Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Anger as students, not soldiers, will guard stars from terror threat at 2012 London Olympics

By Jason Lewis, Mail on Sunday Security Editor
Last updated at 11:02 AM on 15th November 2009

Olympic security chiefs have ruled out using the Army to protect competitors and spectators at the 2012 Games – and instead they will rely on thousands of teenagers taking a 30-hour events safety course.

The move has provoked anger among military figures, who believe Army expertise is needed to ensure the London Olympics are safe from a potential terrorist outrage.

It also comes after Army Chief of Staff, General Sir David Richards, said worry over Olympic security ‘kept him awake at night’.

Londoners celebrate as the announcement is made that London will host the 2012 Olympic Games in London's Trafalgar Square

Fears: Security Minister Lord West said the Olympics would be faced with the 'greatest security challenge' since World Ward Two with a threat from terrorism

Whitehall sources have revealed that the military will be called upon only to carry out ‘niche roles’.

The task of protecting the Olympic Park will rely on private security staff and 6,000 16 to 19-year-olds taking a specially developed BTEC qualification.

The military would be required only in ‘extreme situations’ where Special Forces troops might be needed.

Sources said they might also be used to supplement police and civilian services or ‘to aid the civilian community’ in a similar way to their use during the 2007 floods.

Director of Security for the Olympic Organising Committee Sir Ian Johnston

In charge: Sir Ian Johnston said the event would need many more private security guards

General Richards has privately told commanding officers to expect an increase in their security role in Britain.

In a private briefing paper, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, he wrote: ‘I believe that this role will increase in importance as the 2012 Olympics approaches.’

But last week Sir Ian Johnston, the Director of Security for the Olympic Organising Committee, said policing the event would require thousands of private security guards.

The former Chief Constable of British Transport Police said to provide the extra staff needed, 50 colleges were being encouraged to set up courses that would supply 6,000 students to patrol Olympic sites.

The Level 2 BTEC diploma would give young people 30 hours of training in ‘keeping people safe at events’, ‘communicating’ and ‘dealing with large numbers of people’.

Official documents say: ‘The Home Office, the police and public will be given confidence that a secure, vetted, licensed and trained supply line of labour will be available to the appointed private security contractors to support stewarding and carry out other important tasks at the Games.’

Speaking at a conference on Olympic Security last week, Security Minister Lord West said the Olympics presented the ‘greatest security challenge’ since the Second World War.

The level of terrorist threat is expected to be severe, the second-highest level, he added.

Shadow Security Minister Dame Pauline Neville-Jones said the Army should have a role at the Games, but stressed this did not necessarily mean it should conduct high-profile patrols.

Secret court is told to open its doors after probe by the MoS

By Jason Lewis, Mail On Sunday Whitehall Editor
Last updated at 10:04 PM on 14th November 2009

The Court of Protection

Secretive: The Court of Protection in north London

The secretive Court of Protection - which controls the finances of some of Britain's most vulnerable people - has been ordered to open its proceedings to media scrutiny.

The court, already facing an internal review after nearly 4,000 complaints in just two years, has been told that it can no longer hold all its hearings in private. The move comes after a Mail on Sunday investigation highlighted widespread concerns about the way the court is run.

A test case last week ruled that the court should allow the media to attend one of its private hearings, which govern the money and care of people suffering from dementia and others lacking mental capacity. This is set to open the way for reporting of many more of the court's previously secret cases.

The public will still be barred from the court in North London but the media will be allowed to attend the hearing as they showed they can provide 'good reason' to do so.

The case was brought by lawyers for Associated Newspapers, publishers of The Mail on Sunday, and other newspaper groups.

The landmark decision by High Court judge Mr Justice Hedley comes following a legal case to decide the control of the affairs of an 'internationally famous' disabled man.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was described in court as a young adult 'who is severely disabled, resulting in severe learning difficulties which render him incapable of making decisions as to any significant issue in his life'.

The Court of Protection is involved because, the judge said, 'he is and is likely to remain dependent on others for his care and he is currently cared for in accommodation provided by a national charity.

'However, he also possesses remarkable gifts and the practice of those have brought him to public, indeed international, attention.'

Cases in the Court of Protection, set up two years ago, had, until now, been heard in private and reporting of most of its rulings are banned.

MoS front page

Campaign: The Mail on Sunday's front page headline

But last week Mr Justice Hedley ordered that the media could report details of the case after the hearing, including the identity and background of the disabled but gifted individual, but some information about his finances should remain secret.

Alastair Pitblado, the Official Solicitor who acts for people who cannot make their own decisions, said that he would go to the Court of Appeal in his client's best interests.

