Friday, November 30, 2007

The latest police outrage

Pregnant woman held down, tasered. There should be a rule that every time a cop uses a Taser, he should himself be subjected to tasering

FOOTAGE of a pregnant woman being held down on her stomach while being Tasered by a police officer has emerged in the middle of a US federal investigation. Shocking CCTV footage of the incident, which occurred nearly two weeks ago outside of a police station in Trotwood, Ohio, is being distributed online.

According to police, the woman had gone to the station with her one-year-old son in hope of giving up custody of the boy, television station WHIO reported. After a short argument, a struggle broke out between the officer – who moved the boy out of harms way - and the woman. The officer then shoved the woman onto her pregnant stomach and Tasered her in the neck.

Trotwood Public Safety Director Michael Etter told WHIO that an officer was trying to find out information from the woman before the incident. “(He) attempted to obtain information on both the mother and the child, at which time the mother refused to give any information and became very agitated,” Mr Etter said. “She did not disclose, even after she was arrested, that she was pregnant.” Mr Etter said that the woman was wearing a large coat at the time.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigations is investigating the matter. The young boy has reportedly been put into the custody of a relative.

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Australia: No jail for police rapists

An exhibitionist police officer and three friends who raped a man with a sex toy while filming him on a mobile phone have been given suspended sentences. David Kingsley McMahon, Brendan Phillip Hollands, Sian Catherine Whistler and a youth were sentenced in the District Court today for a "drunken prank" that "went too far".

Judge Peter Herriman said the group showed a lack of maturity, courage and honesty by humiliating their friend – and then showing off a video of their actions. "As much as it was fuelled by alcohol, I have concerns about the attitude of some of you to the offending in the cold light of day," he said. "Neither of you young men seems to have viewed your conduct as very serious, even when you sobered up."

McMahon, 22, Hollands, 21, Whistler, 20, and the youth pleaded guilty to raping the man at an Aberfoyle Park party in 2005. "You were all in the habit of drinking to excess... you engaged in exhibitionism, sometimes of a sexual nature," Judge Herriman said. The group used a sex toy and clothes pegs in ways that caused severe damage to the sleeping victim. They also filmed the incident on a mobile phone while making "disgusting remarks". Hollands and McMahon – then a cadet police officer – showed the video to two other people. The victim, meanwhile, was left to piece together what had happened to him through rumour and suspicion. He now requires surgery and counselling.

"None of you later had the courage, honesty, remorse or sense of guilt to approach the victim, tell him what happened or apologise," he said. "The manner in which he slowly found out was traumatic." Judge Herriman said Hollands had since shown "some measure of guilt", but it was "some time" before McMahon accepted the wrongness of his actions. He jailed them both for three years, Whistler for two years and three months and the youth for a minimum of eight months. Their sentences were suspended on condition of three-year, $1000 good behaviour bonds.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Constant predatory and baseless litigation by politicians makes it impossible for a law-abiding company to do business

No doubt the latest litigation will fail too but there is no doubt that the losses the litigation has inflicted will not be compensated. Article below by By JAMES Q. WILSON

When Hurricane Katrina hit our southern coast, it was the worst natural disaster in American history, killing 1,800 people, forcing more than a million to evacuate the area, and putting four-fifths of New Orleans under water. In the struggle to recover from this event, people turned to their insurance companies for help. Thousands of claims were handled, but for some people there wasn't any coverage. The problem was they were not insured against flooding.

Insurance companies' policies are quite clear on this, and state insurance departments, including the ones in Mississippi and New Orleans, have approved these rules. The homeowners' policy issued by State Farm, for example, says that water damage from a flood, waves, tidal waves, or a tsunami are not covered.

The reason for the exclusion of water damage is quite clear: Hardly any insurance company wants to encourage people to build or occupy structures in places where such damage is likely. If they did allow this, either the company would go bankrupt from losses it could not pay or it would have to charge a premium so high that hardly anyone could afford the insurance. Even without water-damage coverage, insurance companies paid out around $40 billion to Katrina victims. You can buy a hurricane deductible endorsement from insurance companies, but it doesn't protect you against flooding. It simply alters the amount of the deductible you must pay under a regular policy.

You can get flood insurance under a federal National Flood Insurance Policy (NFIP) that will cover up to $250,000 for home damage provided the flood area in which you live has met certain federal standards. These require that buildings have floors that are higher than what a flood is likely to produce. In parts of New Orleans that would mean the floors would have to be put on stilts 15 feet above the ground.

Not content with these policies and rules, trial lawyers and politicians in Mississippi demanded that insurance companies should be required to pay for flood losses even though they were not covered by the policies. Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, a veteran of class-action suits, and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood worked together to create a lawsuit that would retrospectively ban the flood exclusion rule. (Mr. Scruggs was a major source of campaign money for Attorney General Hood.) At the same time, Rep. Gene Taylor from Mississippi urged Congress to require a retroactive payment of flood insurance. Never mind what the homeowners' insurance policies said or what their coverage was, demanding money to which they were not entitled became "good public policy."

Soon thereafter, Sen. Trent Lott, Dickie Scruggs's brother-in-law and the owner of a waterfront home damaged by Katrina, filed suit against State Farm. He had already been paid by NFIP, but he wanted private insurance money as well. The next year both a Mississippi and a federal grand jury subpoenaed State Farm on the basis of allegations that employees of a private adjusting firm had damaging information about State Farm.

This may strike you as routine political and legal maneuvers. But what insurance companies -- not just State Farm, but all of them -- did after Katrina was anything but routine. State Farm sent 4,000 claims adjusters and their support staff into the area. Most of them had nowhere to live and little to eat. Some had to stay in Birmingham, Jackson, Mobile and other towns, and moved in and out of the Katrina area every day. The company built two trailer cities, each with a hundred trailers. GI food, or MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), were shipped in by willing truckers. These emergency homes and MREs lasted, not for a day or two, but for up to 10 weeks.

The claims adjusters worked 12-hour days. They struggled to find the homes of policyholders because street signs were down and even when they were not many had left town for unknown addresses. To get money into the hands of policyholders quickly, the adjusters were authorized to pass out $2,500 as an advance to cover additional living expenses to everyone who had a homeowner's policy, with the full payment to come in days. Hundreds of adjusters were struggling to exercise their judgment about complicated losses in ways that would help people living in what was close to a war zone.

Through his actions, Attorney General Hood sent a message that said these adjusters were not exercising judgment, they were committing a crime. One wonders how any insurance company will recruit and motivate adjusters who will go into the field under these difficult conditions if politicians say they are part of a criminal enterprise.

In time some measure of sanity was restored. A federal district court judge upheld the flood exclusion in insurance policies, a view that was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. More recently, the Fifth Circuit has affirmed that there is no coverage when an excluded peril (such as flooding) and a covered one (such as windstorms) both contribute to the same damage. A Louisiana state judge agreed that policies not written to provide flood insurance did not, in fact, provide it. State Farm reached a settlement with Messrs. Hood and Scruggs and Attorney General Hood concluded his grand jury investigation. Sen. Lott settled his suit with State Farm.

But the return of sanity was of short duration. In June Mr. Scruggs filed a lawsuit against State Farm saying that it engaged in racketeering, and Attorney General Hood filed a new civil lawsuit -- and then followed up with another grand jury investigation contrary to his prior agreement with State Farm. One wonders how its claims adjusters feel when they are told that they are no better than members of the Mafia.

In light of all this, State Farm announced earlier this year that it would no longer sell new homeowners' policies in Mississippi, not to punish people there but because politicians had made it impossible to do business in an orderly way. In response, Attorney General Hood demanded that the governor order State Farm to write new policies. Gov. Haley Barbour replied, quite reasonably, that he does not have the authority to tell a private company that it must do business in his state. There will no doubt be congressional investigations of the insurance business because it did what it told people it was doing.

To be sure, there are things that could be done better. It would be nice if the federal government enforced a flood insurance program based on buildings conforming to flood-resistant standards. (Before Katrina, it had said that these standards did not affect much of New Orleans because it believed the levees would hold.) It might be helpful if an arbitration procedure was created outside the court system to resolve differences between insurance companies and policyholders about all matters, including arguments over whether what an insurance company believes was flood damage (and thus not insurable) was in fact wind damage (and thus insurable). Insurance companies could also do a better job of educating their customers about what they are buying.

Still, most of the problems down in Mississippi would have been resolved if the people of the Magnolia State had elected a new attorney general (instead, they threw out of office the states' insurance commissioner who had disagreed with Mr. Hood). In Mississippi, remarkably, the attorney general has succeeded in making it seem like settling insurance claims is a crime.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Arrogant British doctor perverted the course of justice

David Southall, the controversial paediatrician, inappropriately accused a grieving mother of killing her son by hanging him, a misconduct hearing ruled yesterday. Professor Southall, 59, was formerly found guilty of serious professional misconduct after his role in the case of Sally Clark, who was wrongly jailed over the death of her two sons. In the latest case, he was said to have acted like a "Crown prosecutor" when he accused the woman of murdering her ten-year-old son by "hanging him up and leaving him to die".

The General Medical Council ruled yesterday that his actions were "inappropriate, added to the distress of a bereaved person and were an abuse of his professional position".

