Sunday, November 30, 2008

Man jailed for underworld murder may be innocent

Nearly seven years ago the tortured and burned body of Syed Ali Mahmoodi-Oskui was found in a wood in London's stockbroker belt. When his friend, Rizwan Alvi, went on trial at the Old Bailey for his murder the jury were told that they had fallen out over money. But now the murder is set to be re-examined in the wake of fresh evidence obtained by The Sunday Times which suggests that Alvi may be in jail for a crime he did not commit

The basic bungle was in assuming that a man and his cellphone are never parted

The young man's body was well and truly ablaze by the time it was found, the light from the flames piercing the blackness of the winter night like a beacon. A man walking his dog in the wood just after 3am spotted the glow from the fire first, followed by a couple who had parked their car nearby hoping for a quiet kiss and a cuddle. It took just minutes for Surrey firefighters to reach the scene on the outskirts of the town of Weybridge, but by then Syed Ali Mahmoodi-Oskui was so disfigured as to be unrecognisable. It took police weeks to identify him using DNA and dental records; his family were advised not to view his body.

The motive for his murder was initially unclear. Known as Ali to his friends, the 27-year-old scion of a rich Pakistani family had always been a dapper dresser in life, habitually wearing a Rolex watch and a distinctive gold necklace. But when he was found, wrapped in a green sleeping bag and dumped in a thicket near a stream, both were missing.

The flames that had blackened his features had not actually killed him, however. His death had resulted from a vicious beating, a post mortem found, probably administered just hours before his remains were found.

Soon the police had their suspects. Prime amongst them was Rizwan Alvi, a 24-year-old Pakistani American and Ali's close friend. Rizwan's mobile phone records placed it, and therefore him, at the scene of the murder, which police decided had been his modelling agency, situated off Oxford Street in central London. Later that night the phone had also moved to the Weybridge area. Records of a series of calls made at the time between Rizwan's phone and that belonging to another man, Nouman al-Mussaoui, who worked at the agency, implicated them both in the crime.

Following the murder a group of men including Rizwan and Nouman had run up thousands of pounds on Ali's credit cards, frittering money away on buying clothes and ordering lavish meals in restaurants. Within weeks, Rizwan was arrested in Canada. At his trial at the Old Bailey the telephone records formed a central plank of the case against him, together with the fact that a pair of jeans, apparently found in his wife's suitcase, showed traces of Ali's DNA.

The motive for the killing, the court was told, was an attempt to extort money from the victim, leading to a strongarming which had gone tragically awry. It looked like an open and shut prosecution, the end result of a crime against a man whose faceless corpse exemplified the anonymous nature of the case. Sentencing Rizwan to life in prison following the jury's decision to convict, the judge told him he would serve at least 18 years behind bars.

The prosecution presented Rizwan, and most of the people he associated with as unsavoury characters. They had been embroiled in a world which most Londoners never see, yet which lies just beneath the surface of the capital's West End.....

On the night of Saturday, December 15, 2001, Ali was subjected to a vicious battering in the New York Looks offices, probably by more than one assailant. An autopsy later found that he had died after inhaling his own vomit following the beating, which had been inflicted with a "blunt object".

When questioned by detectives, Rizwan insisted he had known nothing about Ali's death. He said he had spent the night of the murder in a Mayfair nightclub, returning home to his West End flat and Maria in the early hours of the morning; he had never been near Weybridge and had not had his phone with him. However the police, now in possession of phone records linking Rizwan's phone to the crime scene, believed they had a strong case linking him to the murder.

Early in January 2002, detectives had found a suitcase containing a pair of blue jeans at the flat of Rizwan's wife, Maria. DNA analysis of a tiny yellowish stain on the trousers showed that it contained Ali's profile. Another, unidentified, DNA profile was also found but no match for it has ever been found.

For the police, the presence of Ali's DNA seemed to seal the case against Rizwan, even though the sample containing the victim's profile was so small it was hard to know whether it was blood, semen, or something else. The fact that Rizwan denied the jeans actually belonged to him did not impress the detectives. Nor did his ardent insistence that he had not been in possession of his phone on the night of the murder.

By the time Rizwan's case came to court in 2004, however, there had been some startling developments. Nahid Sultana, the girlfriend of a Greek web site designer named Vasilis Eugenides, had contacted police out of the blue with some urgent information. She told detectives that Vasilis had come home in the early hours of the morning after the murder in a state of agitation stating that he had been paid 1,000 pounds by a rich man to find his son. He had a pair of blue jeans he wanted washed quickly and a Rolex which belonged to a "dead man", which he sold two days later.

She also gave a dramatic account of what her boyfriend had apparently said happened that night: that he had gone to Nouman's office and found a man pointing a gun at him together with another man, described as "Nouman's friend". "Vasilis managed to snatch it from him and punched him, then went crazy and punched and kicked the man," she said. "The man started to hit him in the face with a pole left lying around the office...he continued to punch and kick the man. "There was a lot of blood on the floor and walls. His clothes were covered in blood. Nouman gave him clothes to change into and gave him the Rolex watch." Rizwan's name was noticeably absent from the story she told the police.

Months later, however, she retracted the incriminating elements of what she had told them about Vasilis, saying she had "made up lies because I wanted to get back at him". In court she said the blue jeans had vanished, she knew not where, and that the Rolex was in fact one she had seen Vasilis wear months earlier.

Doubts over his possible involvement remained, however. Vasilis's phone records showed he had exchanged 29 calls with Nouman on the afternoon prior to the murder. His mobile phone had also called a mini-cab number from Chiswick, the area where Ali's Skoda hire car had been dumped, at 4.15am on the night of the murder. In court it was suggested that the evidence showed a plot between Rizwan, Nouman and Vasilis to extort money from Ali by force.

But Rizwan insisted that he had been unaware of anything other than Ali's stated intention to commit credit card fraud in order to raise money: he had believed Ali had allowed his card to be used by others, including himself. Faced with the phone record and DNA evidence, however, the jury at the Old Bailey decided he was more than just a petty conman: he was a murderer and he was going to jail for a long time.

In November 2006, when Rizwan had been in prison for nearly five years, a former Chicago police civilian worker named Sean Collins made contact with the convict's family saying he had something that might be of some interest. Sean, a one-time neighbour of Rizwan and his brother Zishan, said that a month earlier Dennis Domsky, who he knew casually through his restaurant work, had sold him a gold chain for $30. Dennis told him he had obtained it from London when he worked there in 2001, he said. Dennis had told him that the previous owner "would not be looking for it", he added. Sean also said Dennis told him of an "incident" in which he had "dodged a bullet" while in London. Asked what he meant, Dennis had said that a mobile phone he had used on the night of the incident had belonged to Rizwan Alvi.

By itself, the affidavit appeared cryptic. But Zishan wanted to find out more. He invited Dennis on a night out to a casino and covertly recorded their conversation. On the tape of that meeting Dennis does not mention the phone, but he does tell a very different story to the one he told the FBI back in 2002, when he had pleaded ignorance. Now, on tape, he said he was present at the Oxford Street offices on the night of the murder, and heard others arguing in an inner room. Nouman had then emerged and told him to call Rizwan. Rizwan's use of Ali's credit card had been unwitting, Dennis said, because he "didn't know about the commotion."

