THE CIA is good at making people disappear from one place and pop up in another, even if the other place is, in normal circumstances, some kind of unnamed black prison on Diego Garcia.
This special set of skills came in handy recently, when a 43-year-old woman named Anne Sacoolas had the misfortune to knock down and kill a motorcyclist on a country road near Brackley.
On 27th August, Mrs Sacoolas was leaving RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, the base where her husband – who we can fairly safely assume works for the CIA – was stationed.
Coming past the guardhouse, she turned right onto the B4031 and drove off down the road. About twenty seconds later, a motorbike appeared from around a sharp bend and ploughed straight into the front of her car. The 19-year- old rider, petrol station attendant Harry Dunn, was flung over the top of the Volvo. It is regrettably very easy to kill a biker with a Volvo, and Harry Dunn died shortly afterwards by the roadside.
This kind of tragedy would be bad enough for Harry’s family in any circumstances. What made it worse is that Mrs Sacoolas, who at that point had been in the UK for three weeks, had turned out of the base onto the wrong side of the road, and driven for around 400 yards without noticing. It was only when Harry’s bike came round the corner – far too late for either of them to take evasive action– that she will have become aware of her deadly mistake.
Northamptonshire Police spoke to Mrs Sacoolas, who explained the circumstances, admitted liability and told officers that her husband’s job at RAF Croughton conferred diplomatic status on the family, under a 1994 agreement between the US and UK Governments. She also confirmed that no, she had no plans to leave the country any time soon.
Those plans soon changed. When the police contacted the US Embassy to request a waiver of Anne Sacoolas’ diplomatic immunity, so that she could be questioned and if necessary prosecuted, they were told she had already been spirited out of the country. And no, there would be no waiver in any event.
You don’t have to be one of Harry Dunn’s grieving family to feel the unfairness of this. It is an abuse of diplomatic immunity, which is designed to protect the diplomatic system by preventing the politically-motivated harassment of diplomats, rather than the individual interests of any member of diplomatic staff who happens to commit a serious offence.
But Anne Sacoolas is sensible not to return. If she does, she will probably be sent, pointlessly, to gaol. Sentencing guidelines for the offence of causing death by careless driving (which charge the police have indicated she faces) would indicate a starting point of 36 weeks imprisonment in her case. The CIA made the right call in getting her well away from one of the most conspicuously unfair laws to disgrace the statute book.
The offence was enacted in 2006 after a campaign in The Sun complaining that ‘killer drivers’ were getting off more or less scot-free, with some derisory fine for careless driving. The law was changed, so it is now a specific offence to cause someone’s death if at the time your driving fell ‘below the standard of a careful and competent driver’. The penalty for ‘death by careless’ is up to five years in prison.
Around half of all adults in the UK drive a car. The training necessary to pass a driving test is rudimentary. When 33.6 million people each take control of two tons of metal moving at twenty-five metres per second, mistakes will happen and accidents are inevitable. Every driver reading this will have made some error behind the wheel.
There is no moral difference between a trivial driving error that passes off without anyone noticing, and one which by pure chance results in someone’s death. ‘Killer drivers’ can be anyone making a minor error whose luck is worse than yours. If Anne Sacoolas’s son, who was sitting next to her in the car, had immediately said “Mom, you’re on the wrong side of the road!” they might have laughed about it later. Instead, whether or not she ever faces a British court, this event will haunt them both for the rest of their lives.
It is easy to understand how a bereaved relative may want the closure of seeing the other party to a fatal accident locked up, but the law operates on facts, not feelings. We should punish people for doing things they know to be wrong, or for deliberately taking unnecessary risks, not for making mistakes. Sending people like Anne Sacoolas who have accidents to prison doesn’t deter anyone else from having an accident.
Harry’s family –whose composure and dignity in all this has been astonishing– have campaigned valiantly to secure Mrs Sacoolas’s return to the UK to face the music, but their campaign seems certain to fail. On Wednesday, President Trump made the helpful observation that the accident was, broadly speaking, the fault of the Limeys and their stupid roads: “That can happen…I won’t say it ever happened to me, but it did. When you get used to driving on our system and you’re all of a sudden on the other system, where you’re driving, it happens.”
America’s decision to abuse diplomatic immunity to protect its citizen from UK law demonstrates three things. First, the astonishing hypocrisy of the US State Department, which in 1997 was swift to (successfully) request a waiver of immunity in the case of a Georgian Charge d’ Affaires who ploughed into a row of cars in Washington and killed a teenage girl.
Second, that the offence of ‘death by careless’ is unfair and should be repealed.
Finally, whatever the empty talk of a special relationship, it flags up the massive imbalance of power between the UK and the US, and not only in matters of extradition. Whoever ends up negotiating the second easiest trade deal in history should remember what happens, every time American and British interests cross.
No mercy for Nasty Neil
‘Nasty Neil’ McEvoy is in the soup again.
Regular readers of this column will be familiar with Nasty Neil, the now-independent South Wales AM (after Plaid Cymru disembarrassed themselves of his affiliation), Cardiff City councillor, and general thorn in the side of the Cardiff Bay establishment.
