Wednesday, 28 March 2012



Taken from this week's Big Issue in the North magazine 

Tom Watson has done more than any other parliamentarian to bring the extent of phone hacking to light. But as Mark Metcalf finds, his campaign nearly didn’t happen.

If it hadn’t been for a love of football and film then Tom Watson’s crusade against the Murdoch media empire that has corrupted much of Britain’s political and civil life would never have got started.

Now, with each day of the Leveson Inquiry into media practices revealing some major sensation then not even the combative deputy chairman of the Labour Party can predict what it might recommend or when it will end. Before then, Watson is though willing to wager that some media moguls and police officers will be off to jail and the Prime Minister will apologise about hiring Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor.

Under Gordon Brown’s leadership Watson was a Cabinet Office minister but resigned in June 2009 when it was revealed that Gordon Brown’s close advisor Damian McBride intended using a blog to post scurrilous rumours about the sexual and personal details of senior Conservative politicians. Although there was no indication that Watson played any part in the affair, he subsequently appeared eight days in a row in the Sun newspaper.

The West Bromwich East MP alleges he found himself “under siege, with parked cars outside my home, people following me, my bins being rummaged through and long range photo-lens peering into my affairs. It came to a head when there was a knock at the door and my son, then aged 3, said: ‘There’s another nasty man at the door’ and so I decided to resign my post and to consider quitting as an MP.”

Watson is a big football fan; with non-League Kidderminster Harriers his first team with West Bromwich Albion a close second. He also loves film – his favourite being the comedy The Big Lebowski in which Jeff Bridges stars – and so “casting around for something to do I thought I’d try and get on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee.”

Successfully elected in July 2009, he joined the committee only two days after Guardian journalist Nick Davies revealed that, for Professional Footballers Association chief executive Gordon Taylor had accepted a £700,000 out-of-court settlement from Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers for having his phones hacked by the News of the World.

The former footballer’s case was at the heart of a network of illegal acts at Britain’s most popular Sunday paper, where David Cameron’s then director of communications Andy Coulson had been deputy and editor up until January 2007 when he resigned. Going to prison that year was another former employee, Glen Mulcaire, who admitted hacking into the phones of Taylor and five other targets, including celebrity PR Max Clifford.

“I’d only been on the committee a week when appearing before us was News of the World editor  director Colin Myler. I had no idea about how deep phone hacking had gone but as a big fan of the American TV series The Wire I thought what would Lester Freamon, played by Clarke Peters, do? He would follow the money and ask who authorised the payment.

Finally we know that James Murdoch authorised it. It was paid to a victim of a crime to keep quiet. We found that the newspaper group appeared to have collective amnesia and yet when we issued a damning report in February 2010 the media – wrongly – reported we had cleared Coulson of any wrong-doing.”

By this stage Watson, had decided to re-stand as an MP at a fast-approaching general election. He had fully backed Brown in his attempts to keep the economy afloat by pumping money into it following the worldwide financial crisis but he never though thought Labour could win the election, mainly because of the party’s disunity, with supporters of Blair and Brown apparently willing to use the press to spill the beans on each other.

Watson himself had fought in the trenches of the Blair-Brown wars and he was accused by Blair of being “disloyal, discourteous and wrong” when he resigned from a previous ministerial position in 2006 and added his name to a letter calling on the then prime minister to step down. But he wonder’s whether the stories from either side “were in fact gathered from journalists listening into people’s private phone conversations.” He points out that the 44 MPs listed in Mulcaire’s files were almost all Labour.

These files stretched to 11,000 pages and yet when Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates was asked in mid-2009 to conduct a review of the 2006 Police inquiry into phone hacking he did so within eight hours and recommended no further action be taken. It later emerged that Yates “spent more time than that having dinner with News International executives” says Watson.  Last July Yates quit his post and now works for the Bahrain police force, which has brutally suppressed democracy protests.

If Watson is less than impressed by Yates, that’s not the case with the enquiry teams headed by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers. Started last year, there are three: one into phone hacking, another into alleged computer hacking – which Watson expects to dwarf phone hacking and possibly be Britain’s equivalent of the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of American President Richard Nixon in 1974  -  and then an investigation into alleged inappropriate payments to police and public officials.

“The current investigation teams are inscrutable, determined and doing a great job. Akers has said recently that they are not too far away from mapping out which police and public officials had been bribed. So some people should be very worried,” says Watson. (see below on my mistake)

Coulson, who has claimed in court to know nothing about payments to police officers or hacking, resigned as Cameron’s head of communications in January 2011 after just eight months in the Downing Street post.

Prime Minister David Cameron had given him a “second chance” and promised the Commons he would off a “profound apology if it turns out I’ve been lied to” over Coulson’s claims that he had no knowledge of illegality during his time at the News of the World. Now, Watson believes that Cameron is “very close to offering that apology.”

Six months after Coulson resigned, the Prime Minister set up the Leveson Inquiry, that alongside examining the specific claims about phone hacking, alleged illegal payments to public officials and the ethics of the press. Only days earlier Mark Lewis, lawyer for the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, had shocked the nation by claiming that the News of the World had in 2002 hacked into her mobile phone after she disappeared.

