Saturday, August 26, 2006


But say something derogatory about homosexuals or Muslims and they will be on your doorstep in no time

A father has been shot dead in front of his fiancee and young son by a gang of young men after being terrorised for months. Peter Woodhams, 22, staggered to his front door in Canning Town, East London, after being shot in the chest and collapsed onto the ground. His fiancee, Jane Bowden, 23, who rushed out with their three-year-old son, Sam, to see what was happening, claimed that the same gang had stabbed Mr Woodhams in the neck in January, narrowly missing his jugular vein. She said that she gave the names and addresses of his alleged attackers to the police but no-one had been arrested and officers had not even taken a statement from her.

Speaking about the fatal attack she said that Mr Woodhams had come home from a trip to the shops on Monday and had said that there had been some trouble before going back out. When she heard shooting she ran out with her son in her arms. "Peter turned to me and walked a few steps. I could see blood on his clothes," she said. "Then he just collapsed into some bushes and I started screaming. He managed to drag himself up and walk over to the front door and then fell on to his front. He had been shot in the chest and a bullet had gone through his hand where he had tried to protect himself. Peter was still conscious and talking to me. He kept saying that he couldn't breathe, he was panicking."

Mr Woodhams, a television satellite engineer, had been to the local shops in his car where there is believed to have been an altercation with some youths. Ms Bowden told the Evening Standard how Mr Woodhams had been held down and stabbed in the neck several times at the beginning of the year after he confronted them for throwing a stone at his car. "They wrestled him to the ground and one said, `Hold him down'. Three held him while one slashed his face and stabbed him in the neck. They knew what they were doing - they tried to kill him. "I phoned the police every day for five weeks and they never even came to take a statement from me."

She said that since then the gang of youths, believed to be aged between 14 and 18, had mounted a campaign of intimidation against them. "They knew they had stabbed Peter and got away with it. They thought they were untouchable. He was traumatised by it, but he was determined not to let them win. He wanted to stand up to them and protect me and Sam - that's the way he was." Shopkeepers and residents in the area said that the gang terrorised everyone and regularly stole from cars and shops.

A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard said that "a full review" would take place into the initial stabbing inquiry to make sure the "correct police procedure" was followed. She said that at the time a full statement was taken from the victim and officers were given a list of names and addresses of possible suspects but no arrests had been made in connection with the stabbing.

The spokeswoman said: "Following the tragic murder of Peter Woodhams, officers from the Specialist Crime Directorate were made aware of a serious stabbing incident involving the victim in January 2006. Officers from the SCD have been liaising with the senior officers from Newham borough to establish the outcome of this incident; as a result a full review is currently being conducted to ensure correct standards of police procedure were initially taken." A 14-year-old has been arrested in connection with the murder.


Teen car safety runs into political correctness

When I turned 18, my father gave me the keys to our old family car, a dark red 1985 Buick Riviera. It was big, slow to accelerate, and drove like an army tank. My friends got a good laugh seeing me cruising around in the Riv'. Dad knew it was risky to let me drive as a teenager, but he must have figured my risk would be reduced in such a huge car. Now Consumer Reports says he was wrong. In a June 9 CNNMoney article, Consumer Reports spokesman Robert Gentile recommends that parents purchase small or midsize cars for teenagers. Large cars, in his opinion, are too bulky for teenagers. In Mr. Gentile's words, "they are generally more difficult to handle."

Consumer Reports is, for many people, the top source for objective car-buying advice. But Mr. Gentile's recommendation is simply wrong. As the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) points out in its brochure, "Buying a Safer Car," "the first crashworthiness attributes to consider are vehicle size and weight. Small, light vehicles generally offer less protection than larger, heavier ones. There's less structure to absorb the energy of the crash, so deaths and injuries are more likely to occur. This is true in both single- and multiple-vehicle crashes." IIHS data shows that the smallest cars have a death rate that's more than twice as great as that of the largest cars.