He also removed medical notes to create "special case" files on children and was found guilty of a series of other allegations relating to children in his care during the 1980s and 1990s.

A fitness-to-practise panel will decide later this week whether Professor Southall is guilty of a charge of serious professional misconduct, which he denies, and whether he should be struck off the medical register.

Professor Southall was suspended from child protection work in 2004, having been censured after interfering in the Sally Clark case. He had accused Mrs Clark's husband, Steve, of murdering the two boys on the basis of a TV interview, and suggested that the couple's third child was at risk. Mr Clark was completely exonerated. But the family said that his wife never recovered from the trauma of her ordeal: in March she was found dead.

The latest misconduct hearing began in November 2006. The GMC's fitness-to-practise panel was told that Professor Southall aggressively interviewed the woman, referred to as Mrs M, and asked her to demonstrate the moment that she found her dead son, known as M1, using a pencil and shoestring. A second mother, known as Mrs H, claimed that he had treated her son like a "lab rat" and accused her of abusing her ill child.

This year the Attorney-General ordered a special review of criminal cases in which he had acted. The panel ruled that he "damaged the integrity" of hospital medical records by removing documents and adding them to his own files.

Professor Southall, who worked at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and then the North Staffordshire Hospital NHS Trust, kept "special case" files on two children, the GMC panel was told.

Mrs M had been interviewed by him in 1998 at the request of a local authority after concerns were raised about the safety of her younger son, who had been taken into care. The boy was 8 when his ten-year-old brother hanged himself in 1996. But Professor Southall barely asked Mrs M about her other son, and instead accused her of having Mnchausen's syndrome by proxy and murdering her eldest boy.

Giving evidence via video link from Adelaide, Mrs M described the interview: "Professor Southall turned to me and said, `I put it to you that you killed your son by injecting him, hanging him up, leaving him there and then ringing an ambulance'," she said.

Jacqueline Mitton, chairman of the panel, said: "It had been found you failed to respect Mrs M's dignity." It was also found that he failed to treat her "politely or considerately", in a way that she could understand, that was inappropriate and caused her distress. Professor Southall's handling of medical records in relation to four other children also came under scrutiny. He was cleared of effectively setting up secret computer medical records.

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Australia: Top cop criticised at murder inquiry

A TOTAL of 14 adverse findings have been recommended against West Australian Assistant Police Commissioner Mal Shervill for his role in a 1994 murder investigation. Counsel assisting the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC), Jeremy Gormly SC, completed his recommendations at the corruption inquiry, which is investigating whether there was any misconduct by public officers in the wrongful conviction of Andrew Mallard in the 1994 murder investigation of Perth jeweller Pamela Lawrence.

Mr Gormly said there had been an early and undue focus on Mr Mallard as a suspect in Mrs Lawrence's murder. But Mr Gormly said it would have been difficult and unlikely the police would have found Simon Rochford, the man who some say was the likely killer. "The only piece of evidence the offender (Rochford) left at the scene was a partial palm print," Mr Gormly said. Mr Gormly said if the murder had remained unsolved the palm print would have been entered into a data base which may have led police to him. Mr Rochford committed suicide in a WA jail after the print was found last year when the case was reviewed.

Mr Shervill, who headed the police investigation into the murder, had failed to disclose statements and test results to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Gormly said. Mr Gormly will soon begin outlining his recommendations to Assistant Commissioner Dave Caporn.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More on the Utah Taser incident

Most reaction to the tasering of Jared Massey by Utah Highway Patrol Officer John Gardner has been, quite rightly, supportive of Massey. Not just in the United States, but around the world, sensible people realize that Gardner was out of control, and that the officer responded with force to a situation that should have been engaged by conversation, or (if the officer has extremely poor control of his temper) by his leaving the speeding ticket with Massey and just driving away. It's worth pointing out that, only now, with the video of the incident available on the Internet, is UHP taking Massey's complaint seriously and scrambling to investigate the incident.

But a strident minority of voices defend Gardner and insist that Massey had an obligation to tug his forelock and obey every order issued by Gardner, and that his failure to do so justified Gardner's use of force in the incident.

This is ridiculous. At no time did Massey become aggressive toward Gardner. At no time did Massey pose a danger to police or the public. Massey did nothing more threatening than question the grounds for issuing a speeding ticket. Gardner may not like being questioned, but his pride simply doesn't enter into it. If he didn't want to continue discussing the matter with Massey, Gardner could have simply left the already-issued ticket with the driver -- signed or not -- and driven off.

There's no obligation on the part of any person to refrain from questioning police officers about their actions. Let's remember the principles laid down by Sir Robert Peel when he established the modern policing profession. Principle seven states:
7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Remember that: police are only members of the public working full time to keep the peace. None of us -- with or without a badge -- have a right to assault people, even lawbreakers, simply because they vex us with questions or treat us without the respect we believe is our due. That's right, Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern police departments, never intended for police to have special rights to use force in circumstances where it would be inappropriate for the average person to throw a punch or draw a weapon.

If nobody has the right to use force against a man who does nothing more than ask questions and decline to sign a ticket, that raises some interesting thoughts about the Massey incident. Most importantly, it means that Mrs. Massey would have been completely within her rights to respond to Gardner's assault on her husband with whatever force was necessary to disarm or disable the officer and rescue Jared Massey. Under the circumstances, with her husband lying bleeding and stunned by the side of a highway because of the actions of an armed and aggressive man, the pregnant woman might well have been fully within her rights to draw a gun and shoot Officer Gardner.

It's fortunate that didn't happen. A living and intact John Gardner may yet have time to atone for his error and become fit company for the decent members of the human race. More important though, in a world that has become accustomed to treating police officers as a specially entitled aristocracy, the Masseys would have had a difficult time explaining their act of self-defense to a legal system that protects its own. Defensive force would have been justified, but it would have landed the Masseys in a world of hurt.

So it's good to know that Jared Massey has the opportunity to bypass official channels and take his case to the public. Embarrassed and under siege, UHP and Officer Gardner now have to explain a violent assault on a peaceful man.

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Atlanta sued in police killing of 92-year-old

Woman's relatives act after two officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter

The family of a 92-year-old woman fatally shot during a botched drug raid has filed a lawsuit against the city and police on the first anniversary of the killing. The State Court lawsuit was filed Wednesday by a niece of Kathryn Johnston, accusing them of racketeering, civil rights violations, assault, false imprisonment and negligence. The suit targets the city, Police Chief Richard Pennington and five current and former police officers. The family is seeking unspecified damages.

Hezekiah Sistrunk Jr., an attorney for the niece, Sarah Dozier, said they had attempted to talk to the city about a settlement. "That has been unsuccessful. That is why we are here today," he said at a news conference.

Plainclothes narcotics officers burst into Johnston's home Nov. 21, 2006, using a no-knock warrant. Johnston was killed during the raid in a hail of nearly 40 police gunshots. Prosecutors said the officers obtained the warrant by falsely telling a judge that an informant confirmed drug dealing at the home. The informant later told federal investigators he was told by police to concoct the tale.

Prosecutors also said that one of the police officers planted three bags of marijuana in Johnston's home as part of a cover-up after no drugs were found. The suit accuses officers who raided the home of violating Johnston's constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and the use of unreasonable and excessive deadly force. It cites witness tampering in its racketeering accusation.

Prosecutors charged three officers involved in the raid. Two of the officers, Jason R. Smith and Gregg Junnier, pleaded guilty to state manslaughter and federal civil rights charges. They have left the police force. A judge Tuesday ordered the two to turn themselves in by Dec. 3. No sentencing date has been set. A third officer, Arthur Tesler, who is on administrative leave, faces charges of violating the oath of a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process. His attorney has said Tesler expects to go to trial. All three are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

"I am thankful my aunt's innocence has been proven," Dozier said in a statement read to reporters. "I am also deeply saddened that the city of Atlanta has refused to admit responsibility for unconstitutional practices." Dozier was not present at the news conference.

Beverly Isom, a spokeswoman for Mayor Shirley Franklin, declined to comment on the suit, referring calls to an attorney for the city. The attorney, Jerry De Loach, declined to comment, saying the city had yet to be served with the lawsuit and wanted to review it before responding. Officer Ronald Campbell, a spokesman for Atlanta police, said, "We are unable to comment on anything because of the legalities of it."

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Catch 22 in Massachusetts

Looking back on it now, Irene "Renee" Moffatt realizes her biggest mistake was telling the truth. "I probably should've said my (handicap) placard fell on the seat or something," sighed Renee (she pronounces it REE-nee). "Then I bet none of this would have happened, and I wouldn't be talking to you right now."

Renee Moffat, an exceedingly vibrant 72, is almost certainly right about that. Problem is, she told the Weymouth parking Nazis the truth. And that was her downfall.
Not once, but twice she appealed her $100 ticket for parking in a handicapped space before the Weymouth parking board. On both occasions, Renee explained how she'd been late for a prescribed physical therapy appointment at the Weymouth Health Club and, as she was hobbling into the club, she forgot to pull her driver's visor all the way down, so as to fully display her handicapped placard.

The Weymouth parking Nazis said "Nein" twice. "I found them to be a very snippy and arrogant bunch," Renee said. "When I told them that my placard was in the visor, all they said was, `Well, you can't expect a police officer to go looking for it.'

"I wouldn't mind, but the parking lot for the health club happens to be in an office park. And it was after six in the evening. It wasn't as if I was holding up traffic or anything. And there were 20 other handicapped spaces."

In search of some justice, if not common sense, Renee decided to take her case to court - Norfolk Superior to be precise. "The girl in the clerk's office was very, very nice," Renee said. "She thought I had a pretty good case, too. Then, she hit me with the punch line. If I wanted to go ahead and appeal my $100 parking ticket, the girl in the clerk's office said the court would charge me $275 to file the appeal. "And ma'am, one more thing I have to tell you," she says to me, "even if you win, you won't get the $275 back."

"I couldn't believe it," Renee said.

Thank you, Mitt Romney, Jane Swift and Argeo Paul Cellucci, it was under this trio of Republican "tax-cutters" that all our state fees ballooned into nuttiness. So, court clerks can tell you with a straight face that fighting a $100 parking ticket will cost you at least $275.

Last August, the state Inspector General's Office, which pretty much fell asleep at the switch with the Big Dig, summoned the wherewithal to crack down on perfectly healthy people who were using handicap placards they'd inherited from dead relatives. But you should know that Renee Moffatt qualified for hers, thanks to a benign tumor that placed excruciating pressure on her foot. In advance of surgery, her doctor sent her to Bay State Physical Therapy, which happens to operate out of the Weymouth Health Club.

"When something like this happened once before," Renee said, "I showed the police officer my handicapped tag and he just discarded the ticket." But Renee was to learn that the Weymouth parking board, which ironically held its inquisitions in a senior citizen center, needed to justify its existence.

"My second parking board hearing was held after I had my surgery," Renee recalled. "I walked in there with crutches and a big plastic boot. I figured maybe this time I'll get some sympathy. But nothing doing. They just kept saying my placard wasn't clearly visible and hanging off my rearview mirror. Never mind that it was there sticking out of the visor, if the cop had bothered to look for it.

"I had my handicapped placard," Renee Moffatt said, "and I believe with all my heart that I didn't do anything wrong. But being forced to pay more than two and a half times as much as the parking ticket just to prove my point," she sighed. "Well, it just seemed like I couldn't win, no matter what.

"So, finally, I just sent the ticket in and said, `To hell with it, you win.!' "

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Property right wrongly taken

The story is so absurd, so unfair, so ludicrous, I had a difficult time believing that it could actually happen - even in Boulder. It's about a couple named Don and Susie Kirlin. They moved to the city in 1980. A few years later, the Kirlins purchased a plot of land near their residence, hoping to someday build a "dream home." "We took advantage of the market in the early '80s," says Susie Kirlin, almost apologetic for making a smart investment. Children interfered slightly with the master plan - three of them in the next few years - postponing any development of the property. As the children began to make their own way in life, the couple decided it was time to finally develop the property in late 2006. By then, it was too late.

Despite owning the land, despite living only 200 yards from the property, despite hiking past it every week with their three dogs, despite spraying for weeds and fixing fences, despite paying homeowner association dues and property taxes each year, someone else had taken a shine to it. Someone powerful. Former Boulder District Judge, Boulder Mayor, RTD board member - among other elected positions - Richard McLean and his wife, attorney Edith Stevens, used an arcane common law called "adverse possession" to claim the land for their own. All McLean needed was to develop an "attachment" to it. Undoubtedly, his city connections couldn't have hurt, either.

In the court papers, McLean and his family admit to regularly trespassing on the Kirlins' property. They created paths. They said they put on a political fundraiser and parties on it (though not a single photograph of these events surfaced in court documents). This habit of trespassing developed into an affection.

If we take McLean at his word, he should have been treated appropriately: like a common criminal. Instead, the former judge demanded a chunk of the land for himself - and implausibly he got it.

How did the Kirlins learn this travesty was afoot? Susie Kirlin was warned about it at a Boulder High School football game. Be cautious, her neighbor warned, someone has designs on your property. "I laughed when I first heard it. I really didn't know that anyone had an emotional attachment to our land," Kirlin tells me. "I was quite surprised. I was even more surprised that someone could claim our land. But my neighbor told me this was a well- connected person and I should take it seriously."

When the couple began building a fence on the land - which is within Boulder city limits, not out in the wilderness - McLean was able, according to the Kirlins, to obtain a restraining order in an exceptionally speedy 2 1/2 hours. Boulder District Judge Morris Sandstead, who served with McLean, issued the restraining order quite swiftly. Serendipity, I guess.

All of this adds up to District Judge James Klein ordering the Kirlins to sign over about 34 percent of their 4,750-square-foot lot to McLean and his wife last month. "Now the lot is just about worthless," explains Don Kirlin. "We estimate the land was worth about $800,000 to a million dollars. Now, we can't build anything on it." Surely, that was the goal.

To add insult, the case, which the Kirlins are appealing, has cost the family over $100,000 in legal fees. Property rights, one of the foundational ideas of this nation, mean less and less these days. Abusive eminent domain cases are popping up all over the county. This, a bit different, is probably one of the most absurd cases I've heard.

Boulder has a reputation of being a, um, quirky town. Some of this is indisputably deserved. Judging from the angry reaction up there, however, most citizens are outraged. And that is certainly heartening. Attempts to reach McLean were unsuccessful. His lawyer declined comment. McLean's legacy, we can only hope, is sullied for good. But what lesson can we all learn from this episode? Easy. If you fancy some undeveloped property - and have no scruples - keep walking on it until you create a path. Have a party. Eventually, the land can be yours.

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Australia: Teen bomber evades jail

A TERRIFIED Brisbane family spent $60,000 to flee interstate after seven bombs were thrown at their home in what was yesterday described as an "act of terror". The Brisbane District Court heard Allan Hokit Cheung, 19, of Runcorn, in Brisbane's outer southeast, manufactured homemade chlorine bombs and then threw them at the family homes of two teenagers during an early morning act of revenge.

Coincidentally, neither boys were home at the time of the "sustained" attacks on August 19, 2006, but their frightened families, including a toddler, were woken by the blasts about 2am at houses in Sunnybank Hills and nearby Runcorn.
Seven of the improvised pressure devices were thrown at the Sunnybank Hills house, while two were lobbed at the second address.

Judge Michael Shanahan sentenced Cheung, who pleaded guilty to one count each of wilful damage of an inhabited dwelling and wilful deposition of explosives, to 12 months' imprisonment to be served as an Intensive Corrections Order - or jail in the community. "It was not a prank, it was an act of terror on innocent people for some perceived slight and the only thing stopping you going to jail is your age," Judge Shanahan said.

Speaking outside court an emotional Pam Hall, who sold her Sunnybank Hills home following the attack and moved her family to Western Australia, said the sentence was a "joke".

The court heard the move had sent the Halls $60,000 in debt. Mrs Hall and husband Kevin have since returned to Queensland but her son Jacob, 17, still resides interstate. "We were hoping today for some justice. Society is telling these people it is OK to do these things because they only get a slap on the wrist," she said. "He can go home to his family and him and his mates will have a good old laugh."

Jacob was targeted by Cheung after he attempted to break up a schoolyard fight involving Cheung's younger brother, the court heard.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cops are such funny people. A real laugh riot

Cops are funny people -- a real laugh riot. They should be given their own comedy series they are so funny. Police officer Joseph Vega, of the Tinley Park police force, dropped in to order some pizza at Guardi's Pizza. The owner, Alexanader Mendez and his wife, were working the counter. Officer Vega ordered the pizza and Mendez went to the cooler to get it and prepare it.

While he was gone Office Vega asked Mrs. Mendez if she wanted to see him scare her husband. She told him she wasn't interested. But this jokester had a hilarious prank up his sleeve and couldn't wait to show it off.

He pulled out his Taser weapon and pointed it toward Mendez as he was coming out of the cooler. And then for a really funny punchline he pulled the trigger. Wait! It gets even funnier.

Mr. Mendez was hit in the head and the shoulder by the barbs and, of course, shocked by the electric charge. I hope you are sitting down because this prank will have you in stitches -- no doubt it had Mr. Mendez in stitches. After he was hit Mendez falls to the ground and goes into convulsions that causes him to bite off part of his tonque. Now isn't that a slide splitter?

Vega rushes over and pulls out the barbs which causes profuse bleeding. And he calls the local cops to come and provide assistance. They get there and grab the bloody towels, they take Mr. Mendez's glasses which were covered in blood. And they confiscate the restaurants surveillance camera which recorded the entire event.

As funny as that is you should hear the cop's version of the events. According to them the officer didn't stop in to order a pizza he was conduct "a routine check on the business" -- the thoughtful man. And he just happened to notice that his Taser had its safety deactivated. And being a diligent, fine, upstanding servant of the people he took it out in order to put the safety back on since we all know cops are so very reluctant to Taser people. And for some unknown reason the Taser just shot off and hit poor Mr. Mendez entirely accidentally since we are dealing with a diligent, concerned police officer with nothing more than the safety of the public his main concern.