The messages were subsequently deleted, and a once full voicemail facility then accepted new messages, leading Dowler’s desperate family to believe she had been listening to them and was therefore alive.

“When I heard Sally Dowler tell the inquiry say she had said to her husband ‘she’s picked up her voicemails, she’s alive’ then I was determined to see this through to the bitter end” says Watson.

Considering that some of the private investigators employed by the News of the World are known to have links to the criminal underworld then this could be considered a very brave course of action. Watson though is boosted by the ‘huge number of people who have stopped me to wish me well in my endeavours.”

As to when ‘the bitter end’ might exactly be, he’s not sure. He doesn’t believe it will be soon, estimating that the halfway point has yet to be reached on “a story that is not about the practices – terrible as they are – but a political failure with the Metropolitan Police, Criminal Justice system, Parliament and the Prime Minister’s Office all frightened of the power of the Murdoch Empire.”

That power that was set to increase last year when culture secretary Jeremy Hunt gave News Corp the green light to takeover BSkyB, only for the bid to fall by the wayside when the Dowler details became public.

Now Watson wants to see Rupert Murdoch barred from owning newspapers and media outlets here -  “he is not a ‘fit and proper person’ and says Ofcom should try to withdraw his licence.

Instead of the discredited Press Complaints Commission scrapped he would like to see a new arms-length regulatory body, along the lines of the Advertising Standards Agency, on which consumers and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) would sit alongside owners and editors. Watson, a former trade union official, is convinced that Murdoch’s breaking of the print unions at Wapping in the 1980s, and the subsequent de-recognition of the NUJ, made it almost impossible for young reporters on his papers to resist instructions to act unethically.

Impressed by Leveson’s questioning of witnesses, he says “Its revelations and the police’s work will mean some media moguls will be going to prison, and it’s likely that some police officers will face the same fate.”

He wouldn’t like to predict what recommendations Leveson will make but Watson has little doubt that “there will be a moment in Parliament when all three major party leaders – Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Ed Miliband – will have to do the right thing. They are going to come under unbearable pressure from powerful interests to water down whatever Leveson recommends. There is going to be a defining moment.”

My mistake - in the piece (compiled by attending a function at which he spoke and then I did an interview during the interval and at the end) I misattributed the following words to Tom: "So James Murdoch should be very worried, as he authorised the payments." Watson did not in fact say these words and the error was not picked up in the editing process. Apologies for any confusion caused.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Luddite anniversary approaches

Luddite anniversary approaches

Walks, exhibitions and plays are planned to mark this year’s bicentennial anniversary
of the Luddite uprising in Huddersfield and nearby Spen Valley. The Local History Society is also publishing a revised version of a book written by two local historians nearly twenty years ago.

The Luddites were early 19th century English textile artisans opposed to changes produced by the Industrial Revolution. In Huddersfield, Luddites, taking their name from a mythical leader, General Ludd, sought to prevent the introduction of cropping machines, which were throwing the elite of cloth finishers out of work in large numbers.

Secret meetings

Centuries-old law that since Tudor times had made it illegal to use a machine to replace people had been repealed in 1806. A new breed of capitalist entrepreneurs seized their chance to break the stranglehold of the skilled craftsman over the pace, control and location of production. Workers, industrial and agricultural, were to be forced to work in factories or, in the absence of a social security system, starve.

Petitions to Parliament to prevent the cropping machines’ introduction were ignored. With it being illegal to be a member of a trade union, secret meetings of angry people were organised where under oath it was agreed that if the manufacturers could not be persuaded to voluntarily abandon their plans then the new machines had to be smashed.


This made it inevitable that the self-proclaimed ‘army of redressers’ came into conflict with employers, police and the military. On the night of 11 April 1812 an attack on Cartwright’s mill at Rawfolds, Liversedge - just outside Huddersfield - left two of the attackers dead and many injured and wounded.

On 12 April this year a 5-mile walk will visit the locations involved in the planning and execution of the attack, as well as the subsequent retributions taken against many of those involved. Following a series of trials in York, seventeen were hanged in January 1813 and a further seven transported to Australia - despite the Luddites having killed just one employer – William Horsfall of Ottiwells Mile at Crosland Moor – during their uprising in the area. .

Such ruthless acts had the effect of suppressing the Luddites and following which for many years’ historians portrayed the Luddites as poor folk, acting irrationally against the “forces of progress.”

Sell-out book

As such it wasn’t until 1963, and the release of Halifax lecturer E P Thompson’s book The Making of the English Working Class, that a thorough re-assessment of the Luddites
in the context of there times was undertaken. Liberty or Death – Radicals, Republicans and Luddites, a sell-out book written by Lesley Kipling and Alan Brooke in 1993 added to E.P. Thompson’s work.

“We are delighted to be reprinting the book as the Luddites were an important part of the struggle for economic and political participation by the working class,” says John Rawlinson, chair of Huddersfield Local History Society.