Styling himself –minus the racist aggro– as a sort of Welsh Nat Tommy Robinson, Nasty Neil follows the whiff of controversy like some ASBO version of the Bisto kids. McEvoy is an obstreperous, uppity, bad-to-the-bone populist who seems well-liked amongst his constituents. This doesn’t go down at all well in the cosy, consensual atmosphere of the Senedd, where any sort of opposition to Welsh Labour is regarded as being in faintly poor taste.
Predictably, Welsh Government apparatchiks have got it in for Nasty Neil. This follows his spectacular decapitation of the Assembly’s Standards Commissioner, Sir Roderick Evans, who had to resign his post when McEvoy managed to get a recording of what sounded like the Commissioner and most of his staff going around the office saying that McEvoy (whom they were in the process of investigating) was a d**khead.
Now, Karma has smiled on Cardiff Bay and the politburo have extracted a measure of revenge. Following a four-day hearing before Cardiff Council’s Standards Committee, McEvoy was found to have breached Cardiff City Council’s code of conduct by bringing the council into disrepute and failing to treat a complainant with ‘respect and consideration’. He was suspended as a councillor for four months.
The complaint against Neil McEvoy arose in April and May last year, when a child at a privately-run care home used by the council told his parents he was repeatedly being assaulted. The parents told McEvoy and asked him to do something about it.
Nasty Neil, slightly stretching the received understanding of what it is to be a ‘corporate parent’, demanded access to the child, confronted staff at the home, and (in earshot of the staff) called the director of social services and the police to organise a welfare check when he was refused access.
At the Standards Committee hearing, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (who sees himself as a sort of Batman to McEvoy’s Joker), accused Nasty Neil of acting in a threatening way towards staff with his “chest puffed out”, “shoulders back” and “pointing his fingers”.
“Show me on the doll,” Counsel for Ombuds-Man may have asked, “where Nasty Neil pointed at you.”
She then accused McEvoy of displaying “a pattern of behaviour, that as soon as something doesn’t go your way, you [ask] to speak to the director.” “Can you see, Councillor,” she added, “that it is the way you do it that makes people feel intimidated?”
How Labour won the argument
By Matthew Paul
Even though Labour –according to Jeremy Corbyn– ‘won the argument’ last Thursday, the Tories comprehensively won at the traditionally more important business of getting votes. Simon Hart, Stephen Crabb and Jonathan Edwards all held their seats; the two Conservatives enjoying comfortable majorities over Labour (though it was Hart, not Crabb, who took Alun Cairns’ vacant job as Secretary of State for Wales).
Plaid Cymru, as predicted, had a pretty rotten night. They can take a little comfort from Ben Lake’s solid win in Ceredigion, and from seeing their majorities creep up in Y Fro Gymraeg. But the Party of Wales remains a party supported by only one in ten Welsh voters. Plaid made no progress at all outside its core areas; indeed its share of the vote has (with a very slight blip in 2015) been slowly on the slide for twenty years, from the 14.1% it won in the 2001 General Election, to 9.9% last Thursday. This is not a movement on the march.
Plaid’s aggressively anti-Brexit stance, and its ‘Unite to Remain’ alliance with wishy-washy Britnat parties was a huge strategic error. Mistletoe-clad traditionalists in Y Fro know perfectly well that the party is pro-EU and didn’t need reminding. Brexity boyos in the valleys looking for an alternative to Labour found it a massive turn-off.
In Carmarthenshire West and South Pembrokeshire, Plaid’s vote share fell; Rhys Thomas having failed to mention frequently enough that he’s a doctor and was in Afghanistan. Jonathan Edwards will be spooked too. He lost half his majority in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, and the Conservatives smashed Labour into third place. With a bit of investment in the constituency from CCHQ, there is every prospect of the Tories biting Jonathan on the bum next time round.
While the doorstep in the Pembrokeshire constituencies had been showing solid support for the Tories but no reason for complacency, over in Carmarthenshire it was apparent that the Labour campaign had completely gone to bits. Labour Candidate Maria Carroll, though an avid Corbynite, was for some reason unpersoned by her party and ordered to stay away from Jezza’s big gig at Nantyci showground. The dear leader didn’t mention her or CE&D once in his speech.
Rattled, Carroll put out a video in which she adopted the conciliatory tone of a dying gypsy fortune-teller cursing the drunk driver who knocked her down: “your children and grandchildren will SUFFER!” Even this inspirational message failed to turn things around. Maria Carroll may have won the argument in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr; but only if the argument centred on whether or not she would lose to both Plaid and the Tories, and get the lowest vote in Carmarthenshire in the Labour Party’s entire history. To her credit, she achieved both. She was fortunate not to face a credible challenge from the LibDems, or Count Binface.
In receipt of this absolute shellacking from the electorate, many candidates would step back, slightly abashed, and opt for a moment of quiet reflection. Not Maria. Erupting on Twitter, she blamed every factor for her defeat except unpropitious astrological convergences, her own incompetence, and Oh! Jeremy Corbyn. Broadly speaking, she shared the view prevalent amongst members of the Corbyn cult; that the electorate got it wrong.
