Thursday, August 08, 2013

"Diverse" teenager jailed for five years after holding hotel staff at gunpoint during separate armed robberies

A 15-year-old boy who held staff at two separate London hotels at gunpoint and demanded cash in two armed robberies has been sentenced to five years in a young offender's institute.

Ayuub Mohammed threatened receptionists with a handgun at the Arriva Hotel in Bloomsbury and the Howard Winchester Hotel in Argyle Street within the space of just four hours in February.

Blackfriars Crown Court heard that Mohammed arrived at the Arriva Hotel on Swinton Street at around 11pm on February 27, pulled a gun from his pocket and demanded cash from the hotel receptionist.

He hit a hotel worker with the gun and ordered him to open the hotel safe.

The receptionist gave Mohammed a small amount of cash before forcing a hotel guest to hand over £180 in cash and a mobile phone.

The court heard that at 3am on February 28th, Mohammed entered the second hotel, the Howard Winchester, and asked a receptionist to search for room availability.

He then pulled out the gun and threatened staff, again asking for cash.  But he left the hotel empty handed when the receptionist attempted to grab the gun.

Following a police investigation, Mohammed was eventually arrested and charged in June.  He pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery, one count of attempted robbery and two counts of possession of an imitation firearm, and was sentenced to a total of five years.

Detectives believe that he was not working alone and appealed for anyone with information to get in touch.

Investigating officer, Det Con Dawn Bolitho, said: 'Despite his young age, Mohammed was willing to target these two hotels and commit serious offences for his own personal gain.

'What this sentence shows is that the law will fall heavy on anyone using guns to commit crime and intimidate people.'


Private eyes spy for the British State: Public officials spend YOUR millions on snoopers

Councils are using millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to hire private detectives for  snooping operations.

Dozens of town halls, several quangos and even one central government department used the investigators to check on both members of the public and their own staff.

Officials spent nearly £4million in two years on covert surveillance, background checks and other intrusive investigations by private eyes.

The startling scale of the use of private eyes by state bodies came as it emerged investigators employed by a fire brigade fitted a GPS tracking device to the family car of a 999 call centre worker.

Anthea Orchard, 35, was put under investigation by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Services who suspected her of moonlighting while on sick leave.

The private eyes they employed telephoned her with fake offers of work in an effort to lure her into a confession – but were rumbled when she traced their telephone number on the internet.

Mrs Orchard – who insists she has done nothing wrong and was not working illicitly – was also tipped off by neighbours who saw investigators acting suspiciously outside her Bradford home.

She has now left her job with an £11,000 payoff after agreeing not to sue the fire authority for ‘unnecessary surveillance’ and intrusion into her private life. Critics said the case exposed the worrying extent of state snooping by unregulated private investigators (PIs).

In recent weeks the so-called ‘secret’ hacking scandal has revealed how ‘shady’ private eyes employed by blue chip companies, law firms and celebrities hacked, blagged and stole private information.

MPs are demanding the publication of a list of 102 firms and private individuals who engaged corrupt private eyes which is being kept secret by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency.

There is no suggestion any of those PIs engaged by councils and other public bodies have acted unlawfully. But they show how the private investigation industry has extended its reach deep into the public sector.

Lord Justice Leveson was warned about the use of private investigators by councils, law firms and others during his inquiry into the Press, but did not investigate them or mention them in his final report.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who has conducted an inquiry into PIs, said: ‘I am concerned that the use of PIs seems to be becoming more and more widespread.

‘This is a worrying trend. The Government must put forward its announced regulation for private investigators as a matter of urgency.’

Nick Pickles, director of pressure group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘Private investigators have been able to hide in the shadows for too long, even when they’re being paid with taxpayers’ money.

‘The fact that numerous public bodies think it is acceptable to use private investigators to snoop on their own staff should send a chill down the spine.

‘As the lengths that some private investigators will go in their work becomes abundantly clear, there’s a risk of a ‘‘see no evil, hear no evil’’ culture emerging around snooping.

‘Far more could be done to rein in who is allowed to launch surveillance operations and making them responsible for the investigators working on their behalf.’

Freedom of Information requests by Big Brother Watch revealed some £3.9million of taxpayers’ money was spent on private eyes over two years. That included 37 councils, several quangos and the Department for Transport.

Among the activities investigated by council-sponsored PIs were fly-tipping, blue badge fraud, fake insurance claims and housing fraud. They were also used to investigate parties in care proceedings.

In addition, several councils used PIs to probe fraud allegations against staff accused of stealing from their employer or faking sick leave.

The Department for Transport said it had used PIs to probe driving test fraud and fake personal injury claims.

The NHS litigation authority used PIs to examine insurance fraud, and the Legal Services Commission for debt collection. The Marine Management Organisation used PIs to conduct ‘fisheries surveillance’. The Food Standards Agency said they were used for an ‘internal discipline investigation’.

