Monday, 26 October 2009

Secret court seizes £3.2bn from elderly... and even forces furious families to pay to access own bank account


  • 3,000 complaints in first 18 months of new system

  • Families made to pay to access own bank account

  • Homes of elderly raided in search for documents

The Court of Protection

Threatening: The Court of Protection's anonymous London tower block

A secret court is seizing the assets of thousands of elderly and mentally impaired people and turning control of their lives over to the State - against the wishes of their relatives.

The draconian measures are being imposed by the little-known Court of Protection, set up two years ago to act in the interests of people suffering from Alzheimer's or other mental incapacity.

The court hears about 23,000 cases a year - always in private - involving people deemed unable to take their own decisions. Using far-reaching powers, the court has so far taken control of more than £3.2billion of assets.

The cases involve civil servants from the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), which last year took £23million in fees directly from the bank accounts of those struck down by mental illness, involved in accidents or suffering from dementia.

The officials are legally required to act in cases where people do not have a 'living will', or lasting power of attorney, which hands control of their assets over to family or friends.

But the system elicited an extraordinary 3,000 complaints in its first 18 months of operation. Among them were allegations that officials failed to consult relatives, imposed huge fees and even 'raided' elderly people's homes searching for documents.

Carers trying to cope with a mentally impaired loved one, forced to apply for a court order to access money, said they felt the system put them under suspicion as it assumed at the outset that they were out to defraud their relatives.

Opposition politicians said the system, set up by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, needed to be overhauled to take account of the fact that most people were 'honourable and decent' and had their loved ones' best interests at heart.

The Government now says everyone should establish a lasting power of attorney to state who should look after their affairs should they become incapacitated - although most people will be utterly unaware of this advice.

Only 60,000 people in Britain have registered these 'living wills' with the authorities, and the problems begin when someone is suddenly, unexpectedly mentally impaired.

Without this document, relatives must apply to the courts and the anonymous OPG, part of the Ministry of Justice based in an office block in Birmingham, is required to look into the background of carers to decide if they are fit to run the ill or elderly person's affairs.

The organisation has 300 staff, costs £26.5million a year to run and is headed by £80,000-a-year career civil servant Martin John, a former head of asylum and immigration policy in Whitehall. It prepares reports for the Court of Protection, based in a tower block in Archway, North London.

In many cases relatives have to complete a 50-page form giving huge amounts of personal information about themselves, their family, their own finances and their relationship with the person they wish to help care for.

The majority of applications are decided on the basis of paper evidence without holding a hearing. But applications relating to personal welfare, or large gifts or settlements, may be contentious and require the court to hold a hearing to decide the case.

These hearings, before a senior judge, examine evidence and witnesses, who can be compelled to appear. The court has the same powers as the High Court, but is closed to all but the parties involved in the case and their lawyers. The Press and public are banned.

The presiding judge then decides whether a family member can become a 'deputy' acting for their mentally impaired loved one. If no one is available, or if the judge decides a family member is not suitable, the court can appoint a local authority or in some cases a solicitor to carry out the task.

The OPG then charges an annual fee of up to £800 to supervise the activities of the deputy, whether they are a family member or a professional appointee.

Sunita Obhrai with her mother Pushpa

Victims of the system: Sunita Obhrai with her mother Pushpa, whose affairs she has been banned from looking after

The court takes over control of people's finances, which means deputies - whether a relative or not - must get authorisation to pay expenses such as rent and household bills on their behalf.

Only if a relative is given power of attorney before a person is mentally incapacitated will they be able to avoid applying to the court and the OPG for the right to control their assets later.

Any cash controlled by the court is held in the name of the Accountant General of the Supreme Court and administered by the Court Funds Office. In some cases money is voluntarily lodged with the court.

The current Court of Protection replaced a previous body with the same name which had more restricted powers and was overseen by the High Court. The new body can rule on property and financial affairs and decisions relating to health and personal welfare, without referring it to a higher court.

But relatives caught up in the system say they are suddenly confronted by a legal and bureaucratic minefield.

Children's author Heather Bateman was forced to get permission from the court to use family funds after an accident left her journalist husband Michael in a coma.

