned up for the vigil at Belfast’s City Hall. There as a passionate advocate for peace, he praised Mr. McGuinness for his public statements.

There was soon evidence also that paramilitaries on both sides were in communication with their former enemies, offering assurances. So what we initially thought was a potentially dangerous attack on what has been achieved in Northern Ireland, and what we momentarily feared might be the beginning of disintegration, has in fact served only to demonstrate the strength of the process of reconciliation and the inviolable strength of a community that has made its political differences subservient to an overwhelming desire for peace.

So even now, while in brooding housing estates blighted by poverty and corrupted by the commerce and culture of drugs, young men made bitter by the scourge of history throw their bricks and bottles and stones and perhaps dream of more killings; or in some shed deep in South Armagh where a car bomb is painstakingly being assembled, the dissidents that remain must struggle to suppress the insistent truth that while they have the power to kill, each killing merely serves to strengthen what they wish to destroy.

And so the other night when my teenage daughter briefly turned her eyes away from “The Simpsons” to ask in a curiously tentative voice if the Troubles were coming back, I was able to say, “No, no they’re not.” And what I also know is that despite its painful human tragedies, the past week has not been about going back but about how far we’ve come.

Cast of thousands.

This plaster cast was made entirely of cocaine.

I have to say I was amused at the audacity of this smuggler who made a “plaster cast” out of cocaine in order to smuggle it through Spanish customs. This story is from Yahoo news today. His broken leg was genuine however – which makes me think he’d broken it in pursuit of his goal….

Spanish police said on Friday they had arrested a 66-year-old Chilean at Barcelona airport after discovering his broken leg was supported by a “cast” made out of cocaine.
The man, who had hobbled off a flight from Santiago, was carrying more of the drug in fake beer cans and two hollowed-out stools.
“The man had a fractured leg and the ‘plaster cast’ that was immobilising it was entirely made from cocaine,” a statement said.

He “displayed an open fracture of the tibia and the fibula, and has been transferred to a clinic for an operation.

“Investigators are examining the possibility that these injuries were brought about voluntarily… to facilitate trafficking through security checks,” the statement said.

Spanish police are particularly wary about so-called “hot flights” from South America and had their suspicions about this man, which proved to be well-founded.

In total, the Chilean had 4.85 kilogrammes (10.7 pounds) of cocaine stuffed in the cans, the stools and forming his would-be “cast”, police said.

Spain is one of Europe’s main points of transit for cocaine from South America, mostly from its former colony Colombia, the world’s top producer of the drug.

The country has become the biggest consumer of cocaine in continental Europe, and is one of the world’s top users of the drug, according to a 2008 United Nations report.

A third of Brits anticipate Athens style riots in London in coming months.

According to the Independent a normally reliable poll shows that almost  40% of Britons anticipate serious rioting in city centres in the coming months. Hmm. Could be right. The picture shows December’s Athens riots as a taste of what we’re in for.

More than a third of voters believe the Army will have to be brought in to deal with riots on British streets as the recession bites, a poll showed today.

The widespread fear of serious unrest was disclosed as a senior police officer warned activists were planning a “summer of rage” and could find rioters easier to recruit because of the credit crunch.

Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan Police’s public order branch, said known activists were planning a return to the streets centred on April’s G20 summit of world leaders in London.

And intelligence shows they may be able to call on more “footsoldiers” than normal due to the unprecedented conditions – which have led to youth violence in Greece and mass protests elsewhere in Europe.

YouGov polling for Prospect magazine found 37 per cent thought such “serious social unrest in several British cities” was certain or likely – although a slim majority (51 per cent) disagreed.

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) said they feared a sustained return to mass unemployment.

And a clear majority (64 per cent) also favoured forcing the under-25s to do a year of full-time, modestly-paid community service such as working with the sick and elderly or helping with environmental projects.

Labour MP Frank Field told Prospect the main political parties should join forces to develop the idea.

“The time has come to look at this idea. A new bipartisan commission should be established to look into how it could be done, perhaps led by figures as respected as David Blunkett or David Davis,” he said.

Although the biggest support for a compulsory scheme was among the older generations, a majority of 18-30 year olds (52 per cent) also gave it their backing.

Talking about the prospect of disorder, Mr Hartshorn told the Guardian: “Those people would be good at motivating people, but they haven’t had the ‘footsoldiers’ to actually carry out [protests].

“Obviously the downturn in the economy, unemployment, repossessions, changes that. Suddenly there is the opportunity for people to mass protest.

“We’ve got G20 coming and I think that is being advertised on some of the sites as the highlight of what they see as a ‘summer of rage’,” he told the newspaper.

Gordon Brown’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister’s view on this is that of course he understands people’s concerns and he also understands that people are angry, for example about the behaviour of some of the banks.

“That’s why he is absolutely determined that the Government does everything possible to deal with those concerns and help people and businesses get through what is a global recession.”

YouGov polled 2,270 people between February 10-12.

Chinese snakeheads on skunk

I found this story in the Scotsman yesterday – but the background story behind it featured below is even more interesting, reminding me of a novel by Timothy Mo called Sour Sweet – well worth a read if you are interested in Triad  activity in England (or in Scotland as the case may be)

MORE than 600 cannabis plants, with a street value of £180,000, were seized by Tayside Police yesterday in a raid on a flat in the Perthshire village of Alyth.
The raid on a flat at the Old Mill Buildings in the village’s Banff Road was carried out as part of an intelligence-led operation by the Tayside force. A 25-year-old Chinese man was detained.

(back ground story by MICHAEL HOWIE)
THE Scotsman today reveals the massive scale of cannabis production by Asian gangs in Scotland – an expanding and increasingly violent trade generating hundreds of millions of pounds for organised crime.
Scotland has, for the first time, become gripped by illegal drug production on a huge scale, with hundreds of Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian gangs operating a network of cannabis factories.

Police have smashed 143 factories run by south-east Asians since the gangs set up business in Scotland two years ago.

But detectives say the problem is getting worse, with more cultivation being set up, increased violence between rivals, and stronger links emerging with human trafficking, prostitution and counterfeit goods.

Houses, flats, farm buildings and disused warehouses have been taken over, with “gardeners” going to extreme lengths to cover their tracks.

Nearly 70,000 plants capable of producing £21.6 million worth of the drug have been recovered. But senior officers say this is “the tip of the iceberg” and have stepped up the fight against the Chinese-led gangs, who have increased their stranglehold on the drug trade in recent months.

A national task force has been set up in response to the problem. Its job will be to track down the “Mr Bigs” at the top of the organised crime chain.

Some 127 people from south-east Asia have been arrested since the gangs set up business in October 2006. But police admit a clampdown, known as Operation League, has failed to bring down the most senior figures. Despite judges setting tough sentencing guidelines for those involved, the number of new cannabis factories appears to be increasing.

Detectives do not know if the “skunk” cannabis – an extremely potent variant of the drug – is being produced for the domestic market or for export. But what has become clear is the increasingly violent tactics employed by gangs to protect their illegal enterprises, including abductions and attempted murders.

IN NUMBERS

143
number of cannabis farms uncovered in Scotland run by south-east Asian gangs.

69,583
number of cannabis plants found.

5
number of years growers face in jail if caught.

£21.6 million
potential yield of plants seized.

2,502
number of plants recovered from Scotland’s biggest cannabis farm, in a warehouse in Ayr.

