Monday, April 14, 2014
Multicultural computer fraud in Britain
The mastermind of a £2.5 million fraud has gone on the run, fleeing with his passport just days before he was due to be sentenced.
Maxwell Parsons, 48, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud at a trial at Manchester Crown Court, and was convicted in his absence.
He was due to appear at the court for his sentencing, but is now being hunted by the police after he failed to show up.
Parsons was found to be the brains of a sophisticated fraud operation based in Greater Manchester, which cost the banking industry more than £2 million.
Despite being convicted of the conspiracy, he was considered low-risk enough to sit outside the dock throughout the four-week trial, as well as not having to surrender his passport.
Parsons is a self-taught computer fraudster, who found a way to manipulate banking systems so payments were automatically reversed - meaning money could be spent again and again.
Most of the transactions were carried out at bureau de changes in Greater Manchester, so purchased cash could be converted back into sterling.
Previously, Parsons was jailed for bugging cash machines using MP3 players to clone people's debit and credit card details.
An HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokeswoman confirmed Parsons had not been asked to hand over his passport as a part of his bail conditions.
Parsons goes by a number of aliases, and has already proved his skills in defrauding, so may prove hard for authorities to track down.
He faces up to 10 years in jail if he is brought back before a judge.
Parsons carried out the scam between December 2008 and June 2009, and at its peak, the scheme raked in £50,000-a-day before being stopped by Greater Manchester Police in 2010.
Three of Parsons' collaborators in the fraud, who are all from the Stockport and south Manchester areas, have previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud.
Takhliq Khaliq, 47, of Boddens Hill Road, Heaton Mersey, his brother Zaki Khaliq, 44, of Carwood Road, Bramhall, and Muhammed Khan, 43, of Alexandra Road South, Whalley Range, are set to be sentenced along with Parsons.
Sentencing has now been adjourned until May 9.
How to tame the BBC behemoth
Transferring non-news radio and TV production to the independent sector would save the BBC millions and possibly even the BBC itself
My favourite character in the spoof BBC documentary W1A, which ended last week, was Welsh manager Tracey Pritchard, whose catchphrase was, “I’m not being funny or anything…”. Before her boss went on Woman’s Hour to discuss sexism: “I’m not being funny or anything, Ian. But you’re a man. And I’m a woman. And this is very tricky territory.”
Useless executives, the obsession with new media, the weasel words of two-faced commissioning editors – all were skilfully cuffed. Surprisingly, though, I agreed with Tracey. The programme wasn’t being funny or anything. In fact, I was mildly angry. I’m not sure the BBC is a laughing matter. Not a cosy, in-house, pat-ourselves-on-the-back one, anyway. When our greatest cultural institution has become a vast, costly mess, is it not the stuff of drama? Tragedy, even?
The latest reminder came on Thursday. The Public Accounts Committee called the BBC’s Digital Media Initiative (DMI), which aimed for a YouTube-style “tapeless” environment, “a total failure”. It cost nearly £100 million of public money. This, after the £1 billion it cost to build New Broadcasting House, which is arguably not fit for purpose. Then there’s the manager issue.
Despite recent tinkering, there are still too many with unjustifiable salaries. James Purnell, the £295,000-a-year “Director of Strategy and Digital”, couldn’t have dreamt of earning that in his last job at a centre-Left think tank. This is an organisation whose leader, Lord Hall, did the right thing by getting rid of DMI, but who is so out of touch with the mainstream that he recently announced a flagship policy of greater links with high art, even though opera-loving Hampstead types are already super-served by the BBC. I could go on, but you get my drift: the BBC needs fundamental change. It is an ungovernable, dysfunctional behemoth.
David Dimbleby, Nick Ross and David Elstein have all talked recently of the need for reform, as have ex-BBC executives, aided no doubt by the added perspective that comes from sitting atop a mountain of BBC pension cash. The key item on the agenda is funding. There is, for the first time, a consensus coalescing around replacing the licence fee. The early front-runner to take its place is voluntary subscription. The appeal is obvious. It would make the BBC’s life easier as it would no longer have to please all of the people all of the time. But the logistics are tough. How do you stop non-subscribers listening to BBC radio? It is the broadcasting equivalent of reversing a vasectomy.
There is a cuter option, which would preserve the great things about the BBC and do away with most of the bad. Transfer all in-house radio and TV production – bar news and current affairs – to the independent sector. Keep only a skeleton staff of essential personnel. No “Heads of Television” or “Creative Directors”, just channel controllers, plus commissioners of drama and comedy and so on. Like ITV and C4, in fact. The independent sector would then make – and commercially exploit – the shows the BBC currently produces, such as EastEnders and Strictly. That would leave the BBC with its news operation – too important to be hived off to private interests, as it needs to retain its impartiality. News currently costs around £1 billion a year – although you could do the same job for less – which accounts for roughly one third of the licence fee.