In a moving account of her family's ordeal in Saga magazine, she wrote: 'Michael and I were two independent working people. We had been married for 28 years. We had written our wills, both our names were on the deeds of the house we shared in London and the Norfolk cottage we had renovated over the years.

'We had separate bank accounts and most of the bills were paid from Michael's account. Now, to continue living in the way we always had done, I needed to access the money in his account.

'The Court of Protection brought me almost as much anger, grief and frustration into my life as the accident itself. [It is] an alien, intrusive, time-consuming and costly institution, which was completely out of tune with what we were going through. It ruled my waking moments and my many sleepless nights.'

Mrs Bateman even had to apply to the court for permission to pay the couple's daughter's university fees.

She added: 'I could write as many cheques as necessary up to £500. But if I needed to access more I had to get permission from the court.'

Sunita Obhrai's mother Pushpa has lived in council-run sheltered housing for 15 years. About two years ago, the 76-year-old widow started to become forgetful and once left the oven on, and the fire brigade had to be called.

Miss Obhrai claims that without her knowledge the local authority, Buckinghamshire County Council, were appointed to run her mother's affairs.

Heather Bateman, with husband Michael

Critic: Heather Bateman, with husband Michael, has eloquently attacked the 'intrusive' court

She said: 'They took over running my mother's bank account and charged her over £1,000 a year in fees, and all they were doing was ensuring her rent and utility bills were paid by direct debit.

'She is given just £20 a week pocket money. Council officials even came and searched her flat while she was asleep in her bedroom. They told me they had to retrieve documents so they could do their job. But someone should have been with my mother. It is unbelievable that they can behave in this way.'

Early this year Miss Obhrai applied to the court to take over from the local authority and oversee her mother's finances herself. But the court rejected her appeal.

She said: 'Many of our other relatives and friends wrote to the court backing me, but the court ignored them. I have never done anything to harm my mother, nor would I, but the council claims I am not a fit person to look after my mother's affairs and there is little I can do to defend myself.'

The council said it could not discuss the case in detail, but did not deny that officials had let themselves into the elderly woman's home uninvited and unaccompanied by a family member. A spokeswoman said: 'The court has already deemed our action appropriate.'

An internet support group, Court of Protection Problems, reveals other struggles with the system.

One recent posting by 'gillm1', whose mother suffers dementia, said: 'They are causing me so much stress and worry and I feel I am being treated like a criminal. Their letters are bullying and threatening and they completely ignore everything I say.

'I have grown to hate them! They took years to process my application and I object strongly to the extortionate fees they are demanding.'

Another writes: 'They have upped my supervision level without taking any notice of my appeal - therefore costing my mum yet another £800 per year. It's nothing short of robbery.

'All I want is to be left alone to pay my mum's bills and to safeguard as much of her money as I can, but these people are constantly demanding high fees for their "services" which, as far as I can see, consist of harassing people and little else!'

'Everybody is often assumed to be predatory,' said 'robb5'. They 'are treated as guilty until proven innocent. Repeatedly I've felt like I'm forever on trial, we've had to undergo financial and psychological strip-searches without the first bit of evidence to suspect anything.'

Shadow Justice Minister Henry Bellingham said: 'It appears the system is set up with the assumption that people's close relatives do not have their loved one's best interests at heart.

'We are looking at this to see if it would be more efficient and a good deal fairer for the system to assume that most people are honourable and decent and then to deal with those few people who abuse their loved ones' trust.'

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the courts and officials involved faced a delicate balancing act.

She said: 'Decisions are entirely a matter for the courts, based on the individual circumstances. It is a careful balancing act between protecting vulnerable people who have lost mental capacity and recognising their views and the perspectives of those close to them.

'The next of kin is not necessarily the most appropriate person to act in such circumstances. The OPG recommends that every adult considers making a lasting power of attorney. This enables people to choose someone they know and trust to make decisions about their property and affairs or their personal welfare, should they become unable to make decisions for themselves.'

Neil Hunt, of the Alzheimer's Society, said: 'It is important that people make plans for their future. But the disturbing truth is that making plans for the future is often the last thing on our minds.

'Everyone should make a lasting power of attorney to ensure their wishes and rights are protected.'