Laws due to come into force next year will see shady private investigators face jail if they fail to abide by new regulations. All investigators will be registered, forced to pass a national qualification, and undergo background checks before they are granted a licence.

Operating without a licence will be a criminal offence punishable with a six-month jail term and a £5,000 fine.

Mr Pickles said the use of the tracking device to snoop on Mrs Orchard was a ‘staggeringly heavy-handed and intrusive response’. The mother of two, who lives with construction manager husband Gareth, 37, and children Ashleigh, five, and Haydn, two, returned to work last October after taking maternity leave.

While off she had started a part-time balloon decorating business. Shortly afterwards, she was off sick with stress and began to receive suspicious calls from would-be customers asking her to take on work.

She checked her Audi A6 car and found a GPS tracking device had been fitted underneath.

She said: ‘I have never felt as scared in my life, I couldn’t go out, couldn’t do my shopping. It stopped me doing anything.’
‘The whole situation has made me very ill. It was horrible to think someone was watching us.’

The emergency call handler was given a letter informing her she was under investigation. On October 31 she was signed off sick due to stress, depression and a recently diagnosed condition, hypothyroidism, which can cause symptoms such as tiredness, weight gain and aches.

‘As soon as I booked sick, I refrained from work. My husband took over the reins of the simple stuff but I didn’t work with the balloons. I took the website down and didn’t think of doing any more.’

Within days she began receiving ‘funny phone calls’ trying to get her to take on work. But searching the internet for the number brought up the private investigator.

She then found the tracker device which was attached by magnets and fitted with a SIM card to allow her every movement to be monitored. ‘This is an infringement into my family life,’ she said.

‘The whole situation has made me very ill. It is not right that public money is being used in this way. It was horrible to think someone was watching us.’

Mrs Orchard, who is now working full-time on her balloon business, added: ‘I haven’t been a mum during all this. It has affected the whole family. I’ve lost what was basically a £30,000-a-year career.’

She said the private detective agency was Nottingham-based Riding Commercial Investigations, operating under the internet name ‘localpi’. The West Yorkshire fire service refused to comment.


Again:  Daughters need their fathers

Like all human relationships, it does not always work out well but when it does it is a lifelong  source of strength to the daughter

Sitting in the garden as the sun gradually sets, I look over the rim of my wine glass into a pair of cornflower blue eyes - and feel as if I might burst with happiness.

As Richard and I chink glasses, we talk about the forthcoming weekend. There's talk of sailing to the Isle of Wight, plans for a picnic aboard his boat, and even - if I'm brave enough - a spot of waterskiing.

I counter with the suggestion of a more sedate trip to the cinema and a meal with friends. We bat ideas back and forth. How will we fit it all in? There's so much to do - and every single thing is alive with tantalising excitement.

As we talk, I feel myself falling more deeply in love with Richard - but when his hand gently slides over the table to take mine, my joy is bittersweet. There's one person who is missing from my life, who I would love to share my happiness with: my dear, beloved father.

Sadly, I can't because Dad died in April at 98. Yet although he may not be here to enjoy the moment, the truth is I have no doubt he knows and approves.

You see he was very much a part of  making this wonderful thing happen. In many ways he helped engineer it. He opened my heart to love. It was his last - and most precious - gift to me.

In the last months of his life, aware that his health was failing, Dad was determined to leave nothing undone. When it got to the time that he'd no longer be here to look out for me, he wanted to know there'd be someone to help make me happy.

I hope Dad knew how much I loved him - I'm sure he had no idea just how much I'd miss him. Neither did I. But he seemed to know that falling in love would help me fill the gaping hole he'd leave in my life.

He knew my heart had been broken by my ex-husband, who cheated on me while I battled breast cancer in 2008, and that I was terrified of dating again.

But Dad insisted I was far too young - at 'just' 54 - to give up on love. How right he was.

He and I had always been close. But in the last two-and-a-half years of his life, we became even closer because he came to live with me. It happened after Dad, a widower of 15 years, fell and broke his hip in June 2010. He was then 95, and had lived independently, around the corner from my house in Winchester, since my mother had died from cancer in 1995, aged 77.

Apart from the odd twinge of arthritis, Dad was outrageously hale and hearty. He'd even played golf until well into his 90s, so I never imagined him becoming weak and needy, and never planned for it.

'Two years after Dad moved in with me - I took the first daring step. I agreed to go on three dates: one with a man chosen by a friend; one by my younger daughter; and one by Dad'

But after the operation to replace his shattered hip, it was obvious he couldn't live alone. He needed a walking frame to get around, and couldn't manage stairs. So, he came to live with me, a decision - although I did not realise it at the time - that proved to be one of the best of my life.