The Tinley Park police department immediately announced that the Taser was obviously defective since defective cops are so very rare. So they sent all their Tasers backs to the factory to be diligently checked. All of them, including the one that shot Mr. Mendez were sent back and certified to be in perfect working order.

The local town officials refuse to speak about the matter on advise of their attorneys. A law suit has been filed against the city by the poor man and his wife.

Speaking of fine, upstanding servants of the people do you remember the story we did about the ticket trap of St. George, Missouri. It was here that office Sgt. James Kuehnlein walked up to a parked car and started threatening the young drive. The officer told him that he could invent charges against the man and have him arrested. He went ballistic acting in what can only be described as a unprofessional manner, if you like understatment. He was unhinged.

Well, the rot in St. George seems rather pervasive. We next discovered that the police chief, Scott Uhrig, was a sexual predator who used his previous job as a police officer in another town to try and force a teenaged girl into having sex with him. He was disciplined for this by the state but that was no barrier to getting hired in St. George.

Of course the top of the chain of command was the mayor, Harold Goodman. Mr. Goodman was arrested for having pot. He said it was for medicinal purposes. The pot was found while police were searching the mayor's home. At the time they wouldn't say why. Apparently the reason for the raid was that the good mayor was somehow involved with child pornography and he was later arrested on those charges as well.

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Brainless female judge causes double murder

No doubt she thought she was being "compassionate"

The father of a Washington woman slaughtered along with her new husband - allegedly at the hands of a convicted Bay State killer - said his daughter’s accused murderer never should have been released from prison here. “It’s because of stupidity in Massachusetts that my daughter is dead,” said Darrel Slater, 55, who is preparing to bury his daughter, Beverly Mauck, 28, and her husband Brian Mauck, 30.

The couple was executed in their home in rural Graham, Wash., Saturday after an alleged argument with Daniel Tavares Jr., 41, who in 1991 pleaded guilty to hacking his mother to death with a carving knife in their Somerset home in served 16 years for that crime.

Tavares finished his sentence on June 14, but was immediately re-arrested on a warrant charging him with two counts of assaulting Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center prison guards during his troubled stint behind bars, Department of Correction officials said. Worcester prosecutors requested $50,000 cash bail for each of those charges, an amount approved by Clinton District Court Judge Martha Brennan, according to court documents.

But Tavares appealed the bail and on July 16, Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman released him on personal recognizance. Tavares was freed and fled the state to marry and live in a Washington trailer with Jennifer Lynn Tavares, who met the convict at Walpole after answering an inmate personal ad. He defaulted on a July 23 court date, prosecutors said.

“How does a guy who killed his mother, get charged with more crimes, get out of jail? How can he leave the state?” an angry Slater said last night. “That judge needs to get her head out of her (expletive). My little girl was only 28. She was a newlywed. They just started their lives. This never should have happened,” Slater said.

Reached last night at her Andover home, Tuttman, who was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Mitt Romney, said, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to comment on this.” When informed what the slain woman’s father had said, she repeated, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to comment about this.”

A spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early said prosecutors had wanted to keep Tavares behind bars last summer and argued for high bail because of the brutality of the alleged attacks on correction officers.

Correction officer Michael Kasprzak was allegedly punched in the head as he removed restraints from Tavares in December 2005. Two months later, the con allegedly spat on correction officer Matthew Atter and screeched, “I’m going to kill you (expletive) . . . I’ll break your (expletive) arms off!” according to court records. “Obviously, we tried to keep him incarcerated,” said Worcester DA spokesman Tim Connolly.

Tavares also was disciplined by the DOC for writing a series of bizarre and threatening letters to his father, Daniel Tavares Sr. The elder Tavares complained about the letters to a DOC victim advocate, but they did not stop, he told the Herald yesterday.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Trigger-happy cop tasers driver

INVESTIGATIONS into a US state trooper who tasered a motorist for refusing to sign a speeding ticket have widened after a video of the incident was posted on YouTube. The Utah Highway Patrol said the video, taken from Trooper John Gardner's parol car, showed him tasering Jared Massey when he started walking away after refusing to sign the ticket, Associated Press reported. The video was posted on YouTube after it was released to Mr Massey under a public records request.

"We definitely have received a lot of feedback on it - calls and emails," Utah Patrol spokesman Trooper Cameron Roden said. Trooper Roden told Associated Press that he didn't know what was "happening in Trooper Gardner's mind". "We have an internal investigation going on ... with it coming out on YouTube, we have expedited the investigation".

He said signing a speeding ticket was not an admission of guilt. Troopers can use a Taser if someone is a threat to themselves, or others, and other means of control are unreasonable, he said.

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Call to sack Australian jail staff over brutal assault

AT least three prison officers involved in the alleged savage assault of a remand inmate should be sacked, the state watchdog has said. Graphic footage of prison officers allegedly assaulting the inmate was tabled in State Parliament by State Ombudsman George Brouwer today. At least three Melbourne Custody Centre (MCC) staff may be charged over the incident. Victoria Police is investigating what Mr Brouwer described as ``serious mistreatment involving an excessive use of force'' against the prisoner.

Mr Brouwer today took the unusual step of using State Parliament to make public the CCTV footage of the June 13 incident. It shows a seemingly compliant prisoner in the early stages of being strip searched. One MCC staff member lunged at the prisoner and grabbed him around the throat as a second officer helped wrestle him to the ground. Several other officers entered the room seconds later and a female officer allegedly punched the already restrained prisoner. A fellow officer who witnessed the incident was extremely critical of the female officer, who was the partner of one of the two male officers holding the prisoner down. ``She was like a whirlwind,'' the officer said. ``She just flew over the top of the guys and just took over. ``What I saw floored me.'' Another witness said the woman punched or slapped the prisoner in the face and said ``how does that feel'' and ``that's coming from a woman''.

Mr Brouwer's report was also very critical of MCC facilities and its treatment of prisoners. The MCC is run by private contractors, the GEO Group Australia, on behalf of Victoria Police and is in the basement below the Melbourne Magistrates' Court. It is the main reception point for people arrested by police and handles more than 11,000 prisoners a year. Mr Brouwer said unless there were major reforms the custody centre would fail to meet its obligations when Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities comes into effect next year.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Four police face charges over airport Taser death

CANADA'S public safety minister today said four federal police officers face possible criminal charges in the death of a Polish migrant zapped with a stun gun at the Vancouver airport last month. "This is a very serious incident that has taken place, and there are a number of investigations that are going on to get to the bottom of it," Stockwell Day said today.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) "investigation will include the possibility of criminal charges," he said, citing the lead investigator in the case. "If there is culpability to be assessed, it will be done." Robert Dziekanski, 40, died on October 14 after being shocked repeatedly by policemen with a Taser stun gun only 60 seconds after they first approached him at the Vancouver airport in westernmost Canada. A bystander's video released last week showed the four officers then piled on top of the distraught traveller as he lay writhing and screaming in pain on the floor, and within minutes he fell still.

British Columbia province announced a public inquiry into Dziekanski's death. The coroner, the federal police homicide team, Canada's national police complaint's commissioner also launched independent probes of his death. Mr Day said he ordered a review of the use of Tasers in Canada and asked Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to explain how Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish, got through customs, and why he was left alone in a secure area for nearly 10 hours. The CBSA is expected to make its report public by the end of the week, Mr Day told the House of Commons overnight.

Meanwhile, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell publicly apologised yesterday to Dziekanski's mother. "I'm glad to apologise for what took place," said Campbell. "That was something that was devastating to her in more ways than I can even begin to imagine. "I'm glad to apologise on behalf of people in British Columbia for what took place."

Dziekanski had travelled to the Pacific Coast province to live with his mother and start a new life, but a mix-up at the airport forced him to wait for her for almost 10 hours in a secure area, while she waited for him on the other side of a wall in the public arrivals area. According to the family's lawyer, Dziekanski spoke only Polish, and had never before travelled far from his home town of Pieszyce, Poland. Police were called to the Vancouver airport after Dziekanski blocked a security door with chairs and a table, and threw a computer off a counter onto the floor.

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FBI's Forensic Test Full of Holes

Hundreds of defendants sitting in prisons nationwide have been convicted with the help of an FBI forensic tool that was discarded more than two years ago. But the FBI lab has yet to take steps to alert the affected defendants or courts, even as the window for appealing convictions is closing, a joint investigation by The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" has found. The science, known as comparative bullet-lead analysis, was first used after President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. The technique used chemistry to link crime-scene bullets to ones possessed by suspects on the theory that each batch of lead had a unique elemental makeup.

In 2004, however, the nation's most prestigious scientific body concluded that variations in the manufacturing process rendered the FBI's testimony about the science "unreliable and potentially misleading." Specifically, the National Academy of Sciences said that decades of FBI statements to jurors linking a particular bullet to those found in a suspect's gun or cartridge box were so overstated that such testimony should be considered "misleading under federal rules of evidence." A year later, the bureau abandoned the analysis.