The first Court of Protection was set up by Labour's 2005 Mental Incapacity Act, which for the first time formalised the arrangements for dealing with the assets and care of people suffering from dementia and other similar illnesses.

Before this it was left to families and social services to make arrangements - but it was argued this ad hoc system was open to abuse by both family members and by officials.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Child porn fears scupper airport ‘nude X-ray’ scans

By Jason Lewis

Virtual 'strip': A scan image showing a hidden knife, highlighted

Virtual 'strip': A scan image showing a hidden knife, highlighted

Airport security chiefs have been banned from subjecting children to a controversial new X-ray scanner that produces ‘naked’ pictures of passengers because of legal warnings the images may break child pornography laws.

The full-body scanner, which can spot weapons and explosives hidden under clothing, was launched with great fanfare at Airport last week.

But now – with the system due to begin operating at full capacity at Manchester’s Terminal 2 next week – security chiefs have been told no one under 18 can be subjected to the new checks.

Child protection experts have warned that the image produced by the Rapiscan machines may break the law which prevents the creation of an indecent image or pseudo-image of a child.

The legislation, the Protection of Children Act 1978, could potentially have led to security officers facing criminal charges for doing their job by examining the images.

Airport bosses had originally intended to allow children to be scanned during the 12-month trial if their parents gave consent.

But they changed their minds after they were approached by the civil rights group Action on Rights for Children, which has campaigned against the use of body scanners on children.

The group argues the machines are disproportionately intrusive and remove a child’s right to dignity, particularly given that many youngsters are sensitive about their bodies.

Last night a Manchester Airport spokesman confirmed that all staff had been told not to allow children to be scanned by the new equipment. He said: ‘Our lawyers and child welfare groups have warned us this is a legal grey area.

‘We do not want to open ourselves or our staff to the possibility of legal action, so we have decided children will not be subjected to these scans and will continue to face normal security checks.’

The Department for Transport hoped the virtual strip-search device would provide the solution to long queues at security checkpoints at all airports.

The equipment means passengers are no longer required to remove their shoes and coats for security checks.

And it also does away with the need for physical ‘pat-down’ searches on those who trigger an alarm when they pass through traditional scanner arches because they have forgotten to hand over their keys or other metal objects.

A member of security staff would see a 'naked' front and back view of the passenger (left) and a computer graphic (right) which will highlight in red which areas of the passenger needs to be checked by fellow staff members

A member of security staff would see a 'naked' front and back view of the passenger (left) and a computer graphic (right) which will highlight in red which areas of the passenger needs to be checked by fellow staff members

The Rapiscan works by beaming electromagnetic waves on to passengers as they stand in a booth, creating a virtual three-dimensional black-and-white ‘naked’ image from the reflected energy and sending it to a computer monitor elsewhere in the airport where it is examined by a security officer.

The whole process takes only about 20 seconds and then the image is deleted.

But the scans show every contour of people’s bodies – even revealing breast implants – which some may find intrusive.

Biscuitgate: After 24 hours of dithering Gordon Brown finally confesses his favourite dunk

By Jason Lewis, Mail On Sunday Whitehall Editor

Gordon Brown

Snack decision: Gordon Brown finally plumped for a chocolate biscuit

has finally revealed his favourite biscuit - after 24 hours of dithering.

The Prime Minister did nothing for his reputation for indecision when he refused to give a straight answer to the vital issue during a live web chat. But yesterday he tried to bring the 'Biscuitgate' controversy to an end by announcing that he was partial to chocolate ones.

Even then, he would not be pinned down and declined to say whether he preferred Bourbons, chocolate digestives, Jaffa cakes or American-style chocolate-chip cookies.

The Biscuitgate row started when Mr Brown answered questions on the Mumsnet website on a wide range of issues, including his recent eye problem. But it all went wrong when he repeatedly failed to respond to enquiries from parents about his favourite biscuit.

With a determination worthy of , the question - a staple of interviews on the site - was put to Mr Brown no fewer than 12 times. Time and again he refused to answer.

One member, MadameDefarge, said: 'Maybe he needs to consult with his advisers on what would be the most vote-winning biscuit to admit to liking?'

Mr Brown left the hour-long session with the question unanswered, and afterwards Downing Street still refused to comment.

