Crowded jails ‘threaten public’

September 28, 2007

Overcrowded jails are presenting a threat to the public, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has told the BBC.

Anne Owers said the prison population of 80,000-plus in England and Wales was having a “huge effect”, including on the rehabilitation of offenders.

Ms Owers said vulnerable inmates were being shuttled between prisons “like a pinball machine”.

Work on reducing suicides over recent years was now being reversed and they are on the increase again, she added.

BBC NEWS | UK | Crowded jails ‘threaten public’

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Failing schools in England up by 18%

September 28, 2007

The number of schools in England deemed to be failing at the end of last term rose by almost a fifth compared with 2006, schools inspectorate Ofsted reported today.

The 18% rise can be partly explained by a sharp increase in the number of inspections, but ministers also said it reflected an “uncompromising approach” toward underperforming schools.

By the end of the summer term this year, 246 schools were in special measures – the most serious category of concern for Ofsted, up from 208 at the same time last year.

Failing schools in England up by 18% | Special Reports | EducationGuardian.co.uk


UK’s plutonium store vulnerable to attack

September 22, 2007

Britain’s stocks of plutonium are kept in “unacceptable” conditions and pose a severe safety and security risk, experts warn today.

The Royal Society says ministers must urgently review the way more than 100 tonnes of the radioactive element, separated during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, is held at the Sellafield complex in Cumbria. The society, Britain’s premier scientific academy, says a previous warning to the government has been ignored, and that the rise of international terrorism means the UK must now find a way to use or dispose of the material.

Plutonium is highly toxic and is the primary component of most nuclear bombs. In a report published today, the society says a well-informed terrorist group could turn a small amount of the stockpiled material into a crude atomic weapon.

Professor Geoffrey Boulton, chair of the group that wrote the report, said: “The status quo of continuing to stockpile separated plutonium without any long-term strategy for its use or disposal is not an acceptable option. The Royal Society initially raised concerns about the security risks nine years ago, and we have not seen any progress. The stockpile has grown while international nuclear proliferation and terrorist threats have increased.”

The amount of plutonium stored at Sellafield has nearly doubled in the last decade to 103 tonnes. A quarter has been separated for foreign countries and companies. Prof Boulton said: “Just over 6kg of plutonium was used in the bomb which devastated Nagasaki, and the UK has many thousands of times that amount. We must ensure this very dangerous material does not fall into the wrong hands.”

Sellafield’s plutonium store ‘vulnerable to terrorist attack’ | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics


UK troops ‘face a 20-year battle in Afghanistan’

September 17, 2007

THOUSANDS of British troops could still be in Afghanistan battling the Taleban in 20 years’ time, the future commander of UK forces in the country has said.

Brigadier Andrew Mackay, the head of the Scottish-based 52 Infantry Brigade, made the grim admission in an exclusive interview with The Scotsman before flying out to the war-torn Helmand province to assume command of more than 7,000 British soldiers.

Britain is spearheading NATO’s international security assistance force in Afghanistan, which aims to support the democratic Afghan government against a resurgent Taleban militia.

Originally conceived as a low-key reconstruction mission, British troops now find themselves regularly involved in bloody close-quarters fighting which some commanders say is the heaviest UK forces have faced since the Korean War.

The British mission in Afghanistan is formally due to end in 2009, but the ferocity of the resistance and the fragility of Afghan democracy mean UK forces could still be on the ground in large numbers in two decades’ time, Brig Mackay said.

Scotsman.com News – UK – UK troops ‘face a 20-year battle in Afghanistan’


Rapid rise in cocaine use

September 17, 2007

A two-tier market in luxury and cut-price cocaine is developing in Britain, according to an annual survey by drug charities.

Feedback from 80 drug services, police forces and drug action teams in 20 towns and cities shows that the rapid expansion in the use of the drug is being fuelled by street dealers selling cheaper, low-grade cocaine to teenagers, pub users and those on low incomes to mix with other drugs.

This cut-price cocaine – at around £30 a gram – is reported to be available in virtually every part of Britain, while more affluent customers are being offered much higher quality cocaine at £50 a gram.

The DrugScope 2007 survey reports that in Birmingham individual dealers are offering their customers a choice of two grades of cocaine – “commercialised” at £30 a gram and “Peruvian” at £50 a gram. In Nottingham a higher-quality form of cocaine is known as “rocket fuel”.

Rapid rise in cocaine use aided by two-tier prices, say charities | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited


Police officers in red tape hell

September 17, 2007

POLICE officers are so mired in red tape that they risk spending more time recording crimes than solving them, a report warned yesterday.

Cops are also forced to investigate petty offences such as playground fights to hit Government targets — instead of concentrating on bigger crimes.

Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who wrote the damning report, said a culture change was needed to cut “excess bureaucracy”.

He added that fear of making mistakes led officers to “over-record and under-deliver”. In the interim report of his Review of Policing, he said: “We risk diverting officers’ priorities to recording crimes, rather than getting out on the streets solving them and preventing them.”

Bobbies’ union the Police Federation said logging a simple shop-lifting case could take up to FIVE HOURS.

The Sun Online – News: Police officers in red tape hell


Winter of discontent fear as TUC backs strikes

September 17, 2007

The TUC set itself on a collision course with Gordon Brown on public sector pay last night by backing strike action by millions of public sector workers, foreshadowing a new “winter of discontent”.

Civil servants, local government workers, teachers, transport workers, prison officers and postal workers agreed with a unanimous show of hands at the TUC conference in Brighton to back coordinated strike action against the government’s 2% pay limit and privatisation of services.

Winter of discontent fear as TUC backs strikes | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics