Saturday 31 July 2010

Stick 'Em With Windmills

The humourist Scott Adams(*) of Dilbert fame illustrated that people tend to see the solution to any problem in terms of their favourite technique, the one they have a special investment in. When Dilbert's office hired a porcupine as a consultant it would unhestitatingly recommend:

"We must stick them with quills! It's the only way!"

The observation is sharp. Ask a school teacher what to do and it will invariably work its way back upstream to how children ought to be educated. A priest will tell you to pray. An accountant, a good one, will venture no opinion until she has managed to put a model in to a spreadsheet.

Little Richard honestly believed there was no problem which could not be solved by dancing, which is the odd-man-out as he is primarily thought of as a rock'n'roller rather than a hoofer. He probably meant "Playing some rock'n'roll loudly and dancing to it until the problem goes away of its own accord". Some truth in that too; a great number of problems are best dealt with by doing nothing, although that's disastrous in a smaller proportion of cases. Wisdom lies in knowing when to do nothing, when to do something, and what that thing ought to be to avoid making the situation worse than if you'd done nothing in the first place.

If an advisor is counselling you against their own best techniques it goes against this powerful human grain. You should at least listen, then, when a person doesn't suggest that a problem can be solved by applying generous amounts of money to their profession.

"I was a marine engineer for 43 years."

It is reasonable to assume The Filthy Engineer knows what he's talking about when he says that there is something hideously wrong with the calculations for what it will cost to maintain wind farms at sea, compared to the energy they will generate.

Also, he's prepared to wade through the documents to get to the heart of the ignorance, for which we should all be thankful. Now, if only we can get people in authority to take notice of his summary.


(*) Scott Adams: the strip is on page 103 of "How to Build a Better Life By Stealing Office Supplies", which is nineteen years old now. If you register with Amazon you can use the Look Inside feature to see it (again).

It became one of the best known workings of the theme "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail".

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Sir Olly and the Imaginary Police Officers

Not the PCSOs this time, but the Rail Enforcement Officers (REOs) who have responsibility for helping railways stay safe and not have their services nicked by people dodging fares.

They have a legitimate job to do and they have some limited delegated powers. However the source of these powers is mystical and doesn't look as well-founded in law as the REOs would have us believe. I'll take it that I can contact British Transport Police and find a piece of legislation which definitely gives the REOs the legal authority they claim (you never can tell these days, people often make it up as they go along), but I'm also assuming that an REO doing their job properly is doing something which we would all think is right.

A company has the right to exclude free-riders, to collect the monies due to it, to not have its trains and the stations it operates smashed up, and not to be blown to smithereens by some of the customers. It has the right to appoint employees, or third party contractors, to do this safeguarding job on its behalf. Realistically, detecting terrorism is still going to be the job of the security services because the modern terrorist is indistinguishable from everyone else. Even the professionals get it disastrously wrong. About the most an REO can do is note when anything is left laying about or vehicles parked in an unauthorized fashion, and isolate it quickly.

Back to the REOs, then, who gave Olly Cromwell some bother on Friday night. Olly recounts the delay and a number of things said to him.

Olly was taking pictures of the imaginary police officers - specifically the backs of their jackets - who have been dressed in such a way as to deceive the unwary in to thinking they are real police officers. It is possible to dress an REO in a uniform which looks smart, is practical, and identifies them as an employee of the company. Banks do it. Lorry companies do it. Supermarkets do it. This reminds the employee who they work for and what job they do, even if they are third-party contractors. Unfortunately, with the way the police dress now, it is also very easy to make non-police staff look like police officers. All it takes is a hi-viz vest and a couple of belt pouches.

At first this seems like a good idea, making the REOs effective by piggy-backing on people's reluctance to cross the police. However, there is a downside. The employees may stop identifying with the needs of the company and the primacy of customer service and how it supports share price and profitability, and begin to identify with "the lads", developing a rich and paranoid fantasy life which the police do not share. Or not with them, at any rate.

The next thing you know, they are threatening to have people arrested and demanding to look through items which are none of their business. That isn't always legal when the police do it. It is outrageous when a person who is merely another citizen takes it in to their head to rifle through somebody else's purse/wallet.