The tape recording was intriguing, yet still hardly conclusive or exonerating of Rizwan. That changed, however, when I spoke to Dennis myself earlier this year. In a recorded interview he went much further. He started by setting the scene: "I was outside the office, and there was a little waiting area where you could just sit. And I was there for maybe ten fifteen minutes and there was arguing and shouting and all kinds of noise. And I believe that the three people there were Nouman and Vasilis and Ali."

As the shouting mounted, he said, Nouman emerged and asked him to phone Rizwan. "Nouman asked me to call Riz then I got hold of Maria and he said he was with Maria at the time. And I told Nouman. [He] said he was just trying to get hold of him [to] make sure he didn't come back to the office." Then Dennis dropped his bombshell, one that potentially even implicates himself in the murder. He said he had reached Rizwan on his wife's mobile phone. "And I had Riz's", he added. "I used it when I was outside the office..I used it all the time even to go shopping or whatever. It was an office phone."

Domsky insisted that after making the call he had exited the office, leaving Nouman, Vasilis and Ali in the room, returning only the next morning when he had found it comprehensively trashed. A black and white Ibanez electric guitar owned by Rizwan which had been hanging on the wall had been "busted off". "It was just a shambles," he said. He had cleaned up the office and then left. And he'd kept Rizwan's mobile phone overnight? "Yes, yeah, when I was at home asleep, sure," he said.

The admission was given further credence by the fact that when I showed a photograph of the gold necklace bought by Sean Collins to Alex Khawari, he confirmed that it belonged to his cousin.

And the records of Rizwan's mobile phone on the night of the murder show that after leaving Weybridge it travelled to Hallam Street in the West End, where Dennis lived, rather than the address shared by the Alvis a mile and a half away in Bayswater.

As for Rizwan Alvi, he spends his days in HMP Rye Hill, a category B prison in Warwickshire. He has changed lawyers frequently during the past two years as he searches for someone who can present his case in the best possible light. Now he is represented by Campbell Malone, a high profile solicitor with a penchant for righting miscarriages of justice who says his client has a "strong case".

Other aspects of the case against Rizwan are also being challenged by his legal team. For instance, a new forensics report commissioned by his defence states that the jeans found in the suitcase cannot belong to him since they show no trace of his own DNA. And at Rizwan's trial the prosecution showed the jury CCTV footage from the day after the murder supposedly depicting him holding his mobile phone. But a fresh analysis of the film claims to prove that the object is in fact a pair of gloves.

Since The Sunday Times spoke to Dennis Domsky, the Criminal Cases Review Commission has visited Rizwan in prison. A verdict on whether he should have his case referred to the Appeal Court, possibly for retrial, is due soon.

More here

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

The rights of criminals still coming first in Britain

As thief gets away with caution, boss who marched him to police lands false imprisonment charge

A boss who marched a thieving worker to a police station with a placard round his neck has been charged with false imprisonment. Yet the criminal himself has escaped with just a slap on the wrist.

Simon Cremer took action against Mark Gilbert after learning he had cashed a forged company cheque. He hung a sign reading `Thief' on Gilbert and paraded him past shoppers on a busy high street before handing him to police. Now, however, officers have decided the thief should receive nothing more than a caution, while throwing the book at 44-year-old Mr Cremer, who thought he was making a citizen's arrest.

Mr Cremer and three workers from his carpet fitting firm who helped him overpower the sub-contractor have all been charged with false imprisonment - an offence that carries a maximum life term. Even Gilbert has expressed surprise that the men had been arrested, admitting: `I'm the criminal here.'

The charges came on the day Whitehall statistics showed tens of thousands of serious criminals are receiving only a caution - including rapists and paedophiles. But the number of criminals being sent to jail is at its lowest level for a decade.

Mr Cremer, a father of two, said yesterday: `I can't believe the police system. This is a guy who is a proven thief, he stole a cheque, forged a signature and took money by deception, surely there's enough to charge him. But no, he's been let off with a caution.' Mr Cremer, who has no criminal record, added: `I would do exactly the same thing again, especially now he has got off with a caution. I don't regret my action, the fact I tied his hands is the only bit I regret.'

His partner Karen Boardman, 44, who has just returned to work as a receptionist at a GP's surgery after treatment for breast cancer, attacked the `topsy-turvy justice' that could see Mr Cremer and his three employees spend time behind bars. She said: `I am disgusted. I have no faith left in the British justice system. "'The person that committed the crime has walked away, completely free. He will be sitting at home over Christmas, without a care, while Simon and the other three, who are all family men, have this hanging over them. `Their judgment was maybe clouded slightly because times are tough but I will not condemn what they've done. Even giving them a caution would be wrong.'

Mr Cremer, of Little Maplestead, Essex, was alerted to the theft in September when the Cash Converters company phoned him about a bounced cheque from his firm, In House Flooring. It emerged that Gilbert, from Colchester, who earned up to 1,000 pounds a week, had taken a cheque from an old book, written it out for 845 pounds, and cashed it for holiday spending money. He claims he was owed wages but his boss had been too busy to write out a cheque - a claim Mr Cremer vehemently denies.

When Gilbert next went in to work in Witham, Essex, he was wrestled to the floor, tied up and bundled into a van before being paraded 350 yards through the streets. In a scene reminiscent of the medieval approach to justice, when suspects were named and shamed by being sent to the village stocks, a cardboard sign was slung around his neck which read: `THIEF. I stole 845 pounds. Am on my way to police station.'

Gilbert claims he was punched, threatened with tools and feared for his life. But Mr Cremer insists no violence was used, although he `restrained' his employee for his own protection. Gilbert said of his former boss and colleagues: `I feel for them and I don't want anything bad to happen to them. But it wasn't really correct what they did to me.'

Original report here. (Via Political Correctness Watch)

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Crook seeking compensation for Wisconsin wrongful conviction

Sounds like he is benefiting from a technicality

A Cazenovia man is asking the Wisconsin Claims Board for $22,797 to compensate him for the 19 months he spent in prison on a wrongful conviction. The error was compounded, John A. Rupp alleges, when officials delayed releasing him for six weeks in 2005 after the 4th District Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed his conviction.

Although Rupp has a long history of committing crimes including theft by contractor and burglary, he is innocent of the crime that sent him to prison and thus is owed compensation under state law, his attorney, Jeff Scott Olson, said in an interview after the board's meeting Thursday at the State Capitol. Wisconsin allows wrongfully imprisoned defendants up to $5,000 a year in compensation along with attorneys' fees and other expenses. A decision on Rupp's petition is due Nov. 26.

The claim involves a 2000 Juneau County case in which Rupp, now 46, was convicted of embezzlement as a habitual criminal and a second count of theft by false representation for allegedly failing to complete a home construction project for a client after she'd paid him. A jury found him guilty of both charges, and Juneau County Circuit Judge John Brady sentenced Rupp to six years in prison on the embezzlement charge and probation on the second charge.

On Feb. 15, 2005, the appeals court reversed Rupp's embezzlement conviction, ruling that the money Rupp was convicted of stealing became his own once the client paid him. "Because Mr. Rupp was the owner of the money, he could not have used it without his own consent and therefore must be innocent of theft," the petition said. "Mr. Rupp cannot be guilty of embezzling his own money."