Brooke believes the historical events covered in the book, which is set firmly in the tradition of British social and political radicalism of the early 19th century, “has parallels today, with an economic slump throwing thousands out of work and creating resistance in the form of demonstrations and riots.”

For more information see :-

The book costs £9.95 including postage
Orders can be sent by post to HLHS, 24 Sunnybank Rd, Huddersfield HD3 3DE, with a cheque or via the Society’s website,

Elsewhere – Westhoughton

Westhoughton (located half way between Wigan and Bolton) Local History Group has also published a book on the historic events that took place in this small town in 1812. The Burning of Westhoughton Mill 1812 costs £3 – see

For more details on this and the events that are to be organised over the weekend of April 21/22nd, including the unveiling of a bi-centenary plaque and a symbolic ‘torching’ of a replica mill. Four men – Abraham Charlson, Job Fletcher, Thomas Kerfoot and James Smith were executed for their parts in destroying the weaving-mill, warehouse and loom-shop at the Mill, with a further seven transported for seven years.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Organophosphate victim Harold Sutcliffe remembered

A tree was planted on Sunday to commemorate the life of Littleborough farmer Harold Sutcliffe, who suffered badly after being poisoned when forced by Government decree to use organophosphate (OP) sheep dip.

His wife Brenda and son Andrew were joined by fellow victim George Westcott, and around a dozen other supporters including Councillor Peter Evans and Lancashire NFU chairman Tom Rigby, for the ceremony which took place on land owned by Tom. If the tree grows to be half as good a man as Harold, then it will be a bloody big un.

Advice on sheep dip at

Monday, 19 March 2012

Support locked out Bootle workers

In a dispute over redundancy terms and criteria all 149 workers - many highly skilled - at Mayr-Melnhof Packaging (MMP) in Bootle, Merseyside have been locked out of their workplace since 18 February.

On Friday March 16th, 49 workers were issued with their redundancy notices and earlier in the week four workers were sacked at a disciplinary meeting where all the rules of natural justice were flouted by management.

Workers now fear the Austrian multi-national company will close the site or attempt to re-open as a finishing site for the products they produce for food industry giants such as Kelloggs, a process that will
require less skilled agency workers with few rights.

The dispute is a further example of how the employers are determined to use the world economic crisis - and which here in Britain the coalition government is adding to through its massive cuts programme and a failure to plan for growth - to push down wages permanently.

Workers are looking for support and messages of solidarity can be sent to

Speakers for union branch meetings can be arranged by contacting Phil Potter - a great bloke who i met
yesterday - on 07970 375382. 

Despite nothing moving in or our of the factory the workers have maintained a 24/7 picket line since they were locked out - the photograph below does not do it justice as it was taken when 40 were meeting with Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke on Sunday March 18th.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Afghan adventure claims ever more lives

Flowers in Huddersfield to commemorate six dead British soldiers
 whose lives - and those of thousands killed by the occupying forces - have been wasted in Afghanistan. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

Aspergillosis – is it a New Occupational Disease caused by composting?

With thanks to a reader who submitted this article. 

Aspergillosis – is it a New Occupational Disease caused
by composting?

There are increasing concerns about the potential harmful effects of the fungus, Aspergillus, that helps recycle valuable organic compounds in compost, bedding bark, plant debris and garden waste.  Now the 
Rural and Agricultural Workers sector of the union, Unite, is calling for it to

be recognised as an Industrial Disease. A member of the union has submitted the following piece. 

 Aspergillosis is a general medical term given to a wide variety of disease caused by Aspergillius fumigatus.

What is Aspergillus?

Aspergillus is a group of several hundred fungal mould species with a worldwide distribution.

Aspergillus species produce fungal spores, these are microscopically small particles (typically five microns in size – 1 micron equals 1'000 of a centimetre) that are invisible to the naked eye.  They can remain airborne for long periods of time, forming what are known as bio aerosols (an airborne micro-organism). Bio aerosols may also contain other fungal spores and bacteria.  These may be viable or non-viable, viable means alive and capable of growth in a laboratory.  Viable bio aerosol may contain pathogens, these are micro-organisms that can cause disease through infection.  Viable, or non-viable micro-organisms also contain allergens, these are capable of causing an immunological response in the human body – an allergy.

A mould commonly found is Aspergillus fumigatus, this is known to be an opportunistic pathogen with allergenic properties and viable or non-viable or broken down into smaller particles.  Aspergillus fumigatus retains it's toxic and allergenic properties. 

Aspergillus fumigatus is commonly found in decaying plant and animal matter, this includes:  green garden waste, composted garden waste, animal manures, stable bedding, shredded wood-chip and bark, household kitchen waste, also found in soils.

Activities that involve disturbing potentially mouldy materials, such as leaf raking, cutting down Herbaceous plants in Autumn, spreading compost, bark or wood-chip as a mulch or any other activities such as turning compost piles, loading or spreading compost, if the conditions are right will cause Aspergillus spores to become airborne, often in high levels.

