Saturday, April 29, 2006


A Good Samaritan has spoken of his disgust after a dying man was heckled by yobs. Travis Marshall, 42, tried in vain to save an elderly driver who had a heart attack at the wheel and careered into a bus. But as the victim took his last breath, sick youths in tracksuits and hoods clashed with police and yelled: "He is just a white man."

Mr Marshall, who performed emergency CPR on the man in St James's Road, Bermondsey, last Friday, said: "It was sickening. Here you had a dying man, people trying to save him and police trying to clear the scene. "Then there were these black youths and all they wanted to do was fight the cops. They were saying, `You think I am scared of you because of your uniform'. "I told them to have some respect because a man was dying and they shouted, `Who cares-it's just a white man'."

Mr Marshall told how a black woman next to him pleaded with cops to arrest the youths. He said: "These people should be ashamed to walk the streets. "I would try to help someone whatever their colour. "You can't print what I really think of them. They are scum-scum of the earth."

Mr Marshall was driving for a quiet weekend with sister Terry Choeb at her home in Peckham when he arrived at the crash scene at 4.20pm. He said: "People were just standing around. The man was bleeding from the mouth and was hardly breathing." He talked to the ambulance service on a mobile while checking the man's pulse, but when it started to fade he made the decision to lift him from his car and lie him on the road. Mr Marshall, a former private ambulance driver, then tried to give the kiss of life. Paramedics arrived 10 minutes later but could not save him. Mr Marshall, formerly of Peckham Rye but now from Canterbury, Kent, said: "It is sad, but all you can do is your best."



"Disability" insanity

Rail passengers are used to bizarre excuses for delays or overcrowding, but even the longest-suffering commuter will be stunned by the latest reason to be given by South West Trains. It is having to withdraw a modern fleet from one of its busiest routes because the letters on information screens are 3mm too small to comply with disability regulations.

The digital displays in each carriage, which show the stations that the train will stop at, are supposed to have letters at least 35mm high. The 28 trains in the Juniper fleet, introduced only seven years ago by SWT, have 32mm-high lettering.

The Government's disability advisers have persuaded ministers that the trains must be mothballed, even though thousands of passengers on the Reading to Waterloo route may have to cram on to shorter trains as a result. The Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee argued that the size of the letters could make it difficult for rail users with sight impairments or learning difficulties to distinguish the words. The committee recommended that SWT's application for a longer exemption from the regulations be rejected even though the train's audio system automatically announces each station in advance.

SWT's existing exemption runs out on July 31 and it had sought to extend it by six months while it introduced a new fleet. The company wrote to the Department for Transport in January expressing concern that, because of teething problems with new trains, it may be left with too few carriages in peak periods if the Junipers were withdrawn in July. Passengers who normally catch eight-carriage trains might find only four, already crowded, carriages turning up at their station. John Horncastle, SWT's mobility and inclusion manager, wrote: "Justifying the withdrawal of these trains on the basis of 3mm shortfall in the letter height on the internal information systems might be difficult, especially as this shortfall would have no discernible impact on journey quality for the majority of passengers."

SWT said that it would cost 750,000 pounds to install new screens. It was unwilling to pay this to extend the trains' service by six months before returning them to Porterbrook, the leasing company that owns them.

The Junipers were ordered in 1997, a year before the existing rules on letter size were agreed.

Roger Ford, technical editor of Modern Railways, said: "It is political correctness gone mad and will cause problems for disabled people because they suffer more on overcrowded trains than ordinary passengers." But Leonard Cheshire, the disabled charity, welcomed the DfT's decision, saying that it had been concerned by "the tendency to grant exemptions too lightly". Guy Parckar, the charity's parliamentary officer, said: "Passengers should blame overcrowding on SWT for not carrying out the work they said they were going to. Three millimetres might sound tiny but the rules are there for a reason. Disabled people face great difficulties in accessing the rail network and the regulations must be adhered to if the situation is to improve."

Porterbrook described the decision as ludicrous. SWT said that it hoped to avoid any shortage of trains by the early introduction of new carriages.

More here

Paternity fraud under legal test in Australia

Comment by Janet Albrechtsen:

Some issues are so fraught with emotion and hurt, they don't bear thinking about. It's tempting to put paternity fraud in that basket. But science is putting pressure on the law to confront this vexed issue. When a woman dupes a man into believing he is the father of a child she conceived with another man, increasingly, DNA tests end up delivering the shattering news. A father loses a child he thought was his, one he raised, loved and cared for as his own. A child loses a father and a family collapses. When that happens, what is the law to do?