127
number of people arrested.

A growth industry hidden in suburbs

IT HAS become the growth industry that no-one wants. No-one, that is, except the Chinese gang leaders making millions of pounds from the production of cannabis on an unprecedented scale in Scotland.

The drug factories could not be more unassuming – or unlikely. The production lines in what has fast become one of Scotland’s biggest criminal enterprise are typically found in quiet suburban housing estates.

From the outside, few people would guess what lies inside the modern, detached houses favoured by the gangs. Inside is an astonishing sight, as whole rooms are transformed into hothouses, with hundreds of cannabis plants covering almost every inch of floorspace.

Sophisticated growing systems are installed to create perfect conditions for the plants to flourish. A morass of wires powers a complex array of growing equipment, including feeders, lamps and ventilators. Each factory costs about £15,000 to set up. But the profits can be immense, with each plant capable of producing more than £300 of cannabis.

In June, police uncovered a massive cannabis factory in a house near Dornoch, in the Highlands, that contained more than 1,000 plants – capable of producing more than £300,000 of drugs.

A complex network of criminals is employed by each cannabis gang, each with a specific role. Detectives say they resemble a business, with various departments overseen by a “board of directors”.

“There are various levels of the organisation,” says Detective Chief Superintendent Stevie Whitelock, head of intelligence at Strathclyde Police and the man who led Operation League. “They will have individuals responsible for identifying the property for lease, going round looking for vacant warehouses and vacant houses. There will then be individuals who will come in and do the joinery work, the electrical work. Then you will find people coming in to set up the cultivation, the lights, the plants.

“After that you have the gardeners who tend to the plants and harvest the commodity. You will then have a group of people who come in to take the commodity away, sell it on. There are also individuals responsible for moving the money about.”

Police have significant successes at the department level, closing in on a number of managers as well as scores of rank-and-file workers. But the directors, on the whole, remain elusive. It is not yet known whether they are operating within Scotland, elsewhere in the UK or from their power bases in south-east Asia.

The operations are understood to be headed by Chinese, with an army of Vietnamese and Malaysian “foot soldiers” carrying out the risky dirty work. Many are illegal immigrants living in cramped, squalid conditions inside the factories.

The recent emergence of serious violence among those involved – including arson attacks on cannabis factories – has led police to believe turf wars have broken out between rival gangs in Scotland.

Some of these gangs are known to have links to cannabis factory operators south of the Border. Police in Scotland initially feared the gangs had been displaced from England as a result of detectives there getting wise to their operations. But the phenomenon has become a global issue – with Italy, France and Australia among those hit by the cannabis crime wave.

In response to the explosion in production in September the Home Office announced the appointment of the UK’s first cannabis factory co-ordinator. Mark Matthews, a former Merseyside chief superintendent, is spending the first few weeks in the job getting to grips with the true extent of cannabis cultivation.

Last year, police discovered some 3,000 operations in England and Wales – almost all found in anonymous, ordinary homes.

Police say the lives of the gardeners, and unsuspecting neighbours, are seriously threatened by the risk of fire. Since late 2006, five serious fires have been reported at cannabis factories in Scotland, although no-one has so far been injured.

One way the gangs keep their costs down, as well as their profile, is by tapping directly into the electricity mains. It is thought each factory is effectively stealing an average of £24,000 a year – costing power companies millions of pounds.

One way the criminals have evaded detection is by thoroughly insulating their factories so that heat-seeking cameras cannot pick up the intense heat given off by the growing lamps that send temperatures in the factories soaring above 40C.

Factory operators are also placing mothballs near letterboxes and keyholes to disguise the pungent smell given off by the plants.

The industry has shown a remarkable growth since a cannabis farm was found in the Kilmarnock area in 2006. Within a short time, more were discovered in Lanarkshire, Paisley and Glasgow.

But they have since spread. While 95 Asian-run cannabis factories have been uncovered in Strathclyde, another 13 have been discovered in Grampian, 11 in Lothian and Borders, ten in Tayside, seven in the Highlands, five in Fife and two in the Central Scotland police area.

“I’m convinced this is just the tip of the iceberg, not only for Scotland but across the UK,” says Mr Whitelock.

Those involved in cannabis growing are also involved in other organised crime activities. “We have had indigenous crime groups for many years but what we have here is crime groups who are using Scotland as a base to produce cannabis.

“But it’s not just about cannabis – they are also involved in the DVD markets. The money from these activities is going into the coffers of organised crime and will be used to facilitate human trafficking, including the prostitution of young girls from south-east Asia.”

How I “Madoff with” 50 billion – could it have slipped down the back of the sofa?

We all know this story – how Mr Madoff misplaced 50 billion dollars  and deceived the likes of  Nicola Horlick and other grown up investors the world over. It made me read about Charles Ponzi, the inventor of the eponymous Ponzi scheme. Does anybody out there notice a looky-likey resemblance? The story best encapsulating these links between the two ran in the New York Times yesterday.

 The $50 billion fraud that federal authorities say Bernard L. Madoff perpetuated has already been called the largest Ponzi scheme in history (though Dealbook reports there seem to be other contenders for that distinction).

On the surface, at least, it would seem that Mr. Ponzi and Mr. Madoff could hardly be more different. Mr. Madoff, 70, was a fixture in the high-flying worlds of finance and philanthropy, with a reputation that extended from Manhattan’s moneyed elite to the exclusive golf clubs of Palm Beach, Fla. Mr. Ponzi, who died in 1949, was a fast-talking immigrant and college dropout, whose scheme — according to Mitchell Zuckoff, Mr. Ponzi’s biographer — rested on the eagerness of ordinary working people to benefit from the wealth they saw being generated around them during the last Gilded Age.

madoff

“He had his nose pressed against the glass,” Mr. Zuckoff, a professor of journalism at Boston University and a former reporter for The Boston Globe, said in a phone interview on Monday. “He was not linked with Wall Street and New York, though he had dreams of being like Rockefeller.” Continue reading How I “Madoff with” 50 billion – could it have slipped down the back of the sofa?

Teen gang rape. Part of everyday life in Hackney.

Recently in our house we have been watching the HBO series The Wire. When I say watching I should say gripped or even addicted given the subject matter. Ever since I saw creator David Simon talking about his idea on the Culture Show and I decided to give the series a chance, I have admired the way it gets to grips with the dirty side of everyday reality. I have even thought how distant it was from our comfortable lives here in the UK. Then a story like this comes along which I read in Saturday’s Guardian. I felt sad. I felt this is life, like in the Wire, with the place names changed.

A judge ordered yesterday that seven teenagers who gang raped a 14-year-old girl in a brutal “punishment” attack should be identified in a bid to deter other young men from similar crimes.

Judge Wendy Joseph QC warned the defendants, some of whom were as young as 13 at the time of the incident, that they faced jail sentences for the attack in Hackney, east London, as the court heard that the victim been driven to attempt to kill herself.

She was singled out because she had insulted the leader of a local gang, the Kingzhold Boys, the prosecutor, Nicola Merrick, said. She was dragged by her hair between a succession of tower block stairwells and landings in an ordeal that lasted around an hour and a half.

She was taunted, hit, threatened and orally raped by an ever-growing crowd of teenagers summoned to the scenes by mobile phone. By the time they reached the final scene, 15 boys were present. Some of the attacks were filmed on phones and shown to others later that night.