But finally at midday yesterday, he answered on his Twitter web page, writing: 'I missed Mumsnet question about biscuits: the answer is absolutely anything with a bit of chocolate on it, but trying v hard to cut down.'

Rival party leaders have been less reticent about their preferences when they appeared on Mumsnet: Tory leader likes oatcakes, while Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg prefers Rich Tea if they are dunked and HobNobs if not.

Mr Brown had spent an hour answering Mumsnet members' questions on subjects from childcare to .

But things had started to go badly when he was asked if he thought he had been an unlucky Prime Minister. 'Not when I'm sitting here at Mumsnet!' he answered.

'That has to be the cringiest thing I have ever read,' came one reply.

Chocolate biscuit

No1 at No10: But does the PM prefer chocolate digestives to Bourbons?

'Is anyone else disappointed with the quality of the answers so far?' wrote someone called sitdownpleasegeorge. 'Please engage with a little depth, Gordon.'

Mr Brown signed off by saying why everyone should vote Labour.

Once more the mothers were unimpressed. 'I think a lot of people are cross at the political broadcast at the end,' said cleanandclothed. 'Badly misread the audience there.'

'He's lost my vote for good,' wrote FlamingoBingo. 'I'm absolutely livid!'

Last night Mumsnet's discussion forum was full of talk of 'Biscuitgate'.

One poster said: 'I think the lack of an answer from Mr Brown is just a bit hard to digestive. Grin.'

Another said: 'I have a horrid image now of Gordy stood in his pyjamas by the half light, troughing choccy biccys in handfuls.'

'I just hate the way that politicians dodge all the important questions,' said another Mumsnet member.

Another expressed anger at the attention Biscuitgate has received: 'Thing is, it's everywhere because it's been put there by Gordon Brown's PR people. It brings an element of humaness close to the subject of him. Even though he didn't answer the bloomin question (nothing new there perhaps). It was his first webchat, it was as dull as dishwater, we brought it to life and he failed. And now he's basking in the glory. Grrrr...'

Mr Brown's political reputation has never recovered from the fiasco of the on-off General Election shortly after he replaced two years ago, which led to him being dubbed 'Bottler Brown' by the Conservatives.

Cabinet Ministers also privately complain that he constantly dithers over major issues.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

BBC storm as two of BNP's most notorious activists are invited on Radio 1 to insult Ashley Cole

By Jason Lewis, Mail on Sunday Security Editor
Created 9:37 PM on 10th October 2009

Ashley Cole and Cheryl Cole

Race row: The BNP pair told Radio 1 that Ashley Cole, pictured with wife Cheryl, is not British

The BBC is facing demands for an investigation after allowing two leading BNP activists to make unchallenged 'racist' statements on a flagship news broadcast.

Radio 1's Newsbeat programme introduced the interviewees as 'two young guys who are members of the BNP' - but a Mail on Sunday investigation has discovered that they were, in fact, key members of the far-Right party's leadership.

The activists claimed black England footballer Ashley Cole was not 'ethnically British' and spoke of him 'coming to this country' - even though he was born in East London.

More than 100 people have complained that the extremists were given an easy ride on the BBC's most listened-to news broadcast, and now leading politicians are calling for an investigation into whether it breached broadcasting rules.

But the programme's editor defended the item, claiming he had been inundated by messages from supportive listeners, some of whom said the BNP 'says what most of us are thinking'.

The row comes after the BBC's controversial decision to allow BNP leader Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time for the first time.

One listener described the Newsbeat interview as so 'staggeringly soft, woefully weak and uncritically unchallenging that I feel sick to my stomach', while another said they were 'shocked and disappointed' to see the BBC giving 'substantial and uncritical publicity' to the BNP.

The Mail on Sunday has discovered the full background of the two 'young BNP supporters' identified by the BBC only as Joey, 24, and 28-year-old Mark.

Both men are senior officials in the BNP party hierarchy, and one has a notorious history of racist, homophobic and anti-semitic views and is a self-confessed admirer of Adolf Hitler.

