Saturday, 19 June 2010

Phone test

Just checking from my iPhone

That's it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wheels within wheels

A small convoluted argument. Regarding the troops who gave evidence at Saville and the question of their being charged and tried for perjury. This is not a discussion about their criminal liability as such - I have explained why that is not a matter for public debate. Just an exercise in abstraction.
Everyone in NI knew what the Para battalions did. Not only what they did but also how they operated. Major involvement as at Ballymurphy and lesser involvement in the blinding of Emma Groves.

The Belfast government knew, the UK Government knew. Protestant and Republicans, both good-living people and terrorists, were aware. The military all knew; from privates in what they described as 'crap-hat' units to the very top Generals. They had been doing what they did the way they did right from the earliest days of The Troubles.

And, despite this knowledge, they were never corrected or limited when acting in support of the civil power or when protecting one community from another. It was not possible for the battalion, from colonel down to the lowest and newest recruit, to be aware that what they did was wrong in the eyes of those who commanded and controlled them.

So, in Londonderry, they did their thing. Just as trained and experienced. There was no panic - if you believe this just ask how far greater the death toll would have been. The firing did not stop because they ran out of ammunition or targets. The need to return fire ceased when the local gunmen realised for the first time just what was involved in confronting that Regiment and folded their tents.

Everyone in the battalion knew what would follow. Statement taking where they would be asked to relate all they had seen and what they did. A routine procedure for many of them. It does not really matter why and it is not appropriate here to go into any question of why so very few such interviews led to disciplinary proceedings.

Their view of things was 'do your job, say what you did and move on to the next confrontation' At the time they made their statements, they had no reason to believe that that Sunday would be any different. So, no fear of prosecution, no threat of any further action, no time to coordinate false accounts, condemnation from anyone that mattered unlikely - why invent lies?

A small bubble of doubt may have arisen during the process in the weeks before Widgery when more detailed investigations were made and the soldiers were again interviewed. Very few altered their account they had given within hours of events. Widgery was a weak premature foetus and again, no suggestion of disciplinary proceedings. When Saville came along the questioning was much more forensic and probing and carried out by civilians who knew nothing of the soldier psyche. Concerns would have become more real and threatening. All knew that a Nuremberg Defence would not wash. Some suggested that the original statements were false; words had been put into their mouths by the statement takers, they were tired and stressed or confused in a strange city. These claims were not entertained by Saville. They could not expect the powers that be to come forward and admit that they had acquiesced to the battalion's methods. At least, nothing more protective than the now dishonoured promise that no one would be prosecuted for what they might say. So loyalty was preserved.

Damned if they did and damned if they didn't. But none of these change my perception that they had all spoken the truth as they knew it. What follows on from that is something I have ruled out as a suitable topic for any layman and something to be left to my learned fee-charging friends and the duplicitous politicians seeking to be all things for all men.

Schooling for beginners

"The government has begun accepting applications from parents and teachers' groups who want to run their own schools, independent of state control. But how does the process work?"Flawed I suspect. There seems to be just the one hurdle "The group must submit a set of forms detailing key elements of the proposed school to the Department for Education. The application form asks the group to explain why they want to set up the school, what its aims and objectives would be and what evidence they have of local demand.

The Department for Education carries out background checks, including criminal record searches, to ensure the group is "suitable" to run a school. Extremist and fundamentalist groups will not be approved, the DfE said. If the group passes the checks, the Secretary of State can conditionally agree to the proposal.

Not a lot there then. Dream up a suitable name and the rest answers its own questions. Choose a front man and staff who will pass the checks and you are away free. Obviously, one would not appoint Old Hooky as Headmaster or have Islam4UK run the catering. No mention that failure to complete homework on time would be dealt with under Sharia Law. Caretakers could be composed of Taliban junior ranks who had accepted the bribes to cease fighting. Given the low state of official knowledge of just who is in the country, detection of extremists and fundamentalists is not guaranteed.