Merrick asked for the order which usually bans the identification of juvenile defendants to be lifted. “Those young people who become members of gangs, should know the outcome of this trial, that they will not mete out punishments as a gang with impunity and not ultimately retain their anonymity.” The judge lifted the order after hearing the crown argue that the community and public should know what had happened. “Naming and shaming is something this procedure is not designed for,” Joseph said. “That’s different from deterring others.”

She left the order in place in relation to two others who were also convicted of rape because they were part of the gang, but did not actually assault the girl.

The seven who can be named are: O’Neil Denton, 16, the leader of the gang; Weiled Ibraham, 17; Yusuf Raymond, 16, and Jayden Ryan, 16, who were all convicted of rape, kidnap and false imprisonment, and Alexander Vanderpuije, 15; Jack Bartle, 16; and Cleon Brown, 15, all convicted of rape and false imprisonment. Denton, Ibraham and Raymond had all pleaded guilty.

The two who cannot be named are now aged 14 and 16. They will all be sentenced on Monday.

Reading from a victim impact statement, Merrick told the court the victim said her life had been turned upside down. She now lived in a police safe house out of the area and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The girl said in the statement: “I feel like a prisoner, having to look over my shoulder everywhere I go. I used to find the unexpected fun. Now the unexpected is frightening and not exciting like it used to be.”

She also blamed herself for not doing more to resist the attacks by screaming and fighting back, but was frozen with fear, the court heard.

The court heard the victim had told the girlfriend of Denton, who was known by the nickname Hitman, she thought he was a “tramp”. After the girlfriend passed this on to him, he threatened the victim on the phone and in the street, scaring her so much she went to stay with her grandmother out of the area.

But on the day she returned, April 30 2007, Denton was waiting with Ibrahim, Raymond and Ryan and the rape began. At one point, she spotted someone she had known for years: a friend. But as she turned to Cleon Brown he looked her in the eye and said: “I can’t help you now, I’m with my boys.” Soon afterwards he too raped her.

After the boys were convicted, Detective Constable Jonathan Burks, who led the investigation, said the boys were trying to impress older men. “You have the elder gang members who run the gang and the younger ones who will try to emulate the elders, and do what they’re told,” he said.

On the rundown estates, where everyone’s business is public, threats and incidents of intimidation were rife in the run-up to the trial. One witness has been moved out of the area and others have had panic buttons connected to police installed. Several people who saw parts of the attack refused to give evidence, put off by the fear of reprisals. Before the boys were charged, the victim was intimidated verbally and via texts and MSN messages, police said.

The family says a car someone thought belonged to her stepfather was smashed up and the gang’s name was penned above the lift entrance where she was last attacked.

In the end it was another boy who had come to see what all the fuss was about who stepped in to end her torment. Even then the other boys tried to hold him back, but he managed to grab her clothes and phone and escort her out, closely followed by the gang.

Back at the entrance to the block her stepfather, alerted to the situation by girls who knew she had been taken, was waiting angrily. The commotion that ensued swiftly attracted the attention of uniformed police who were searching nearby on an unrelated matter.

Had they not been on the scene anyway, it is possible the attack would never have been reported, detectives said. The suspects were rounded up within two days thanks to CCTV footage, on which officers were able to identify well-known faces.

Police said the defendants had seemed shocked at being found guilty. “I can only assume they never thought this would get this far,” said Burks, who led the case. “There’s been no remorse shown by anybody.”

The victim was determined not to let the attack “destroy her life”, Merrick said.

But putting the attack behind her would be a “mammoth task”. “She refers to herself as still in a state. I suspect that is an understatement.”

Guilty of rape, kidnap and false imprisonment

O’Neil Denton, 16, leader of the gang; Weiled Ibraham, 17; Yusuf Raymond, 16; Jayden Ryan, 16

Guilty of rape and false imprisonment

Alexander Vanderpuije, 15; Jack Bartle, 16; Cleon Brown, 15

Armed terrorists single out British and US passport holders in Indian five star hotels

At least 100 people were shot by militants, thought to be Islamic mujahadeen in luxury hotels throughout Mumbai yesterday. Gunmen apparently singled out US and British passport holders. The head of India’s anti-terrorist squad was killed in the attacks.

Ironically the property that became the Taj in Mumbai was founded by an Indian, Jamsetji Tata, as a place that would not discriminate, a place of tolerance.  Of course, the name makes me think of the Taj Mahal in Agra as I write this – its Mughal history owes much more to the Persian Islamic tradition than to any Hindu one. It is, essentially, a tomb. As a personal note from me, let me remind readers of Rabindranath Tagore’s (Poet, Philosopher, Musician, Writer, Educator, Nobel Laureate 1861-1941) description of that tomb as “one tear-drop…upon the cheek of time”
This report is by Rina Chandran, and I found it published in the Independent.

Indian commandos freed hostages from Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel today but battled on with gunmen who launched attacks across India’s financial capital, killing more than 100 people. The Islamic militants arrived by boats in Mumbai yesterday, before fanning out and attacking luxury hotels, a landmark cafe, hospitals and a railway station, firing indiscriminately.

Some 17 hours after the late-evening assault, soldiers and militants were still exchanging intermittent fire and more than 100 people were trapped inside rooms of the Taj Mahal hotel, a 105-year-old city landmark.

“People who were held up there, they have all been rescued,” Maharashtra state police chief A.N. Roy told the NDTV news channel. “But there are guests in the rooms, we don’t know how many.”

Roy said some people were still apparently being held hostage at the nearby Trident/Oberoi Hotel. “That is why the operation is being conducted more sensitively to ensure there are no casualties of innocent people.”

Police said at least six foreigners were killed and another 287 people were wounded in the attacks, which were claimed by the little-known Deccan Mujahideen group.

“Release all the mujahideens, and Muslims living in India should not be troubled,” said a militant inside the Oberoi, speaking to Indian television by telephone.

The man, who identified himself only as Sahadullah, said he was one of seven attackers inside the hotel, and wanted Islamist militants to be freed from Indian jails.

Later, an explosion was heard at the hotel, a Reuters witness said.

At least two guests, trapped in their rooms in the Taj, also phoned TV stations. One said the firedoors were locked, and another said he had seen two dead bodies by the swimming pool.

“Two of my colleagues are still in there and the last we heard from them was three hours ago and then the phone battery died,” said a German national who escaped the Taj.

The attacks were bound to spook investors in one of Asia’s largest and fastest-growing economies.

Mumbai has seen several major bomb attacks in the past, but never anything so obviously targeted at foreigners.

Authorities closed stock, bond and foreign exchange markets, and the central bank said it would continue auctions to keep cash flowing through interbank lending markets, which seized up after the global financial crisis.

The militants struck at the heart of Mumbai’s financial and tourist centre on Wednesday, with one of the first targets the Cafe Leopold, a famous hangout popular with foreign tourists.

They fired automatic weapons indiscriminately and threw grenades before settling in for a long siege at the Taj and the Trident/Oberoi.

“There could be 100-200 people inside the (Trident/Oberoi) hotel, but we cannot give you the exact figure as many people have locked themselves inside their rooms,” Maharashtra state deputy chief minister R.R. Patil told reporters.

“There could be 10-12 terrorists inside the hotel,” he said. “There are no negotiations with the terrorists.”