At the time I was in the throes of a painful divorce, after discovering that my husband, who ran a gardening business, had been having an affair with one of his clients.

What made the betrayal hardest to bear was that it happened while I was receiving cancer treatment. I felt so frightened and vulnerable that looking after myself and my daughters - Ellen, then 18, and Elise, 17 - was hard enough. Looking after Dad, too, was the last thing I needed, I thought.

But, as I gradually discovered, it was Dad who ended up looking after me. Not physically, of course. He was so frail that he needed carers to help him morning and evening. But I spent hours on end with him.

Perhaps because of his great age and closeness to death, he exuded a huge wisdom. It was almost as though all the lessons he'd learnt through his long life were being passed on to me.

His eyes lit up when I came into a room. And I knew, as far as he was concerned, I was eternally young and beautiful - his precious little girl. Enveloped by Dad's love, I could feel my confidence seeping back.

But I was too terrified of getting hurt again to consider dating. It seemed much safer to stay single.

As the months passed, Dad tentatively broached the subject. 'Darling, you can't live your life on the sidelines for ever,' he would say.  And he was right. I thought of how when Mum died, Dad - at the grand old age of 86 - took up ballroom dancing and instantly found a whole new social life. He didn't want to marry again, but he enjoyed escorting his new lady partners to lunch.

One of the wonderful things about living with Dad was having the time to talk. Because we knew his days were numbered, our conversations took on new depth.

He talked a lot about falling in love. I'd always known he'd adored Mum and would do anything to please her. They met through friends in the summer of 1943, and married when Dad - a flight lieutenant with the RAF - was posted to Normandy in the wake of the D-Day invasions.

'She was a wonderful woman - far too good for me, you know, love,' he told me. 'She made me the man I am.'

He and Mum had been so happy and, as I listened to Dad, I found myself becoming almost envious.  On top of that, I wasn't needed so much at home. Ellen was already at university. Elise was about to follow. I could see my life closing in.

And so last summer - two years after Dad moved in with me - I took the first daring step. I agreed to go on three dates: one with a man chosen by a friend; one by my younger daughter; and one by Dad. I wrote about what happened in this paper. It was frightening, but I felt I'd broken through a huge barrier. Thanks to Dad's example, I'd managed to jump into the unknown and trust that I'd be fine.

I really liked the man Dad had picked for me: Derek Hooper, 59, who ran a home maintenance and gardening business. Dad loved the way Derek knew his way around a U-bend and plunger, but I could see he wasn't right for me.

Although Dad was disappointed, he was delighted I'd taken that first baby step. 'Now it's time to get out there and enjoy yourself,' he urged.

So, last November, I signed up with a dating website called Encounters. Dad had never heard of internet dating, but when I explained what it involved, he was instantly enthusiastic. 'Wowee, what a brilliant idea,' he enthused. 'Fast and no messing about.'

And he was right. On signing up, I was instantly bombarded with emails from potential suitors. It was very flattering.

And that's how I found myself, three weeks and several phone calls and emails later, standing in the car park of a country pub as the most drop-dead gorgeous man lifted his  sunglasses to smile hello.

We'd brought our dogs. Snuffling unashamedly around each other, they proved the perfect ice-breaker. I knew from our phone calls that, like me, Richard was 54 and had two daughters in their early 20s, whom he adored.

He was an accountant and, after separating from his wife some years ago, lived alone in Gosport. But as we talked, we realised we had so much more in common than we would ever have guessed - for example, we'd both studied at Oxford University at the same time.

And, in so many ways, Richard reminded me of Dad, not least because of his obvious adoration of his daughters, whom he described as the 'apples' of his eye.

Richard, who was only the second man I'd met from the website, was bright, witty and fun.  Swapping  recollections of essay crises and dire college discos, I found myself almost weeping with laughter. He was the first man I'd ever met who asked as many questions as I did. And he actually listened to the answers.

When at the end of our mud-spattered walk, Richard asked if he could see me again, I didn't hesitate.

Back home, Dad noticed the instant change in me. 'You've got roses in your cheeks,' he smiled. He was right. As I looked in the mirror, I could see my eyes  were sparkling and my skin was  glowing again.

But while I liked Richard immensely, that just made me all the more scared of getting hurt. Staying at home with a bottle of wine and a DVD box-set of Breaking Bad seemed much safer.  'Honestly, Dad, it's just too frightening,' I told him.

He looked concerned. 'But darling, most of the things we're scared of never happen,' he said. 'Let fear stop you doing something and you'll end up doing nothing.'

I knew he was right. After all, I'd  survived breast cancer. After being diagnosed in 2007, I'm now in remission. What on Earth could be more frightening than that?

Suddenly I felt pathetic for choosing to bury myself at home when Dad would give anything to be out enjoying everything life had to offer.