The High Court is confronting that issue right now. Liam and Meredith Magill were married in April 1988. A son was born in April 1989. Unknown to her husband, a few months later Meredith began an affair with a man, having unprotected sex until early 1995. In July 1990 a second son was born. Then, the next year, a daughter. After separating, Meredith admitted to Liam her concerns over paternity. A few years later she agreed to DNA tests. Liam learned that the two younger children were not his.

He was left devastated, suffered chronic depression and was unable to work. He sued Meredith for the tort of deceit, claiming financial compensation for his pain and suffering, but not for money spent on the upbringing and maintenance of the children.

While the Victorian County Court found that Meredith had deceived Liam when she nominated him as the father on birth registration notices, that was overturned last year by the Victorian Court of Appeal. The High Court will now decide whether the tort of deceit will hold Meredith accountable for her actions.

There are few hints as to which way the High Court will go. But few will be surprised to hear that at the hearing a few weeks back, Justice Michael Kirby pointed to international law as the guiding light. He cited Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and said it means that the starting point in any matter that comes before the court must be determining what is in the best interests of the child.

Up in the rarefied atmosphere of international law, it's a neat sounding slogan. But down in the trenches, trying to apply it to the specifics of a case like this is another matter. Kirby suggests that the "best interests of the child" test applies for the simple reason that this case involves the depletion of family income: were Liam Magill to win, Meredith Magill would be forced to pay. It's a novel argument. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would prevent any legal action against any person who also happens to be a parent. After all, any legal payout drains the family income to the detriment of a child.

Note that Kirby's focus on the best interests of the child did not extend to a child knowing their biological father. Given that adoption laws are now premised on this rationale, one might think it should also apply here.

In any event, the High Court will need to probe a little deeper than the fine sounding but vacuous provisions of international law. And the question is simple: should the law of deceit apply where a mother and wife has deceived a husband into believing he is the father of a child? The court need not mess with the law of deceit. The principles are clear. Only the facts are new because science - DNA testing - is now revealing the deceit.

Those who claim there is a public policy argument in letting sleeping dogs lie assume that preventing litigation of this kind will make for happy families. It will do no such thing. It will only encourage women to perpetrate fraud in an age when science can uncover the truth. And there is no turning science back. Legal disputes over paternity fraud do not create the unhappiness. They are merely the aftermath of mothers deceiving men.

As in every other sphere of life, the only way to encourage responsibility is to make people accountable for their actions. The law has an important role in sending powerful messages capable of shaping behaviour in the future. Far from creating more unhappiness, legal sanctions for paternity fraud will, in the long run, encourage mothers to be honest about paternity.

That is why, if the High Court decides that the laws of deceit do not apply, in effect allowing women to engage in paternity fraud at will, parliament will need to step in. As the Australian Medical Association has said, this is a time bomb ready to explode; the AMA suggests that in Australia there are 200,000 families where the "presumptive father is not the biological father".

Unfortunately some feminists refuse to acknowledge the reality of paternity fraud. Following the Victorian Court of Appeal's decision against Liam Magill, the former Victorian convener of the Women's Electoral Lobby, Lisa Solomon, announced: "Women are moral, reasonable, rational beings. It would be a very rare instance where a woman would name someone who wasn't the father of the child."

For Solomon, it was about vindictive men using DNA tests to avoid paying for children. Get the picture? Women, good. Men, bad. Phew. Nothing like a little sex stereotyping when it suits. Leave aside the rank hypocrisy of feminists resorting to the kind of sweeping generalisations that would send them ballistic if made in the reverse. The real problem is that gender-blinkered statements get us nowhere in sorting out what to do when paternity fraud happens.

If a mother gives birth to a child and is negligently given the wrong baby in hospital, no one would question her right to claim damages. Deliberate paternity fraud should be no different. It's not a person's sex that matters. It's the damage caused by another that counts.

One suggestion is that paternity testing be made mandatory whenever a birth is registered. A correspondent from University College in London emailed during the week with the following idea: "As long as BDM [Births, Deaths and Marriages] registries are kept, they might as well be kept accurately. I would give about 10 months' notice before the new regulation or legislation takes effect. That's enough time for people to adjust their behaviour (or improve their contraceptive methods). With complete transparency and accountability, responsible adults will be better empowered." It's an interesting idea. Short of that happening, paternity fraud is here to stay. And so the question is whether we condone it or condemn it. If the High Court or parliament shies away from the issue, that will amount to society, in effect, condoning fatherhood founded on fraud. And that has to be the worst of two difficult options.


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