The attackers appeared to target British and Americans as they sought hostages. Israelis were also among the hostages, a television channel reported, while police said an Israeli rabbi was also being held by gunmen in a Mumbai apartment. Witnesses said the attackers were young South Asian men in their early 20s, most likely Indians, speaking Hindi or Urdu.

Television footage showed gunmen in a pick-up truck spraying people with rifle fire as the vehicle drove down a Mumbai street.

Hotel staff evacuated wounded on luggage trolleys, with passers-by covered in blood after they rushed to help. Some clambered down ladders to safety.

The attacks could be another blow for the Congress party-led government ahead of a general election due by early 2009, with the party already under fire for failing to prevent a string of bomb attacks on Indian cities.

Strategic expert Uday Bhaskar said the attacks could inflame tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

“The fact that they were trying to segregate British and American passport holders definitely suggests Islamist fervour,” Bhaskar said.

Police said they had shot dead four gunmen and arrested nine suspects. They said 12 policemen were killed, including Hemant Karkare, the chief of the police anti-terrorist squad in Mumbai.

Schools were closed and a curfew was imposed around the Gateway of India, a colonial-era monument. But train services were running as normal taking people to work in the stunned city.

Rakesh Patel, a British witness who was staying at the Taj Mahal hotel on business, said the attackers were looking for British and U.S. passport holders.

“They came from the restaurant and took us up the stairs. They had bombs. Young boys, maybe 20 years old, 25 years old. They had two guns,” he told the NDTV channel, smoke stains covering his face.

Japan’s foreign ministry said at least one Japanese national had been killed and one injured in the attacks, while South Korea said 26 of its nationals had escaped unharmed.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed one Australian had been killed by the attacks in Mumbai, but it was possible the number of Australians killed could rise. Two other Australians were also injured in the attacks.

In Washington, the White House and President-elect Barack Obama condemned the attacks, as did France, current president of the European Union, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

SUBJECT: REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP

I found this on the internet today and it provided me with a refreshing antidote to the stories of Royal Bank of Scotland plunging over 40 percent in value, America in dissarray, Wall Street bankers hurtling to their doom down the sides of skyscrapers….. purporting to be a 419 scam (you know, those emails from scammers claiming to be the president of Nigeria) for me it captures the mood of a moment.

Dear American:
I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.
I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of US$800 billion. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.
I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.
This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.
Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.
Yours faithfully,
Minister of Treasury
Paulson

Somalian pirates hold Ukrainian ship to ransom. US and Russian ships are on the scene.

This story comes from Luke Andrews who pointed it out to me earlier today – it ran on the Fox news site today – “pay up or we’ll keep your tanks” was my alternative for this one. Since I started writing this the Washington Post updated the story, which appears below.

CAIRO, Sept. 29 — The U.S. Navy bolstered its force of warships off Somalia on Monday, intensifying its watch over Somali pirates holding a hijacked Ukrainian-operated vessel with crew members, arms and tanks aboard.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, said “there are now several U.S. ships” within eyesight of the hijacked ship, Faina, which according to the Kenyan government was bound for Kenya when it was seized last week. The pirates are negotiating for ransom with the vessel’s owner.

Speaking by telephone from Bahrain, Christensen declined to say how exactly many other U.S. warships had joined the USS Howard, a guided-missile destroyer, off Somalia. The U.S. ships were staying in international waters off Somalia, Christensen said, while the Somali pirates kept the Faina within the 12-mile territorial bounds of Somali waters.

U.S. sailors remained close enough to see the ship and had established bridge-to-bridge contact via radio, he said.

Somali pirates hijacked the Faina on Thursday, seizing its 21 Ukrainian, Russian and Lithuanian crew members and an arms cargo that included 33 T-72 tanks. Kenya said the tanks and weapons were for its military. Pirates have anchored the hijacked vessel a few miles off the Somali town of Hobyo.

The U.S. Navy intends to maintain “a vigilant, visual watch of the ship” to make sure pirates don’t try to unload the tanks, ammunition and other arms aboard, Christensen said.

“We’re deeply concerned about the cargo and we don’t want it to go into the wrong hands,” he said.

Russia has said it is sending a warship as well.

Radio France International said Monday it had spoken, apparently by cellphone, with a pirate aboard the Faina, who said at least three warships were near the hijacked ship.

“Ships and troops have surrounded us,” said a man identified by RFI as pirate Sugule Ali. He spoke in Somali. “There’s a lot of unusual movement surrounding us and planes are flying overhead. I warn anyone who might be tempted by any military operation or use of force, if we’re attacked, we’ll defend ourselves, until the last one of us dies.”

The man repeated a demand for $20 million in ransom, as well as the release of the ship and the crew.

Somali news media reported over the weekend that one of the hostage crew members had died. Pirates told local elders that the man died of problems related to high blood pressure, according to the Somali news reports.

Somali pirates have launched what the International Maritime Bureau calls the biggest surge of piracy on modern record, attacking more than 60 vessels this year off Somalia and in the adjoining Gulf of Aden. The Gulf of Aden, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal, is the main shipping route between Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991. It is wracked now by fighting between Islamist fighters and a U.S.-backed force from neighboring Ethiopia that is propping up a largely powerless Somali transitional government.

The conflict already has displaced more than 1 million Somalis, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Fighting this week alone has forced at least 16,000 Somalis from their homes, the U.N. refugee agency said.

Many desperate Somalis pay smugglers to ferry them to Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, to escape the violence. But the smugglers typically throw the refugees overboard miles from land.

Since August, the bodies of scores of Somali refugees have washed up on Yemen’s shores.

On Sunday, the U.N. refugee agency confirmed the deaths of at least 52 more Somalis off Yemen. Somali smugglers had set off Sept. 3 in a ship with at least 100 refugees. The Somali vessel broke down within days, and the smugglers abandoned the drifting vessel and the people aboard, the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement.

——————-

MOGADISHU, Somalia —  As a heavily armed U.S. destroyer patrolled nearby and planes flew overhead Sunday, a Somali pirate spokesman told The Associated Press his group was demanding a $20 million ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks.

The guided missile destroyer USS Howard was stationed off the Somali coast on Sunday, making sure that the pirates did not remove the tanks, ammunition and other heavy weapons from the ship, which was anchored off the coast.

But the pirate spokesman warned that the pirates would fight to the death if any country tried military action to regain the ship, and a man who said he was the ship’s captain reported that one crew member had died.

Pirates seized the Ukrainian-operated ship Faina off the coast of Somalia on Thursday as it headed to Kenya carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial amount of ammunition and spare parts. The ordnance was ordered by the Kenyan government.

A spokesman for the U.S. 5th fleet said the Navy remained “deeply concerned” over the fate of the ship’s 21-member crew and cargo.

In a rare gesture of cooperation, the Americans appeared to be keeping an eye on the Faina until the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, reaches the area. The Russian ship was still in the Atlantic on Sunday, the Russian navy reported.

Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said he was speaking Sunday from the deck of the Faina via a satellite phone — and verified his location by handing the phone over to the ship’s captain, who also spoke with the AP. It was not possible to further confirm their identities.

“We want ransom, nothing else. We need $20 million for the safe release of the ship and the crew,” Ali said, adding that “if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves until the last one of us dies.”

Five nations have been sharing information to try to secure the swift release of the ship and its crew — Ukraine, Somalia, Russia, the United States and Britain. Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua, however, insisted his country will not negotiate with pirates or terrorists.