Aspergillus, by its ubiquitous nature is found in the everyday air that we breathe, normally at very low concentration but, in the months July through to November, fungal spores can peak to very high levels in the atmosphere.  As well as Aspergillius, the following fungal spores are found at this time of year in air samples: Alternaria, Cladosporium, Didymella, and Penicillin & Sporobolomyces.  These fungi are also allergens.

One of the concerns with spores from Aspergillus fumigatus is its particle size. Typically about 5 microns in size.  Particles above 10 microns the human respiratory system can adequately filter out, through a combination of hair which line the nose and specialized cells in the upper parts of the airways.  The smaller particles below 10 microns escape capture from these mechanisms and penetrate deep into the areas of the lungs, particles below 5 microns can enter the alveoli, the smallest structure of the lung, where gasses are exchanged. 

Recent research into Aspergillus fumigatus has found it to be made up of some 10,000 proteins, of these 34 proteins are allergens and 3 of these are found to be protease, which means they are capable of breaking down proteins such as proteins found in the lungs.
Aspergillus has other routes into the human body, other than being breathed in, absorption through the mucus membranes, eyes, nose, and throat and by ingestion.

A New Industry

The compost industry is relatively new industry producing levels of composted green waste and food waste in levels that have never been reached before.  This is partly due to the EU landfilled directive to meet set targets on recycling and at present in England some 95% of local authorities have some form of green waste recycling.

The result of this is an estimated 25 million tonnes per annum of compost from green waste (the un-composted green waste levels will be two or three times this amount – 50-75 million tonnes).  Of this 50% is used by agriculture, the rest between the horticultural industry and land regeneration schemes.  A further 500,000 tonnes per annum is estimated to be composted at the home.  In 2005/06 the composting industry distribution of sales was estimated to have a turnover of £90 million.

Composting green waste on a commercial scale, although it uses a natural process, could be argued is itself not natural. A close control must be kept at all times on moisture levels, oxygen levels and the correct levels of carbon and nitrogen in the feed stocks. If correct levels are maintained a temperature of 70°C may be produced by the process. This sanitises the compost, killing off a lot of pathogens and weed seeds.

Commercially the processed compost may be ready for use after a 12 week period of composting, though after this short time, the “maturation” stage will not have been completed. The compost may still retain some heat and high levels of Ammonia.

Of course there are many benefits of using correctly composted green waste, such as improving soil structure, providing slow release plant nutrients, some improved plant resistance to pest and disease and directing green waste away from landfill.

The composting industry seems to be very well regulated by the Environment Agency and recently they have changed the permitting regulations for composting green waste, food waste, taking into account environmental factors as well as health and safety of the employees as well as bio aerosol levels in the area surrounding the sites.

Health Implications For Humans

We all react to bio aerosols in different ways; it depends on a variety of factors and can never be predicted.  People may have been working with compost for many years without apparently displaying any adverse health effects, but it does not mean there will be no long-term effects on health,  we simply do not yet know, and with the increased use of composted materials we may well expect health problems to rise. 

Although problems with bio aerosols is not a new phenomenon, for many years occupational diseases associated with mould spores have been known e.g. farmers lung, mushroom workers lung although these have been associated more with the fungus Alternaria than Aspergillus.

There is a particular group to whom Aspergillus may cause serious health problems.
These people are those who may have a compromised immune system such as: cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment, patients with leukaemia, cystic fibrosis, HIV or AIDS, tuberculosis and adults with severe asthma.

They may be particularly vulnerable to Aspergillus infections, such as:

Ø    IA – Invasive Aspergillus – Serious or potentially life threatening, rare in normal healthy people
Ø    CPA – Chronic Pulmonary Aspergillus – A long term Aspergillus infection of the lungs
Ø    Allergic reaction to Aspergillus could affect a far greater number of the population, allergies such as:
Ø    ABPA – Allergic Broncho-Pulmonary Aspergillus – Range of lung problems caused by Aspergillus, some mild, some severe
Ø    AFS – Allergic Fungal Sinusitis – A disease where fungal debris and mucus build up in the sinuses.

Allergy is the most common response to Aspergillus in humans. Allergy is an immunological response that results in the body becoming “sensitised” following exposure, the next time the body encounters exposure it “over reacts”, even if the allergic substance is present in extremely low concentrations.

Apart from ABPA and AFS, an allergic response to Aspergillus may cause headaches, tiredness, and mucous membrane problems, skin problems, asthma and also Alveotis, producing flu-like symptoms. It’s worth bearing in mind that many allergies require taking lifelong medication on a daily basis, and seriously affect an individual’s quality of life.

In 2009 Dr. Alison Searle – Director of analytical services at the Institute of Occupational Medicine, warned waste workers about the potential impact of bio aerosols on their own health.  She claimed that the problem was like a time-bomb of major respiratory health problems in the future.

In Germany in 2008 Harold Moor, a leading neurologist  who is also chairman of the German Lung Foundation said studies showed that airborne mould spores from organic waste could lead to allergic reactions, asthma attacks, hay fever-like symptoms and itchy skin lesions, “Even just opening the lid of a bin containing organic waste can cause mould spores to be stirred up which if breathed in can damage the lungs”.  As a consequence of this report German households are now being warned to empty their organic bins more regularly and to wear face-masks or hold their breath and keep a distance while dealing with the rotting material.