The proposals for Free Schools include a statement that "Free schools will not have to follow the national curriculum but will need to provide an education that is "broad and balanced", in the same way as new academies will. The scheme is similar to the Charter Schools programme in the USA and the system in Sweden, where non-profit and profit-making groups can set up schools - funded by the government but free from its control.

Here again. if there are those who can set up and run madrassa schools in some fly-infested overseas state, they will find little hindrance from our vetting schemes. Also, bear in mind that the new mob are very into the free schools idea and would not want any suggestion that they were not 100% inclusive, racially or religiously prejudiced to rear its head.

Subversion of the controls would be very easy. I worked for a Saudi company in London during the mid-'80s. They saw me as a Blue Eyed Arab and I was tasked with finding a premises and then organising whatever was needed to set up an Arab School. Funds were described as 'unlimited' and there were many many nudge nudges and winks when the question of consents were concerned. It was surprisingly easy - from the start to up and running in less than a year.

Departure from the National curriculum is another open door to abuse. Whatever inspections were made would require that the visitor have a knowledge or deep Islamic values with ample opportunity for the school to play the race card or adopt Be Nice to Muslims appeals.

Not likely you say? Far fetched? This is what the Regent's Park mosque teaches and no inspector intervened. I get a crumb of comfort. Establishment of such schools is open to all who can get the coach and horses through the regulations. We might read of a raid on the alSwabi school in Manchester carried out by students of the Jewish Star Academy dressed as Eton schoolboys.

Remember - with proper training, everything is possible.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Praying - on your knees or prostrate?

Minimal input from me today. I was doing some research in advance of the Strategic Defence Review and came across this. Bit deeper than "Trident - Yes or No?" but worthy of posting as just this extract poses the basic question of where do we want to be tomorrow when the sh*t hits the fan.
"World politics is entering a new phase, in which the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of international conflict will be cultural. Civilizations-the highest cultural groupings of people-are differentiated from each other by religion, history, language and tradition. These divisions are deep and increasing in importance. From Yugoslavia to the Middle East to Central Asia, the fault lines of civilizations are the battle lines of the future. In this emerging era of cultural conflict the United States must forge alliances with similar cultures and spread its values wherever possible. With alien civilizations the West must be accommodating if possible, but confrontational if necessary. In the final analysis, however, all civilizations will have to learn to tolerate each other."

Thursday, 17 June 2010


What never ceases to amaze me is the propensity of senior officers to dash into print with personal opinions. They are happy to retain their military rank but have little reluctance to condemn an organisation that gave them status and a position in life. We have the latest such cynicism from one who now earns his keep by journalism and has reason to blurt out popularist opinions.
"Colonel Richard Kemp said his immediate feeling on hearing the findings of the Saville Inquiry was that guilty soldiers should be jailed for a long time. I think that the actions we have heard described are much more like the actions of Nazi stormtroopers than British paratroopers," he said.
Col Kemp, who commanded all British troops in Afghanistan, thought the report into the massacre should see the full wrath of the law brought down on the killers. We are not given the benefit of his thoughts with regard to prosecution of Nationalist killers who slaughtered 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint and those nine totally innocent civilians blown apart on Bloody Friday in Belfast. These cannot have disappeared off his radar screen surely?

They will be in his cuttings file awaiting a money-making opportunity when he can trot them out for a few pieces of silver. He gave evidence before a UN committee where he introduced himself thus "I commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government's Joint Intelligence Committee." That is a lot of service for a relatively mediocre career ending up as a Colonel. Maybe there is a link there to his bile? His reference to international terrorism for our JIC may seem a bit off given the way he spoke about Hamas/Israel. Hardly impartial?

And why did he stop short by merely condemning the soldiers of 1 Para? Well waiting in the wings are two very unsavoury incidents involving our forces in Iraq. The Baha Moussa Inquiry is well advanced. Also hanging over someone's head are the Danny Boy allegations. Given the sort of work he has claimed as his forte, he may well have clothing soiled by these matters and not want to wash his dirty linen in public.