But the FBI lab has never gone back to determine how many times its scientists misled jurors. Internal memos show that the bureau's managers were aware by 2004 that testimony had been overstated in a large number of trials. In a smaller number of cases, the experts had made false matches based on a faulty statistical analysis of the elements contained in different lead samples, documents show. "We cannot afford to be misleading to a jury," the lab director wrote to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III in late summer 2005 in a memo outlining why the bureau was abandoning the science. "We plan to discourage prosecutors from using our previous results in future prosecutions."

Despite those private concerns, the bureau told defense lawyers in a general letter dated Sept. 1, 2005, that although it was ending the technique, it "still firmly supports the scientific foundation of bullet lead analysis." And in at least two cases, the bureau has tried to help state prosecutors defend past convictions by using court filings that experts say are still misleading. The government has fought releasing the list of the estimated 2,500 cases over three decades in which it performed the analysis.

For the majority of affected prisoners, the typical two-to-four-year window to appeal their convictions based on new scientific evidence is closing. Dwight E. Adams, the now-retired FBI lab director who ended the technique, said the government has an obligation to release all the case files, to independently review the expert testimony and to alert courts to any errors that could have affected a conviction. "It troubles me that anyone would be in prison for any reason that wasn't justified. And that's why these reviews should be done in order to determine whether or not our testimony led to the conviction of a wrongly accused individual," Adams said in an interview. "I don't believe there's anything that we should be hiding."

The Post and "60 Minutes" identified at least 250 cases nationwide in which bullet-lead analysis was introduced, including more than a dozen in which courts have either reversed convictions or now face questions about whether innocent people were sent to prison. The cases include a North Carolina drug dealer who has developed significant new evidence to bolster his claim of innocence and a Maryland man who was recently granted a new murder trial. Documents show that the FBI's concerns about the science dated to 1991 and came to light only because a former FBI lab scientist began challenging it.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rogue Prosecutors the Rule or the Exception?

Last week by a margin of 53-40 A divided Senate narrowly confirmed former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey as the 81st attorney general of the United States. Mukasey, had outraged many lawmakers and human rights groups by repeatedly refusing to classify waterboarding, a simulated-drowning technique, as torture.

What was not focused on in the hearings or the senate floor debate was the Senators failure to find out what Judge Mukasey intends to do about rogue prosecutors within the Department of Justice he may lead, and how the damage they cause affects public confidence in the department and its mission. While Judge Mukasey’s answer on water boarding may be important to the future of the country and the War on Terror, of at least equal importance is the whether Judge Mukasey would commit to taking strong disciplinary action against overzealous prosecutors by using all the tools at his disposal, including the Office of Professional Responsibility.

A once obscure topic, prosecutorial abuse has gained prominence in the minds of many Americans as a result of the Duke lacrosse case, and the actions of the prosecutor, former-District Attorney Mike Nifong. Nifong, although a local prosecutor, has become the poster boy of prosecutorial abuse on every government level. With a story line that included sex, racial tensions, and gender and income inequality, the Duke case captured the attention of the media and the nation. We now know that Nifong willfully disregarded evidence of the boys' innocence and thanks in large part to enormous public attention and condemnation, he has been rightly stripped of his badge and the keys to his office.

Similar attention is drawn to cases with strong partisan interest like the obstruction of justice case against Vice President Dick Cheney’s aid Scooter Libby and the corruption case against Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson, where public opinion is sharply divided but nevertheless intense. This pressure too provides a safeguard against prosecutors who overreach or simply trample Constitution rights.

While the media and the people act in these cases as the bulwark of liberty our founders envisioned, the same can not be said for less popular cases. As a result, we are moving toward a system where the safeguards provided by the Constitutional rights of the accused are guaranteed only to those deemed by television executives to be ready for prime-time. In cases where the public interest is negligible and of low intensity prosecutors seem to have almost free reign. Examples from the home district of Judge Mukasey, and Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Charles Schumer, prove instructive.

In USA v. Stein, Assistant United States Attorney Stanley Okula of the Southern District of New York (SDNY) was one of the lead prosecutors in a case against executives from accounting giant KPMG. In three cases against members of the Tollman family, he prosecuted cases against a wealthy family living in Britain and Canada. Rather than a made-for-Hollywood plot line, these cases lacked the sympathetic defendants or partisan interests it seems are now needed to have ones Constitutional rights guaranteed. Predictably, there was little noise from the media and public about these cases, despite AUSA Okula being found by to have effectively stripped defendants of their right to counsel, eviscerated attorney client privilege for the defendants, and having brought down a reign of prosecutorial hell on an entire family.

In the KPMG case, the government prosecution was found to have violated the defendant’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. The judge wrote that the prosecutors “used their life and death power over KPMG to coerce its personnel to bend to the government’s wishes” and described the prosecutors actions as “outrageous and shocking”. In the Tollman cases—Okula has gone after the family in Canada, Britain and the United States—judges have been similarly critical, including a British judge describing Okula’s actions as “reprehensible” and a Canadian judge saying “misconduct of this sort cannot ever be tolerated”.

Despite this extraordinarily harsh criticism by three courts in three different countries, the prosecutor endures, ready to once again run roughshod over Constitutional rights in pursuit of his unique and perverted notions of justice.

Some may not find injustices against the wealthy a reason for concern, but they should. It is a Canadian judge in the case of United States v. Tollman who brings the issue into focus, reminding us why. He pointedly asks, “If the system went awry for [Tollman], what hope is there for the weak, the poor and those less powerful? The answer must be in the vigilance of the justice system itself.” That vigilance needs to begin the day the next US Attorney General is sworn in.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

The expert as judge and jury

After a HOST of miscarriages of justice based on discredited expert witnesses, calls are growing for radical reform of their use in British courts

Yet another woman was sent to prison last week, following expert evidence that she had shaken to death a baby in her care. Keran Henderson, a 42-year-old childminder, was said to have killed 11-month-old Maeve Sheppard, by shaking her so violently she was left blind and brain-damaged. The infant died in hospital a few days later. The case has grim echoes of those of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Trupti Patel, all of whom were accused of killing their children only to be found innocent later. Clark, a solicitor, who was released from prison after serving three years, died last March as a result of psychological trauma and alcoholism caused by her ordeal.

At the Court of Appeal, two days after the judgment on Henderson, a retrial was ordered in the case of Barry George, the loner convicted of killing the television personality Jill Dando in 1999 with a single shot to the head. Expert testimony as to the significance of a particle of gunshot matter in his pocket is being challenged.

There has also been the recent conviction of the true killer of schoolgirl Lesley Molseed, 32 years after the event – and after Stefan Kiszko had served 16 years for the sexually motivated killing, even though medical evidence could have pointed out his infertility proved his innocence. Once again the review of the evidence threw a spotlight on the role of expert witnesses, whose testimony is often crucial in criminal cases but can be unreliable.

Our blind faith in scientific opinion makes us reluctant to question pronouncements by “experts”, but while the law requires everyone from plumbers to nurses to be trained, registered and checked, there is no such requirement for witnesses who may be pronouncing on matters of life and death in court. A study by senior barrister Penny Cooper of City University in London, has shown that the majority of lawyers and judges do not bother to check the qualifications of experts they approach to bolster an aspect of their case. She also found a substantial number of the expert witnesses had undergone no training to understand their legal duty.

The disquiet this arouses has led to a clamour for legislation to require expert witnesses to be regulated. But how to do that without calling into question thousands of court decisions will not be an easy task. There is already acute unease over the proliferation of parents convicted of causing cot deaths, shaking babies to death, or harming them by creating symptoms of fictitious illness.

Henderson, for instance, a mother of two herself, a long-term childminder and stalwart volunteer of her local Beaver Scout group, was sentenced to three years in prison for shaking baby Maeve so violently that she was left with fatal brain damage, despite the fact there was no evidence of any “grip marks” on the child, which would normally be expected to accompany such an action. Her husband, a former police officer, has said she will appeal and hopes to create a campaign similar to that run by Sally Clark’s family, to try to prove his wife’s innocence. Many character witnesses spoke up for Henderson in court and the family has dozens of supporters in their home village of Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire.

Some even believe her prosecution was only pursued because of the successful appeal by Roy Meadow, the expert paediatrician whose evidence led to the conviction of Sally Clark. Following the Clark case, in which Meadow quoted a completely erroneous statistic suggesting the chances of Clark’s babies having died naturally were one in 73m, he was struck off by the General Medical Council (GMC) for misconduct. The Court of Appeal agreed he had acted in good faith.

In the meantime, Alan Williams, the Home Office pathologist who conducted post-mortems on Clark’s two infant sons, was less lucky. His appeal against a GMC finding of serious professional misconduct was rejected. Williams was accused of tailoring his diagnoses of the nature of the babies’ deaths to fit the police case against Clark.

The GMC is currently hearing a claim of gross professional misconduct against paediatrician Dr David Southall. The council has received evidence alleging that Southall falsified his curriculum vitae. Southall’s evidence has figured highly in at least 50 criminal cases and possibly hundreds of family court cases held in secret, which have led to children being removed from their parents.

Questions of how frequently babies really are shaken to death, and indeed if it is possible to do so, have divided medical opinion for some years. There have, however, been up to 200 convictions annually for related forms of violence against babies and young children.

After Clark, Cannings and Patel, another bizarre case was overturned. Ian and Angela Gay, who had been convicted of poisoning their three-year-old adopted son with salt, were cleared when it was revealed the boy was suffering from a rare, and fatal, congenital abnormality.