In response to Olly's email of complaint about being wrongfully detained by the REOs even though he was perfectly willing to take them to a police station at the terminus to have the limit of their authority explained, SouthEastern's Lisa McGrath sent a standard letter which was polite but confused the legal situation with the voluntary protocol which rail enthusiasts use.

The legal situation could be very serious for the men involved; they may be personally liable for false imprisonment if Gary Slapper's outline is correct. The threat of arrest would be enough to constitute intimidation and it might not be a defence to say that the employees felt threatened by knowing someone had taken their picture. We are all having our pictures taken all the time these days and have not the faintest idea who, if anyone, is eventually going to see those images.

However, the only thing which matters in corporate terms is: can an REO's behaviour affect the share price of the plc, Go-Ahead Group (No. 2100855), which is the 65% owner of the joint venture Govia Limited (No. 03278419) , which operates London & South Eastern Railway Limited (No.04860660) and other franchises.

When an REO approaches a customer they do so without a vital piece of information. Who are they challenging, apart from not knowing their name? Looks are deceptive; can you tell just by looking who is a sector analyst? She might be very pleased to find an REO is doing their job courteously and conscientiously, protecting the company's revenues. However, imply that she's a slag who sleeps with the fourteen other blokes registered to her address, or act like a stalker by examining documents which are not within the REOs authority, and somewhere there will be a manager who would like to talk to you before you wreck their bonus.

Do it enough times that people start comparing notes on websites, and eventually it could be reflected in a drop in share value. As Olly pointed out, he only noticed the REOs because there have been reports of them regularly exceeding their authority.

Following today's invitation to Olly to kill himself from someone with access to Go-Ahead's intranet, the market may wish to take a view of how seriously Go-Ahead take paying customers and how poor the management's grasp on its employees must be that it was sent. I suppose we should be grateful they specified hanging rather than jumping in front of a train.

Thus, a distant third-party employee can damage the interests of executives, other employees and shareholders, so managers must make sure that front-line staff and contractors do their job politely, within the law and don't go off on a frolick of their own. The first step in that is to remove the quasi-police uniforms and make them wear something distinctive which matches the livery of the train operators.

The Chief Executive of Go-Ahead is Keith Ludeman and the Group Communications Director is Samantha Hodder, 020 7821 3928 email Ludeman is the person ultimately answerable to the board if he has hired subordinates who annoy the customers and make the company look bad.

Jeremy Clarkson naked under his purple nylon Y-Fronts shock

Jeremy Clarkson is in trouble (again) for making a joke. This time it's about the fact that burkhas don't necessarily mean the person underneath is wearing flat shoes and sensible knickers.

The Daily Star used this as a handy peg to hang a clip from Youtube on, and if you won't get in trouble for looking at lingerie adverts, you may care to click on the following.

What that scamp has done is to draw attention to the systematic subversion of the bukha. Instead of it being a symbol of modesty with the over-whelming liklihood of it concealing five spare stone of cellulite, trackybums and a pair of trainers, every copper and Clarkson is now going to be fantasizing wildly about the resurgence of stockings and suspenders under every black nightie.

Listen to Clarkson, Mr Hollobone. This is the way we deal with clothing we don't like. Mostly ignore it or else subvert the garment and re-engineer the semiotics of it. If the burkha becomes a symbol of uber-sexiness it will rapidly become fetish wear, if it hasn't already.

Those who wish to protect the honour of their good lady wives need not fret. The quickest, if ungallant, way to put other blokes off the idea of propositioning your missuses is to introduce them.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Model Aeroplanes

To Old Warden, Bedfordshire, for a day with the aeromodellers. As anyone who has watched Flight of the Phoenix will tell you, a toy aeroplane is something you wind up and it runs along the floor.

A model aeroplane is a real aeroplane but you just don't happen to be in it when it is flying.

There is an airstrip full of radio controlled models with a field and a control protocol of its own.

Far in the distance are the free-flight models. On a still day when the planes are perfectly trimmed they will come back to the launcher's hand, but where there is a very slight breeze they will end the flights far down the field. Free-flight modellers are the hippie anarchists of the modelling world. They don't have peg numbers and protocols. They just avoid banging in to each other. Mostly.