Certainly, the analysis among Corbynites seems to be that it wasn’t the manifesto that got it wrong; voters loved the classical socialist idea of taxing the rich until there aren’t any left, then starting on the moderately well off. It definitely wasn’t the leader either; he is a good, kind, honest, decent man who really cares for the poor. And, as we all know, there aren’t any poor Jews. No, it was vile, billionaire-owned mainstream media like The New Statesman, The Guardian and The Pembrokeshire Herald that brainwashed a majority of the electorate into thinking Corbyn was an unpatriotic halfwit who surrounded himself with commies, bomb-scatterers and anti-Semites. What made it worse was that they achieved this by the sneaky, underhand trick of reporting things that Corbyn had said and done.
Carroll tweeted that she wants to see “an end to the abusive power of the media”, and even expressed an aspiration to close the media down, so perhaps The Pembrokeshire Herald has had a lucky break.
Maria Carroll wasn’t alone on Thursday night. The Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, was finally told that his forty-year long end of the pier show was being shut down. Labour were turfed out of Sedgefield; once Tony Blair’s rock-solid stronghold. Redcar, Grimsby Fishdocks, Satanic Mills East, and a host of other seats which have been Labour since the dawn of time all voted with some enthusiasm for Boris and Brexit.
The strategy of forcing opposition parties to treat a first-past-the-post election as a referendum on a subject about which they didn’t agree worked an absolute treat for the Tories. Even so, a competently led Labour Party with a clearly defined position on Brexit could have won. In one credible poll, 43% of Labour voters who switched sides said it was leadership, not Brexit, that was their main concern.
For the time being, Corbyn remains at the helm of his stricken party, anxious to ensure that whoever succeeds him is chosen on his terms and from his cult. Any Tory with £3 in his pocket would do well to sign up to Labour now, for the unmissable opportunity of helping to elect Richard Burgon or Rebecca Long-Bailey as the Lenin-capped loon’s successor.
Entertaining as it may be to watch the Labour Party disintegrate, the Tories can allow themselves only a short gloat. Reality will start to bite soon, when they get stuck into what may not be the entirely effortless task of Getting Brexit Done.
Cadno’s Carmarthenshire Election Special – Part 1
It’s been a while since you’ve heard from this old fox.
What with things being the way they are, Cadno might have been silenced for good. But this is election time. It’s the season to be jolly with holly and —- golly gosh! What larks the election is!
Let’s start with Carmarthenshire East and Dinefwr.
Jonathan Edwards is the incumbent and Plaid’s treasury spokesperson is likely to take some beating. He has had substantial media exposure for his virtually lone hand pummelling the various Conservative Brexit ministers and pushing the interests of his constituents, whether on miners’ pensions; WASPI; or rural regeneration. Jonathan Edwards has also had the Liberal Democrats and Greens step aside to give him a clear run as an unequivocally ‘remain’ supporting candidate. That is a largely symbolic step, given both parties’ performance last time out.
If God loves a trier, he must have a special place in his heart for the Conservatives’ Havard Hughes. If ever a candidate’s social media profile suggested that he was a wing nut short of a complete cuckoo clock, Havard’s is the one. It’s a tough sell for Havard Hughes. The policies that the Conservatives have delivered for the constituency in the past decade can be counted on the fingers of one thumb.
Last time saw a revival in the Labour vote as David Darkin, who moved from his home in Llanelli to former county councillor Anthony Jones’ spare room to get local credibility, rode the coattails of a successful Labour national campaign. This time, the red rose has put forward Maria Carroll as their candidate. Maria Carroll, Cadno is happy to clarify following recent media reports, is not an anti-Semite. She simply is unlucky enough to know one hell of a lot of them online and welcome them when they joined the Facebook group she administered which advised Party members accused of anti-Semitism. Some of those concerned turned out to be anti-Semites. It’s just bad luck.
The Brexit Party Limited’s candidate is Pete Prosser. What we do know about Pete Prosser is that he paid a fee to be selected as the BPL’s candidate. If his experience is like that of the 317 Limited Company candidates dropped in the cack by Nigel Farage when he pulled the plug on them, he must have deep pockets. 14 people like his Facebook page as the company’s candidate. Cadno thinks it’s best to leave it there.
While the Brexit Party Limited’s General Election website (you have to see it believe it) claims it can win in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Cadno thinks it safe to say such an outcome is highly unlikely. In spite of improving their parties votes in 2017, both Havard Hughes and David Darkin were well adrift of Jonathan Edwards at that election.
By definition, all Plaid Cymru seats are marginal; however, Jonathan Edwards’ is less marginal than others. It depends on whether enough leave voters are brassed off with Labour’s interesting Brexit proposals (renegotiate a deal and then – potentially – campaign against it) to take one look at Havard Hughes and think ‘as swivel-eyed loons go, we could do worse’. Or whether enough Conservatives think Maria Carroll MP is a price worth paying to get rid of one of their party’s most significant parliamentary goads.
It should be fun finding out.
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