Recently, the attorney-general ordered a review of almost 300 criminal convictions and 30,000 family court proceedings where children were taken into care. Only four were referred to the Court of Appeal. This, according to critics, was a function of the way the review was done, with authorities being asked to review their own decisions.

Social workers say the crusade to root out dangerous adults is to some extent a reaction to a previous era of regular criticism of their profession when children were left to die at the hands of their parents. Although some acknowledge the pendulum may now have swung too far, others are furious: “Do people think we spend all our time trying to break up families for no good reason?” said John Coughlan, a joint-president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. “In comparison with the volume of cases, the number of errors is tiny. We never rely on expert witnesses alone.”

Others argue that the opinion of expert witnesses is often the decisive factor. And as we have seen most recently with Barry George, it is not just child murder cases that have turned on such evidence.

Last year the Home Office took the unprecedented step of holding a disciplinary tribunal against Michael Heath, one of its most senior forensic pathologists: 20 charges against him were upheld. One man was subsequently cleared of murder, and numerous other convictions have been called into question.

A spate of other convictions came from evidence supplied by Paula Lannas, another Home Office forensic specialist who was the subject of a long-delayed disciplinary hearing that collapsed because those investigating her said they had a conflict of interest. Not only has Lannas been deprived of an opportunity to clear her name, but dozens of prisoners who claim they were victims of her errors have been unable to get the evidence reviewed.

Police forensic scientist Peter Ablett, who is now chief executive of the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners, points out there are only three ways to prove a crime: a reliable eyewitness, a confession, or forensics. The advent of DNA technology and other advances in recent years has brought increasing reliance on forensics, yet only about 3,000 of the estimated 8,000 expert witnesses operating are members of the council and signed up to its code of practice. He said many of those who are not are unaware that their duty is to give impartial evidence to the court, not to bolster the case of their paymaster.

City University’s Cooper, who is also a governor of the Expert Witness Institute, was concerned to discover during her research that not only have one in five experts undergone no training to understand this duty, but one in 10 was so arrogant they said they saw no need for it. “There should be a requirement for them to be trained, and there should be rules requiring judges and lawyers to consider their credentials before accepting them as expert witnesses,” she said.

Such a provision cannot come soon enough. A review is still going on of 700 cases in which bogus forensic scientist Gene Morrison gave evidence. Morrison, 48, from Manchester who was sentenced to five years for fraud in February, admitted he pretended to be an expert witness and bought his qualifications on the internet because it “seemed easier” than getting real ones.

For many of the genuinely qualified experts, legal work isa lucrative sideline, and if they are perceived to be able to “tailor” their evidence convincingly, the commissions keep flowing in. John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP campaigning about the misuse of medical evidence, says fees for a basic written opinion, based on reading through existing files, start at 4,000 pounds. If the expert concludes there is a case to answer, they attract court attendance fees as well.

“I have known experts get as much as 28,000 for one report,” said Hemming, who is lobbying for experts to be required to produce the scientific publications on which their opinion is based: “Unless we start using evidence-based evidence in court, we will get nowhere.”

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Britain: No jail time for evil bitch

The worst day of Paul Haslam’s life began at 3.30am with a loud knock on the door from the police. They told him he was being arrested on suspicion of rape, and took him to Charles Cross police station in Plymouth. There, he was questioned about what had happened the previous evening, when he had spent the night with a girl he had known for only a short time. He knew he had done nothing wrong, but he did not know how he could prove it. Later that day Mr Haslam was released without charge. Three weeks later he received a letter telling him that no further action was being taken. By then he had lost his job and had to tell his family about the arrest.

Mr Haslam, 30, had hardly thought about that day nine years ago until he read in his local newspaper this week that the woman who made the false allegation against him had since done the same thing to seven other men. Gemma Gregory left a trail of disrupted lives across the city of Plymouth. A judge gave her a 12-month suspended jail sentence for perjury for her latest false accusation and ordered her to undergo psychiatric treatment.

Mr Haslam, then aged 21, had moved to Devon from his home town of Bolton when he encountered Gregory, then in her late teens. He was working as a care assistant in the nursing home where a relative of hers was being looked after. When his employer found out that he had been arrested, he lost his job. The news also ruined a holiday in Florida for his aunt and uncle. Mr Haslam, now the father of three young boys, said: “If it hadn’t been for two other people in the house who knew nothing untoward had happened, I could have gone to prison for a crime I didn’t commit. The thought makes my blood run cold.”

Gregory’s latest victim had no idea that she had a history of claiming rape when he was asked to attend the same police station in September last year. The man had had a relationship with Gregory but ended it because of her heavy drinking. The couple met on a few occasions later on, and one night he stayed at her flat. The next evening, Gregory claimed to police that she had been raped. She was given a medical examination and repeated the claim in a video interview.

The man was saved from a possible charge because of “intimate” text messages sent by Gregory. Detective Constable Paul Weymouth, of Plymouth CID, said: “We have a log of 512 telephone calls from or about her. She wanted to see him in prison.” Detective Constable Weymouth said some other men accused had to have penile swabs, and their genetic fingerprints were put on the national police database.

The danger of Gregory’s lies is that they may deter women who have been genuinely attacked from coming forward. Detective Constable Weymouth said: “It is about encouraging real victims to come forward, while reminding people who are thinking of making a false allegation to think again.”

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There will be no justice at all unless these Canadian cops get a very long prison sentence

ABOUT 650 people attended the funeral today of a Polish man who died at Vancouver airport after police stunned him with a Taser, a disturbing incident that was videotaped by a bystander and shown around the world. "We were quite surprised. People came from everywhere," said Kamloops Funeral Home employee Lawrence Schrader. The funeral home and Zofia Cisowski, the mother of the 40-year-old victim, Robert Dziekanski, had planned for 100 mourners, he said. "We also got emails from as far away as Hawaii from people expressing condolences," Schrader added. Another 1000 Canadians attended vigils around the country for Dziekanski, including one at Vancouver airport, where he died on October 14.

The Polish immigrant's death at the hands of four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and especially its video first broadcast on Thursday, has shocked Canadians and prompted Poland to ask Ottawa for an explanation. The video shows Dziekanski appearing distraught and frightened after waiting hours for his mother at the airport. At one point he takes a computer off a desk and throws it to the ground, as security guards look on remarking that he did not speak English.

Then four RCMP officers walk toward Dziekanski, surround him and, as he turns away raising his hands, close in on him stunning him repeatedly with a Taser device before piling on top of him pinning him to the floor. Within minutes he falls still.

His family's lawyer said Dziekanski spoke only Polish, and had never before wandered far from his hometown Pieszyce, Poland where he was a construction worker. He came here to live with his mother. Due to a mix-up at the airport, he had waited for his mother for almost 10 hours in a secure customs area, while she waited for him in the arrivals area on the other side of a wall.

After unsuccessfully asking airport and immigration staff for help finding out if her son had arrived, she left, and nobody at the airport seemed to have noticed Dziekanski waiting for hours in the secure area.

Schrader said people responded to the way he died. "I was touched because here's his mother, who worked for seven years at two jobs to help pay to get him over here, then he comes over here, and that's the reception he gets. It's horrible. It's the opposite of what our country is supposed to be," he said. Schrader said Dziekanski's body has been cremated, and his mother plans to return with his ashes to Poland for burial.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Useless British insurance policies

Insurance policies are designed by lawyers with one thing in mind - to boost the odds in favour of the insurance company so you stand as little chance as possible of having your claim paid.

The lawyers do this by hiding "get-out" clauses, otherwise called policy exclusions, in the small print of the insurance contract. Sometimes, insurers will take pity and pay a claim, despite being legally entitled to deny it. However, this is not always the case. Reading the small print of your policy or enlisting the services of an insurance broker when buying a policy is the only way to stay a step ahead of the lawyers. Here, Times Money has compiled 25 of the more outrageous insurance exclusions to watch out for.

1. Ever thought of cricket as a "hazardous activity"? It is more than likely your travel insurer does. Most policies classify cricket as a dangerous activity and, as such, if you are injured whilst indulging in a few overs on your next holiday, you could learn the hard way that your medical bills aren't covered.

2. The great get-out clause in almost all insurance policies is alcohol. Few people realise that if you have consumed alcohol, your insurance company can void your claim whether it be for theft, damage or personal injury. Worse still, policies do not specify the the amount of alcohol that must be consumed and you could find yourself out of pocket after just one drink.

3. Fantasising about galloping through the mountains on horseback on your next overseas holiday? Unless you have made sure your policy allows for it, don't. Horse riding is another so-called "dangerous activity" as far as most insurers are concerned.

4. Insurance cover for delayed baggage is a useful feature of many travel insurance policies. However, few travellers realise that insurers tend to only compensate for baggage that is delayed on the way to the holiday destination. It may seem infuriating but if your bags disappear on an internal flight or on the way home they can't be claimed for.

5. Storm damage is one act of god that insurers will pay for - but don't expect compensation to extend to fences, gates, and hedges. Essentially, anything that is not nailed down - or considered part of the building - is excluded from cover.