BNP officials Joey Barber and Mark Collett

Party officials Joey Barber and Mark Collett pose as 'BNP supporters' for Radio 1 Newsbeat but they have senior roles in the organisation

Joey is Joseph Barber, also known as Joey Smith, who runs the BNP's record label Great White Records and is one of its leading artists, recording tracks including Pondlife and Christmas Is A British Thing.

The other guest was Mark Collett, the former leader of the Youth BNP and now the party's head of publicity.

He was exposed in a Channel 4 documentary Young, Nazi And Proud in 2002, when he was filmed saying 'Hitler will live forever' and said of British black people: 'Just because a dog is brought up in a stable, doesn't make it a horse.'

He also said: 'AIDS is a friendly disease because blacks, drug users and gays have it.'

Collett was tried on race-hate charges after another documentary, BBC1's The Secret Agent, broadcast secret footage of alleged racist activities - but was cleared after two trials .

Radio 1, which has 11million listeners a week, featured the two-minute interview with the pair ten days ago, as well as another with party leader Nick Griffin. A transcript is on the BBC website, with a direct link to the BNP website.

Mark Collett

Mark Collett, a senior BNP activist, seen in a Channel 4 documentary in which he confessed to admiring Adolf Hitler

Radio 1's young audience, including many from working-class backgrounds, is also the key target for the BNP. Their campaigning helped them poll more than six per cent of the vote in June's European elections, winning two seats.

That success has forced the BBC to give more airtime to the party, including Griffin's controversial invitation to appear on BBC1's Question Time on October 22.

BBC guidelines, which govern all the Corporation's output, set strict criteria on the use of anonymous sources.

The rules say: 'With an anonymous source... we must give the audience as much information about them as is compatible with protecting their identity, and in a way that does not mislead the audience about their status.

'We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, as well as providing their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.'

The interview was also an apparent breach of National Union of Journalists guidelines which say that when interviewing representatives of racist organisations, 'journalists should carefully check all reports for accuracy and seek rebutting or opposing comments. The antisocial nature of such views should be exposed'.

But Newsbeat did not disclose any details about its BNP interviewees' backgrounds other than their first names and ages - and now refuses to discuss the reason behind the decision.

Reporter Debbie Randle, who interviewed the men, did not question them about their roles in the party or ask them about any previous controversy.

Unprompted by either of the activists, she invited them to give their views on Chelsea football star Cole. Born in Stepney, East London, he has now gained his 72nd England cap in the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine, which England lost 1-0.

'So when you see someone like Ashley Cole play for England, are you happy to watch him?' she asked.

'Joey' replied: 'If he wants to come to this country and he wants to live by our laws, pay into society, that's fine.'

'But,' Ms Randle asked, 'if he wanted to call himself British that would be a problem?'

Joey replied: 'He cannot say that he's ethnically British.'

Asked whether it was 'OK for people who are not white to call themselves British', he said: 'You cannot say they are ethnically British. It's denying our heritage. It's taking that away from us.'

Newsbeat did not reveal anything about Collett's background - including the TV exposés and subsequent court cases - but featured his views on whether 'the idea of races mixing was a bad thing'.

Collett said: 'I would be upset if there were no more giant pandas, I'd be upset if there were no more lions, if there were no more tigers, so equally I'd be upset if white people weren't here any more.'

Asked why the views of people who had lived here for a generation should not count, Collett added: 'Are you trying to compare somebody, or a group of people, who've lived here for maybe 30 years, to people who've lived here for 40,000 years? There's a vast, vast difference in timescale there, my dear.'

The BBC said the editors of Newsbeat would make no comment on the decision not to reveal who Collett and Barber were.

But Newsbeat editor Rod McKenzie had previously published a blog on the BBC website responding to criticism. He wrote: 'We're impartial - that means we should examine all political parties and put their representatives on the spot with fair and firm questioning.

'Impartial journalism and censorship do not sit happily together. We believe in getting the facts and the arguments out there for people to decide - not in judging what is "right" or "wrong" in a political context - that's for you to do. The BNP are not an illegal party. They enjoy electoral support and have elected representatives.

Debbie Randle in the BBC studios

Asking the questions: Debbie Randle in the BBC studios

'It is the BBC's job to properly examine all legitimate political parties that operate within the law and for which people clearly vote. A great many texts we received [after the broadcast] were broadly supportive of the BNP. Over time, it's evident from following our listeners that the party touches a nerve of support or interest.