It is a gentle place where time appears to stand still. Nothing but pleasant people building models and seeing them float around a field. A peaceful world of neat cars, lazy old dogs and polished caravans with awnings for the stall-holders. A world of where the gentlemen wear beanie or panama hats and women produce picnics out of VW camper vans or the much-loved classic car.

There's no law against women flying. A few do, but not many. They are happy to wander down the stalls, sifting the jumble for treasures. I take photos and a stall holder becomes a little nervous, wondering what I'm doing. I explain I'm writing a blog post to suggest people take up the hobby of modelling. He tells me he's asking because his brother - a professional photographer - was arrested a while ago in central London.

His brother - also a grandfather - was looking for library shots of well-known landmarks. Everybody in the world recognizes Eros in Piccadilly Circus so that's where he was, just looking for the picture. It was a hot day and a man was dipping a child in the fountain. Probably not very hygienic but a great image. He snapped it and went on his way. On the bus home, he found he had been followed by the police who confiscated his camera as they thought that taking photos of a child in a public place could be construed as a crime. The stall holder alleged the police had also removed the contents of his brother's darkroom (some photographers still use film or have archives of it). He was arrested and kept in a cell for hours.

Eventually the police admitted they did not have any evidence against him and no charges have followed. It took weeks to get the camera back, the archive was disrupted, and no apology has ever been made. The police now have his DNA and a record that he was arrested for possible child pornography offences. It isn't illegal to take pictures of children in a public place. It does not constitute grounds for the police to suspect somebody of taking pornographic pictures of children. The stall holder wondered what England had come to. A shadow went across the sun.

How is it that an out-of-control police force, intent on destroying the support and consent of the law-abiding middle classes, can exist in the same time and country as this cottage and all it stands for?

If you would like to take up model building and/or flying the British Model Flying Association can help you find the nearest like-minded individuals and places where you can fly.

Thursday 22 July 2010


Q. What is missing from this picture?

A. Poppy seed heads.

Each year flower arrangers grow a number of plants for harvest very late in the year where the main aim is to get dried stems which will stand in a vase and can be sprayed gold or dipped in glitter.

There is an element of luck involved; the fragile stems often break when handled or the quilted heads go the ugly shape of tumours instead of the magical little pumpkins with their mathematically perfect but whimsical shells.

Ceramic sculpture of poppy seed-head

What you don't expect is either some self-appointed DEA person who is supposed to harassing poppy farmers in Afghanistan, or some lazy-arse local who can't be bothered to grow their own poppies, to come and snip the heads off while one is out. The chilling thing is that somebody has been observing this patch of flowers carefully as they aren't easily visible. There are only a handful of people who know the plants are there, so this breeds distrust of neighbours. Unjust, but inevitable.

The thief has come in with a bag and pair of secateurs and systematically ruined the future display. The two pods in the picture are the only survivors. I doubt this will give enough seeds for a colony next year, and anyway, there is an argument for not growing them if it attracts undesirables.

The sooner we get this drug regulation sorted out and the Afghani farmers paid properly for their crop, the sooner the flower arrangers of the world can take down the barbed wire and machine-gun nest which I now feel obliged to install.

They aren't pinching my figs.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

The Proper Etiquette for Fights at Weddings

Over at Ambush Predator, JuliaM draws attention to a punch-up which happened at a wedding.

AntiCitizenOne wonders if it has something to do with the benefits culture as both Punch and Judy were unemployed. Mr Punch was drinking, his girlfriend Ms Judy took issue, and when the bar staff intervened, Judy decided to give them a right slappin' an all. The coolly-logical AC1 misses the important thing: this was at a wedding. That means there was a fair chance that Mr Punch was drinking his way through the kitty behind the bar and didn't spend his benefits money on it at all. An aggravating factor is that it was in Essex.

The other problem is: too many people are running EastEnders scripts in their heads.

The wedding becomes a setting for an episode in which these people play the lead role, utterly unable to grasp that a wedding is a pre-set show in which the starring role - the bride - has already been cast. The scene-stealing culprits are usually drawn from the top table.

Note that it was the bride's sister, Ms Judy, who ended up dominating the drama in the Marks Tey example. She dramatized the situation when she decided to abuse the waitress, moving it from "My bloke has had a few sherbets too many" through "Potential domestic" and all the way to "Call the police, she's threatened to murder a waitress". That is exactly what you'd expect in sibling rivalry; your sister will only get married one day in her life (well, you know what I mean) so if you are going to upstage her, that's when it will have to be.