I am never short of things to say but have held off on the question of prosecute or not in the case of the soldiers who gave evidence at Saville. It is far too complex in legal terms and there will be political considerations as well. Until the decision has been mooted and published, it behoves us all - expert-on-all-things-military especially - tp shut up and not rock the boat in a Province where the peace process is still a frail little plant.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Don't give the dog a bad name

The quick answer "A big boy made me do it"

Yesterday's report singles out for criticism the 1st battalion of the Paras, including its commanding officer, Lt Col Derek Wilford. "1 Para was a force with a reputation for using excessive physical violence," it says. Lord Ramsbotham, then military assistant to General Carver, chief of the defence staff, has described the Paras as "shock troops", suggesting they were hardly the troops best suited to civilian policing operations.

How cynical. It is all very well now to suggest that they had a reputation and hardly best suited to civilian policing operations. They most certainly had a reputation when I was in Northern Ireland between '70 and '72. It was for getting a job done.

A number of regiments came to the Province determined to pursue a hearts and minds initiative. They would liaise with local personalities such as clergymen and local council members. Considerable time and genuine effort was expended discussing what was best for the community and the right way to go about it. The tea and buns debates did not, obviously, attract the local hard men and terrorists but they were very interested. A quiet life allowed them to recruit, train and equip their local forces without too much interference from intelligence gatherers and such. Sooner or later however, they would decide upon a little evil doings. The murder of a British soldier was good for the cause regardless of whether he came from a peace loving hearts and minds unit or one of the hard-line battalions. The bunfights stopped and the regiment would try and assert its authority within its area of operations.

The terrorists had a head start where there was little local intelligence and the troops may have lost the sharp edge of efficiency from their pre-deployment training so that they were soon on the back foot and lost control. That is when the call went out for Para to come and restore things. They were very forthright and stood no nonsense. They had no time or sympathy for discussion. Terrorists had the choice when they saw the red berets - put their heads down and slink away or go for confrontation. Once the dissidents had backed down, the Para withdrew but left a bad taste in the tea and on the biscuits. That is why some units resisted para being deployed to their areas. Their quiet and uneventful six months tour had been drastically altered.

As for civil policing operations - by the start of 1970 the concept of civil police operations had died. RUC had been forced off the streets and the whole rule of law idea had been set aside. The mission was just to keep the peace between two communities set at each others throats. People were being burned out where their religion was a minority in an area. Streets echoed to the sounds of gunfire where Loyalist terrorists were fighting Republican terrorists. People walking home or moving about alone were liable to being seized and tortured or worse. Hardly a situation that could be dealt with by a good old coppering Hello Hello Hello.

Soldiers are taught to do one thing. Fight. That is what they do. They are most certainly not ambassadors in khaki. The Para were never trained as policemen; a job that may seem very easy but is far from such.

The senior officers in the Province had no excuse not to know the style and tactics employed by the Para battalion. They took no steps to rectify any defect; Bloody Sunday was not the first time that the paratroopers had been sent onto the streets to deal with something that had got out of hand. Londonderry was deemed to have a very competent police chief; his civil police operations did not keep the trouble makers of the march away from stoning barricades. Had he done so, the clash with Para would never have happened.

Now, can we get on with our lives?