6. Forget bicycle insurance if you haven't locked your pedals. Insurers demand "reasonable care" is taken before they will make a payment for stolen bicycles and non-motorised scooters. This means locking the bike - ensuring it is attached to something permanent - or storing it somewhere safe, such as inside a locked home or garage. The rule counts when claiming against a household insurance policy.

7. Don't bother asking your household insurance to pay for damage to your favourite dress damaged in the wash or by a dry cleaner. Damage caused during the cleaning process is generally excluded under home and contents insurance policies. This also applies to furniture restoration and upholstery. One broker's advice was to try suing the dry cleaner instead.

8. When working from home, be aware that your standard household policy may not cover you for theft or accidents which occur there. If setting up a cottage industry from your garage, make sure you talk to your insurer or broker as it is likely you will need an extension to your household policy.

9. Some insurers may refuse to pay out if you have filled your car with the wrong type of fuel. It may sound odd, but insurers consider so-called misfuelling to be a form of "reckless" behaviour when it comes to car damage. Steve Foulsham, of the British Insurance Broker's Association (BIBA) says drivers who quickly park their car and phone their insurer or breakdown company rather than driving off have a better chance of receiving compensation.

10. Most drivers know they must notify their insurer when they have an accident. But did you know that if you are a named driver on another person's policy, the policyholder needs to also notify their insurer when you have an accident? This applies even if the named drive has an accident in another car. Central claims databases record all claims, and insurers can refuse to pay a claim if one of the named drivers on the policy fails to notify the insurer after an accident.

11. When travel insurance policies ask about pre-existing medical conditions most people tend to think of serious and life-threatening illnesses such as heart attacks or strokes. But take a closer look at the insurance policy small print and you will see that most policies fail to define what is a pre-existing medical condition. In fact, if you have ever been diagnosed with high-blood pressure, or have undertaken major surgery you must tell the insurer or risk voiding your policy.

12. Do you know what kind of window and door locks you have at your home? Take a closer look. Most home insurance polices have a clause to say that you should have window and door locks approved by the British Standards Institute (BSI). Many people unfortunate enough to be burgled have subsequently learned their locks are not to standard and they are ineligible to claim.

13. Many people assume their iPod, wallet and designer sunglasses are covered by insurance when they're out and about. But take a closer look at your policy. It is usually the case that valuables outside the home require a personal possessions extension in order to be covered by regular home and contents insurance policies.

14. Most insurers impose a limit on the value of collections they will insure under regular home and contents insurance. For example, valuable stamp collections can be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and are likely to need separate insurance. One insurer recalls an unsuccessful claim under household contents insurance for the theft of a miniature whisky bottle collection, some of which were valued at o5000 each, that was not separately insured.

15. Insurers will reimburse for the cost of one lost earring, but will not replace the pair. This is because most policies contain a pairs and sets clause which means you are only entitled to replace lost and damaged item and not its pair or set. A more annoying example of this encountered by flood victims occurs where insurance companies agree to compensate for a bottom drawer which has been damaged by water, but then quibble over replacing the entire set.

16. Planning to go away for more than 30 days? Your home and contents insurance may not be valid. Check your policy to make sure you are covered when your home is unoccupied for long periods.

17. Dogs may be man's best friend but they are given short shrift by insurers. Damage caused by pets is excluded under normal home and contents insurance. According to brokers, insurers receive an astounding number of claims relating to hamsters chewing up the carpet.

18. The Y2K threat may be well and truly over now that we are seven years into the new millennium but the insurance companies aren't taking any chances. Date related breakdown - formerly termed the "millennium clause" - remains an exclusion for the cover of electronic equipment including computer hardware and software. But this is not merely an antiquated precaution. Apparently the threat of data related breakdown remains real thanks to palindromic dates (such as 21/11/12) while the year 2010 may yet pose a problem.

19. Insurers usually refuse to cover the theft of vehicle if you have been careless enough to lock your keys in the car.

20. Those who prefer to travel light may find it tempting to store valuables such as cameras in the cargo hold with the bulk of their luggage. But be warned - travel policies may refuse to pay for theft or damage to valuables not kept with you. Be warned: this also applies where valuables are left in a car on a cross Channel ferry.

21. It can be enormously expensive to fix but damage to your home caused by insects and vermin, for example, termites, is historically excluded from buildings insurance.

22. Fancy a sojourn in the Middle East? Thinking of trekking in Afghanistan? Don't expect your travel insurance policy to cover you if war breaks out. Insurers generally steer clear of covering war and terrorism.

23. Insurers will only pay for the cost of removing fallen trees according to home insurance policies if property is damaged when the tree falls.

24. Damage caused to a home after a boisterous party generally won't be reimbursed by your insurer. The same applies to items that are stolen from your home during the party. As a rule of thumb, insurers refuse to pay out if you have had any control whatsoever over the events which lead to the claim.

25. Payment protection is arguably the most exclusion-riddled of all forms of insurance. PPI, which is sold with loans, credit cards and mortgages, covers repayments if people are unable to work due to an accident, illness, or termination of employment. However, most PPI policies do not pay out for the first 30 days. Conditions such as stress and back pain tend not to be included while the self-employed, students and housewives are also not usually covered. The deliberate sale of PPI policies to those unable to claim for them has been the source of outrage from consumer groups due to the wide range of exclusions, and has been the subject of investigation by the Financial Services Authority and the Competition Commission that has resulted in companies being fined for inappropriate selling.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Cop Talk: What happens when the boys in blue get too close to their keyboards

"I crushed a dude's eye socket from repeatedly punching him in it and then I charged him with menacing and harassment (of me)."

"Seeing someone get Tasered is second only to pulling the trigger. That is money-puts a smile on your face."

Those are two of the statements posted by corrections deputy David B. Thompson of Multnomah County, Oregon to an Internet chat room. The inflammatory rhetoric sparked an ongoing investigation by the county sheriff's office, as well as reporting by the Portland Tribune and other local news outlets. Thompson may also have filed a false police report to hide the eye-socket incident he brags about in his post. Although the sheriff's department can't comment on the investigation while it's still underway, he could be fired and prosecuted if he's found guilty.

Many police departments across the country have experienced similar bulletin board crises over the last few years, putting police officers' freedom of speech in conflict with the public's need to be protected from, well, cops who get off on using Tasers.

This March, the New York Observer reported that commenters on the "NYPD Rant" site were posting pictures of local bicycle activists from the group Transportation Alternatives with comments like, "These lawbreaking cycle pirates must be stopped!!" and "Someone please hammer these 2 turds this weekend" (at a Critical Mass event).

In June, St. George, MO resident Brett Darrow incurred online cop hostility when he posted a video of a disputed traffic stop. According to, one poster at St. Louis CopTalk wrote, "I'm going to his house to check for parking violations." Another, using the pseudonym "STL_finest," went further: "I hope this little POS punk bastard tries his little video stunt with me when I pull him over alone-and I WILL pull him over-because I will see 'his gun' and place a hunk of hot lead right where it belongs."

Those posts were deleted, and discussion of Darrow has been banned from the boards. But these online threats have been accompanied by face-to-face death and arrest threats made at Darrow, including a second videotaped encounter with an officer who screamed at Darrow in a parking lot.

In September, a Columbus, OH officer resigned after the Columbus Dispatch revealed that she and her sister had posted videos on YouTube blaming Jews, blacks, and immigrants for the country's problems. Susan L. Purtee was neither on duty nor in uniform when she said Jews "started to tell us-the gentiles-how to live, because if we did, they'd make a lot of money" and black people use "mangled English, dirty and filthy"; but neither was she entirely anonymous, since the sisters' website revealed that she was a law-enforcement officer. Purtee was reassigned to a desk job, and then resigned.

Unsurprisingly, many of these conflicts have a racial component. In 2006, the Montgomery County, MD police chief got into a highly-publicized battle with the county's branch of the Fraternal Order of Police over postings on the police union's online forums. Some pseudonymous postings referred to Hispanic immigrants as "beaners," insulted another officer and threatened her husband-posting the officer's name, badge number, and station, and, in one case, threatening to attack her husband if he "scream[ed] profiling" after a traffic stop. The county responded by blocking access to the forums from county-owned computers.

"It was basically perceived as an attack from outside," says Walte Bader, who was the Montgomery County FOP president during the controversy. Bader adds that the union was working on civility rules for the forum when the controversy went public, but "when the government, the police department, tried to interfere we saw that as a totally different matter of government interference with First Amendment rights. We would not shut that website down on the basis of [the government] calling for it or the Washington Post calling for it."

Bader has a point. "Courts have said that there are limits on what public employees can say because of the nature of their responsibilities. You could say that the government has more leeway to clamp down on the speech of employees to the extent that it's inconsistent with their duties," explains Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group and a specialist on Internet speech and anonymity. But Levy notes that the Internet offers ways to "separate the position from the identity of the person" in a way that may allow government employees more room to rant.

Levy suggests that the Internet, with its possibilities of total anonymity, is an especially valuable free-speech forum: "People ought to be able to blow off steam. It's the marketplace of ideas-people ought to get it out there."