Ali said planes have been flying over the Faina. It was not known which country the planes belonged to. He also said others who made earlier ransom demands did not speak for the pirates holding the ship.

A man who said he was the captain of the seized ship and who identified himself as Viktor Nikolsky told the AP that a Russian crew member died Sunday because of hypertension.

“The rest of us are feeling well,” Nikolsky said, adding that he could see three ships about a mile away, including one carrying an American flag.

Both Ali and Nikolsky spoke on a satellite phone number the AP got from a Somali journalist who spoke to Ali earlier in the day. The conversation lasted about 30 minutes. Ali spoke in Somali with a central Somalian accent and Nikolsky spoke in broken English.

Russian media had earlier identified Nikolsky as the first mate, yet he identified himself to the AP as the ship’s captain. It was not possible to immediately resolve the discrepancy.

U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen told AP that the San Diego-based USS Howard had made contact with the Faina on Sunday.

“While we can’t get into details, I will say there has been basic bridge-to-bridge communication established with the ship,” Christensen told the AP in a phone interview from the 5th Fleet’s Mideast headquarters in Manama, Bahrain.

Christensen said the Navy was aware of one crew member’s death, but did know what the cause was.

Pirate attacks worldwide have surged this year and Africa remains the world’s top piracy hotspot, with 24 reported attacks in Somalia and 18 in Nigeria this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center.

Attacking ships has become a regular source of income for pirates in Somalia, a war-torn country without a functioning government since 1991.

Christensen said the Faina was anchored off Somalia’s coast near the central town of Hobyo.

“What’s on board is of concern to us as much as the criminal activity,” Christensen told the AP, adding that the Navy does not want the tanks and other weapons to end up “in the wrong hands.”

Christensen refused to say what the crew of the American destroyer would do if the pirates began to offload the tanks and weapons.

“It’s a very complex situation and we do not want to speculate on any particular aspect of it,” he said.

According to its Web site, the USS Howard has surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, anti-submarine rockets, torpedoes, and a five-inch rapid-fire deck gun.

In the latest hijacking in the area, a Greek tanker with a crew of 19 carrying refined petroleum from Europe to the Middle East was ambushed Friday in the Gulf of Aden, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

11 charged in Grand Theft from an Auto – the biggest identity theft ever.

This article was written by Brad Stone and appeared in the New York Times.
I loved it because it gives us a really fascinating insight into how one might go about stealing 41 million different credit card numbers using such techniques as “war driving” “sniffing” and fake VPN’s or virtual private networks.

Federal prosecutors have charged 11 people with stealing more than 41 million credit and debit card numbers, cracking what officials said on Tuesday appeared to be the largest hacking and identity theft ring ever exposed.

The thieves focused on major national retail chains like OfficeMax, Barnes & Noble, BJ’s Wholesale Club, the Sports Authority and T. J. Maxx — the discount clothes retailer that first suggested the existence of the ring early last year, when it said its systems had been breached by hackers.

Underscoring the multinational, collaborative aspect of organized crime today, three of the defendants are United States citizens, one is from Estonia, three are from Ukraine, two are from China and one is from Belarus. The name and whereabouts of the final defendant are unknown.

Federal officials said a principal organizer of the ring was Albert Gonzalez, a man from Miami who was indicted on Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Boston on charges of computer fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy and other charges. If convicted on all counts, Mr. Gonzalez would face life in prison.

Mr. Gonzalez and several in his cohort drove around and scanned the wireless networks of retailers to find security holes — known as “war driving,” according to prosecutors. Once the thieves identified technical weaknesses in the networks, they installed so-called sniffer programs, obtained from collaborators overseas.

Those programs tapped into the retailers’ networks for processing credit cards and intercepted customers’ PINs and debit and credit numbers that were stored there. The thieves then spirited that information away to computers in the United States, Latvia and Ukraine.

Officials say the conspirators sold credit card numbers online and imprinted other stolen numbers on the magnetic stripes of blank cards so that they could withdraw thousands of dollars from A.T.M.’s.

“Computer networks and the Internet are an indispensable part of the world economy. But even as they provide extraordinary opportunities for legitimate commerce and communication, they also provide extraordinary opportunities for criminals,” said Michael B. Mukasey, the United States attorney general, at a news conference in Boston to announce the indictments.

Mr. Gonzalez was first arrested by the Secret Service in 2003 on similar charges. He was subsequently placed on supervised pretrial release and became an informant to the agency in its campaign against organizers of ShadowCrew, a bulletin board where hackers traded stolen financial information.

But prosecutors said that Mr. Gonzalez continued his criminal activities and tried to warn one of his conspirators, Damon Patrick Toey, to ensure that Mr. Toey would not be identified or arrested in the operation against ShadowCrew. Mr. Toey was among those indicted on Tuesday in Massachusetts.

“As soon as we became aware that Mr. Gonzalez was also working with criminals and getting them information, we immediately took action,” said Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service.

A lawyer for Mr. Gonzalez could not be located.

To sell card numbers on the black market, the group turned to Maksym Yastremskiy of Ukraine and Aleksandr Suvorov of Estonia, who were also charged, according to prosecutors.

Mr. Yastremskiy, thought to be a major figure in the international sale of stolen credit card information, was apprehended in July 2007 on vacation in Turkey and is in prison awaiting trial on charges including credit card theft. The United States has asked Turkey to extradite him.

The indictments shed more light on the breach into the stores of TJX, the owner of T. J. Maxx. In 2005, Christopher Scott, another man who was charged, compromised wireless access points at a Marshalls in Miami and used them to download payment information from computers at TJX headquarters in Framingham, Mass., prosecutors said.

The following year, prosecutors said, the conspirators established a virtual private network connection into TJX’s payment processing server and successfully uploaded a sniffer program.

In public financial filings, TJX said it had spent around $130 million on matters related to the break-in, including legal settlements, and it expected to spend an additional $23 million in the 2009 fiscal year.

Federal officials did not have an overall tally for the amount of money stolen by the ring, but they offered some glimpses into its profitability. In the indictment against Mr. Gonzalez, federal officials asked that he be forced to forfeit more than $1.6 million, among other assets.

“These guys were obviously sophisticated and organized,” said Toby Weiss, chief executive of Application Security, a database security firm. “In this economy, we can’t have people afraid to spend.”

Fake entries on Facebook cost £22,000 in libel damages

I found this story in today’s Independent. Interesting because someone once messed around with one of my son’s Facebook entries which caused him some distress – but building a whole fake one is a different story and proved the undoing of the guy below.

A businessman whose personal details were “laid bare” in fake libellous entries on the Facebook social networking website was awarded £22,000 damages today against a former friend who created the profile.

Mathew Firsht, managing director of Applause Store Productions Ltd, sued an old schoolfriend, freelance cameraman Grant Raphael, for libel and misuse of private information.

A judge at the High Court in London ruled that Mr Raphael’s defence to the action – that the entry was created by mischievous party gate-crashers at his flat – was “built on lies”.

Deputy Judge Richard Parkes QC awarded Mr Firsht £15,000 for libel and £2,000 for breach of privacy.

Mr Firsht’s company, which finds audiences for TV and radio shows and provides warm-up services for live audiences, including the evictions on Big Brother, was awarded £5,000 for libel.

Mr Firsht accused Mr Raphael of creating a false personal profile, and a company profile called “Has Mathew Firsht lied to you?”, from a computer at the flat where Mr Raphael was living in Hampstead, north west London, in June last year.