Like any soap drama, the events will be foreshadowed to build up the tension. This usually starts in the wedding shop where any of the groom, the best man, the groom's brother or the groom's father will suddenly take it in their heads to refuse to wear the ill-matched tail coats or embroidered waistcoats, claiming they look soppy.

Of course they look soppy. What has that to do with the price of fish? For reasons I cannot fathom, some men in the modern fashion have got the idea that it is up to them what they will wear. They are confirmed in this erroneous belief by Moss Bross, who offer a four-page groom's checklist which includes:
"3 months to go. By now you should be ready to choose your wedding outfit. Make a day of it with all your ushers and male relatives".
The art of the wedding shop assistant lies in preserving their commission on the sale whilst not getting blood on the stock. There may be forceful exchange of views; one of the ushers suggests Darren looks gay in that weskit. Darren, the groom's youngest brother and pumped with the most testosterone and adrenalin, will offer him a wet punch, which won't do much harm but is just enough to start a brawl.

Meanwhile the staff will endure endless re-runs of ancient Are You Being Served jokes which they never heard before.
"Ere, Darren, ee's free, ee'll measure yer inside leg fer yer."
"Ere, Darren, you wanna behave yerself or Mrs Slocombe will set her pussy on yer."

The groom's father, easily the most miserable of the party, will remember his own wedding day(s) and swear that nobody is going to get him in one of those suits, not until he's in his own box. The staff will go out the back and wonder if they can arrange it.

Eventually the Best Man and Groom will go out in morning coats, probably Ascot greys, and everybody else will have lounge suits (satin shawl collar, one button) and think they look like something out of MadMen. Darren will sulk because having refused to wear a morning coat, he's been allowed to have his way and now doesn't feel as important as the Best Man. Because he isn't.

Meanwhile the bride and her entourage will be trying to pour themselves in to dresses which are triumphs of engineering in satin and steel. There is nothing - and I promise you this is true as I've worked on a bridal show - so determined as a woman who spies a chance to wear a laced bustier. The most punky perforated popsie you can imagine will stomp in wearing DMs and a bad attitude and make straight for the embroidered Elizabethan corsets. She's relatively easy to please; the Goths tend to be a little thinner so they fit in the dresses.

The difficulty starts with the more generously proportioned brides, particularly if they intend to be eight months pregnant at the wedding. There are a couple of designs, known as "covers a multitude of sins" which will cope with this but they don't involve bodices and modom knows what she wants.

She will make for the designs based on the Emmanuel Classic Diana, which was itself ripped-off from Disney's Cinderella. Only, this version has added encrusted Swarovski crystals so it weighs a ton and would cut your hands to ribbons if you brushed them over the embellishment.

This dress only works if you are 19, thin as a whisper, a virgin, and girlishly winsome. It was touch-and-go on the Late Princess, and she was anorexic. Anybody else is going to look like a galleon encrusted with frozen barnacles. Less Snow Queen, more Snow Plough.

While this is going on the bridesmaids will be itching to try on all the bridal gowns for themselves, which is dangerous if any of them are obviously prettier than the bride. She will storm out to reclaim her place as Queen of the Fairies and will instruct them all to be loaded in to sherbet-green or lilac satin.

After a little horse-trading and discussion of how it looks on the photos, this will be sensibly revised to gold sheath dresses, which are surprisingly flattering on nearly everyone if the larger sizes are made as a bodice and skirt.

The mother of the bride will remember her own wedding day(s) and be found in a compromising position with the father of the groom. They have been swigging out of a hip-flask he has concealed about his person. The mother of the groom will be frosty but will save the smack in the gob - for that tramp, you know, her - for the reception, or better yet, the church.

Next out will be the seating plan for the wedding, if there is a formal banquet. This calls for diplomacy, but it shouldn't. The guests are badly infected with the "It's my party" virus, which gives everyone the illusion that this is about them. Consequently you can't rely for one single afternoon on them behaving like mature adults, capable of sticking to discussions of the weather and politely ignoring the tomato soup if they don't like it.