He had always been a live wire. Impetuous (he proposed to my mother after just four meetings), energetic and endlessly enthusiastic, in his eyes glasses weren't just half full - they were positively brimming over. He believed in getting stuck into life, and never looking back. I imagine it's an attitude common in his generation of men, who saw friends die.

Ever since my marriage ended, my brain had been stuck on rewind as I picked over all that had gone wrong - torturing myself with regret. Dad claimed he  could barely even remember my ex-husband's name, let alone think he was worth talking about.

In so many ways, Dad had even more reason to be sad and regretful than I did. He'd not just lost my mother,  but my sister, who died in a car accident, aged 26. Now he wasn't even able to get out any more. But he never looked back.

'What's the plan today?' he'd ask every morning, and look equally  enthusiastic whether it was a visit from his chiropodist or simply a snooze with the newspaper.  I needed some of that positivity, and so I agreed to go on a second date with Richard. I knew it was make-or-break.

Apart from my natural fear of being hurt, I had another very good reason to be anxious. I had written a book, Take Me Home, about living with Dad. I'd also gone into detail about dealing with breast cancer and the breakdown of my marriage.

When I wrote it, I'd never imagined I'd be dating again and wanting to impress a stranger. I squirmed in horror as I visualised Richard stumbling upon the book.

In one fell swoop he would discover everything, from my mastectomy to the night I spent in a police cell after confronting my husband's girlfriend.  I realised I'd have to tell him all about it myself. Sitting over a glass of wine in my local pub, I watched his face carefully as the words spilled out. I'd no idea how he'd react.

But when I finished, he took my hand. 'I'm so pleased to know you,' he said. And then he kissed me. And that's how I knew it was all going to be all right.

Dad was desperate to meet Richard. And Richard was curious about the 'other man' in my life. We had been dating for five weeks when I nervously introduced them to each other.

I watched the way Richard instinctively leant in close to my very deaf father to talk to him, and Dad's reciprocal smile of appreciation.

I watched him enthusiastically build up Dad's woodburner, and rush to make him a cup of tea, and I knew I'd found a man like Dad, who didn't just grab life with both hands but was also kind and caring.

'He likes to be happy,' said Dad, approvingly. 'And if he makes you happy, that's all that I ask for.'

And then in March, Dad became ill. A bad cough turned into pneumonia, and he was admitted to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

The doctors couldn't predict the outcome but warned us to prepare for the worst. And while there were days when Dad seemed to rally and we hoped he would come home, he gradually became increasingly frail.

I'd dreaded this moment for so long. But, strangely, I felt I was ready. And I know that was a lot to do with the fact that Dad really had done his job. He'd helped open my heart to love.

He'd watched my first faltering steps back into the dating world and knew I was ready to move on.

Dad died peacefully in hospital in the early hours of April 19. I was bereft. Suddenly there was no one to buy  custard creams for any more, no one to rush home to, and no one who needed my love and care quite as much as he did.

I was frightened that losing Dad would put a strain on my relationship with Richard. I wouldn't have blamed him if he decided to call it a day.  But, thankfully, it has brought us  even closer.  When I cry, he knows he doesn't  have to try and make it better. He just has to take my hand, and the sadness will pass.

Richard and I have been dating for seven months now. My girls, now 20 and 21, approve of him, and his daughters seem to like me. It's very early days but - whatever happens in the future - I know I will owe it to Dad.

His unstinting love helped me heal.


Sydney Muslim sheikh admits sending abusive letters to dead Afghanistan veterans' families

A man accused of sending abusive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan has formally pleaded guilty in a Sydney court.  Man Monis, who also uses the name Sheik Haron, sent the letters between November 2007 and August 2009.

A court has previously heard the letters criticised Australia's involvement in Afghanistan and labelled the soldiers murderers.

Monis sent letters to the families of seven soldiers killed in action, as well as one man who died in the 2009 Marriott Hotel bombing in Indonesia.

Bree Till received a letter in March 2009, less than a fortnight after her husband Brett died in Southern Afghanistan.  It opened with condolences, before becoming abusive.

"This man accusing my husband of being a child killer whilst dictating how I should raise my children," she said outside court today.  "The fact that there was any question as to whether this was right or wrong, that was difficult."

Monis has pleaded guilty to 12 counts of using a postal service to offend on the grounds of recklessness.

His co-accused, Amirah Droudis, has also pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting Monis, after she sent an item of mail in May 2008.

Monis gained notoriety by chaining himself to a railing outside a Sydney court in 2009 in protest against the charges he was facing.

In February, he also lost a High Court challenge to the charges, after claiming they were unconstitutional.

The case had been seen as an important test of the implied right to freedom of political speech in the Constitution.

Monis left court today with two fingers in the air, signifying the peace sign.  [Maybe!]



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.



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