He added: 'The rules [for the Court of Protection] were recently made by Parliament and the default position is privacy.'

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has ordered a judge to review the workings of the court after The Mail on Sunday revealed the problems faced by the families of those put under its protection.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, which oversees the court, said: 'We have always said that it is open to the Press to make an application to attend the Court of Protection on a case-by-case basis, and this is what has happened.'

British UN scientist's death was 'not suicide', Gordon Brown is told

By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 11:22 PM on 14th November 2009

Gordon Brown

Intervention: Gordon Brown is being urged to investigate Timothy Hampton's death further

Gordon Brown is being urged to intervene in an investigation into the mysterious death of British scientist Timothy Hampton.

The nuclear expert fell to his death from the 17th floor of a UN building in Vienna last month.

Local police and UN officials have suggested that the 47-year-old, who was involved in monitoring illegal nuclear tests by Iran and North Korea, killed himself.

But tests commissioned by his family have raised doubts about the findings of a first post-mortem examination and suggest that Mr Hampton, from Newbury, may have been murdered.

One theory is the scientist could have been strangled, carried from his workplace on the sixth floor and thrown to his death.

Richard Benyon, Mr Hampton’s MP, said: ‘I have grave misgivings about this case. I am told Mr Hampton was not suicidal.

'He was happy in his work, loved living in Vienna and was devoted to his partner and three-year-old child.

‘Yet his death seems to be being swept under the carpet. I am asking the PM not to allow this to happen.’

Earlier this week, the UN denied claims that Mr Hampton, who worked for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation, was involved in talks discussing nuclear testing in Iran.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Civil servants being given time off for shopping trips and cake-baking competitions

By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 5:54 PM on 08th November 2009

Government officials are being given time off for Christmas shopping trips, days at the races, and to compete in Whitehall jam-making and cake-baking competitions – all subsidised by the taxpayer.

The events are being offered by the Civil Service Sports Council with the help of a £1.4million-a-year grant from Government funds.

The organisation is also investing millions of pounds building luxury health clubs on former civil service sports grounds – only to charge the public up to £70 a month for membership.

Bags of work: Staff from HMRC's Worthing office on a shopping trip to Southampton

Bags of work: Staff from HMRC's Worthing office on a shopping trip to Southampton

Last week, the CSSC, whose vice-president is Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, Britain’s most senior mandarin, offered members the chance to enter an angling competition, go for a day out at the races or see a West End show.

Many of the events took place during the working day, with the CSSC encouraging managers to give civil servants ‘time off for sports days, and national and regional activity’.

The CSSC, which was set up in the Twenties, provides gyms for staff inside Whitehall departments and facilities across the country, charging civil servants just £3.25 a month to join.

On Friday, it helped to organise a craft show at the Department for Business’s gym in Whitehall, which included baking, jam-making, and knitting and painting competitions.

Staff from Peter Mandelson’s department along with those from Ed Miliband’s Department of Energy and Climate Change were given ‘the time off they will require to attend the show as an official duty’.

Competitors from regional government offices were also able to claim a refund on their travel costs from Whitehall funds.

The competition was open to staff from the Home Office, the Department for Transport and the Communities and Local Government Department.

Other events last week saw staff from HM Revenue & Customs’ Worthing office take time out for a shopping trip to Southampton.

Staff were charged £5 for the coach trip, which collected them from the HMRC office at 8am. After lunch in a pizza restaurant, they returned late that afternoon clutching bags from Ikea, Primark, and Marks & Spencer. Some purchases appeared to be so heavy that they required two people to carry them.

'Special leave' to take part in events

Meanwhile, civil servants based near Heathrow went on a discounted trip to see the hit musical Jersey Boys in the West End. Members paid £15 despite the cheapest seats costing £20 and most between £32 and £60.

And a trip to a Sheffield dog track for Leeds-based civil servants cost members £9 with ‘prices including the coach trip, entry, food, free pint or glass of wine and a bet’. Owlerton Greyhound Stadium charges £15 a head for group tickets.

A Cabinet Office spokesman confirmed that staff could get ‘special leave’ to take part in events but insisted the decision was ‘left to the discretion of departments and managers’.

‘The health and well being of staff is an important issue for all employers,’ he added. ‘The Civil Service is no exception.’ But he admitted the Government grant to the CSSC was ‘under review’. The Mail on Sunday understands one of the reasons for this is the commercial activities of the CSSC.

Over the past few years, the organisation has closed a number of its sports grounds and, in partnership with a venture capital firm, has built five luxury health clubs and a series of five-a-side football centres on former civil service facilities.