'The large pile of texts on my desk raise issues around immigration, political correctness and an apparent frustration with mainstream politics that means the BNP, or at least some of their policies, appeals to some people.

'It's also clear that not much is known about the party's policies beyond immigration and race which is something we were keen to explore - and did.

'By the way, we also received messages of support from those who believed we had exposed the weakness of the BNP on a range of issues.'

Mr McKenzie appeared to be unaware that it is common BNP practice to mobilise members to post supportive messages on websites whenever their party is in the news.

The broadcaster has also responded to the 100-plus complaints it received about the interviews from listeners.

The BBC's complaints unit said: 'Newsbeat interviewed Nick Griffin and two young BNP activists in the light of huge audience response to recent stories about BNP electoral success and what they stand for.

'Both interviews were rigorous and the bulk of the tough questions asked were inspired by, or directly quoted, listeners.

'Our audience have diverse views on these subjects and many believe we should examine the BNP's policies more closely. This was a way to shine a light on the views of the BNP, allowing people to make up their own minds.'

But Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt called on the BBC to launch an investigation as to whether the interview breached its guidelines.

He said: 'The point of interviewing the BNP is to make sure that they are held to account for their totally noxious views. It would appear that did not happen here and that is a matter of great concern.'

l-r Rod McKenzie, Simon Mayo and Chris Moyles

Radio 1 Newsbeat editor Rod McKenzie, left, with BBC radio presenters Simon Mayo and Chris Moyles, himself no stranger to controversy

MP John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture and Media Committee, said: 'If the person being interviewed has a track record in the public eye and holds a position in a political party, then to pass him off as a young person just expressing his own view is not an accurate portrayal and I would expect the BBC to make clear who they are.

'This should be looked at by the BBC management and possibly the BBC Trust [the Corporation's governing body]. Potentially there may have been a breach of the BBC guidelines. This needs to be properly looked at.'

A BNP spokesman said the BBC had merely asked the party to provide two young supporters from Northern England. He said: 'They just said they wanted young members.

'We were surprised not to have faced more difficult questioning but Radio 1 is not a heavy-duty political organ like Radio 4. It is an informative thing for young people. It is not too serious.

'It set out to find out what we think. The platform of Radio 1 is very informal, it is all first names, that is how younger people are. People's surnames are not as important as they are to another generation.'

The controversy comes after Radio 1 breakfast-show host Chris Moyles sparked outrage over 'misjudged' comments about filming for the family history show Who Do You Think You Are?

Moyles said: 'I went off to Ireland and other places to film and, unlike a lot of the Who Do You Think You Are? shows, I didn't go to Auschwitz. Pretty much everyone goes there whether or not they're Jewish.'

In full...the Newsbeat interview that caused a storm

This is the BBC's own full transcript of the Newsbeat interview:

Randle: Do you think it's OK for people who aren't white in this country to call themselves British?

Joey: Civic-ly British they are. You cannot say they are ethnically British. It's denying our heritage. It's taking that away from us.

Randle: At what point do they become ethnically British? How long do they have to be here?

Joey: Well, I think it would be an awfully long time before someone would become ethnically British.

Randle: So when you see someone like Ashley Cole play for England, are you happy to watch him?

Joey: If he wants to come to this country and he wants to live by our laws, pay into society, that's fine.

Randle: But if he wanted to call himself British that would be a problem?

Joey: He cannot say that he's ethnically British.

Randle: Why is the idea of races mixing such a bad thing?

Joey: If everybody integrated it would take away everybody's identity.

Mark: I would be upset if there were no more giant pandas, I'd be upset if there were no more lions, if there were no more tigers, so equally I'd be upset if white people weren't here any more.

Randle: But we're the same species, which makes it a bit different, doesn't it?

Mark: You could say that but if all of a sudden there weren't any sparrows and there were only crows, I'd still be sad there weren't any sparrows.

Randle: Can you understand that some people are happy to mix?

Mark: No, I think people have been brainwashed. I think the media, the Government, have forced it down people's throats and they've indoctrinated people.

Randle: You don't think people are bright enough to decide themselves?