At the time of the decision, Rupp was part-way through his sentence on the embezzlement charge. It took officials until March 24, 2005 to release him — roughly six weeks. Louise Schultz, Juneau County's clerk of courts, said John Roemer, the assistant district attorney who'd prosecuted Rupp, became the Juneau County judge assigned to the case. That conflict prompted the district court administrator to appoint another judge, who ordered Rupp's release.

Although the state didn't oppose Rupp's request for compensation at Thursday's meeting, Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth argued in a written response to the petition that Rupp should be awarded less than the $10,000 he was seeking since he spent less than two full years in prison on the overturned charge. Southworth also noted Rupp was convicted on a second count related to the same incident. And he said the case was prosecuted in "good faith."

Olson said the conviction on the second charge is irrelevant since it resulted in only probation, not a prison term. And the prosecutor's intentions don't matter, he said. "A wrongful conviction is a wrongful conviction," said Olson.

Original report here

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Australian Keystone Kops give up

The prime suspect in the Claremont serial killings has reportedly been eliminated from the police probe. Channel 9 last night reported the Cottesloe public servant’s family had been informed by detectives he was no longer a person of interest. The middle-aged man had been subjected to surveillance by detectives on the case for almost seven years.

Police are still investigating the unsolved murders of Sarah Spiers, Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon in 1996 and 1997 in what has become Australia’s longest-running active police investigation.

The Cottesloe man lived with his parents at the time and came to police attention after he was caught driving around Claremont late at night. He had always maintained his innocence and claimed he was driving through the area because he was concerned for the welfare of women at the time.

Covert surveillance of the suspect became public after a series of police bungles while tracking the man. At one stage, the ceiling above his desk at work caved in under the weight of surveillance equipment.

A major documentary on the murders that features much-publicised CCTV footage of Ms Rimmer outside the Claremont Hotel screens tonight. Police said they wished to distance themselves from the television report and had no further comment.

Original report here

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NY: DNA to the rescue after 20 years

He doesn't know what the internet is; he's never heard of caller ID. Steven Barnes has a lot of learning to do. He's spent the past 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of a teenager, but Tuesday, thanks to new DNA evidence presented by the Innocence Project, the 42-year-old is a free man after his conviction was overturned.

On Tuesday morning, Barnes was freed and cleared of the 1985 rape and murder of 16-year-old Kimberly Simon. When the gavel fell, the courtroom erupted with applause. "I feel overwhelmed -- this is the happiest day of my life," says Barnes. "I waited for this for 20 years."

It was a moment Barnes's mother Sylvia waited for as well; she always knew her son was innocent. "We've been fighting since Day One," says Sylvia Bouchard. Sylvia had gone to the Innocence Project for help. It's a national litigation organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA evidence.

The project re-opened Barnes's case in August, compared his DNA to that found on the victim -- and it did not match. Barnes was not the killer. "If this technology had existed in 1985, Mr. Barnes would have never been arrested. [If] we had DNA in 1985, Steven would not have went to prison," says Oneida County district attorney Scott McNamara.

Barnes says he will seek compensation for the wrongful conviction. But for now, he plans to focus on rebuilding his life.
"I missed all of my 20s, all of my 30s. On January 25, I'll be 43 years old, and life begins at 40 they say," Barnes said, to laughter and applause.

The Oneida County district attorney's office says they will now work on finding Kimberly Simon's real killer. They plan to run the new DNA evidence through the criminal database.

Original report here

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Canada: Crooked prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence in wrongful conviction case

The integrity of a prosecutor became a thorny issue Monday for lawyers seeking to have a conviction quashed in the case of a man who spent 31 years in jail for murder based on a confession he immediately recanted. Lawyers for Romeo Phillion denied accusing the Crown and police of conspiring to convict him even though they knew he was innocent. At the same time, they maintained that Mac Lindsay, a well regarded prosecutor, withheld information he knew could have exonerated Phillion at trial in 1972. "Crowns of integrity do things in individual cases that they should not do," lawyer James Lockyer told the Appeal Court.

Much of the contention that a miscarriage of justice occurred turns on whether Lindsay knew police had corroborated Phillion's story that he was elsewhere when Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy was fatally stabbed in August 1967. A police report from 1968 appears to confirm Phillion was attempting to pawn a radio for gas at a service station in Trenton, Ont., more than 200 kilometres from Ottawa, at the time of the murder. The report, which only surfaced in 1998 via a parole officer, recorded the alibi "verified" and stated, "We do not believe that Romeo Phillion is responsible for this murder."

Phillion, now 69, whose story of his whereabouts changed several times, said he only confessed to help a friend of his. A jury convicted him of second-degree murder. No one believed back then that anyone would falsely confess to a crime - a view that is far more nuanced today, Lockyer asserted. "In 1972, it was the confession that was seen to trump everything else."

The justices were clearly troubled by the contention that the prosecution withheld information crucial to the defence. "They failed to disclose (Phillion's alibi) knowing full well it had been verified?" Justice Michael Moldaver said. That would amount to accusing them of obstruction of justice, Moldaver added. "I've never seen a case in which the Crown had verified an alibi the accused did not know he had."

The constant probing forced Phillion's lawyer to try to denounce Lindsay's behaviour without denouncing him. Instead, Lockyer argued, the legal mindset that prevailed at the time was far different from today's views. "In those days, disclosure was very much a different kettle of fish," Lockyer, who acts for the Association in the Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, told the court. "(Lindsay) did not disclose because he did not feel, under the rules of the day, that he had to."

Phillion was a petty hoodlum in 1972 when he confessed to killing Roy - a confession he recanted within hours. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and has described the admission as a "bad joke" that cost him his life. "It's a beginning of an end," Phillion said during a break in Monday's hearing. "It's another mountain I'm climbing. I just can't wait until the end."

Arthur Cogan, Phillion's lawyer at trial, has previously told the Appeal Court he "felt a little bit shocked" to learn of the police report, while Lindsay has denied deliberately withholding crucial evidence.

Phillion always refused to apply for parole, which he could have done after 10 years. He said it would be tantamount to an admission of guilt. He was released in July 2003 on $50,000 bail while the federal justice minister decided if he had been possibly wrongfully convicted and sent the case back to the Appeal Court. If he is exonerated, Phillion would have served the longest prison term as an innocent man. The appeal hearing, which continues Tuesday, is expected to last into next week.

Original report here

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Virus victim plea-bargains to settle case

A former substitute teacher in Connecticut has reached a deal that calls for her to lose her teaching licence after exposing students to online pornography. Forty-one-year-old Julie Amero pleaded guilty on Friday in Norwich Superior Court in Connecticut to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. She will also pay a $US100 fine.

Pornography appeared on her classroom computer in 2004 in view of seventh-graders. Several computer experts believe the machine was infected with programs that caused the images to pop up beyond her control.

Amero was convicted in 2007 of risk of injury to a minor and could have faced 40 years in prison. A judge threw out her conviction after finding flawed testimony. She was awaiting a new trial when she reached the plea deal.

Original report here

Background from last year:

A US judge granted a new trial on Wednesday for a former substitute teacher convicted of allowing students to view pornography on a classroom computer. Prosecutors did not oppose the defence motion for a new trial for Julie Amero, 40, who had faced up to 40 years in prison after her January conviction.

The computer was sent to a state laboratory after the trial, and the judge said on Wednesday that those findings may contradict evidence presented by the state computer expert. "The jury may have relied, at least in part, on that faulty information," said Judge Hillary B. Strackbein, who granted the request for a new trial.

Amero has adamantly denied clicking on pornographic websites that appeared on her classroom's computer screen in October 2004 while she was teaching seventh-graders at Kelly Middle School in Connecticut in the US. Some technology experts believe unseen spyware and adware programs might have generated the pop-up ads for pornographic websites. Amero and her supporters say the old computer, which she was ordered to leave on, lacked firewall or anti-spyware protections to prevent inappropriate pop-ups.

Several students testified that they saw pictures of naked men and women, including at least one image of a couple having oral sex.

Amero was to have been sentenced on Wednesday, but instead pleaded not guilty to the same charges - four counts of risk of injury to a minor. A date for the new trial has not been set.

"I had a great team behind me and I feel comfortable with the decision today," she said after the hearing. Her attorney, William F. Dow, commended prosecutors, saying they acted responsibly. "The lesson from this is all of us are subject to the whims of these computers," he said after the hearing.

Original report here

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

From my cell I scent the reeking soul of US justice

by Conrad Black

I write to you from a US federal prison. It is far from a country club or even a regimental health spa. I work quite hard but fulfillingly, teaching English and the history of the United States to some of my co-residents. There is practically unlimited access to e-mails and the media and plenty of time for visitors.

My appeal continues. Given the putrefaction of the US justice system, it is an unsought but distinct honour to fight this out and already to have won 85% of the case and 99% of the financial case. The initial allegation against me of a “$500m corporate kleptocracy” has shrunk to a false finding against me - that even some of the jurors have already fled from in post-trial comments – of the underdocumented receipt of $2.9m. There is no evidence to support this charge.

It has been a grim pleasure to expose the hypocrisy of the corporate governance establishment, who have bankrupted our Canadian company and reduced the share price of the American one from $21, when I left, to a miraculous two cents (yes, two cents). They have vaporised $2 billion of public shareholder value; fine titles in several countries have deteriorated; and for their infamies, the protectors of the public interest have cheerfully trousered more than $200m.

US federal prosecutors, almost all of whom would be disbarred for their antics if they were in Britain or Canada, win more than 90% of their cases thanks to the withering of the constitutional guarantees of due process – that is, the grand jury as an assurance against capricious prosecution, no seizure of property without just compensation, access to counsel, an impartial jury, speedy justice and reasonable bail.

We did not know the grand jury was sitting, have never seen the transcript of its proceedings and I was denied counsel of choice by the ex parte seizure, which the jury later judged to be improper, of the proceeds of the sale of an apartment in New York that I was going to use as the retainer for trial counsel.

The system is based on the plea bargain: the barefaced exchange of incriminating testimony for immunity or a reduced sentence. It is intimidation and suborned or extorted perjury, an outright rape of any plausible definition of justice.

The US is now a carceral state that imprisons eight to 12 times more people (2.5m) per capita than the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany or Japan. US justice has become a command economy based on the avarice of private prison companies, a gigantic prison service industry and politically influential correctional officers’ unions that agitate for an unlimited increase in the number of prosecutions and the length of sentences. The entire “war on drugs”, by contrast, is a classic illustration of supply-side economics: a trillion taxpayers’ dollars squandered and 1m small fry imprisoned at a cost of $50 billion a year; as supply of and demand for illegal drugs have increased, prices have fallen and product quality has improved.

I wish to advise Lord Hurd that when I return to the UK I would like to take up more energetically than I did initially his request for assistance in his custodial system reform activities.

Obviously, the bloom is off my long-notorious affection for America. But I note from recent comment in Britain and Europe that the habit of blaming anything that goes awry in the world on the US is alive and well. However, the United States has not disintegrated and American capitalism is not dead, nor even in failing health. The recent financial upheavals have exposed the folly of the US Congress and Federal Reserve and will aggravate a cyclical recession and take some time to shake out.

The United States has just retained the riveted interest of the whole world, most of which does not wish it well, in the billion-dollar vulgarity of its election process for an entire year. And it surely has earned the respect of the world in elevating a very capable leader as the first non-white man to head any western nation.

I would be distinctly consolable if the United States really was in decline and I have more legitimate grievances against that country than do The Guardian or the BBC, but it is still a country of incomparable vitality even as its moral, judicial soul atrophies and reeks.

Original report here

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

NY liable for wrongful conviction

A judge has ruled that New York state is liable for wrongly convicting Roy Brown. Brown was recently released from prison after DNA cleared him of murdering Sabina Kulikowsky.

He had served 15 years behind bars for the Cayuga County murder. A trial is scheduled to begin next month to determine how much money Brown will receive from the state for his wrongful conviction.

Original report here

Background from 2006:

A convicted murderer proved his innocence by investigating his own case from has asked his sentencing judge for a pardon after 16 years in jail for a crime he had proved conclusively that he did not commit.

Brown had always protested his innocence, denying that he stabbed and strangled a female social worker to death at a farmhouse in upstate New York in 1991, and he managed to investigate and solve the crime from his prison cell. Five days after he wrote a letter to the local fireman he had identified as the real murderer, the man killed himself by lying in front of an oncoming train.

Roy Brown always denied killing a social worker. His request for copies of his trial records unearthed unseen statements that implicated Barry Bench. Then DNA backed him up. "Witnesses can commit perjury, judges can be fooled and juries can make mistakes," wrote Brown. "When it comes to DNA testing, there's no mistakes. DNA is God's creation and God makes no mistakes."

He petitioned the judge for his freedom after DNA taken from bite marks on the victim's night shirt confirmed his theory of the crime.

The judge, Peter Corning, who presided over the original trial and retires on December 31, delayed a decision until a full hearing on January 22.

Lawyers from the Innocence Project, a university-based law centre that argued his case, were pushing for his immediate release. He is suffering from a liver disease and awaiting a transplant. "Roy wrote to us, like thousands do every year," said Eric Ferrero, of the Innocence Project, which has overturned 188 convictions with DNA evidence. "What is unusual is somebody sitting in his prison cell solving the case. This is the first time we have seen that."

The naked body of Sabina Kulakowski was found across the road from her home in the town of Aurelius in the early hours of May 23, 1991, when firemen responded to an arson blaze at the farmhouse. The wounds - including bite marks on her red nightshirt found nearby - suggested that Ms Kulakowski, 49, had put up a struggle. The murder appeared highly personal because there was no evidence of rape or burglary.

Two days later Brown, who made a living selling magazine subscriptions in Syracuse, 30 miles away, was charged with her murder. He had been released from prison six days before the crime after serving an eight-month sentence for making threatening calls to a social worker, whose agency he blamed for ordering his daughter, aged 17, into foster care.

He was convicted of the killing on the basis of expert testimony linking him to bite marks on Ms Kulakowski's body, even though they showed indentations from six upper teeth and Brown had only four.

Sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in jail, it took Brown 13 years and three failed appeals to uncover evidence pointing to the true murderer - and then only because of another fire. When his trial records were destroyed at a blaze at his stepfather's house in 2003, he filed a freedom of information request for copies.

Among the documents were statements that he had not seen before, implicating a local volunteer fireman, Barry Bench. Unlike Brown, Bench knew Kulakowski well because his older brother, Ronald, had dated her for 17 years. He and Kulakowski had lived together at the farmhouse and relatives said that Barry Bench resented that she stayed there after the couple separated in 1991.

More here

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Australia: System soft on young thugs

Almost half the young offenders committing serious assaults in Queensland get away with a slap on the wrist. Of the 846 under-16s who committed serious bashings in 2007-08, 346 or 41 per cent received a caution. Another 95 offenders were sent to community conferencing, where social and youth workers talk about their offence.

State Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg yesterday accused the Government of going soft on youth crime. "Serious juvenile offenders are getting away with a slap on the wrist," he said, calling on Premier Anna Bligh to support his plan to have boot camps for young offenders. Mr Springborg said a legal loophole that made jail a "last resort" sentence for serious and violent juvenile criminals also should be closed.

Figures in the Queensland Police annual statistical review, tabled in Parliament last week, showed more than a quarter of young burglars also walked away unpunished. Of the 1886 under-16s caught after breaking in or attempting to burgle homes, 514, or 27 per cent, got off with a caution. Another 105 had community conferencing. One in five young arsonists also escaped punishment. Only 46 out of 95 were actually arrested and charged. Queensland Police Union president Cameron Pope said officers were disturbed to see serious juvenile criminals back on the street in quick time.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Police goon update

More details of the Hope Steffey case here

For the past several months, Sheriff Tim Swanson has refused all requests for interviews about the Hope Steffey case, claiming that it was inappropriate to comment on the case in the media while it was still being reviewed in court. Of course this was complete bollocks; as he just proved, the real issue was that he had an election coming up in November, and he didn't want to say anything on teevee that could be used against him, and now that he has been safely re-elected he is happy to wallow around in front of a camera and say any damn thing he pleases about the case.

For example, that his gang of hired muscle down at the jail are doing this sort of thing all the time, and it's not his fault because he can't ship people down to the local mental ward anymore and that it's O.K. for his crew to strip down women with men in the room because he just can't be bothered to figure out how to hire enough women that he won't be routinely sexually traumatizing women in his jail, "for their own god," but, hey, it's all O.K. for the Stark County Sheriff's office to be running their own personal Abu Ghraib, because the mixed-gender hired muscle that strips women down in cells and leaves them there naked for hours at a time has a nifty four-letter acronym, which makes it all official and O.K.

There is absolutely no conceivable excuse for treating anyone this way, ever. Whether man or woman, calm or "belligerent," nice or nasty, crazy or sane. This is gang rape, professionalized and excused by Official Procedures. What is becoming clear is that Sheriff Tim Swanson and his goon squad, not only have convinced themselves that this kind of brutality is sometimes acceptable, but also that they have an especially broad understanding of the sort of situation that calls for it. They are a pack of dangerous predators, and their uniforms and badges don't make them any better than any other gang of serial rapists.

Original report here

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mass failure in the Western Australian justice system

Great to see the b****s getting sued. Not before time. Too often people in such positions get away without any redress against them at all

The man wrongfully convicted of the 1994 murder of Perth jeweller Pamela Lawrence is suing eight police officers, the director of public prosecutions and others accused of bungling the investigation. Andrew Mallard, who spent 12 years in jail for the murder before the High Court quashed his conviction, has lodged a writ in the WA Supreme Court for damages against 14 individuals and the state of Western Australia.

A recent inquiry by retired NSW judge John Dunford QC found two assistant police commissioners, Mal Shervill and David Caporn, then detective sergeants, caused witnesses to change their statements. They either used persistent and repeated questioning or deliberately raised doubts in witnesses minds, Mr Dunford said. Mr Shervill was also found to have changed police records.

Deputy DPP Ken Bates engaged in misconduct and failed to question forensic pathologist Dr Clive Cooke about whether Mrs Lawrence's injuries were consistent with the use of a wrench, Mr Dunford said. Police claimed Mr Mallard had identified the wrench as the murder weapon during interviews.

Also listed in the writ are the police commissioner, the police minister, the chief forensic pathologist, a chemist and a psychiatrist.

Mr Mallard is seeking damages, aggravated damages, exemplary or punitive damages and interest from most of those named in the action, including current DPP Robert Cock QC. Mr Cock is being sued for negligence, breach of statutory duty, misfeasance in public office and malicious prosecution. An undercover police officer and another investigator are also being named in the writ for encouraging Mr Mallard to use cannabis at a time when he was "psychologically vulnerable".

West Australian police union president Mike Dean says lawyers will have a field day. "Matters of compensation are essentially with the government," Mr Dean said. "We're looking at a four to five year civil process which will cost both sides many millions of dollars. "I think the theatre has overtaken the facts in this case ... and they seem to want someone's head. "If you read the (Dunford) report closely, you'll see that there are no corruption issues. There were 52 separate allegations of corruption, originally, and none of them (were carried)."

Mr Mallard was released from jail in 2006 and is now living interstate.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

British Widow wins fight to find out why the rapist who murdered her daughter was set free because HIS human rights came first

A murder victim's elderly mother is to drag the entire criminal justice system into the dock at a landmark inquest. Verna Bryant's daughter Naomi was killed by a rapist who had been freed from a life sentence because his human rights were placed ahead of protecting the public. Anthony Rice also used the threat of human rights action to secure a relaxation of his licence conditions - making it easier for him to kill.

Now every Government agency involved in the case - considered the worst example of a criminal's rights being put ahead of those of the law-abiding public - will be forced to explain itself before a coroner. Those to be called at the inquest include the Ministry of Justice, probation service, parole board and MAPPA, a panel of police and other experts supposed to supervise freed danger men.

Because it has already been established that Miss Bryant was unlawfully killed, Hampshire coroner Grahame Short will deliver a so-called 'narrative verdict' in which he is free to criticise all those involved for the litany of blunders which allowed Rice to strike. Campaigners hope the unprecedented hearing, expected to begin in September and last for three weeks, will lead to seismic changes in the justice system.

Verna Bryant, a widow of 70, says she hopes it will prevent another family suffering the same agony as her own. Her 40-year-old daughter was murdered at her home in Winchester after meeting Rice in a pub. She was choked with a pair of tights then stabbed 16 times and stripped before her body was hidden under her bed, where it was found by her 14-year-old daughter Hannah. Mrs Bryant told the Daily Mail: 'My daughter had human rights too until Anthony Rice took them away.'

Full inquests are not normally held into murders, with the finding of how the victim died being left to the criminal courts. But, because Rice pleaded guilty, the full details were not heard in court. The Government carried out an inquiry into the killing, but in private. Mrs Bryant, backed by the civil rights group Liberty, was determined a full public inquiry should take place. Liberty also used the Human Rights Act to demand that Mr Short - who had decided there would be no inquest - reopen the case.

The coroner agreed that, under Article 2 of the Act - the right to life - he would investigate at an inquest whether public bodies could be held responsible for the murder. Liberty's legal officer, Anna Fairclough, who requested the public inquest for the family, said: 'It should make clear that their tragic loss might have been avoided if the authorities involved had been more alert to the warning signs.'

Mrs Bryant had originally announced, in 2006, that she would be using the Human Rights Act to sue the Government. But her lawyers say that, rather than seeking compensation, she wants to ensure there is no repeat of the Rice scandal. They believe the inquest is the best way of achieving this.

The Government report into the case has already found that 49-year-old Rice was freed to murder because officials placed his human rights above protecting the public. Chief Inspector of Probation Andrew Bridges said the career criminal - who had 22 convictions including assaults on young girls - should have been considered too dangerous to release. But he was allowed back on to the streets by a Parole Board which placed 'increasing focus' on his human rights rather than keeping the public safe.

His licence conditions were later changed to allow him to stay out until 11pm to attend pub quizzes - even though he had in the past tried to rape a woman at knifepoint while drunk.

Original report here

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Detroit crime lab woes may mean new trial in murder case

A 2006 murder case may be retried because a gun and shells used as evidence was processed at the now-closed Detroit police crime lab. The Wayne County prosecutor's office has agreed to send Edward Hill's murder conviction back to a circuit court judge who could order a new trial, spokeswoman Maria Miller told The Associated Press Thursday. Hill's conviction is one of two new cases appealed by defense lawyers challenging evidence tested at the lab. Evidence in a separate 2007 double-murder case will be retested, Miller said. Hill is in prison for second-degree murder and assault with intent to murder for a shooting at a Detroit party store, Farmington Hills defense attorney Gerald Lorence said.

The crime lab was shut down in September after a Michigan State Police audit found mistakes and errors in some evidence used to prosecute murder and other cases. The report found a 10 percent error rate in a random sampling of 200 cases and subpar quality control compliance at the lab. Worthy's office is looking at past cases where lab findings were used or admitted into evidence.

Lorence said an independent expert he hired could not confirm if gun shells from the party store shooting matched a weapon police found in Hill's home. "The minute I got the information that they closed the Detroit crime lab I went to the prosecutor," Lorence said.

The second case being appealed involves the assault rifle shooting deaths of two people and wounding of two others at an illegal drinking and gambling club, Miller said. Samuel Bridges was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder. "Some people shot back," Miller said in an e-mail. "That accounts for some bullets found at the scene."

The prosecutor's office has agreed to retest the evidence, but the state appeals court denied a motion by Bridges' attorney to send his case back to circuit court for retrial. The Associated Press left a message Thursday seeking comment from Bridges' attorney.

A judge last month also granted a 21-year-old Detroit man a new trial after state police determined the crime lab erred when it found that 42 shell casings from a May 2007 shooting were from the same weapon. Worthy ordered the audit after state police investigators said two different weapons were used in that shooting.

Original report here

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Florida man to get new trial after serving 27 years for murder

After spending 27 years in prison, convicted killer Bill Dillon will get a new trial. The State Attorney's Office agreed to the move, approved by a Brevard County judge Friday, even though prosecutors think they can uphold his conviction.

"We are just exhilarated. It's a new chapter now," said Dillon's brother, Joe, of Palm Bay. "The whole family is really excited."

Assistant State Attorney Wayne Holmes said he decided to go along with the defense team's request for a new trial because it appeared the judge was going to approve it anyway.

Dillon, 49, who has always maintained his innocence, is getting help from The Innocence Project of Florida, an organization that uses DNA evidence to try to overturn convictions. The group has footed the bill for tests that showed Dillon's DNA was not on a bloody T-shirt that was used to convict him. The shirt did have blood from victim James Dvorak, as well as DNA from other people. Dillon was convicted in 1981 of killing Dvorak, whose beaten body was found in the palmettos along Canova Beach.

Holmes said the new DNA evidence isn't proof of Dillon's innocence. During the past 20 years, many people have handled evidence in the case and possibly left their DNA on the shirt, he said. "The DNA evidence does not establish his actual innocence," Holmes said. "We believe that the evidence [presented during the trial] proved him to be guilty." Still, he said he would not use the T-shirt during the next trial, which could begin as early as January. He also said he would not present testimony from people who testified during the original trial and later recanted. One witness, someone who placed Dillon near the murder scene, is dead. But Holmes plans to read his testimony during the new trial.

Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, said Dillon shouldn't have been convicted originally and that the state doesn't have enough to convict him during the next trial. Dillon is scheduled for a bond hearing Tuesday, and Miller hopes that the murder charge will be dropped at that time. "They clearly saw the need to grant Mr. Dillon a new trial," Miller said. "There's a viable claim of innocence."

Original report here

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Police thugs in Australia again

Queensland police face disciplinary action after they held down and tasered a 16-year-old girl who had defied an order to move on because she was waiting for an ambulance to treat her sick friend. The Crime and Misconduct Commission and police ethical standards unit are investigating the April incident - during a year-long trial of tasers - which has drawn a strong rebuke from a magistrate of the Brisbane Children's Court.

The girl, who cannot be named, had a charge of obstructing police dismissed after the Children's Court yesterday ruled one of the two officers involved did not give adequate directions, under police move-on powers, before he and two private security guards held the slightly built teenager down, shot her in the thigh with the taser and then arrested her, initially on a charge of assaulting police.

Magistrate Pam Dowse also criticised the police officers for over-reacting to the teenager's refusal to leave her unconscious friend, a girl, before the ambulance arrived. The teenagers were alleged to have been involved in an earlier altercation with another group of tourists. Ms Dowse said it was not unreasonable for police to have allowed the group of about six to remain until the ambulance arrived, given that the number of adults present appeared to have the situation under control. "It didn't seem to be a crisis requiring such a stern response," she said.

The Weekend Australian was initially refused access to the court proceedings, following an objection by police prosecutors. Access was later granted after undertakings were given not to identify the defendant, any of the police involved or the location of the incident.

The Bligh Government has been widely criticised after this year announcing the full-scale arming of more than 5000 frontline police with the 50,000-volt tasers - barely six months into the year-long trial. According to police guidelines, a taser should not be used on juveniles "except in circumstances where there is no other reasonable option to avoid the imminent risk of injury".

In the hearing yesterday, the police officer - who said he believed at the time that the girl was between 16 and 20 - conceded he may have breached guidelines. "In hindsight, I can say yes, but at the time I didn't know she was a juvenile," he said.

A CMC spokeswoman last month said it had concerns the use of the taser had been "inappropriate and excessive". "We have have made some preliminary inquiries into the matter," she said. "We will await the outcome of the court proceedings before deciding whether further action is warranted."

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Friday, November 14, 2008

False confessions jail sailors

More than two-dozen retired FBI agents are asking Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to pardon and release the “Norfolk four,” four Navy sailors convicted of a 1997 rape and murder. The evidence of the sailors’ innocence is pretty overwhelming. It includes the confession of a man who had ties to the victim, had a history of sexual abuse against women, and who was a match to DNA from the crime scene. None of the four sailors’ DNA matched that taken from the crime scene, nor did any other physical evidence.

So why were they convicted? False confessions. Prosecutors initially planned to try seven sailors, but ended up trying only four when the other three wouldn’t confess. One of the convicted served his sentence and has been released. The other three are serving life sentences. The cops apparently pulled a confession out of one sailor, then used that false confession and the threat of the death penalty to get false, conflicting confessions from three others.

People still seem to have a hard time believing that false confessions happen. If the cops in this case could elicit four of them from four enlisted Navy men, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine how they could get one from, say, a 13-year-old kid, or someone with a mental disability. The case is also another argument for videotaping police interrogations

Original report here

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Despicable British thief gets slap on the wrist

A British Airways stewardess who stole 100,000 pounds in donations made by passengers to a children's charity was given a 50-week suspended jail sentence and fined 13,000 yesterday. Gillian Paterson, 36, who worked for BA for ten years, handed out envelopes to collect money for the Unicef campaign, Change for Good, but then kept the cash. In what the judge described as a series of "despicable" and "spiteful" acts, Paterson played passengers a short film showing children in need, before gathering their loose change. She even put herself down to work in Business Class, knowing the position would give her responsibility for depositing the charity's cash.

BA sources told Isleworth Crown Court that she stole up to 100,000 over 13 months.

Paterson, of Angmering, West Sussex, was exposed when she left her car to be cleaned at Gatwick and a valet discovered empty envelopes, meant to contain cash for the charity, in the boot. Recorder Angela Morris dismissed Paterson's claim that she had forgotten to deposit the donations, describing it as "cynical and a deliberate lie".

Original report here

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Self-righteous Germans practice double jeopardy

Once a man has been found not guilty, that is supposed to be the end of it. The guy was tried and eventually found not guilty in Israel but the Germans want to try him again

A former SS trooper accused of being a concentration camp guard known as "Ivan the Terrible" may finally face justice as Germany prepares to stage what would probably be its last Nazi war crimes trial. State prosecutors say that they can finally conduct the trial of John Demjanjuk, 88, who was for decades one of the world's most wanted war crime suspects. "There is sufficient evidence from our point of view," Kurt Schrimm, head of the Ludwigsburg Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes, said. A dossier has been handed to the state prosecutor in Munich, where Mr Demjanjuk had his last known address in Germany, who can then recommend his extradition from the United States.

For years the Ukrainian-born Mr Demjanjuk has existed in legal limbo. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio, but when his alleged role as a death camp guard emerged he was stripped of his American citizenship. However, neither Ukraine nor Poland - the country where his alleged crimes took place - will accept or try him, and he cannot be extradited to a country that does not want him. As a result he has been classified as a stateless alien, unable to claim social security.

Mr Demjanjuk has been on trial once before, in Israel in 1988, when five witnesses identified him as the notoriously sadistic Treblinka guard known as Ivan the Terrible. They testified that he had sliced off the breasts of women inmates with his bayonet and that he once ordered a prisoner to rape a 12-year-old girl. Mr Demjanjuk was sentenced to death but fresh evidence emerged that shed some doubt on whether he and Ivan the Terrible were really the same man, and the verdict was overturned by Israel's Supreme Court in 1993. Embarrassed, Israel let the man return to the United States, emphasising that freeing him did not amount to an acquittal.

Prosecutors will now try to prove that Mr Demjanjuk served in Sobibor, in Nazi-occupied southeastern Poland, from the end of March to mid-September 1943. As many as 200,000 were killed in the extermination camp. "The Americans are strongly interested in getting rid of Demjanjuk," Dr Schrimm said. "This is a great chance for us to call Demjanjuk to book and make him face up to the responsibility for his crimes."

Dr Schrimm's research alleges that 29,000 Jews, many of them women and children, were killed during Mr Demjanjuk's tour of duty. Crucial to the latest case is that 1,900 of them were German Jews: German law allows the prosecution of those accused of killing German citizens, even if the crime was committed elsewhere. "It is now possible to give the precise names and birthdates of the victims," Dr Schrimm added. The oldest victim during Mr Demjanjuk's alleged stint in Sobibor was a 99-year-old Dutch Jew; the youngest were babies born on the deportation trains who were gassed soon after arrival. [And how is that going to resolve doubts about whether they have got the right man?]

Mr Demjanjuk denies involvement in war crimes, saying that he served in the Soviet Army and became a prisoner of war when he was captured by Germany in 1942.

The fundamental problem in mounting new Nazi trials has been the passage of time: defendants can argue that they are not physically or mentally fit to stand trial, and the testimony of witnesses, blurred by age and emotion, can be called into question. The youngest suspects are more than 80 years old, and these days Nazi hunters are thin on the ground. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem operates on a shoestring budget; the Ludwigsburg Centre has a staff of 19, compared with 130 two decades ago.

On top of the list of the most wanted Nazi war criminals is Dr Aribert Heim, a camp doctor in Mauthausen, who has been pursued doggedly by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Nicknamed "Doctor Death" the 94-year-old has yet to be captured - he may not even be alive - and it is unlikely that he will ever be put in the dock.

The most recent big Nazi trial in Germany was in 1992, when the SS officer Josef Schwammberger was jailed for life for murder and being an accomplice to murder in 650 cases. He died in prison in 2004. If the Demjanjuk trial takes place it will be an important landmark for Germany, a final historical reckoning in the courtroom

Original report here

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Washington: Eyewitness contradicts police version of deadly shooting

Sounds like trigger-happy cops in a coverup again. Lying police are inexcusable and must be gravely suspect

More questions than answers are emerging about the fatal shooting by police of an Everett man in his own home, as people come forward to tell what they know about the Saturday incident. And now an eyewitness to the shooting says he saw no police lights or sirens before three officers opened fire on the man, identified by friends and family as Dustin Willard, 31.

The eyewitness, Ryan Wilson, also says there was a first shot that preceded all the others, which contradicts the "official" version of what happened in the darkness after midnight Saturday in the 2400 block of 23rd Street in North Everett. Wilson also says he heard only one warning from police - not repeated warnings, as they claim - for Willard to drop his gun before they fired multiple shots at him.

The incident began at 1:44 a.m. Saturday when police responded to a report of a burglary in progress in the North Everett neighborhood, said Rebecca Hover of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office. Neighbors had called 911 to report a suspect smashing windows and breaking down the front door of a nearby house, Hover said. But Wilson, who is a friend and neighbor of Willard's, says he heard Willard making noise at his own home and arguing with someone on his cell phone in the back yard. Other friends say he was moving a barbecue smoker in the back yard. They say he had just arrived home after drinking with friends at the Irish Pub in downtown Everett earlier in the evening.

The first three officers to arrive approached the house where they were confronted by an armed man in the doorway of the house, say police. When he refused to comply with orders to put down his weapon, the three officers fired multiple times, killing the man, Hover said. But Wilson says he questions that version of events, based on what he witnessed himself. He was near Willard's house, he says, when he heard the first shot, which preceded all the others by two minutes. It's that first shot that, Wilson believes, that contradicts what police are saying about the events leading up to Willard's death.

