Saturday, August 06, 2011

How are the self-righteous fallen! Journalist at "The Guardian" admits phone hacking

THE British phone-hacking saga deepened as it was revealed that the assistant editor of The Guardian - the newspaper that originally uncovered the scandal - admitted hacking into telephone messages and getting a "thrill" from it.

In an article written for the media section of the newspaper in 2006, David Leigh said he hacked into private voicemails in order to explose "bribery and corruption," not "witless tittle-tattle."

Leigh, a Guardian executive, wrote the article after News of the World (NotW) royal editor Clive Goodman pleaded guilty to phone hacking, a crime for which he was later jailed. He wrote, "I've used some of those questionable methods myself over the years. I, too, once listened to the mobile phone messages of a corrupt arms company executive - the crime similar to that for which Goodman now faces the prospect of jail."

The journalist said the trick was "simple" as the businessman in question had left his voicemail pin code on a print-out.

Leigh added, "There is certainly a voyeuristic thrill in hearing another person's private messages. But unlike Goodman, I was not interested in witless tittle-tattle about the royal family." He also admitted to blagging - pretending to be someone else on the phone - to get stories and added, "As for actually breaking the law? Well, it is hard to keep on the right side of legality on all occasions."

The article came to light as it emerged that several alleged victims of phone hacking will soon file lawsuits against a second newspaper group, Piers Morgan's former employer, Trinity Mirror. The victims' lawyer, Mark Lewis, said the claims would be filed in a few weeks but did not disclose his clients' identities.

So far, the phone-hacking scandal centered on Rupert Murdoch's News International newspaper group, leading him to shut down the NotW.


Another false sex claim from Britain

A businessman has been awarded record costs of £100,000 against a former employee who made false allegations of sexual harassment. Debbie Smith claimed she was forced out of her job after Tim Watts, chairman of the Pertemps recruitment agency, called her a ‘sexy nurse’ as part of a stream of ‘degrading and offensive’ comments.

Mr Watts, 62, said: ‘These vexatious spongers have to be taught a lesson. And she has been, big time. ‘Like many others, Debbie Smith no doubt thought she could secure an easy bung. Most companies, even when they are in the right, which I would submit tends to be the majority of the time, settle such disputes because of the spiralling cost of fighting them. ‘Not me. I have never taken a backward step in my life. My reputation means everything to me, and I wasn’t having it. I wanted the truth to come out. And it did.’

Mother-of-three Mrs Smith was sacked as the £90,000-a-year managing director of a subsidiary of Pertemps, P Investments, after it lost £250,000. She sued for sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and victimisation.

Mr Watts maintained there was no truth in the allegations, which he said were made in ‘pique and anger’ following Mrs Smith’s dismissal, and the claims were branded ‘vexatious and frivolous’ by a Birmingham tribunal in March.

It ruled that 50-year-old Mrs Smith had been ‘out to get’ Mr Watts, and said she made her allegations to try to force a payout after the ‘catastrophic’ failure of the subsidiary venture.

Last month the tribunal ordered Mrs Smith to pay P Investments £100,000. Mr Watts had initially claimed £250,000, but settled for less than half that rather than see his accuser go bankrupt. The previous highest costs award is thought to be £67,000.

Mr Watts, whose fortune is estimated at £35million, said small firms and charities were ‘groaning under the burden of complying with employment law that encourages employees to misrepresent themselves as victims of discrimination whenever their poor performance or behaviour is tackled’. He added: ‘The Debbie Smiths of this world should never get to the starting block.’


Victory for common sense in Britain

Girl paralysed after diving into her friend’s swimming pool loses £6m damages claim after judge says owner 'didn’t need warning signs in his own home'

A teenager who was paralysed in a swimming accident at a late-night party lost her £6million compensation bid yesterday. Kylie Grimes was left paralysed from the chest down after hitting her head diving into a pool at a friend’s house when she was 18.