Mark: I think when people are bombarded 24 hours a day to force multiculturalism upon them, people are going to succumb to that. We shouldn't have to bend our ways to people who've been here five minutes.

Randle: You're talking like people here are on holiday. They've lived here, some of them, for a generation, some of them for longer. Doesn't that count?

Mark: Are you trying to compare somebody, or a group of people, who've lived here for maybe 30 years, to people who've lived here for 40,000 years? There's a vast, vast difference in timescale there, my dear.

Randle: My point isn't the difference in times between one group of people and another, it's saying they're not visitors, they are not holidaymakers, they are people living here.

Mark: If I went to live and work in another country then I would still adhere by their culture and they should adhere by ours.

Fears Al Qaeda-linked scientist was planning nuclear attack on UK after MI5 learn he worked at top-secret British lab

By Jason Lewis and Peter Allen
Last updated at 9:36 AM on 11th October 2009

  • MI5 investigate brilliant scientist's links to world-famous Rutherford Appleton nuclear research centre
  • French Interior Minister claims 'worst may have been avoided' after brothers' arrest
  • Uncanny parallel to Dan Brown novel as scientist hunting for 'God particle' is held over fears he planned to attack Britain


Raid scene: French police at the modest flat in Vienne where Adlene and Halim Hicheur were arrested on Thursday

A brilliant young nuclear scientist who was arrested in France last week over alleged links to Al Qaeda had worked for a top-secret British nuclear research centre.

Last night fears were growing that Dr Adlene Hicheur – who was a researcher for the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire for a year – could have been planning a nuclear attack in the UK.

The French government said yesterday that the arrest of Hicheur, 32, and his brother Dr Halim Hicheur, 25, could have averted a terrorist atrocity.

They were seized after an 18-month investigation by French anti-terrorist police hours before Adlene Hicheur was due to travel to the laboratory where he now works at, CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research near Geneva.

Halim Hicheur carries out research at similar high-security scientific institutions around Europe.

The brothers’ council flat was stormed at 6am last Thursday by eight masked officers from the elite Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (CDII), the French equivalent of MI5, and 20 armed riot officers.

With almost no noise, a spearhead unit rushed up the concrete steps leading to the cramped flat in Vienne, South-East France. A battering ram was used to break the lock and the warning ‘Armed police!’ shouted.

Large-calibre machine pistols and other weapons were aimed at those inside the flat, including the brothers’ parents and siblings.

Secret agents had been monitoring the brothers’ movements, and all their phone calls, text messages and emails were being bugged ‘in real time and minute by minute’, according to a security source.

‘It was like we were sitting on their shoulders. We knew exactly what they were saying.’


Mysteries of the universe: An aerial view of the Rutherford Appleton lab where Dr Hicheur worked

particle physics logo

The source said that Adlene Hicheur had been ‘pinpointing nuclear targets’ but would not be more specific.

The scientists were being questioned last night at the maximum-security headquarters of the CDII on the outskirts of Paris while MI5 began trying to piece together their movements and contacts in Britain.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said both men posed such a serious threat that he had halted the long-running surveillance operation and ordered their ‘immediate’ arrest.

‘The investigation will reveal what were the objectives in France or elsewhere of these men,’ he said. ‘Maybe the inquiry will reveal that, thanks to these two arrests, the worst could have been avoided.’

Mr Hortefeux said the apparently mild-mannered, highly religious brothers were a ‘high-level threat’ who were suspected of ‘criminal activities related to a terrorist group’.

Last night, MI5 was understood to be examining their British links amid fears that they were plotting to launch a nuclear attack in the UK. A spokesman for the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory refused to release details about Adlene Hicheur’s time there.

Fears were growing that the men may have been in a position to smuggle nuclear material out of a secure lab for use in a ‘dirty bomb’ attack, or to plant explosives inside the sensitive facility.

According to European intelligence sources, MI5 had been warned that the suspects ‘are outstanding scientists who had been honing their techniques in nuclear fusion across the world.

‘There are genuine fears that they were locating terrorist targets, especially in countries like France and Britain. Their level of expertise in nuclear fusion was improving all the time, leading to the terrifying scenario of a terrorist nuclear attack.’