So, was it that the effluent hit the air-conditioning device or a mountain labouring at the birth of a mouse? Now we have seen the whole of the Saville report are we much wiser? I doubt it really. The media have all done their cherry-biting; government bashers have bashed, Republican media repeated their anthems and Protestant papers blame the Papists. I suspect very few of the military who were there are very much interested in something that happened all that while ago. Forgetfulness is a fashionable concept in criminal trials - ones own and that of prosecution witnesses.
The UK Government will go through the motions of recognising what a great piece of work Saville produced "In the House of Commons discussion of the report, Harriet Harman claimed that it spoke for itself, but running to more than 5,000 pages and 10 volumes, it would seem more likely that it will unleash a sadly predictable reaction from many quarters, who will find sufficient in its findings to justify the flogging of traditional hobby horses.
David Cameron's summation can't be expected to be congenial to many of those who have expended much time and effort to establish a premeditated plan by senior politicians and members of the armed forces to shoot rioters on 30 January 1972. His statement that the report established that neither the UK and Northern Ireland governments nor the Army countenanced the use of illegal force is a direct challenge to the self-justificatory narrative of Sinn Fein. And the finding that Martin McGuinness was probably in possession of a sub-machine gun on the day – although it was not used – is a reminder of the common IRA practice of using rioters as cover for deadly attacks on the Army."
As an aside for anyone who seeks better information than is available via the posh papers or the red tops I would recommend a very apt - and in my opinion totally accurate - publication by Niall o Dochartaigh as to whether the whole thing was designed or an error.
Mr Cameron made a decent enough fist of baring his soul in public which showed the benefits of public schooling in keeping a stiff upper lip. He spared the military nothing. But, someone should have reminded him of the elephant in the House.
Right now there is an inquiry proceeding into the actions of our troops in Iraq which involved the death of a local, one Baha Mousa who was held in the custody of the soldiers. There is indisputable video evidence of the manner in which they were treated - badly - and Mousa's body bore almost 100 injuries. There was an inquiry by the military police in Iraq but they were faced with a wall of silence when it came to a court martial. As the Inquiry has developed, senior military figures have agreed that what was done was totally out of order. So, Mr Cameron has more trouble with his soldiers down the line.
And Mousa is not the only concern. We have anotherr PR disaster on the stocks with what is know as the Battle for Danny Boy.
"The father of an Iraqi killed by British forces during the battle, together with five other Iraqis who were detained on the same date, allege they were beaten and abused, during and after their original detention. They, and other witnesses, also allege that a far larger number of men were detained and transported from the battlefield and that, while their vision was obscured by blacked-out goggles, they overheard the unmistakable sounds of torture at the base. Public Interest Lawyers, a group representing the Iraqis, says this is corroborated by the death certificates to dead Iraqis who were handed over from the Abu Naji base. Evidence of torture included close-range bullet wounds, the removal of eyes, and stab wounds. The Iraqis have been asking the high court in London to order an independent public inquiry into claims they were mistreated and that British soldiers may have killed up to 20 captives."
The Inquiry will doubtless be faced with claim and counter-claim but, coming on the heels of Londonderry and Mousa, will do our reputation little good.
As an infantryman would say "Stand by for incoming"

Monday, 14 June 2010


I was going to do a thing in advance of the SDR review. This guy does it so much better I have to admit the best place for me is to watch from behind the sofa

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The sting might be in the tale

Cameron's PR fluff inspired visit to the troops was initially greeted with much column inches. His Henry V-style emotive outpourings were just what the lads may have wanted to hear "I want to put you front and centre of national life again," he said. "I want you to help me create a new atmosphere in our country, an atmosphere where we back and revere and support our military. What you are doing here will never be forgotten, it is great and important work. You are incredibly brave and professional in what you do. I stand here as your prime minister, wanting to tell you from the bottom of my heart that you should be proud of yourselves and what you do because your country is incredibly proud of you."
He was appreciative of the former Government's initiative suggesting bribing junior Taliban to desert their tasks. His announcement of doubled allowances was well received but was it bribery? "Stick with it lads and we will see you all right" If a few million quid would asist in stifling calls to get out - so be it.
However, today's revelations about the premature disappearance from the MOD gravy train of the driver has set off debate about the Armed Forces review. It seems pretty certain that force levels will be cut back as part of guaranteed cost cutting at MOD.
So, what value the announcements about how greatly valued the soldiers are? "What you are doing here will never be forgotten" he said. Maybe not but will it be properly acknowledged? The really expensive toys in the defence cupboard are things to which we are contractually bound and huge penalty payments would fall due. This regardless of the money already invested in the planning and design aspects. It is in such 'non-essentials' as manpower that the easiest cuts will come.
There is an old Army adage that the secret of retaining a woman's love is to keep her well fuc*ed and poorly shod. Certainly one that has been used of late. The Army prides itself on Can Do and telling them they must carry on even more fuc*ed and less well shod would work. Doubling on per diem allowances would be a drop in the ocean if it kept them smiling whilst the knives are being sharpened ready to make savage cuts. Maybe the MOD civvy departing early could chip in a few quid with a car boot sale of the £1000 a go Herman Miller office chairs distributed in a MOD refurb at a time when troops were crying out for a few quids worth of personnel protection kit or buying their own equipment as the issued stuff was cheepo rubbish that did not do the job