Instead, there will be juggling with name cards so that racists aren't inadvertently set with one's duskier friends. Ancient animosities will be hauled out and polished up to make them as inconvenient as possible. Vegetarians will loudly complain that they are fed up with vegetable lasagne, and anyway, is the cheese rennet-free or is it compromised? When I'm in charge of the world, we'll barbecue vegetarians and then the carnivores can eat them instead of the hog roast. The next florist who has conniptions because their creation has not been placed precisely where they instructed is going to be joining them on the spit and served with a garni of their own rudbeckias and sea holly, I gives yer due warning.

When the family and friends aren't behaving like idiots the support staff will be. Drivers insist they don't know where churches and receptions are, which is a diabolical liberty considering the prices they charge, do what, yer 'avin' a laugh, incha?

No, I didn't believe it either, but I've known weddings where inappropriate sexual advances have been made by pissed blokes towards the bride - or the groom if it is a Lib Dem do - a hotel was trashed, strongly racist sentiments were expressed towards the newly acquired relatives, their morals and parenthood questioned (blimey, hark who's talking) and the police have been called.

The proper etiquette for fights at weddings is: NONE. There aren't supposed to be any fights. If there has been one, somebody should have left earlier or not attended in the first place. Especially if it is either of the happy er, couple.

This leads to the serious consideration: can mere stories about weddings deprave and corrupt? It looks like they can, if they are repeated often enough and if they normalize outrageous behaviour. That means we should not be worrying about obscene publications but about EastEnders.

I want to see the episode where all the guests turn up on time instead of wasting the meal by running off to some other wedding, nobody loses anything, as few women as possible are pregnant in anything other than the most conventional of arrangements, nobody decks their muvver/farvver/bruvver, nobody jumps off a roof and the police, fire and ambulance services are not in attendance. They are called so regularly to Albert Square that they ought to be on the checklist as a guard of honour.

I want to see just one EastEnders wedding video which won't later turn up on Police Camera Action! or the stills grabbed for "Do you recognize this person?" on Crimewatch.


The writer wishes to declare a pair of white stilettos and a white Ford Escort to be taken in to account.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Theme Park

It's easy to be sniffy about theme parks. Anywhere which has the nerve to charge £1.35 for a Fab lolly and £4 for a wrap containing three cubes of rubber chicken deserves an award for cuisine which would disgrace a 1970s motorway service station.

Never mind; take a picnic and a bottle of water and get past that nasty over-sugared coating of merchandising, and there's another world calling itself in to existence behind the gates. Here, children run not because they are made to in accordance with the latest threat to remove obese children in to care where they can pile on even more pounds , but because they want to get where they are going.

Here is where they are going. Wheeeee!

A cross between cycling and boating, the swan pedalo allows the less adrenalin-addicted to splash about with no skill in either.

You know you are in England because there is a sudden shower of rain. Quick! Everybody do the Emergency Poncho sprint. This is how exercise should be: fun.

Saturday 10 July 2010

Lucy Cope - backstory

Followed from the shooting of her son Damian in 2002 by the unstable drug dealer Andrew Wanoghu, Lucy Cope became a campaigner against gun usage. She has achieved considerable news coverage for her campaign "Mothers Against Guns" by appearing at conferences, giving quotes and generating stories for both local and national media.

There is no formal charity under the name "Mothers Against Guns" listed with the Charities Commission and the charitable limited company which existed under that name (no. 05915867) was dissolved in 2008, having previously been registered for two years to an accountant's address, so it is not clear how the campaign is currently funded. There may have been some funding in 2004 via the Connected Fund operated by the Home Office, but that has ended now.

Considering the lack of visible means of support, the campaign has achieved a high profile. Examples of story generation include complaining about a possibly ill-judged Reebok campaign and criticizing a simulator demonstrated in an Armed Forces recruitment shop in Hackney. When Wanoghu was himself executed in 2006 (by gunman Trevor Dennie on the orders of Delphon Nicholas), Lucy Cope offered her condolences to the mother of Wanoghu as she was automatically approached for a comment.

This week an Freedom of Information request (FOI) revealed that Bedfordshire police had granted shotgun licences to children. The story does not say who raised the FOI. The Daily Mail article contained material inaccuracies about gun ownership and licencing, as various people have pointed out, but this is a good headline and media quickly took the story up.