The arrests followed surveillance that had logged the French-Algerians’ ‘every word and every move’, including frequent visits to England.

The Mail on Sunday understands that MI5 and British police had begun their own investigation into the two men after the French provided a full breakdown of their visits to, and work in, the UK.

The police will want to question anyone who has worked with or studied alongside either man at Britain’s scientific research centres or universities.

The brothers first came to the attention of French anti-terrorist officers when their names cropped up in an investigation trying to identify French jihadists fighting Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The decision to arrest them followed the interception of internet exchanges with people identified as having links to terrorists in Algeria. The messages reportedly included information on potential targets in France and elsewhere in Europe.

The brothers’ British links included Adlene’s work for the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, as well as research at university cities including London, Manchester, Durham, Edinburgh and St Andrews. They had also spent time studying at Ivy League universities in the US.

Adlene Hicheur is a former research fellow at the Rutherford Appleton and still visits the UK for conferences and other meetings. He and Halim are accused of compiling information about possible targets and sending it to contacts in North Africa involved with Al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The group is thought to have been behind a number of terror attacks in Algeria and has recently been linked to a call for vengeance against China for mistreatment of its Muslim minority during riots in July.

European intelligence sources said that Adlene Hicheur, who studied at Stanford University in California before moving to Oxfordshire, had expressed a ‘very strong wish to carry out attacks anywhere where Western security interests can be damaged’.

This included ‘countries like Britain and any others where Americans are well represented’, the source added, making it clear that neither brother had yet ‘carried out an attack nor put the material into place to do so’.

Adlene Hicheur is now working on analysis projects with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The nuclear research body said he ‘was not a full-time CERN employee’ and claimed ‘his work did not bring him into contact with anything that could be used for terrorism’.

But there is no doubt that his role would have made him useful to terrorists, especially those keen to develop a nuclear capability.

The Mail on Sunday has learned that Adlene Hicheur used to work at another atomic collider – the two-mile long Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) at Stanford University in 2001.

‘Some people at the department were freaked out when they were told about the allegations against him,’ a source at the US Department of Energy said. ‘But there really is nothing to worry about because this lab conducts basic science.’

Unmarried Adlene Hicheur still lived with his elderly parents on the council estate in the working-class L’Isle district of Vienne.

‘The raid was a shock to all of us,’ said Veronique Reguillon, 48, who lives in the flat upstairs. ‘The police were in and out in a few minutes, with neither of the boys putting up any resistance.

Adlene is a quiet, studious type who never caused any trouble on the estate. He grew up here with his brother and three sisters. The family has had the same flat for 30 years.

‘His mum and dad are immigrants from Algeria and have worked hard all their lives. They are devout Muslims, with all the women in the family often wearing veils.

‘Adlene is a brilliant academic. Halim is like his brother – well-mannered, hard-working and studious. Their parents will be finding this very hard to take.’

Under French anti-terror laws, the brothers can be held for four days before being formally charged.

The antimatter bomb and the recipe for a Hollywood blockbuster

Tom Hanks

Chilling: Tom Hanks stars in the apocalyptic film Angels & Demons

The arrest of Al Qaeda suspect Dr Adlene Hicheur as he set off for his laboratory at CERN has chilling echoes of Hollywood thriller Angels & Demons, starring Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon.

Based on the best-selling book by Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, the blockbuster’s apocalyptic plot opens at CERN.

In Brown’s story, a flask containing highly dangerous antimatter is stolen from a secret physics laboratory by an underground brotherhood called The Illuminati and taken to Rome, where they plan to use it to destroy the Vatican.

If antimatter came into contact with matter, they would violently annihilate each other. But in reality, the amount needed to cause such a mighty occurrence, and the expense and difficulty of producing it, mean this proposition belongs firmly in the realms of fiction.

CERN does produce antimatter in its quest to unlock the secrets of the universe and observe the hypothetical Higgs Boson which scientists refer to as the ‘God Particle’ as it gives all matter mass.

The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile circular tunnel, tries to recreate conditions soon after the Big Bang 13.7billion years ago by blasting protons together at 99.99 per cent of the speed of light.

It took 20 years, 10,000 scientists, and £5billion to create, but the equipment failed soon after its launch in September last year. However, it should be operational next month.