Walking away in jerks

This morning, I faced up to something that has been on my mind for some time. I decided that enough was enough and deleted my account at the social networking site Twitter. Or, more accurately, the social not-working site.

The site seems to have a complete inability to organise itself such that one may rely on a working connection. It goes on and off like a flickering light bulb or gets so much traffic that it overloads and one is directed to wait and try again later. I had likened the site as something like a pub. One goes in, asks for a pint and gets served. I cannot imagine a pub where one cannot rely on opening or closing time and where one is basically told to wait whilst a drink is produced. We cannot be talking rocket science. My son writes software for banks and dealing houses. These will draw feeds from any number of sources and the displays will update all the time. That is rocket science. Once one has something to say, one wants to have some assurance that those polished thoughts, those gems of vocabulary, will get to a waiting world so that the next flawless contribution may be started. Repeated Try Again Laters to a status update to not satisfy.
The pub analogy is applicable to another source of discontent - not directly the fault of Twitter In Chief but no less annoying than the outages and brown-outs. It concerns this social networking claim. If I am standing at the bar of my local pub and make some comment or observation. I can rely upon an answer. Dissent, agreement or refinement of my little droplet. No one would use a hostelry where it was almost guaranteed that no one would connect with my input. Still less would one stay where the only conversation would come in the form of "did you see that" where there is no indication of what 'that' might be.
Last night's football was a case in point. No one seemed able to set up any two, three or four way conversation. It was as if each twitter were a commuter passing by a busker - they might toss 5P into his cap but there would be no involvement. No interchange. No sign of life. When I commuted in London some years back there was a guy on one of the underground passages that was a quite superb violin player. So good that one day I stopped and had about 15 minutes of a personal classic concert. We nodded, then progressed to Good Night/Morning and I asked for a particular piece which he played. Our intercourse got such that two or three others joined me for a brief respite from the hamster wheel of commuting. We ganged up onto any jobsworth inspector. Our entertainer dropped out somewhere and one of the impromptu audience confirmed he had found regular employment as a session musician. That was social networking.
Some - indeed, the majority, of my posts were written and addressed to those I thought would respond. Oh, and LOL stuff is not a response in my book. I thought that if others saw the two of use passing the ball between us, they also would come in for a bit of a kick around. It never happened. I played the #ff game despite outwardly doubting what it did; in my case - nothing. Follow and Following was another area of disappointment when it came to generating traffic. I would get Following notifications from people whose profile showed they had no followers, were following a considerable number of others and had only ever written one tweet. What is social about that? Why were these people allowed to draw oxygen from the site?
All the while this was going on, I was posting to a Army forum where activity was frenetic. Any opinion was torn asunder in that special blend of insult and humour that comes from service life. If there was nothing said about the post then one could rely upon an analysis of one's birth, life and all too far away death. I could go there any hour of the day or night and there would always be someone leaning on the doorpost looking for contact.
So, I have resigned my account. This not only cuts me off but expunges all my contributions. Given the mediocre return on these gems, I do not feel a sense of loss. I'll confine myself to communicating with those with whom I share a real bond - making snide remarks and winding people up.