John Gilmore's classic line about the Internet is that it "interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it." The Montgomery County FOP boards, for example, were shut down during the comments controversy, but a number of other boards maintained by individual cops sprung up to take their place.

Levy adds that the specifics of each case matter a lot: Personal threats can be treated differently from more general ugly comments. "Is it a true threat?" he asks. "The courts distinguish between vague 'this is outrageous, people ought to be up in arms' and 'watch out, I know where you live, this is your address, I'm coming to get you.' There's a continuum."

Levy argues, "If police officers are having these awful thoughts, it's nice to know about it so we can do something about it administratively." He has a list of questions to ask about incidents like these: "Are there morale problems here that need to be addressed? Are there community problems that need to be addressed? Simply by their intemperate speech, they reveal the existence of a problem."

Mary Shelton, the Californian proprietor of the weblog "Five Before Midnight", took a different view after she found herself targeted. In 2005 and 2006, the local activist (she started her blog to monitor how the police department would respond to the end of a court-ordered reform plan) got a spate of threatening and racist blog comments from people claiming to be police officers. "I felt really intimidated," Shelton says. "It makes you look at them differently-is it this police officer, that police officer? ...I think that's one of the most difficult things of all, that you can't put a face on it." The threats escalated: Shelton recalls that one poster gave details of what she was wearing and what she was doing during the day. Finally, a comment-"The reason [cops] beat up the Mexicans is because it's a fiesta, you beat them and candy comes out"-led her to close comments.

Shelton doesn't know exactly what happened after the department investigated the threats. "The official word was discipline was given out," she says, but California confidentiality laws prevented her from learning more.

She acknowledges that the department's investigation raises free speech concerns: "That's a hard one for me, too." But she argues, "They have to operate under the understanding that they have rules to follow. They're police officers. They have a lot of authority. They have arresting power. They have this expectation that when they speak they will be truthful, because they have to testify in court. And they have to deal with different parts of the community."

Shelton is left wondering. "If they're going around saying these statements anywhere, how do you know that's where it's being left, and it's not impacting their job performance? They have a lot of privileges and rights that come with their position, and there are responsibilities that come with that as well."

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Nice to be famous

One law for all? It seems not. Lindsay Lohan serves only 84 minutes jail time

LINDSAY Lohan has turned herself in to prison custody to serve jail time stemming from her August conviction for two DUIs, the New York Post has reported. An insider at the LA sheriff's department told the Post that Lohan walked into the Lynwood correctional facility at 10.30 am (5.30am AEST) accompanied by her attorney, Blair Burke.

Lohan was sentenced to at least 24 hours in prison, but she didn't even make it to a cell. She was kept in a holding area and released less than an hour and a half later just before lunch was due to be served at the facility.

The jail source to the Post said Lohan was "extremely co-operative and professional." The 84-minute lockdown is thought to be enough to fulfill the jail time that was part of Lohan's DUI conviction, but she will still be required to complete community service. Lynwood is the same facility where Paris Hilton served her DUI sentence in June. Calls to Lohan's attorney for comment were not returned.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Was Tortured by Government Employees Last Sunday

Last Saturday night, November 3rd, 2007, I was traveling in my automobile. I parked in a restaurant’s private parking lot. A Snohomish County Sheriff was checking license plates against computer records. I am aware that this has become a common practice. He arrested me for an outstanding warrant, issued October 22nd, 2007, for failure to appear on a traffic citation. I was in England on a medical emergency, and had notified the Court that I could not appear that day. As he was getting me out of his car in the basement of the jail he exclaimed "living the dream!", which startled me. I asked "are you serious?" He answered in the affirmative.

The jailers, who style themselves "Corrections Officers," at the Snohomish County Jail (or "Corrections Facility") in Everett, Washington, USA, forced me through a variety of very well-practiced, choreographed, and degrading ordeals – bordering on the sadistic. They were quite clearly enjoying themselves. My clothes were taken and I was issued a thin cloth shirt and thin cloth pants. At around midnight, I was placed in a "holding cell" in the "booking" area. This room was about ten feet by ten feet, with an L-shaped, concrete bench formed along two walls, about 24 inches wide. A weird stainless-steel "toilet-sink" was in one corner. A working, though dysfunctional, phone was on the wall. There was nothing else in the room but a bit of toilet paper.

The outside temperature was less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The holding cell has a ceiling fan or ventilator outlet blowing cold air downwards. It felt colder than the air outside. I began shivering and trying to warm myself up. After about two hours of this, a "corrections officer" called me up to a counter. He presented me with a one-page form to sign. STANDISH was printed on a metal plate attached to his shirt.

The first part of the form was an accurate listing of my confiscated personal property. The second part contained language to the effect of: "I hereby consent to medical testing and treatment" and other. I did not consent to that then or now. I began crossing out the parts of this section that I would not consent to. I had not yet finished and initialed these corrections before STANDISH went ballistic. He jerked the form out from under my hand and said something curt which I do not recall. He placed me back in the holding cell.

I tried to lie down and to sleep on the concrete bench. It was so cold that it sucked the heat right out of my body, while the cold air outlet above blew over the top of me. I have had more than one near-death experience with hypothermia. I know the onset, the symptoms, and the feel of it all too well. My core temperature was dropping.

About 4:00 AM, STANDISH called me back up to the counter for a second go at it. He said "you’ll want to get booked in so you can get moved upstairs. They have beds and blankets there." I told him I do not consent to medical testing and treatment. He became angry and distraught. He immediately escorted me back to the holding cell and stood outside, holding the door. A distressed look came over his face as he stated "this is so we can take care of you in case of emergency" (as if a form had the power to accomplish that). His look then changed to one of rage and he snarled "how dare you mess with my form!" I asked him for a blanket; he said "no" and slammed the door.

It took me awhile to figure this one out – the jailers won’t let you get out of jail until you get "booked" into it, part of which is this form. So I was trapped. STANDISH left me there for the rest of the night, and he later departed along with the rest of the shift at 8:00 AM.

Now I was in fear for my life. Now I was trying to not fall asleep. I could feel the first signs of the uncontrollable-shiver stage coming on. I could feel the results of my core temperature dropping further, which is hard to describe to someone who has not experienced this. If I had lain down on that concrete bench, there was a possibility – however remote – that I would die of exposure. The jailers had made it perfectly clear that they would not be of any help whatsoever.

I tried signaling to the new shift people – banging on the little glass window, shouting, waving as they went by, all to no avail. Sometimes they would look over, and then their eyes would slide away. I had no idea how long I would remain there. Around noon, one of them opens the door and says "are you the one who was crossing out sentences in the consent form? I said "yes." He said "do you want to try again with a fresh copy" I said "yes" He said "you’re not going to try to change it again are you?" I said "no" and so complied. They got their "confession."

I received a copy of the sacred form. The following is the second of the two-part consent form verbatim:
"Medical Services Statement: Regular sick call is held Monday through Friday though emergency care can be requested at any time by contacting a corrections officer. I understand that I am responsible for the costs of my medical care while I am a prisoner here but that necessary care will not be denied due to inability to pay. I hereby consent to medical examinations, tests, and treatment as prescribed by the authorized health care authority and authorize this facility to provide copies of summaries of my jail medical record to attending physicians and/or other institutions to which I may be transferred." (emphasis theirs)

It’s even worse than I remembered.

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Crooked prosecutor in Australia

One of Western Australia's top prosecutors knew that crucial evidence used to convict an innocent man for murder was inconsistent with injuries sustained by the victim. The Corruption and Crime Commission yesterday produced a note by the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Bates, who prosecuted Andrew Mallard for the wilful murder of Perth jeweller Pamela Lawrence, showing that he had been told a wrench could not have caused the injuries sustained by Lawrence in the 1994 murder.

Mr Bates then told a Supreme Court jury that a wrench had, in fact, been used in the killing. Mr Mallard, a psychiatric patient, drew a wrench on a piece of paper and told detectives that it could have been used to murder Lawrence. But tests on a pig's head in 1994 eliminated a wrench as the murder weapon. Those tests were never revealed to Mr Mallard's lawyer, and Mr Mallard was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent almost 12 years in jail before the High Court quashed his conviction in 2005. The CCC is investigating potential misconduct by lawyers and police in Mr Mallard's wrongful conviction.

Explaining his notes to the commission yesterday, Mr Bates said they indicated a detective had informed him about the wrench, also referred to as a spanner, during a meeting before the 1995 trial. "Spanner drawn doesn't match injuries," the note said. Mr Bates could not recall the meeting and said he had been focused on preparing the detective for giving evidence. In a gruelling day in the witness box, Mr Bates said he had agonised over why he never asked whether a wrench was used in testing after being told that another instrument had been discounted by the tests. "I was mortified when I saw it (the mistake)," he said. He added that he had not deliberately refrained from asking whether a wrench had been used in pig's-head testing.

He told the commission that the Crown case was reliant on Mr Mallard's video-recorded confession in which he told police that a wrench could have been used to kill Lawrence. Counsel assisting the commission Jeremy Gormly questioned Mr Bates on relying on the confessions of a delusional psychiatric patient. Mr Bates said that although he had spoken to two mental health experts regarding Mr Mallard, he never asked whether the accused's mental illness would affect the reliability of his confession.

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