A High Court judge said she had suffered ‘catastrophic’ consequences from the misjudged dive, but ruled it would not be fair to allow her to sue the pool’s owner – her friend’s father – for £6million in compensation.

Mrs Justice Thirlwall said: ‘She was an adult. She did something which carried an obvious risk. She chose, voluntarily, to dive when, how and where she did, knowing the risks involved.’

Miss Grimes, now 23, hit the bottom of the pool with such force that she broke a vertebra below the base of her neck. She has lost the use of her arms and legs and is confined to a wheelchair. An ‘accomplished swimmer’ before the accident, she had drunk three or four small glasses of wine before the dive, but was not drunk.

Other teenagers at the party, at the home of businessman David Hawkins, were jumping and ‘bombing’ into the 30ft heated indoor pool, the High Court in London was told.

Mr Hawkins, who runs a forklift truck business, and his wife were not at home on the night of the party in August 2006. They had given permission for their 18-year-old daughter Katie to invite two friends to stay the night, and later said another two friends could stay. But around 20 teenagers ended up at the house in an exclusive area of Farnham, Surrey, after Miss Hawkins met up with friends from her sixth-form college at a nearby pub. Miss Hawkins insisted she had only invited five people she knew well and told the court: ‘Everyone else just turned up.’

Some of the youngsters had been drinking, and there was a ‘party atmosphere’ at the house, worth an estimated £1.5million.

The court heard that Miss Hawkins had handed a bikini top and tracksuit bottoms to Miss Grimes so she could go swimming.

The teenager, a keen horse rider and school athlete, swam for around 30 minutes before getting out, then re-entered the pool in a ‘shallow racing dive’. The judge said the dive must have been steeper than she thought, as she hit the bottom and immediately told friends her legs were not working properly.

Miss Grimes was taken to hospital but despite doctors’ efforts she was left tetraplegic. She can only move with the aid of a specialised wheelchair.

Miss Grimes sued Mr Hawkins claiming he was negligent because there were no signs warning against diving. Her lawyers said the combination of a teenage party and an unlocked swimming pool was ‘a recipe for disaster’.

But lawyers for Mr Hawkins said there was no legal requirement for such signs on a private pool and that other people, including his own teenage daughters, had dived there safely. Mrs Justice Thirlwall threw out the negligence claim, saying: ‘It would not be fair, just or reasonable.’

She said diving into a pool always carried an inherent danger, adding: ‘Every adult of normal intelligence knows it. The claimant in this case knew it.’

Miss Grimes has also launched legal proceedings against Frimley Park Hospital NHS Trust, which has admitted breach of duty over her treatment but denies that its actions made her injuries worse. That case has yet to be heard.


A Swedish riposte to the politics of paternalism

From the 1940s moral panic around dancehalls to today’s attempts to ‘nudge’ us into good behaviour, Mattias Svensson’s new book shows the shifting faces of killjoys in Sweden and beyond

An early memory of mine from growing up in Sweden is when the ‘fluorine lady’ came to my school. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, ‘fluorine lady’ visits were compulsory and involved pupils being instructed in how to take care of their teeth, being told that sweets are bad for you, and so on – before lining up to gargle a shot of fluorine. I recall the fluorine lady picking out my toothbrush for special attention – it had seen better days - to demonstrate to the other kids how you know when it’s time to invest in a new one. She ended her visit with an admonition to my parents whom I should tell, she said, to get me a new toothbrush ASAP.

A few years ago, after the publication of research showing that there are ‘signs of deteriorating dental health’ among Swedish teenagers, the Swedish National Dental Health Service announced a return of fluorine ladies, who are now referred to as ‘dental hygienists’. Special attention would be given to early intervention in ‘at-risk areas’ - that is, immigrant-dense suburbs.

In many ways, the demise and re-emergence of the fluorine lady sums up the paternalistic streak that has characterised the cradle-to-grave welfare state and that has survived the demise of social democracy. Backed up by statistics, executed by public officials, targeted especially at non-affluent sections of society, and justified as being in our own interest, officialdom’s intrusions into the private sphere may be well-meaning. But behind these interventions, with the state standing in loco parentis for both children and adults, it is clear that the government believes the nation’s citizens are not adequately discerning and that the authorities must secure society’s well-being through correcting individual behaviour.