The BBC regional TV news handled the story more carefully than most and interviewed the police, a young sports man and a supervisor at a gun training centre. As various gun-users have pointed out, a gun is just another tool used in competition shooting, pest control and hunting. They need careful handling as they have special risks attached to them, but they are just another tool. The police did extensive checks and interviews before granting the licences. All the conditions are being complied with. Despite the splash of the story this week, it has been covered before. Fiona McPherson for BBC South East addressed the subject in a balanced manner in December 2009. Just for once, everybody was doing their job properly, even the BBC.

It's impossible to have anything but sympathy for Lucy Cope, but when it emerged that she also had another son stabbed to death, it raised the query: Why is she focusing on the guns when the problem seems to be the propensity of young men to get involved in crime and kill each other?

Time then to look at the Lucy Cope back story, particularly when prompted by a commenter on Ambush Predator, that there might be competing explanations for the number of deaths in the Cope family.

Lucy Cope is quoted as age 55, which means she was born in 1955 at the end of the 'baby boomer' cohort. She has briefly described a childhood in coastal Ayrshire up to the age of 14, which although perhaps difficult by today's standards, was within the standards of the time.

Her description of her father as "a violent man" has to stand, but it should be noted that he's not here to dispute it. By the late 60s the mines in Ayrshire were closing because oil was coming on stream, imported coal was cheaper and electricity from nuclear generation was being brought on. Mr James Sillars, MP (South Ayrshire) and other concerned MPs a summarized the history of it in Hansard on 2 Feb 1977. (At that point, Sillars reveals were are 43,000 temporary jobs created in the area to keep people off the unemployment register.)

In approximately 1969 at age 14, Lucy Cope was therefore moved by her father to Nottingham, presumably so that he could find work in mining, but she does not state that was his job. At age 17 she met and married Winston, moving to London four years later at the age of 21 to live in Peckham in the estates which are fictionalized in the comedy Only Fools and Horses. Although Cope was a little young, by the standards of 1976 a married 21 year old was not unusual. They had six boys. (Cope subsequently went on to have two younger daughters).

The reality was darker than either the popular series - which began in 1981 - or Cope herself reflects.
"There used to be the old school criminality that did ruthless things but they had a mark of respect that they wouldn’t go over."
Time puts mellow rosy glasses on us all when looking back at it. By 1985 there were serious challenges to the policing of London, particularly in estates such as Broadwater Farm (Tottenham), where the authority of the police to enforce UK law was being tested at a cultural level. Crime was half the equation; a severe confusion was arising as to whether the police had any right at all to enter those areas and enforce the law of the land, as evidenced by the widely-condemned statement from Bernie Grant (council leader and subsequently an MP)
"The youths around here believe the police were to blame for what happened on Sunday and what they got was a bloody good hiding."
Cope's life story seems to have been quiet enough - or at least, as quiet as it gets when having six boys - from her meeting with Winston in 1972 up until roughly the mid-1980s. Then, on a date not specified and for reasons not stated, Cope recounts:
"When I was 17, I married Winston, a wonderful Jamaican man. He was my soul mate. We had six boys. Life seemed great. Then he jumped off the block of flats where we lived. The kids were small; they saw it happen."
There is no readily available information on what appears to have been a dreadful suicide, but it might partly explain the tensions which then developed in the Cope family. By 1998 something had gone badly wrong. Sean Cope, her son, was stabbed to death close to Cope's home. However, there is surprisingly little information on this, which may be simply down to the date as internet sources are only gradually being added from that time. If the local paper covered it, it might be in their archives. However, a commentator on Ambush Predator writes:
"his death is described in more detail elsewhere as a "family accident" and that another brother, Michael, stood trial three times for it before eventually being cleared of manslaughter and murder. IIRC from when I lived in the area and followed the incident in the local press, there wasn't any dispute that Michael's hand was on the knife".
Sean Cope has been air-brushed almost out of the picture in a way that Damian has not. He is left there, in outline, inviting us to conclude that random tragedy has struck twice, whereas if he died as a result of scrapping within his own family, and if it should transpire that Sean himself had a violent background, these are much more relevant explanations than the guns, knives, garrotes or chair legs with which they kill each other. The weapon is only "how" they do it; to cut down the numbers you have to tackle the whys and wherefores.