Reported Fatalities

An extreme reaction to Aspergillus has caused two fatalities that have been reported in the press in the past few years. The first highlights the need for care when handling garden green waste. In 2008 in Buckinghamshire a man died from complications related to Aspergillosis. From what this partner described “he has been surrounded by a cloud of dust when he opened several bags of compost that he had prepared for use in his garden”.

David Waghorn, a doctor at Wycombe hospital in Buckinghamshire and a microbiologist, said the man had been unlucky: “He’d been opening bags of compost and mulch which had been left to rot. The fungus spores had grown in perfect conditions. He was extremely unlucky – there must have been a very large number of spores which he inhaled”, people with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable. “What we don’t know is how strong his defences were. He was a smoker and a welder by trade and his lungs may have been damaged. It’s a very unusual thing to happen but if people are dealing with big bags of mulch, there is a potential danger” said Waghorn.

The man, who had previously been healthy, became ill 24 hours later, but was not admitted to hospital until a week later, when he complained of chest pains and breathing difficulties. Despite being given oxygen by medical staff, tests showed his tissue was starved of oxygen and that he was suffering from “overwhelming sepsis”, a life threatening condition caused by an over-active immune system. Symptoms include a fast heart rate, low blood pressure and kidney problems. Doctors initially thought he had developed pneumonia from a bacterial infection but treatment with antibiotics was not successful.

Once aspergillosis was confirmed, doctors gave intravenous antifungal drugs, but the treatment came too late.

Dr Waghorn said “I don’t know if he could have been saved had we known about the spores, but we could have given the antifungal drugs sooner.”

The authors of the article said that while acute aspergillosis after contact with decayed plant matter is rare, “it may be considered a hazard for gardeners.”

The second case was reported in The Scotsman in 2009. Stephanie Smith, aged 21, a trainee teacher who had suffered from mild asthma for most of her life, died after an asthma attack. She was diagnosed as “suffering from aspergillus, an infection contracted by inhaling the spores of a fungus that grows on soil, plant debris and rotting vegetation.”

The Need For Improved Education and Information

These two cases, though rare, highlight the need for a better informed and educated public as to the potential harm caused by Aspergillus, both the general public who buy small bags for home use and those who may well come into contact with large levels of composted material in their professional life; gardeners, agricultural workers, forestry workers, market gardeners and nursery workers.

With 50% of produced composted green waste going to agriculture, I wonder how many agricultural workers have even heard of Aspergillus, let alone the possible health concerns? Suppose 200 tonnes of composted green waste has been delivered to a farm.

The most probable way this would be put onto the land would be by using a slurry spreader, which would be very effective, if conditions were right, i.e. a dry, windless, sunny day, with low moisture levels in the compost, for creating high levels of a transient area of dust and spores, which may not be seen with the naked eye – bioaerosol. If the field where the compost is spread has a public footpath in the vicinity, or is nearby housing or roads, or if the tractor operators do not have adequate protection, such as a sealed cab fitted with hepa filters, how many people could be subjected to high unnecessary exposure levels of bio aerosols, with potential for harm.

Composted green waste is also used in peat reduced compost for potting and garden use (also composted manure, stable bedding is bagged and sold for garden use.) Sold to the general public, usually on a “Buy one get one free” basis, at many garden centres and DIY stores across the country. Suppose two bags of compost are bought, one bag of compost gets used, the second bag gets opened but not all used and is stored in a garage or shed for use next year. In storage perfect conditions may occur for the development of Aspergillus to proliferate. Next year the bag, when opened, may produce a “surrounding cloud of dust” with potentially harmful consequences.

More than one scientist has remarked the “Aspergillus may be the new Asbestos”, some, however, claim that it is as harmful as a walk in the autumnal woods, this may indeed subject us to higher than normal levels of airborne moulds and fungi spores, but in the main our bodies cope with these natural low exposure levels.

The middle ground between these two extremes must dictate that if there is a risk to human health, then this risk needs to be well managed, exposed, and not hidden behind green objectives or financial profit.

We are facing an ever increasing rise in the number of people suffering from allergy in this country. A recent report by Allergy UK reveals that allergy to dust mites is the biggest problem followed by pet allergy and mould allergy, and it seems levels of people suffering from allergies of all types are rising annually.

Perhaps once the next decade has passed the scientists may come up with the answer to some of these questions, regarding Aspergillus. Some of us however may have already found out, at our own personal cost to our health. 

Brian Clough - Sunderland legend: Kindle book now out

New book out on Brian Clough at Sunderland - written by myself and available at -

Brian Clough is one of Sunderland’s outstanding goalscorers. With 63 goals from 74 matches his goals per game ratio of 0.85 puts him second behind David Halliday, whose goals came during the much less defensive 1920s. 

Goals, goals, goals was what Clough wanted and this book reveals how he got them in a fine Sunderland side that he was leading, after already scoring 24 times, to promotion in 1962-63 when he suffered a Boxing Day injury that effectively ended his playing career.