The savings would be huge. Thousands of people would be off the wage bill. The good ones would be snapped up by the private sector. The BBC would still have to pay independents for its programmes but many would cost less at present as the private sector is more efficient and, if allowed to be, more imaginative at finding new sources of funding. It is not fanciful that the licence fee could then be trimmed by a quarter, to 99 quid. Failing that, a token cut of, say, £20. The licence fee would then be secure for a generation and the BBC’s editorial independence, the most important thing it has, would be preserved.
It’s a bit of a fudge: but fudge can be tasty. And this one would be both wealth-creating and crowd-pleasing. We need to decide quickly, though. Licence-fee negotiations take place in 2016. Just as well. Because – and I’m not being funny or anything – the BBC can’t carry on in its present form for much longer.
Church of England faces 'crisis’ as gay priest weds
It might have been simpler to stick to the Bible
A priest has become the first in Britain to defy the Church of England’s ban on gay clergy marrying. Canon Jeremy Pemberton, 58, a divorced hospital chaplain, wed his long-term partner Laurence Cunnington, 51, on Saturday afternoon.
Campaigners expressed delight that the couple had taken advantage of Britain’s newly-introduced gay marriage laws and urged bishops to “bless” their partnership. They predict he will be the first of many gay clergy to marry.
But a leading member of the Church’s conservative evangelical wing called for “discipline” of any clergy seen to be breaking the rules. He warned of a “crisis” if the leadership failed to take action.
Canon Pemberton, who has five children, is a chaplain at Lincoln hospital and also works in the Church’s Southwell and Nottingham diocese. In 2012 he was a signatory to a letter to The Telegraph from dozens of clergy warning that if the Church refused to permit gay weddings in its own churches they would advise members of their congregations to marry elsewhere.
Earlier this year an acrimonious row broke out within the Church after the House of Bishops decided to ban gay clergy from marrying when same-sex marriage became legal last month. The decision, which means that anyone defying the ban could face lengthy disciplinary measures, was welcomed by traditionalists but infuriated liberals and campaigners for gay rights.
Although the Church of England formally objected to the introduction of gay marriage and has opted out of performing the ceremonies, there have been growing signs of a more relaxed stance on homosexuality. Bishops agreed that gay couples who get married will be able to ask for special prayers after the ceremony.
However, on Saturday night the Rev Preb Rod Thomas, chairman of the Reform evangelical group, said: “There’s no doubt that there is pressure within some parts of the church for the Church to change its mind on sexuality.
“If there is not clear discipline then it is the equivalent to saying 'we really didn’t mean what we said.’ It will precipitate a crisis.”
He warned that traditionalists “who stick by the biblical understanding” of marriage would be unable to accept a “messy compromise”, potentially leading to a situation similar to in the US where a traditionalist splinter Church has emerged from the liberal Episcopal Church.
However, the Rev Colin Coward, a friend of Canon Pemberton’s and director of the Changing Attitude campaign group, of which he is a former trustee, said: “I’m really, really happy for Jeremy and his partner that they are finally able to get married after a long time of being together as a couple.
“I hope the bishops find a way to affirm and bless their relationship rather than taking action against them.”
Dr Giles Fraser, the former canon chancellor of St Paul’s, also congratulated the couple.
The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev Christopher Lowson, said: “I am aware that a member of the clergy who works in the Diocese of Lincoln has married a partner of the same sex. The priest concerned wrote to me in advance to explain his intention and we had a subsequent meeting in which I explained the guidelines of the House of Bishops.”
Jewish mayor the secret weapon of French far-Right
Fréjus, a touristic Riviera town, has become the latest bastion of the Front National
Fréjus is a quiet Riviera town with Roman ruins in its centre, a port full of yachts, and a tourist-friendly sea front with restaurants and ice cream shops. With low crime and immigration rates, and joblessness only slightly higher than the national average, there seems little obvious need for radical change.
Yet in his office former papal palace, David Rachline, the smooth-talking 26-year old new mayor, is promising just that under the banner of Marine Le Pen's "detoxified" and "non-racist" far-Right Front National.
Two weeks ago, Fréjus, population 54,000, voted massively in favour of Mr Rachline, handing him 46 per cent of the vote in a three-way run-off with two rival Right-wingers.
It places the young "Frontiste" in charge of the biggest town of 11 towns won by the FN in its best-ever performance in municipal elections, in which the ruling Socialists of President François Hollande suffered major losses.
Symbolically, it is a huge responsibility. After a disastrous attempt at running a handful of towns in the 1990s - including nearby Toulon - ended in corruption convictions and financial ruin, the FN knows it cannot put a foot wrong in its new bastions if it wants to be seen as anything more than a protest party.
With Fréjus the spearhead of that credibility campaign, all eyes are on Mr Rachline. Dubbed "baby Le Pen par excellence" by the party leader, Mr Rachline is a poster child for the newlook FN, whose bid to become a "serious", "respectable" party has seen more than a third of French people say they have no problem with its ideas of national preference, a return to the franc and zero immigration.