There is another chapter in the Cope story.

When Damian was killed, there was little doubt about the identity of the murderer, but there was doubt about whether a successful case could be brought. There was CCTV footage of Damian being shot but what the prosecution needed - a positive identification of the murderer - hung on two witnesses being prepared to name him.
Although the CPS went to the effort of extraditing Andrew Wanoghu from the USA and putting him on trial in 2004 as a one of a sequence in Operation Trident in an effort to stem gang violence, their case was always weak in respect of identification and relied on the witness claiming to have heard the name from the dying lips of Damian Cope. It was hearsay from someone now far beyond the reaches of human justice. Although Lucy Cope claimed credit for pressurizing the CPS in to bringing the case, the police were anxious to crack the gangs and an extradition might have helped that.

Despite this, counsel for the prosecution was obliged to withdraw when the witnesses would not testify. The friend was, in the end, more frightened of reprisals than contempt of court.

A further explanation was given by Richard Horwell, prosecuting on behalf of the Crown (who subsequently became a QC and often acts as Counsel for the Metropolitan police):
Another problem was that it was claimed that Mr Cope named his killer to Witness A seven minutes after the shooting. But medical experts from prosecution and defence believe his injuries were so serious that he would have been rendered incapable of speech almost immediately. "Each doctor independently came to the view that because of the injuries Damian Cope suffered is it unlikely in the extreme that he would have been in a position to have a conversation with Witness A," said Mr Horwell. A doorman at the club claimed that Mr Cope did not utter a word."
"We couldn't invite a jury to convict on Witness A's evidence"
, said Mr Horwell. "There is not a realistic prospect of conviction and for these reasons we offer no evidence on the indictment."

This opens the possibility that witnesses (there is no doubt they were there) perhaps interpreted-in an event which did not happen and on reflection did not wish to say something untrue in the witness box because that is also a very serious offence. To have a witness take the stand and admit that they might have embroidered their story would have destroyed the prosecution humiliatingly in open court.

It's a technical call as to whether that trial should ever have gone forward but at least it showed that there was a will in the CPS to bring someone before the courts. But if Richard Horwell QC tells you that you haven't got a case and he can't bring it in, then you are being told by one of the best in the business.

Cope was distraught, as is natural when faced by an insolent little git who was getting off on having the CCTV of Damian's death replayed for the jury and moreover was a guilty as heck.

"I'm furious with his friends," Mrs Cope said. "The case hung on them. Some people might say that they were too scared to come forward but all they had to do was a sign a piece of paper confirming what Damian had said. "But they couldn't even do that. They should be ashamed - they have no right to call themselves Damian's friends."
Even if the friends has sworn on a stack of bibles, the defence would have questioned whether the dying Damian Cope had identified the killer or merely said a name. The prosecution had to fold for lack of convincing evidence.

The twist is this.

In 2007 Lucy Cope herself faced charges of kidnapping and assault against her nephew, Harry Kerr. Cope suspected Kerr of stealing property of sentimental value and rang her sister to complain. Kerr then complained to the police that he'd been pulled out of a pub by his cousins Darren and Adrian (Cope's sons) and held at Cope's house and beaten.

The case collapsed and she was formally cleared when the key witness, the victim Harry Kerr, could not be found to testify. The police also wished to speak to Kerr in respect of other matters and were hoping he would make an appearance. Apparently he no longer wished to talk to them. The trial at the Inner London Crown Court was abandoned for lack of evidence . Cope insists that none of what Kerr alleged ever happened.

Cope continues to campaign. A particularly perceptive interviewer, John Woodcock for the Yorkshire Post, summed it up in 2004 after the collapse of the Wanoghu trial:

"In one way her court ordeal was an extension of the emotional nightmare she has endured since July 28, 2002. In another sense it has benefited Lucy, serving to increase her motivation for the campaign she began almost in a frenzied reaction to her son's death."
This is not to invalidate any points about gun control which Cope is making, but it should be taken in to account that her drive is primarily emotional. A husband she loved killed himself, there was bad blood between two sons which may have resulted in the death of one of them, two sons were due to stand trial for kidnapping and assault, although they were formally acquitted when the case collapsed for lack of evidence, a nephew has gone missing rather than answer police questions, property has vanished, and elsewhere Cope has referred to a difficult relationship with one of her daughters. Not that it is unusual to have a serious falling-out with a teenage daughter, but Cope claims that the police failed to take action when her clearly under-age child of twelve was having sexual relations with a 16 year old and did not treat this as abuse merely because the perpetrator was himself young.