Mr Raphael claimed that “strangers” who attended an impromptu party at the address that day sneaked off to a spare bedroom and created the profiles on his PC.

The profiles were on the site for 16 days until Mr Firsht’s brother spotted them and they were taken down by Facebook.

The judge heard that the private information concerned Mr Firsht’s whereabouts, activities, birthday and relationship status and falsely indicated his sexual orientation and political views.

It said that he was “Looking for: whatever I can get” in terms of relationships and was signed up to groups including Gay in the Wood…Borehamwood, and Gay Jews in London.

Mr Firsht complained about allegations that he owed substantial sums of money which he had repeatedly avoided paying by lying, and that he and his company were not to be trusted in the financial conduct of their business and represented a serious credit risk.

He accused Mr Raphael of bearing a grudge against him since they fell out in 2000 and of creating a false Facebook entry with the aim of causing him anxiety and embarrassment.

Recounting the “unfortunate dispute between two former friends”, the judge said Mr Firsht’s company provided audiences for popular shows such as Big Brother, The X Factor and Top Gear.

He was personally involved in overseeing the audience operation, and his credibility and reputation were very important to him.

Mr Raphael, a freelance lighting cameraman, also spent much of his time working in television.

Mr Firsht, now in his late 30s, became good friends with Mr Raphael in Brighton, where they went to school together.

They fell out around six years ago over a business dispute. Mr Firsht, who said he did not hold grudges, forgot about the episode and moved on to become very successful.

“He is plainly a businessman of single-minded drive and dedication, and he did not strike me as being the kind of man to waste valuable time on ancient disputes,” the judge said.

By contrast, Mr Raphael’s company went into voluntary liquidation and, by the time the present dispute arose, “Mr Firsht was prospering and highly successful, and Mr Raphael was not”.

The judge described as “utterly far-fetched” Mr Raphael’s claim that a complete and random stranger visiting his flat for the first time used his computer for more than an hour, without being observed, to create a false and hurtful profile containing information that few people apart from Mr Raphael could have known.

Mr Raphael, as a witness in court, was “glib and loquacious, always prepared, it seemed to me, to talk his way out of a difficulty, with no apparent insight into the implausibility of some of his answers”.

The judge said Mr Firsht, a very private person, was shocked and extremely upset by the gross invasion of his privacy and the fact that personal details, including false details about his sexuality, had been “laid bare for all to see”.

The damage he suffered was made worse by his being compelled to endure an expensive and time-consuming court process to achieve vindication in the face of Mr Raphael’s lies.

He would have accepted an apology if Mr Raphael had offered one at an early stage, thus avoiding the distress and expense of litigation.

Travellers turn to revellers in one easy move.

Liverpool Street station this Saturday night – not rush hour, but a whole evening of boozy behaviour as a horde of people “celebrate” the last night on which drinking in public on the London travel system is legally allowed. It all got a bit out of hand apparently – especially round the Circle line (the event was called last Round on the Circle Line (geddit?) – various members of London Transport staff were assaulted – as this article in the Independent tells us.

For thousands, it was the chance to be part of a Facebook-inspired “flash mob” – a spontaneous group of partygoers enjoying the last night of legal drinking on the London Underground. But for sober Tube travellers, Saturday night’s journey was the stuff of nightmares.

Police arrested 17 people for a range of public order offences and closed six Underground stations, with several trains taken out of service because of vandalism. The Circle line was suspended for a time.

Four train drivers and three other London Underground staff were assaulted, with another 50 further staff verbally abused or spat at. A police vehicle had its tyres slashed, two officers were assaulted and another was injured. Organisers had called on attendees at the “Last Round on the Circle line” – a celebration of the final night before Boris Johnson’s ban on carrying or drinking from open containers of alcohol came into force – to follow in the good natured footsteps of other flash mobs.

But as the Tube carriages filled and broken glass from discarded bottles covered the floors, what began as a good natured knees-up was marred by fighting, vomiting and vandalism. Liverpool Street station was closed for several hours because of overcrowding.

As the lead train made its way through the City and on towards west London, the atmosphere was boisterous but friendly, with three carriages full of people dancing on the seats and singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. At Victoria station, a bemused, elderly, American couple hesitated to board the train before passengers grabbed them by the arms and pulled them on, pouring each of them a large brandy.

However, as the train progressed on its 22-stop circuit, some of the crowd began ripping maps and posters off the walls. With some drinkers pouring beer into their mouths through funnels, vomiting soon became common. One man dressed as a Star Wars character urinated between the doors to the adjoining carriage, on to the electrified tracks below, cheered by others.

At Notting Hill, shortly before 10pm, passengers broke the doors on one carriage, putting the train out of service. The Circle line was suspended soon afterwards. Elsewhere, Euston, Euston Square, Aldgate, Gloucester Road and Baker Street stations were also closed.

Desmond Fitzgerald, 48, a photographer from Croydon, south London, said: “At first the atmosphere was happy but anarchic. Then a fight broke out between about five people but because we were so tightly packed it soon spread through the carriage.”

Supt Ellie Bird, of British Transport Police, said: “Saturday night’s event showed the negative impact of alcohol and we took action to arrest those whose behaviour was disorderly and criminal.”

RMT, the rail union, blamed the chaos on Mr Johnson and said his plans – a manifesto commitment – were “imposed with haste without consultations”.

The price of political opposition in Zimbabwe.

These are extracts from the diary of Esther, published by the BBC. They speak for themselves about what it means to oppose Mugabe’s regime, in real terms.

Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, is writing a regular diary on the challenges of leading a normal life.Zimbabwe is suffering from an acute economic crisis. The country has the world’s highest rate of annual inflation and just one in five has an official job.I have a friend whose brother works as a teacher in an area that is said to be experiencing some of the worst post-election violence.When schools opened about two weeks ago, he decided to stay away from there.

After a while he thought it would be safe to return to his school, as he had heard no reports of violence there.

He was abducted from his home on Monday night, beaten up and returned to his home.

He managed to send text messages to his family, and told them not to come and collect him to seek medical treatment as he was instructed by his assailants not to leave the area “Or else.”

Because he does not hold a Zanu-PF membership card, it was assumed he was an MDC supporter.

And the worst part was that he was given a “certificate” to show he had received his beating.

He was told to produce it whenever someone else wanted to beat him as proof that it had already been done.

The paper even had a date stamp and the signature of the leader of the group.

Another friend of mine had an uncle who recently passed away. He told me he was debating whether or not to go to the countryside for the funeral.

His parents had told him that “war veterans” in the area had set up road blocks, were stopping and searching all vehicles, and telling people travelling in from Harare to go back where they had come from.

There is a good chance that warning would come after a beating they said. In the end, he decided to go and honour his uncle’s memory, and face whatever he came across.

He has not yet returned, so I do not know how he fared.

People are saying this is what the run-up to the presidential election run-off is going to be about – violence and intimidation.

The idea is to force supporters of the opposition to stay away from their homes so that on voting day they cannot cast their vote.

There is no chance that these people are lying. The reports are too numerous and are coming from too many areas.

Life in the city:

For the urbanites, the struggle is – as always – with ever increasing prices.

Public transport fares doubled over one week. Last Friday, a single fare was $50m, today, exactly one week later it is $100m.

The list of what we thought were basics that have since become luxuries continues to grow.