"These municipal victories are a chance to show that an alternative is possible, that there is something else other than sterile swapping between Left and Right, who peddle the same ideas, apply the same policies and fail in the same way," he told The Telegraph. "The French are aware of this and want something different."
Like all the towns where the FN topped the polls in municipal elections, Mr Rachline has been helped by the fact that Fréjus is a political basket case.
The municipality has amassed around €150m (£124m) of debt, making it the fifth most indebted town of this size in France. Its outgoing centre-right mayor, Elie Brun, was last year found guilty of favoritism for awarding the rights to a private beach to a member of his family.
The town's previous political godfather - the former defence minister, François Léotard - was also convicted of corruption.
Nonetheless, the Front is leaving nothing to chance, drafting in Philippe Lottiau, a graduate of ENA, France's top school for civil servants, and who ran for mayor in Avignon, as Mr Rachline's chief aide.
His first decision as mayor was to order two audits on the state of the town's finances and to announce he would not be replacing all retiring municipal staff.
With his focus on service delivery and planning issues, he epitomises the FN's efforts to forge a new, technocratic image, glossing over the more menacing sides of FN ideology while failing to reject them outright. He is, however, no newcomer to the party himself.
A spiritual son of Jean-Marie Le Pen, he joined the party at 15 years old, going on to become national head of the FN youth movement. Arguably the most odd aspect of his political CV, though, is that he himself is half-Jewish.
Given that Jean-Marie Le Pen famously dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as a "detail" of history, was it not an unusual choice of party?
"Le Pen is a big boy and can say what he likes, it's a controversy that doesn't interest me," he said. "It was before my time, and is not what I retain from Mr Le Pen's career. This intellectual terrorism must stop. I'm here to talk about urban planning for Fréjus, the problem of unemployment, insecurity, not sterile rows dating back 30 years."
True to those words, his campaign mainly revolved around promises to end cronyism and debt, redynamise the city centre and create extra parking spaces, a nightclub, and a business centre. He did, however, question plans to build a mosque, which he claimed would be big enough to house 2,000 people and might have a minaret.
So how has he gone down with voters?
In the streets of the old town, the talk is of relief at getting rid of the previous mayor, who Mr Rachline accused of bringing the city to its knees financially by awarding public works contracts to the same companies. Since his election, Mr Rachline said he had already discovered "ghost" town hall jobs and opaque book keeping.
One shopkeer, who declined to be named, said: "People decided to vote for Rachline above all because they didn't want the old mayor and his cronies – it's a vote of rejection, not adherence."
"I don't agree, said his colleague. "I think that the mosque issue was a big thorn in the side of the former mayor. Nobody is racist supposedly but nobody wants such a building near their villa."
"I get many customers –particularly old ones from surrounding residential areas - saying they don't want to come in anymore because there are too many Arabs. These people have done nothing wrong, but that's what I hear."
Surprisingly, in La Gabelle, the town's only housing estate populated almost exclusively by locals of North African origin and the site of the planned mosque, there was no alarm.
"It's not a racist vote, it's an alternative. People want change. I'm not worried at all," said Cherif Hamlaoui, a textile trader. "As for talk of the mosque, he took this line to secure the 12 per cent of pure FN supporters who are philistines. That's politics."
"As for the rest, he wants to dynamise the town, pay Fréjus's debt. He may be 26, but he's competent. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt."
"Not only that, Fréjus is under the national microscope, his every action will be scrutinised – whether it be corruption, racism."
Brahim Afkir, 38, who runs a pizzera at the entrance to La Gabelle, added: "If Rachline can adapt to create a calm, serene climate of exchange, why not? I'm prepared to judge the man rather than his political label."
Talk of "national preference" and other planks of FN ideology are nowhere to be seen in Mr Rachline's moderate discourse, and for good reason, according to Sylvain Crépon, an FN specialist.
"FN mayors will not try and apply national policies at local level so as not to court ideological scandal," he said. "They just want to raise their legimitacy as managers, to reduce the deficit in towns where it is high. They will if anything try and keep a low profile and leave the task of relaying FN ideas to far-Right municipal councillors."
After municipal success, the FN now has its sights firmly fixed on May's European elections. One poll out this week suggested that the far-Right will come first on 24 per cent, ahead of the UMP, on 23 per cent, and the Socialists and their allies, on 21 per cent.
"The EU elections are going to be absolutely fundamental for France and for Europe, because the bankruptcy of EU countries is mainly due to the catastrophic politics of Brussels – globalisation, unfair competition, the total absence of protectionism of borders, immigration," said Mr Rachline.
"In all areas, the EU is imposing its choices on France without any real democratic legitimacy – I see this is an issue for UKIP and others. Looking at the polls, we're on course to do very well.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I have a town to run."
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.