Critiques of such paternalism are few and far between, but with his new book Glädjedödarna (The Killjoys), Swedish writer Mattias Svensson offers a rebuke to the contemporary impulse among politicians, policymakers, various experts and moralisers to intervene in the personal sphere, to moralise, legislate and politely ‘nudge’ us into acting in particular ways. Svensson’s book is a plea for valuing not just the big freedoms – freedom of expression, freedom of association and so on – but also small ones that may appear trivial but are in fact also essential for upholding autonomy.

‘Paternalism’, Svensson writes, ‘is when the state and politicians, in our presumed self-interest but without respect for how we act and what we believe, steer and regulate our everyday lives, our private lives and our pleasures. The personal sphere where we, as John Stuart Mill said, ought to rule unhindered.’

The Killjoys (not yet available in English) starts off in 1940s Sweden when a moral panic around dancing swept the country. An unholy alliance of priests, politicians, doctors and teachers formed to condemn dancehalls where young people were swinging and jitterbugging the evenings away. Other forms of new youth entertainment, like cinema and weekly magazines, were also seen as major social problems and the killjoys of the time did everything in their powers to steer young people away from them.

Today, that may all seem very naive and overly puritanical, but since the 1940s Sweden, and the Western world more generally, has been swept by a string of moral panics around everything from comic books and heavy-metal music to video games and pornography. And in Sweden, dancing has actually retained its reputation as a dark, corrupting force. In the 1990s, the Stockholm police formed a ‘rave commission’ which raided clubs that did not have a special ‘dance permit’. In effect, this amounted to techno music being outlawed in public places. And the war on dancing has continued into the Noughties. Police inspecting a Stockholm nightclub in 2006 remarked that there was a ‘loud atmosphere’ there and that ‘dancing occurred outside the designated dance floor’. The club was threatened with having various licences withdrawn.

Regulating pleasures does not just hit children and young people. Instead, the wars on drugs, alcohol, tobacco, ‘junk food’, conspicuous consumption, non-green habits and so on are carried out with prohibitions, admonitions and stigmatisations that affect us all. In other words, adults are treated as children by the powers that be.

Today, clampdowns on the freedom to choose our own lifestyles and pastimes are generally not carried out in a heavy-handed and overtly authoritarian way but through what the American academics Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler have termed ‘libertarian paternalism’. As Svensson explains, the idea is that ‘since people are irrational and seldom have strong, consistent and clear preferences, there is the potential to take decisions on their behalf that will increase their well-being’. Sunstein and Thaler’s idea that people ought to be ‘nudged’ in the right direction (in other words, to be encouraged, through friendly pointers and psychological tricks, to make particular choices) has gained a hearing across the political spectrum.

In effect, our options become limited as politicians and moralists of various creeds use ‘nudges’ to decrease our potential to take decisions that go against their view of what’s right. Moreover, the expanding ‘politics of the brain’ that Sunstein and Thaler have become the poster boys for - the idea that our minds are malleable, that we are irrational beings whose desires and passions must be contained and re-focused - is highly manipulative and authoritarian.

Today, when old certainties have crumbled, when religion does not wield a strong influence and when political leaders appear more like managers who are estranged from the masses, moralism is still a strong feature in the West. Now, however, it tends to be backed up by scientific research, which is time and again wheeled in to lend an air of authority and objectivity to what are in fact intrusive measures to ‘correct’ the behaviour of the masses.

Svensson’s book is a welcome intervention because it goes against the grain of what has come to be seen as commonsensical by various authorities, interest groups, do-gooders and rulers: that we need to be helped by them to make the right choices, for our own good. Let’s hope that The Killjoys will inspire more people to tell today’s paternalists, who want to have a say in everything from our gums to our dance moves, to back off and mind their own business.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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