For example, laundry soap now doubles up as bath soap. You can do without bread, and grow your own sweet potatoes instead. If you cannot grow them, then buy them, they are still a lot cheaper.

But this week, I do not feel so much for my people as I do for the Burmese.

Cold, wet, hungry and homeless as their leaders think about whether or not to accept foreign aid.

The suffering ordinary people have to endure as the world respects sovereignty is beyond belief.

Confessions of a Ketamine addict.

No not me…….a guy called David Eggins writing his true confession this week in the G2 part of the Guardian. It makes for gripping reading and reminded me a bit of a Million Little Pieces by James Frey which of course was scandalous in itself because it proved to be partly made up – whereas Mr Eggins is writing about something that is so true it is uncomfortable – but useful. He called his piece “Enslaved by K”, read it and take it all in.

I first took ketamine in 2002, between my second and third years at university. I was mourning the end of a long-term relationship with a massive bender. It was a weekday afternoon and I was necking ecstasy and playing pool when a mate asked me if I’d ever tried “K”.

We didn’t even finish the game. We went back to my flat and it was love at first snort.

One of the problems with K is trying to explain what a “K-hole” is like. Nothing can prepare you for the chaos. All you can say is that it is really weird, but until you have taken it, even the most drug-fried mind can’t comprehend what “weird” can mean. Most people hate it; it’s just too much. Many are sick because of a sort of mental travel sickness. But I didn’t throw up: I adored it. The K-hole has been described as an endless dimension to explore, and that’s exactly what it is. Space, time and language either have no meaning or become ridiculously distorted. It can seem as if you are travelling through time or seeing into the future, as if you are living multiple lives or not living at all. And you feel something coming, something huge with you at the centre, because there is a massive messiah complex in there as well.

I have been at one with the cosmos, communicated with the universal forces that are our true gods, and been told that death should be embraced as the next level of everything. All complete bollocks, of course, but I never got that from a wrap of coke.

For a little while I had my ketamine use under control and found it therapeutic.

K – which was originally developed as an anaesthetic and is still used to treat animals and occasionally humans – did wonders for my ego. I lost my sense of shame and fear of death, I felt liberated. I got an unexpected first at uni, I was writing book reviews for a national magazine, and I had a new, beautiful girlfriend. I hung out with fellow K-heads, or “wrong ‘uns”, as we were known to other druggies, whose company I loved. I felt part of something and life was good, but all the time I was using more and more K.

It is the tolerance that gets you. When you start, a gram might see you through three or four nights out. Before long it will be enough for only a few hours and, sooner or later, you start using it at home. I started selling it to pay for my habit.

Today, ketamine is a class-C drug, on a level with cannabis, but until a few years ago it was regulated only by the Medicines Act, and although it was still illegal to deal in it, the police took less of an interest. I used to buy it in liquid form and then cook it in a pan or microwave to create powder. The liquid came from India, often disguised as rose water. Someone would have it posted to their house and I would buy a litre from them for £300. That litre would turn into 50 grams, which I sold for £15 or £20 a gram. It never felt like a risk, at least as far as the police were concerned. But I couldn’t have that much K around me without doing it, all the time.

If I wasn’t at work – I had become a chef after leaving university – I was taking K.

I would take a gram during the break in my split shift. I would get home and sniff three grams in front of the television, and then take another three to bed with me. I had a line before work, not knowing if I had slept. And I was starting to get ill. I have always liked drink and drugs but, other than tobacco, I had never been truly addicted to anything before. I never used heroin or crack, and could tell when any substance was becoming a problem. I usually just got bored of something and moved on – but not this time. K may not be physically addictive, but it is compulsively psychologically addictive.

I stopped dealing when my girlfriend asked me to, hoping that this would help, but I was too far gone. I still did as much, but I started to hide it from her.

After about two years of using ketamine, I was spending more and more time in the toilet, and urinating was beginning to hurt.

I developed a stoop because my penis was always burning. One day, on a train, I had my first cramp attack; I thought my lung had collapsed. I went to a doctor, who told me to stop taking K or I would die, but then an older user told me not to worry, it was “just K cramps”. He said that they wouldn’t kill me, but I might wish that they would. Apparently they could last for days.

I still didn’t stop. The cramps got worse, the blood and mucus began to appear frequently in my urine and I had to pee every 20 minutes. I lied more than I told the truth, particularly to my girlfriend, and I hated myself. I couldn’t stand to be around myself and wanted to cause myself harm. K worked on both fronts.

I stopped going out because my friends didn’t want to see me like that, I quit my job because I was in too much pain to work, and I lost the review gig because I could no longer read a book. I fell further into debt.

By the time I realised that ketamine was ruining my life, I no longer cared. I didn’t want to die as such; I just didn’t mind if I did. My girlfriend couldn’t save me. She begged me to leave the west country town where I was living, surrounded by other K-heads, and move back to Devon, where I had grown up.

I told her I would, but I was lying. I didn’t want to give up. I was positive I was going to die whether I did or not.

One evening, about a year ago, when I was supposed to be watching a friend’s band play at our local, I found myself naked, writhing on my kitchen floor, racked with abdominal cramps and self-loathing, and praying.

Praying to a God I don’t believe in to show Himself, to intervene, to give me something to believe in other than ketamine, and the certainty that my life was over. He didn’t, but when the pain subsided, the relief was almost like a drug in itself.

In the end change was forced on me. A local street gang had tried to break into my flat on several occasions. They held a knife to my flatmate’s throat as he left for work. We managed to fight them off, but I could hardly walk by then and weighed nine stone. It was the street or home. I called my mum.

Once back home, I could barely sleep and suffered from night terrors and sleep paralysis. I started to smoke cannabis, scored black-market codeine and Valium. And I kept begging my K dealers to send me some. I offered them silly money, but they still said no, because they truly were worried about me. Later, when I did find another source of K, I used the bare minimum to get me through the craving.

So here I am, living on my mum’s settee. I’ve got my health back but lost everything else, including my girlfriend. She had lost all trust, and in the end she realised she would be glad to see the back of me.

Do I think that ketamine should be higher than its class-C listing? No, but people should know what they are dealing with. By the time I did, it was too late. There is so much media coverage of illegal drugs, yet K is rarely mentioned, although it is everywhere and spreading fast. Most people who try it won’t develop any major problems, but a minority of users get very sick. A friend of mine lost so much control over his bladder that he had to have a catheter fitted when he was 21, and there are going to be a lot more cases like this. He didn’t know it was addictive either.

The one bright spot in all this is that the human body has amazing powers of recovery. If there is any addict of any substance reading this who thinks that they have destroyed their body beyond hope, you might be surprised what happens if you give it a break. Within a month of moving home, I got a job as a builder. I even pee like a normal person. Do I drink too much and smoke too much pot now? Yep. Do I still crave K when I’m down or depressed? Sometimes. Do I ever give in to those temptations? Never. Am I still a liar? Of course not, darlin’, I promise.

Harriet models new jacket – and gets flak.

This is the first time I have ever included an article from the Daily Mail. Call me a wishy washy liberal if you like, but I can’t bring myself to respect a newspaper that ran the headline “hurrah for the blackshirts!” even if it was seventy years ago. However, as Deputy leader of the Labour party, Harriet gives us a glaring example of post Blairite media ham-fistedness. And of course, the Mail just loved it. Could have been under the headline Hurrah for the blackshirts, 2.