The decision was taken by the CSSC board, which is made up of serving and retired civil servants, without the approval of Ministers. The health clubs are open to the public and charge members between £30 and £70 a month for use of facilities including swimming pools, spas and gyms.

The commercial arm, which includes five Roko health clubs, had a turnover of £13.4million last year. It borrowed £30million to set the clubs up and is running at a £4million loss.

Last night, Marian Holmes, CSSC chief executive, denied that taxpayers’ cash was being invested in the scheme.

And she added: ‘Some of our activities are during the working week. Time off is a matter for individual departments and individual managers.

‘There is nothing wrong with staff taking a day off together. This sort of activity does wonders for staff morale and helps them work more efficiently and effectively together.’

A spokesman for the Department for Business said staff who attended the craft fair had done so ‘during their lunch break’.

Secret court takes four months to give elderly their own money, and then charges £400 for the privilege

By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 3:06 AM on 08th November 2009

The secretive and controversial Court of Protection – which controls the finances of some of Britain’s most vulnerable people – is taking an average of four months to release people’s cash, while charging them £400 to apply for it.

The latest shocking revelation about the court comes in the wake of a Mail on Sunday investigation into widespread concerns about the way it is run.

The court, which has attracted nearly 4,000 complaints from the public in the past two years, oversees money belonging to people with dementia or other forms of mental incapacity.

Call for inquiry: Jack Straw has ordered a judge to review the workings of the court

Call for inquiry: Jack Straw has ordered a judge to review the workings of the court

It holds a £2.7billion fund at the Bank of England, in an account paying just half a per cent interest. It costs people an average of £400

to have their applications for access to the money processed.

Asked how long it could take to release funds – which relatives might need to pay for care fees or bills – officials said it ‘only’ took 16 weeks on average. That is inside the court’s 21-week target for ruling on most issues concerning the management of the finance and welfare of people unable to make their own decisions.

Justice Secretary has ordered a judge to review the workings of the court after The Mail on Sunday revealed the huge problems faced by the families of those put under its protection. People complained to us about how:

  • Court officials paid the proceeds of a house sale into the wrong account.
  • l A relative was accused of abusive behaviour towards a court official on a visit to his home – even though the official had never visited him.
  • l One claimant was charged £4,100 in legal fees to withdraw £5,800 of their own money.
  • l Elderly clients died before requests for cash were agreed.

Last night, a spokeswoman for the court said that since new laws came into force in 2007, the new Court of Protection had generally allowed ‘deputies’ – those permitted to access a person’s money on their behalf – more freedom than in the past.

She said: ‘Most deputies have been able to keep money in any account they choose and access it with no restrictions.

‘This is a great improvement on the previous system, when greater restrictions were in place.’

She added: ‘The Court of Protection receives approximately 1,800 applications a month – this includes applications to appoint a deputy or to make decisions in relation to the property, affairs, health care and personal welfare of adults and children who lack capacity.

‘Our published standard for all applications is 21 weeks, which includes time for notification and response, and we are currently processing all applications within an average of 16 weeks.’

The spokeswoman added that recent applications to move funds out of the court’s account at the Bank of England have usually been much quicker.

‘We have had around 190 such applications since August and they are taking, on average, about seven weeks to process. There is no backlog of applications to take funds.’

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The secret court of living hell: Straw promises to review Court of Protection after MoS exposes shocking catalogue of flaws

By Jason Lewis, Mail On Sunday Whitehall Editor
Last updated at 10:28 PM on 31st October 2009

Under fire: How The Mail On Sunday exposed activities of the Court Of Protection, which is based in this London office block

Under fire: How The Mail On Sunday exposed activities of the Court Of Protection, which is based in this London office block

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has pledged to re-examine the workings of the secretive Court of Protection after a Mail on Sunday investigation exposed huge flaws in the system designed to look after some of Britain’s most vulnerable people.

His promise comes as more scandalous details of how the court governs the financial affairs of vulnerable people are revealed by this newspaper – a week after we exposed widespread concerns.

Mr Straw has ordered High Court judge Sir Mark Potter, president of the Family Division, to examine the court rules ‘to ensure they provide an efficient and effective service’ and said last night: ‘The Mail on Sunday has been right to raise these issues and I commend you for doing so.’

Today, the court – which bars the media and the public from its deliberations and rarely publishes its judgments – is accused of mismanaging the £2.7billion it controls on behalf of vulnerable people.

We can also disclose that the Office of the Public Guardian, which ensures families comply with the court’s judgments, faced 889 complaints in the past six months – bringing the total number of complaints in the two years since the system was overhauled by Labour to almost 4,000.