Having lost him on the pitch, we see how Sunderland then chose to ignore Clough’s genius off it, overlooking his fine record in coaching the Youth side and suffering the consequences ever since.

The Big Society: the Big Divide - a new publication from JUST West Yorkshire

The Big Society: the Big Divide? is a new book from JUST West Yorkshire. Financially supported by OXFAM GB it aims to ‘challenge the changes that are being made to Britain’s social landscape by the Coalition Government under the rubric of the Big Society.’
The publication comes a year after a poll in The Sun newspaper revealed that 63% of people didn’t know what the Government’s flagship policy meant. That wasn’t too surprising as even the man who helped develop the idea, Phillip Blond, admitted then “the agenda is still not widely grasped or shared across all government departments.”
Following which there have been some significant developments. Including the first appointments of an expected 500 senior Big Society community organisers, who are set in the next few years to be supported by 4500 part-time workers and an unspecified number of recruited volunteers.
There’s the Big Society Capital, consisting of an initial £200 million allocated to it by Britain’s biggest banks from accounts that have laid dormant for a minimum of fifteen years. Operating independently of government it will not make grants and will be expected to make a sufficient return on its investment to cover its operating costs.
The National Citizens Service Volunteering scheme last year saw 8,000 volunteers participate in six-weeks of initiatives and the government is committed to providing volunteering opportunities for 90,000 16-year-olds by 2014. Some of who will be expected to pay towards the training providers costs either through fees, returnable deposits or fund-raising initiatives.
The Localism Act of 2011 has also changed the powers of Local Government such that local authorities are required to consider requests by voluntary groups, social enterprises and parish councils to take over council-run services.
When he became Prime Minister, David Cameron said the aim of the changes that have followed was “to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will 'take power away from politicians and give it to people'. “
Although there is no such thing as a Big Society Tsar or cabinet representative there is a Big Society Network, which says ‘that by working with business, philanthropists, charities and social ventures we believe we can unleash the social energy that exists in the UK to help build a better, healthier society.’
None of which has impressed the opposition Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who has said that the “Big Society' is a smokescreen for public services cuts, involving nothing more than dressing up the withdrawal of support with the language of reinvigorating civic society’.

The cuts will impact heavily on voluntary and community groups, with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimating the sector will lose £2.8 billion in funding over the lifetime of the current government.

Just West Yorkshire is a charity promoting racial justice, civil liberties and human rights. The book was launched at a Conference – The Good, the Bad and the Unequal? - in Bradford last month. 200 delegates attended this from voluntary and charitable organisations. Supported by the Runnymede Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust a request to the government to provide a speaker were declined.

With the voluntary sector in northern England obtaining 42% of its funds from the public sector - 10% higher than in London and the south east – there were fears that many small community organisations would not survive, making it increasingly difficult to help the poorest in society.

Delegates from community groups in Bradford reported how they were attempting to monitor the impact of all the cuts on their local communities and use the local media to embarrass politicians carrying them out. Where cuts are proposed without an assessment of their impact on equality it was agreed to seek a judicial review in the courts.
Meanwhile, many small groups reported being overlooked, in favour of larger national charities, when Local authorities commission services previously undertaken in-house.
It was agreed to use the contents of the new book to maintain opposition to the Big Society, including refusing to be used to undermine the public sector and those working in it. 

Safer in more towns

Blackpool is set to follow St Helens, Wigan and Leigh by establishing a Safer in Town centre scheme aimed at increasing the safety and confidence of people with learning difficulties.

Since November last year, campaigning voluntary group St Helens People’s Choice, with the backing of the local Hate Crime Partnership, has issued participants with key rings and fold out cards to participating people with learning difficulties.

Alongside the scheme’s logo these incorporate drawings of buses, £ signs, intimidating characters and  police cars. This means that anyone with communication difficulties can indicate what is concerning them when they enter public buildings, shops, cafes and pubs that display a matching window sticker to demonstrate the venue can offer support in cases of an accident, harassment or crime.

St Helens People’s Choice, a self-organised group of people with learning difficulties, was established in 1994. According to its chairperson, John Horan, “no-one has yet needed to use the town centre scheme but to make sure it will work when it’s needed we have undertaken many practice runs in which people have lost their money, complain of being bullied or of feeling unwell. The response of venues has been good. We established Safer in Town because one of our members suffered serious harassment by young people over many months and had no-one to turn to.”

Horan said 80 venues had signed up to the scheme, which has been replicated in Wigan and Leigh since January this year. Now, Blackpool has established a working group – consisting of councillors, police and local businesses - to develop its own Safer in Town project that aims to expand support to anyone in problems, particularly older people.

The aim is to launch the scheme before the busy summer season. It’s coordinator, Stephen Brookes, a disabled rights campaigner who lives in the seaside resort, says “The idea is simple and effective, and makes life easier for disabled and older people who can be intimidated by the fast pace of Blackpool.” 

Businesses he said would benefit from being recognised as a safe haven and he felt that many more towns and cities would benefit from similar schemes.

Stop press 

Halifax is the latest town to announce a similar scheme will be established shortly.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Camera operator/video editor required for short non-broadcast documentary (subject to securing funding)

Camera operator/video editor required for short non-broadcast documentary  (subject to securing funding) 

The documentary director, Mark Metcalf, is applying to a charitable Foundation for funding for a 15-minute non-broadcast documentary about the impact of incinerators on infant mortality and health. The documentary is intended for screening at public meetings, the Houses of Parliament, on social media, and to send on DVD to MPs and local councillors. 

Mark is looking for a camera operator and video editor whose work history details he can include in the funding application. Employment is conditional on the success of the funding application.

The camera operator would also record sound direct to camera during the 5-6 day shoot. This would take place in the Midlands, the South East and the North of England. Free accommodation, meals and transport would be provided.

One person who is skilled in both areas could carry out the camera operator/video editor roles. Ideally s/he will have their own equipment to do both pieces of work, but open to discussion if this is not the case.

The production would be fully insured.

BECTU Rates of pay at £309 for a 10-hour day. S/he will be employed on a freelance basis, and the work will either be in June or October, depending upon when the funding application is made.

Mark is a freelance journalist who has written extensively about elevated levels of infant mortality and poor health amongst all ages, in neighbourhoods downwind of incinerators. Now the Health Protection Agency has commissioned a study into the issue. 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Fit to print interview with Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary

Taken from current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine - buy the magazine, it's a good read and helps people improve their lives. 

Liverpool born Michelle Stanistreet has faced a baptism of fire since taking over as the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists in July last year. The Leveson Inquiry, two 24-hour strikes at the BBC, the News of the World closure and numerous regional disputes over redundancies and wage cuts all demonstrate a serious crisis in the press industry, heightened by the contempt many of the public feel towards those who work in it.

None of which appears to have dampened the enthusiasm of the 37-year-old mother of one young boy, who is the first woman to head up the NUJ in its 105-year-old existence. Having cut her teeth fighting her own employer, Richard Desmond at the Express Newspapers group, over what she describes as “inaccurate and racially inflammatory coverage of immigration issues” she now wants a conscience clause for all journalists, a code of conduct for the industry, tougher regulations and a change in media ownership. She’s convinced that these will help create a future for the press and papers in this country.

One paper that only has a past is the News of the World. Stanistreet had just finished her first week at the NUJ when James Murdoch announced its closure after 168-years in existence. Despite father Rupert having long ago locked out, de-recognised and refused to talk to the print unions and the NUJ, Stanistreet was “deeply unhappy as it was a cynical act of self-preservation that meant closing a paper that was not in any financial difficulties. It’s always a sad day when any national, regional or local paper shuts up shop. We had individual members at the paper, and like hundreds of others they’ve lost their livelihoods in order for Murdoch to try and protect his top group of executives”.

Not that Stanistreet, the daughter of a policeman, supports the methods, including phone-tapping, that were employed by some journalists to gather stories for what was Britain’s biggest selling Sunday at 2.7 million copies an issue

She has said so at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, ethics and practices of the British media. Initially the NUJ were refused core participant status.
“We feared the voice of journalists was to be drowned out by the views of the big media bosses and their expensive legal teams. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and we raised our campaigning issues such as ownership, an industry wide code of conduct and a conscience clause for journalists,” says Stanistreet.

All of which would have been helpful when she worked from 1999 onwards at the Express Newspapers group, where she started on the business section of the Daily Express before working her way up to become books editor.

Under new owner, porn king Richard Desmond, the Daily Star and Sunday and Daily Express all regularly ran articles on immigration that had the journalists who had written them complaining of being so heavily edited that “they were wildly inaccurate, unethical and poisonous” says Stanistreet, who by 2001 had become the elected senior union rep at the papers. 

She had hoped that two complaints to the Press Complaints Commission [PCC] would see improvements. However when the regulatory body - on grounds that complaints had to come from those specifically lambasted in the pieces - refused to even investigate, the decision added to the NUJ’s concerns and which now has the organisation calling for the PCC to be disbanded.

Says Stanistreet “It is an old boys club which is too heavily influenced by the views of the media owners and newspaper editors. We need a fresh organisation that includes other interested bodies, including consumers – the public - and those who provide the content – the journalists. ”.

There are a lot less of the latter than a few years back. New technology, and the rise of citizen journalism, combined with widespread public cynicism have sent sales of newspapers rocketing downwards. Across the UK, newspaper circulation fell by over a quarter between 2007 and 2011. The current economic crisis means further falls are inevitable.

Regional newspapers have taken big hits. The 157-year-old Liverpool Daily Post lost 28% of its sales in 2010 and when it fell below 9,000 a day its owners Trinity Mirror began by scrapping the Saturday edition and then in January this year the paper became a weekly.

The Yorkshire Evening Post has also suffered, sales dropping 10% in 2010 and according to Ashley Highfield, new chief executive at its parent company Johnston Press the future of regional publishing lies ‘beyond print… a disseminator of information whether that means print, online, iPads, phones and possibly even local television”.