Put all of that together and you have a woman who is driven to try to control one aspect, just one aspect, of a life which tipped further in to chaos when a son she loved deeply was shot. As Cope told John Woodcock:
"Part of you does die too. I could have gone right under. If I hadn't got involved in something to try and help stop what's happening on the streets, Damian would have died for nothing".

Sunday 4 July 2010

Whacky Raft Races

What you need on a hot day is a river festival. Thousands of people line the river bank for the main event, the Raft Race. First you have to fish out the mermaids.

They're off. Leading the flotilla is The Tank, strong lads with their on-board water cannon. There was a dispute with the marshals as to whether this could be used as a jet-propulsion method, but they've agreed not to point it at the water, only at the crowd waiting on the bridge.

They are being chased by The Raft, a classic minimalist design strongly rowed by a crew of four.

Closing the gap is The Jeep which has a smoke machine to help them hide when approaching the finishing line.

Here comes the crowd's favourite, EliG, the local massive with their graffiti wall. And the winner is....sorry, the air was full of water, smoke and the sound system was drowned out by the roar of the crowd

After the excitement, an English cream tea served in the Scout's tea tent. Perfect.

Saturday 3 July 2010


There is a golden thread of eccentricity in the English. The last years under successive governments have done their best to cut that thread and replace it with a dour knotted thong, but it is summer and this, despite the yoke round about our necks, is still England.

So what we do, right, is we beg a local haulier to give us all his lorries and drivers for a day and then we build cardboard castles and dress up all the children as princes and princesses.

Or as water animals sitting under the castle, living by a paper river.

If the Fire Service can arrange it, and we’ll have to get it past the accountants, they might let one of the tenders join the parade. Everybody knows how firemen like dressing up. They are worse than High Court judges for that.

People will go through the crowd collecting money but really it’s about the dozens of adults with their obstinately joyful determination to dress up as Elvis and be heroes, just for one day.

Friday 2 July 2010

Reader's Wife's Big Jugs

Pay attention, the following could save your life.

A most useful object in the kitchen is the glass jug, made of borosilicate glass to withstand extremely high or low temperatures. Tough, easy to clean, hygienic in its impervious surface, elegant in its easy-to-handle functional design, it is the angelic expression of industrial magic.

But it's not immortal. The rim of the glass, particularly the pouring lip of the jug, can eventually develop cracks. If that happens shards of glass break off. Invisible glass knives.

This eventually happened one day in my gravy, very nearly my grave-y

I made the gravy as normal and poured it in to the glass jug, giving it a whack with a spoon. The jug was very old by then - a wedding present IIRC, those were the days lass - and must have developed tiny fractures which finally joined up and cracked slivers off the pouring lip in to the meat juices.

At the table I poured on the gravy and tucked in.

As the sliver went in to my tongue I first thought "bone?" and then looked down at my dinner to suddenly recognize glittering gravel poking up as the gravy-pool subsided. I opened my mouth and let the gravel tip out. With a flash of self-preservation I realized that it was important not to spit, not to move in any way which would result in the glass going further in to my tongue. I was able to pull out the main spike, a wicked flechette, and blood began to ooze out and drip on to the tablecloth.

Mr Raft must have also had a psychic experience because instead of jumping up or shouting, he moved very smoothly, realizing that I wasn't in a position to explain. Despite the horrific looks of it, once the main culprit was out, the rest was a matter of very carefully rinsing so that no other splinters of glass were left in my mouth and none got down my throat.

The moral of the story is: always run a finger round the rim on glass jugs, checking for un-evenness or broken slivers, hold it up to the light to give it a brief visual inspection. If it is in the least bit damaged, buy a new jug because there may be microscopic invisible stresses in the material.

It is also fair to point out that this is the only time such a materials failure has ever happened in all the years I've been using glass jugs, and it might not have happened at all if I'd been more careful about using wooden spoons instead of carelessly batting around with metal ones.

Wooden spoons and big jugs, that's what you want.