The huge sums controlled by the court are held in a Bank of England account, paying just 0.5 per cent interest a year to families of vulnerable people, which works out at a total of £13.5million a year.

Critics say the money should be held at High Street banks, which would offer at least three per cent interest and realise £81million.

The Ministry of Justice claimed it would be accused of ‘irresponsible decision-making’ if it moved the money from the Bank of England, where it is protected. But Opposition politicians said this claim was ‘ridiculous’, particularly after the Government propped up the banks last year.

It leaves some families, even those controlling multi-million-pound medical negligence awards, not earning enough interest to cover their needs and having to spend money set aside to fund a lifetime of care.

Enlarge Caring family: Colin with mother Alison, father Colin Snr and brothers Cavan and Cedwyn, right

Caring family: Colin with mother Alison, father Colin Snr and brothers Cavan and Cedwyn, right

Following our investigation last week, more than 350 people left comments on The Mail on Sunday’s website and another 100 people wrote letters and emails. Relatives, friends and lawyers of people suffering Alzheimer’s or other mental incapacity due to old age, accidents or illness, exposed a catalogue of flaws in the system.

Among the cases highlighted were:

  • Court officials paying the proceeds of a house sale into the wrong account.
  • A young father of an eight-year-old cerebral palsy victim being accused of abusive behaviour to an official on a visit to his home – even though the official had never visited him.
  • A former lawyer being charged £4,100 in legal fees to withdraw £5,800 of her own money.
  • Fees of £42,000 charged to transfer a daughter’s care from her father to her mother after the father died.
  • Complaints that simple applications to the court – which has just three full-time judges – took up to ten months.

Several clients died before their cases were decided.

The largest proportion of complaints regarded the interest rates, which were cut from from six per cent to just 0.5 per cent after the banking collapse last year.

Shadow Justice Secretary Henry Bellingham, who is calling for a Parliamentary debate on the ‘creaking’ system, said: ‘It is ridiculous that the Government cannot offer a better interest rate – and nonsense to say that this money would be at risk in one of the big High Street banks. The banking crisis showed that the Treasury would not let anything happen to them.’

Enlarge Graphic

Mr Straw revealed how he had become involved personally in the debate, as a direct result of our investigation.

He said: ‘Only yesterday, during one of my constituency surgeries in Blackburn, a family came to see me regarding the sorts of issues you raised in your article last week.

'I understand that you have been contacted by many readers following your article and can assure you that we take this very seriously. I will be examining the points raised carefully.

'I have therefore agreed for Sir Mark Potter, President of the Court of Protection, to set up a committee to review the current Court of Protection Rules to ensure they provide an efficient and effective service.

‘I do not underestimate the frustration and sometimes anger of the people in the cases you have highlighted.

My pledge is that we are listening and where changes are needed, we will make them.’

The Government has urged everyone to establish a so-called last power of attorney, or living will, to nominate someone to look after their affairs should they become incapacitated.

The system is just so cumbersome and incompetent

  • Ian Johnson has managed the affairs of his aunt Eva, who suffers from dementia, since her husband died and she moved into a care home. Money from their house sale went into a Court of Protection account. When Mr Johnson got a £35,000 bill for Eva’s care costs he applied to the court for access to some money. It took five months to get it and when it came it was £10,000 short. Mr Johnson, of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, said: ‘They are incompetent. You never speak to the same person twice. I agree someone should keep an eye on us but does it need this cumbersome Government department?’
  • After Martyn Chisnall’s mother Frieda descended into dementia at 98, he expected the court to quickly grant him responsibility for her and her modest savings, given that he had cared for her for 20 years – and was paying £525 a week in nursing home fees. But instead he had to wait three months. The retired fitter, of Christchurch, Dorset, said: ‘They took so long that two weeks after allowing me to access her savings, she died.’
  • Linda Maunder moved to Portugal with her brain-damaged 21-year-old adopted daughter.
    Her husband Tony had looked after their daughter’s affairs but when he died after a brain tumour,
    Mrs Maunder applied to the court to take over control of a £1.6million criminal compensation award for the injuries her daughter suffered as a baby. Mrs Maunder said: ‘Every time pen touches paper at the Office of the Public Guardian you are charged. My daughter ended up paying around £42,000
    to solicitors, barristers and accountants.’
  • Christine from Suffolk sold her aunt’s home after she moved into a care home suffering from dementia. When she needed some of the £165,000 in the court fund to pay care fees, she found out officials had transferred the cash to the account of another woman who shared her aunt’s name.