Stanistreet believes the crisis is largely due to “the bankrupt business model  controlling the industry. Big media groups have had handsome profits for many years. Rather than taking smaller profits, they have cynically cut costs by making workers redundant and reducing pay. This cuts quality, makes things less local and relevant to readers, thus reducing sales even further. Media ownership needs changing, especially as it’s too valuable for democracy to rest under the control of so few people”.

One media outlet that isn’t privately owned is the BBC.  A 20% cut from its budget is set to see 2,000 staff made redundant or not replaced by 2017. Just over a year ago the NUJ supported two one-day strikes by workers there, and Stanistreet says “they would do so again as the cuts are politically motivated because the Tories pre-election policy involved backing Murdoch. Hence they supported the BSkyB takeover by News Corporation last year and which was only abandoned after the full extent of the phone hacking scandal became known. The BBC deal was done behind closed doors in record time, just 2-3 days. The losers are viewers and ordinary journalists. Not those at the top of the corporation”.

The NUJ has many members at the BBC, which isn’t so in other parts of the press. Stanistreet believes the Leveson Inquiry will help in getting some journalists to join as “they can see how we are sticking up for quality journalism by exposing the climate in which many are working. In lots of newsrooms there is bullying and improving an article by challenging an editor’s view can threaten someone’s livelihood. Without a union there is no structure to improve things and ensure we have a media that properly informs the public of what’s going on in society”.

Newcastle United silenced by Sunderland fans

Derby match at St James' Park and the Geordies can manage to raise just two chants during the whole game to silence the Sunderland fans. First, on nine minutes there's a tremendous chant of "Stand Up if you Hate Sunderland, and then 82 minutes later there's another ear splitting "You're not singing anymore." Ignoring the fact that the latter wasn't true the chant should really have been directed towards themselves - sixth in the League, a packed crowd and totally outsung by 2,500 travelling fans! There were some Newcastle lads singing next to us [i've no idea what they were singing as i could and never actually heard them the whole 90 minutes] and when we sang 'your support is shit' i swear some of them clapped in agreement!

Newcastle fan's support for their team at home is pathetic. And to my great surprise that is the same with the numbers travelling away. I was shocked to discover that in October - when Newcastle were third in the League - they took 743 to Stoke on a Monday night. On Boxing Day at Bolton they had 600 less than Sunderland took in October - when Sunderland were 18th in the League. Manchester City away - just 1,685. It's difficult to make direct comparisons as both teams still have away games to play but at the moment Sunderland are a good few hundred ahead per match in away attendances.

Crown Prosecution Service workshop on reporting disabled hate crime

Manchester will host the Crown Prosecution Service’s first workshop on breaking down the barriers to reporting disabled hate crime. If successful it will go nationwide.

Charities, action groups and community networks will discover what advice and support they can offer potential victims of hate crime.

Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a disability hate crime is a criminal offence motivated by hatred or prejudice towards a person because of their actual or perceived disability.

High-profile cases involving disability hate crime include that of 38-year-old Fiona Pilkington who, after years of being tormented by a gang of youths in Leicestershire, killed herself and her 18-year-old severely disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick in 2007.

Successful prosecutions for disabled hate crimes have risen over the last four years, increasing from 68 between April and September 2007 to 579 in 2010-11.

According to Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network with over 2,000 facebook members, this good news “should be built upon, it indicates people are more confident of reporting crimes to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is better at prosecuting them. However many crimes go unreported.” Some studies suggest by as much as 95% and when Mencap in 2000 investigated the lives of people with learning disabilities they found nine out of ten had been harassed or attacked within the previous year.

A CPS spokesperson said they were aware that one potential barrier to tackling disability hate crime “is the uncertainty around what might constitute one, a fear of not being believed or because it happens ‘to someone else.’ We can help agencies by outlining the prosecution process including what evidence is required and what support is available for victims and witnesses.” Brookes has called for disabled people’s organisations left disappointed by the police in the past “to actively engage as the door is open for collaborative working.” 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Pakistan calling - 15 articles on developments there

A whole host of good articles from Pakistan by Yasir Ali

Journalist Yasir Ali has just moved to Britain. He are some of his articles from the last few years. Yasir is intending continuing to pursue his journalism career here and is seeking to join the National Union of Journalists.

1)  Modern Slavery Alive in Pakistan’s Brick Kilns

2) A Pakistani woman’s battle to stay alive

3)  Pakistan Struggle to contain dengue fever

4)   Pakistani Journalist demand killers be brought to justice

5)    Pakistan is in Mourning

6)  Pakistani minister assassinated

7)   Pakistani Hindus denied marriages and fuenral rights

8) Pakistan Special tailor

9)  Pakistan Rat Children

10) A community under siege in tribal Pakistan

11) Pakistani Journalist in dilemma

12)  Somali refugees in Pakistan rally for greater assistance 

13)  Afghan children working in dumps 

Opinion Page

1)          Democracy Betrayal

2)       Ambassador of Muslim-Hindu unity