Mr. Gentile claims that small cars are more maneuverable, and he implies that this makes up for their reduced crashworthiness. If that's true, then it should be reflected in the IIHS data, which is based on the road experience of millions of drivers. It isn't. In fact, as long ago as 1972 the claim of small car maneuverability was debunked in a Ralph Nader Study Group book, "Small on Safety: the Designed-in Dangers of the Volkswagen": "Small size is supposed to have one compensating advantage: according to a prevailing myth, cars like the Beetle are less likely to become involved in accidents, because they are more maneuverable than large cars. This myth is not supported by the facts."

Could it be that teenagers form a special subgroup for which maneuverability is more important than it is for anyone else? The IIHS experts don't think so. "We don't recommend small cars for teens," said spokesman Russ Rader in a phone interview. "Small cars are inherently less protective in crashes than large vehicles because of their size and weight." Rather, says Mr. Rader, consider getting your teen a mid- to large-size newer car that has earned good crash-test ratings. As he told parents in a 2001 interview for, "Surround them with as much car as you can afford. Since teens have a tendency to speed, you want a well-engineered car with crumple and crush space." IIHS senior vice president for research Susan Fergusson took the same view in a 2004 interview. Commenting on the small, old hand-me-down cars that teens often end up driving, she stated, "These vehicles typically provide inferior crash protection. Yet they're being driven by the youngest drivers, who are the most crash prone."

In the words of Phil Berardelli, author of "Safe Young Drivers," "parents should think big. Resist the thought that a smaller car will be easier for a teen to handle and give him more maneuverability to avoid an accident." Of course, size and weight aren't the only safety considerations. Design and equipment can make huge differences as well, and features such as seatbelts, air bags and electronic stability control can be lifesavers.

So what's behind Consumer Reports' attitude? Is it being swayed by the political incorrectness of large cars? If that's true, it's a darn shame. We can all make our own decisions about a car's political correctness, but judging safety and reliability requires expertise of the sort that we expect to find at Consumer Reports. When I find time to travel home to Texas, I still drive the old `85 Buick. Sometimes I'll see old friends. They'll laugh, and ask one more time how the old Riv' is handling the road. I doubt my father was worried about being politically correct when he gave it me. No matter. I was safe, and that was his top priority. I wish I could say the same about Consumer Reports.


Shameful inaction: Children must be rescued from wicked parental neglect

And to hell with the politically correct social-worker doctrine that children must stay with their parents

The tragic death of 11-month-old Wade Michael Scale in Western Australia is another sad reminder that not all parents have the best interests of their children at heart. Equally shocking, but not unexpected, is the state Government's response, to hide the full extent of its own incompetence.

Baby Wade was found drowned in a bathtub with the adult prescription sedative diazepam in his blood. West Australian Coroner Alastair Hope could not tell if the drug-addicted parents had given Wade the drug to keep him quiet. But the Coroner heard enough to criticise state welfare for failing to offer protection in light of repeated warnings of parental neglect from the child's grandmother.

Wade's death appears to be the tip of a nightmarish iceberg. But we do not known how big because the West Australian Government has suppressed details of an investigation into other children who died while being monitored by the Department of Community Development. Wade's case has echo's of the death of a three-year-old boy in NSW who was raped and then electrocuted by a pedophile his mother had met at a train station. In that case, complaints of abuse by the boy, and his six-year-old sister, were ignored. As were repeated warnings of neglect despite the mother's documented history of handing her children to predators.

This issue clearly haunts all state governments. In Queensland, after campaigning in the 2004 state election to fix its appalling record on child welfare, the Government admitted that 4544 of the 11,896 child abuse reports received last year had not been passed on for investigation. In NSW, dozens of children, many known to be at high risk, die each year because authorities are too willing to accept promises by mothers that things will improve.

In Western Australia, the evidence is that wicked acts have thrived on inaction. A common theme remains the wrong-headed policy of keeping children with their natural parents at any cost. The rights of the parent must give way to the safety of the child and state governments must be accountable for the terrible things that happen because of their inaction. Public exposure is the first, necessary, step.


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