Sitting in the back seat

This, of course, is a Magistrates report of a recent case but it will have been investigated by a police officer.
And people used to say to me, "doesn't the sordidness and the sad lives of the violent get you down?" As if!

"A Court of Appeal judgement caught my eye this morning for a couple of reasons (as well as the fact that it is printed in today's Times). The case of R v Burns reported here settles the significant point that your right to eject someone from your home using reasonable force does not extend to your motor car. The case was seen as being sufficiently important to be chaired by Lord Judge, no less.
The unfortunate, or should we say incautious, Mr. Burns, apparently struck a deal with a 'sex worker' to pay £50 for what my more vulgar friends would call a 'blow job' but which the delicate souls in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division prefer to call 'oral sex'. Unfortunately Mr. Burns' ardour cooled when he got a better look at his rented partner; I infer that a feeling of 'Oh No!' induced rapid de-tumescence and prompted him to sling her out of the car there and then. The rest is in the report.
I have no idea what sentence was imposed, but I do not imagine that it would have been too severe. Two more thoughts arise; the lawyers' way of referring to significant cases is simply to use the defendant's name, so Burns is likely to join those of Turnbull and Aramah, and Povey and myriad others that are quoted day by day in our courts. It's immortality of a sort, but a sort that I could do without. Secondly, what reaction does he get when he walks into the Dog and Duck for a pint? And what did his missus think"
And then, there is also the police action when dealing with unwanted growth in a garden.

Order of the Boot

So, Stirrup has gone. I was not aware that the Queen's Birthday Honours included the Order of the Boot but he certainly qualified for such and award. Whether or not The Times were aware of his impending departure when they did the Officers' Mess inquiry we shall not know but those revelations cannot have helped.
His jacket had been hanging from a loose nail anyway. He entered into machinations with Brown so as to deny Dannatt promotion, "There is little love lost between Sir Richard and Sir Jock, who was part of a "fix" in 2008 that prevented Sir Richard from being considered as a candidate to succeed him as Chief of the Defence Staff. In a deal masterminded by Downing Street, Sir Jock agreed not to retire last year but to stay on as Chief of the Defence Staff until 2011, keeping him in the most senior military post for five years. He took over in April 2006, before troops had been sent to Helmand province, and would normally have retired in 2009. The move scuppered the succession hopes of Sir Richard, who was viewed by Downing Street as too outspoken, and of Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, then First Sea Lord. The Iran fiasco, when 15 sailors and marines were taken hostage by Revolutionary Guard gunmen in the Gulf in 2007 put paid to his chances." Britain’s top military commander faced mounting pressure to step down from generals who believe that he lacked the necessary experience to lead the war effort in Afghanistan.
There existed a growing view in Whitehall that a soldier, rather than an airman, should run the Armed Forces up to 2014 — a period when the Army will absorb an increasing amount of the MoD’s resources because of its leading role in the Afghan land war.
The Conservatives are committed to holding a strategic defence review.Senior Whitehall sources said that it also made sense for a new man, from the Army hierarchy, to head the Armed Forces — both to bring fresh ideas to the review and to help to implement its conclusions.
The possibility of a change at the top led to tensions at the highest level in the Ministry of Defence. The chiefs of the Royal Navy and RAF were particularly concerned about the prospect of further cuts to their services.But the chance to appoint Dannatt has gone - he tied his coat to the Tories in advance of their coming into power. This was not a terribly productive alliance and Dave is very keen to be seen as on-side in military matters. Note his use of the phrase 'front and centre' - That is an idiom from the military world, where anyone ordered from the ranks to come "front and centre" is required to step forward out of the ranks, usually to face the NCO. However, it is one I never heard in my military service in a British army so I can only assume Dave got it from late night viewing of Burt Lancaster doing the naughties with a very nubile Deborah Kerr portrayed in From here to Eternity or his script-writer does not have access to's wiki.