Harriet Harman has defended her decision to wear a stab-proof jacket during a police walkabout in her own constituency – claiming it was like donning a hard hat on a building site.

The Labour Party’s deputy leader rejected claims it suggested she did not feel safe on the streets.

Ms Harman, who is also Commons leader, said she wore the kevlar-reinforced vest as a “courtesy” to the neighbourhood policing team with whom she toured Peckham, South London.

She said: “There was no security issue whatsoever, it was almost like wearing the kit when you go out with the team.

The famously politically-correct MP, known to her detractors as Harperson, spoke out after facing ridicule over the move.

Her decision to wear the body armour was also seen as a sad reflection of a modern Britain where police feel they have to offer VIP guests “protection”.

It happened two months after the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, admitted she would not feel safe walking the streets after dark.

Aides of Miss Smith compounded her gaffe with a desperate attempt to undo the damage by claiming she had recently popped out in the evening to “buy a kebab in Peckham”.

In fact, she has round-the-clock police protection and the owner of the kebab shop revealed that Miss Smith had been accompanied by a burly minder when she dropped in for a £3.90 doner on a late afternoon in January.

Asked whether she would feel safe walking the streets of Hackney, one of the most deprived parts of London, the Home Secretary replied: “Well, no, but I don’t think I’d ever have done. I just don’t think that’s a thing that people do, is it, really?”

The Harman gaffe emerged after aides of the MP for Camberwell and Peckham, who is also leader of the Commons, sent a picture of her touring the area with police to local newspapers.
Privately-educated Miss Harman, 57, also posted the picture on her website, explaining how she had been on the beat with a Neighbourhood Policing Team on the day Labour relaunched its local policing strategy.

“It is absolutely crucial to have neighbourhood policing which is visible,” she wrote. “People feel safer when there is a police presents (sic).”

Sources said that before the walkabout, Miss Harman was asked whether she would like to wear a “Metvest” – the standard issue protective jacket worn by officers in Southwark.

One said: “Everyone is flabbergasted by her decision to wear the vest, especially when she was guarded by three police officers. Senior politicians who have visited Peckham in the past have never worn one.”

This morning Ms Harman told the BBC’s Today programme: “I was not parading the streets of London in a bulletproof vest – I was going out with my neighbourhood police team.

“Just as I might wear a hard hat on a building site or an Indian outfit going to meet Indian constituents, it’s just about wearing the kit.

“There was no security issue whatever. The idea that I put that on because I was fearful of being out and about in my own constituency at nine in the morning is just ridiculous.”

She added: “Then we went out on the streets and they (the police) hitched on their stab vests, I think is what they are called.

“They were telling me about their new version, (which is) much lighter than the old one so that if they have to chase criminals they can do it much more easily and it doesn’t weigh them down.

“And they gave me and my assistant one to wear as well.”

Interviewer John Humphrys said: “You wear a hard hat on a building site because there are dangers there.

“There is the danger that something might drop on your head. You don’t need to wear a bullet-proof vest on the streets of London, do you?”

Ms Harman responded: “No of course you don’t.”

Constituents said Miss Harman had insulted ordinary people who have no option but to walk the streets unprotected.

Beatrice Smith, 63, said: “The only time we see Harriet Harman is either on voting day or during some PR stunt. There is a lot of trouble on the estates but we don’t get given stab vests.

“There were two stabbings nearby earlier today, and I’d rather see her spending time sorting the crime problem out than posing in such a ridiculous outfit.”

Offences of violence in the borough of Southwark, which includes Peckham, have increased by 6.9 per cent in the last year.

In recent years, the inner London district has been the scene of a series of horrific street crimes, including the murder of schoolboy Damilola Taylor in 2000 and the shotgun murder of a woman at a christening.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis attacked the law-and-order record which led to Miss Harman’s decision to don protection.

“Under Labour London has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world and the minister, like the Home Secretary before her, clearly knows it,” he said.

“You would not need body armour in New York, Paris or Tokyo.”

The picture was also seized on by Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s main rivals for the job in May’s election.

Conservative Boris Johnson said: “The Labour Mayor continues to bury his head in the sand, telling everyone that crime has gone down in this city.

“The simple fact is that 27 teenagers were killed last year and a further 11 so far this year.

“Londoners do not have the luxury of personal police protection or stab-proof jackets which is why I have put tackling crime at the heart of my campaign.”

Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick, a former senior Met Police officer, said: “The fact that the deputy leader of the Labour Party has to wear a stab-proof jacket to protect her from her own constituents is a sad indictment of Ken Livingstone’s failure to deal with gun and knife crime.”

And lest we forget…….(Younger readers can find notes on the BUF here)

Ipod’s DRM hacked by DVD

I read in the Times Online today that the protection system which stops users from copying iTunes has been circumvented by a hacker called DVD Jon. Whatever you think about the morality of the issue, I love the fact that DVD Jon looks like an inoffensive mild-mannered Clark Kent kind of character. There’s a big entry about his life story and track record of strange hacking achievements here. Robin Hood? Hyper villain? Does Steve Jobs have enough money? Do you?

A notorious Norwegian hacker known as DVD Jon is preparing for another run-in with the music industry after he released software that lets iPod owners copy music and videos bought from iTunes and play it on other devices.

The program allows people to drag and drop songs from iTunes into a folder on their desktop, which in turn copies the files to other devices such as mobile phones and games consoles via the web.

In doing so, the software breaks the copy protection – known as ‘digital rights management’ or DRM – that is built into all music that is bought from iTunes. Music bought from iTunes can be played only on the iPod.

DoubleTwist, DVD Jon’s company, maintains that its service is legal, but lawyers said that Apple would almost certainly seek to shut it down because the law now specifically targeted technologies which attempted to circumvent measures such as DRM.

The $299 headest will read facial expressions and simple thoughts such as ‘lift’ or ‘drop’ to control in-game actions

The hacker has previously enabled iPod owners to play music bought from websites other than iTunes.

DoubleTwist’s new software will initially enable files to be copied to Nokia N-series mobile phones, Sony Ericsson’s Walkman and Cybershot handsets, as well as any smartphone powered by Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system.

The program gets around Apple’s DRM software by replaying a song in fast-forward and taking a copy of the audio track, using a process similar to that by which a CD is ‘ripped’ – or copied – to a computer.

About a hundred songs can be converted in half an hour, doubleTwist said, although there is a 5 per cent loss of sound quality – about the same as when a CD is copied.

A spokesman for the San Fransisco-based company said that its software was legal, because it only allowed a user who has already purchased music to copy it. “All we are facilitating are friends sending things to one another,” Monique Farantzos, doubleTwists’s chief executive and co-founder, told Reuters.

Lawyers today cast doubt on Ms Farantzos’s claims, however, saying that the law had taken steps to protect Apple’s efforts to control the way its music could be played, and that anyone circumventing measures such as DRM risked being found guilty of copyright infringement.

“I would be astonished if doubleTwist doesn’t get a call from Apple,” Paul Jones, a partner in intellectual property law at the London-based firm Harbottle & Lewis, said.

DVD Jon, whose real name is Jon Lech Johansen, has been an arch-enemy of the music and film industries ever since he released software which broke the copy protection on Hollywood films, aged 16.

In 2003, Mr Johansen, now 24, developed the first of several programs which attempted to bypass the system developed by Apple for synchronising its iTunes store with iPods, leading to one of a series of run-ins with the firm.