"I think that the neighbors called (and) reported a burglary because he was making noise and the cops came and they thought the same - he was making noise, so they shot him in the back yard," Wilson says. After he heard the first shot, Wilson said he put on his shoes and ran to the corner by Willard's house, where he saw the rest of the shooting, which started about two minutes atfer the first shot, he says.

He said there were no flashing lights or sirens, and he didn't realize there were any police in the area until he heard one warning from police to drop a gun - not the repeated warnings they claim to have given. Then the shooting started, he says. "I did not know they were cops until I got around the corner," he says. "There were no lights or sirens. When I got to the corner, they kicked down the door and they shot him down." "I got right about here and I'd seen them firing into the doorway right there - just firing, emptying (their clips) - both cops," Wilson says.

But it's his theory of that earlier first shot, that is fueling speculation Willard was first shot by police in the backyard. How else, asks Wilson and Willard's roommates, do you explain blood that was found on the back door and back doorknob?

Yet police stand by their version of events, which is that the only shots fired were at Willard as he stood at the front door - after he refused to put down a gun. Investigators also say a shotgun was found near the man's body. And Wilson admits he doesn't know for sure where the first shot came from.

"He (Willard) was scared, under the influence (of alcohol), and he may have went inside and got protection - I don't know. We may never know. But first and foremost I think he was shot in his back yard, and I think it was wrong and people need to know that," Wilson says.

At first, Wilson was reluctant to talk with KOMO News because what he told us, he admits, is more complete than what he told police when the first interviewed him. But when he started hearing what the police were reporting - he decided to talk.

In an e-mail statement, a sheriff's spokesperson says Wilson's theory is all wrong - but the spokesman declined to give further details about what the police believed happened that night. The incident remains under investigation by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, a specialized organization of detectives from law enforcement agencies called in to investigate officer-involved shootings.

All three Everett police officers involved in the shooting were placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure while the incident is investigated by an outside agency. One of the officers is a 24-year-old woman who has been with the department for 2 1/2 years. The second officer is a 29-year-old man who has been with the department for 1 1/2 years. The third officer is a 33-year-old man who has been with the department for two years.

Original report here

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Judge gets it right for a change

Nine gun-toting tough guys, most wearing casual, thug-like street clothing, suddenly appeared from out of the darkness and stormed into Buzz's Mobil Gas Station in Bridgeport, Connecticut at closing time. One employee was grabbed and quickly hustled aside. John Bell, the second employee, showed more moxie. Attempting to defend his boss’s business from the invaders he whipped out a revolver and fired twice. He missed. The lead intruder shot back. So did his cohorts. Over 17 shots rang out.

When it was all over, John Bell was shot twice, hospitalized, arrested for trying to kill the lead intruder, Detective Scott Murray of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, and convicted by a federal court jury of charges that could have earned him up to ten years in the slammer.

All this because of a gambling investigation against the station’s owner and son, who have never been charged. All this because we live in a society in which government claims the right to impose its will on its citizens rather than the other way around as our founders intended. All this to enforce a victimless crime law.

And let’s not parse words here like some sweet-talking Texas lawyer. When libertarians say victimless crime they are talking in the context of criminal law. When people gamble voluntarily, initiating neither force nor threat of force nor fraud against one another or anyone else, there is no victim in the criminal sense. If his wife and children go hungry and homeless because of him they are victims in a social sense, and criminal law in a free society has no business trying to enforce social issues.

Sure, we need tough, brave cops for real criminal situations like bank holdups in progress and kidnapping and imminent rape, but not a small army of Night Raiders wasting time and resources and taxbucks investigating a victimless crime like gambling.

Senior U.S. District Judge Alfred V. Covello overturned Bell's conviction and, while not outright acquitting him, did the right thing in ordering a new trial. If more judges insist that cops act like public servants rather than midnight marauders we’ll have fewer of these gung-ho macho cock-o-the-walk strutting exhibitions, and more lives will be spared on both sides of the law. And if that doesn’t make the police more polite, massive numbers of people packing concealed just might.

Original report here

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Negligent Australian driver gets $2 million from the taxpayer for running off the road

Seatbelt wearing is compulsory in Australia and if he had been wearing it, he would probably have been much less seriously injured -- despite what the judge concluded

A former courier has been awarded a staggering $2.37 million compensation for injuries from a smash in which he was not wearing a seatbelt. A Supreme Court judge in Townsville awarded Steven Nyholt compensation after his car ran off the road in heavy rain when he was dazzled by the high-beam headlights of an oncoming car in 1993. In a written decision, Justice Kerry Cullinane said there was no evidence to suggest Nyholt's injuries would have been any less had he been wearing his Toyota Hi Ace van's "lap-sash" seatbelt.

"The (Nominal Defendant) has not satisfied me that it is more probable than not that had (Nyholt) been wearing a seatbelt, he would have sustained lesser injury," Justice Cullinane said.

Nyholt was left with "incomplete tetraplegia" and is confined to a wheelchair. The court was told Nyholt had collected bundles of The Australian newspaper from Townsville on April 6, 1993, and was delivering them to newsagencies on his trip north along the Bruce Highway towards Cairns. Nyholt made deliveries to Deeral, Fishery Falls, Gordonvale and Edmonton, but at some point did not buckle his seatbelt. "Mr Nyholt had been wearing a lap-sash seatbelt when he arrived at Gordonvale ... (and) undid it to exit the vehicle and did not resume wearing it," Justice Cullinane said. "He was not wearing a seatbelt when the accident occurred."

Nyholt lost control of his vehicle during a torrential downpour when the headlights from an oncoming car blinded him as he tried to negotiate a turn in the road. The ensuing crash saw Nyholt's van roll, throwing him from the vehicle.

In awarding Nyholt $2,375,000 in compensation, Justice Cullinane said he could not understand why the case had taken so long to settle. "The proceedings were instituted in 1995," he said. "No satisfactory explanation emerged as to the extraordinary delay in bringing the matter before the court some 15 and a half years after the relevant events."

Original report here

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Australia: Just one example of tyrannical "Guardianship" laws

Petty and unaccountable bureaucrats are given vast powers and act like mini-Hitlers

A MAN whose affairs were taken over by the state after he spent $200,000 on phone sex will appeal the orders he says have made his life a misery. "The mental stress has been unreal," the 78-year-old told The Courier-Mail. "It's with you every minute you're awake and it's cost me $40,000 in medical and legal fees, and that's a conservative estimate. "I've also lost money as a result of being under the financial orders because of the way the Public Trustee has invested my money in shares."

The man was placed under the orders by the Guardianship and Administration Tribunal in October 2006, after relatives claimed he had spent tens of thousands of dollars on 1902 calls in almost 10 years. The relatives alleged the man was delusional, incapable of looking after himself and had dementia. However, The Courier-Mail reported last year, medical evidence stated he did not suffer dementia or other mental disability.

His challenge to the tribunal's ruling is supported by Carers Queensland and pro bono lawyers appointed by the Queensland Public Interest Legal Clearing House.

It follows the recent distribution of more than 1000 discussion papers by the Queensland Law Reform Commission, as part of the second stage of its sweeping review of the state's controversial guardianship laws. The discussion paper - Shaping Queensland's Guardianship Legislation: Principles and Capacity - looks at changes that need to be made to the guardianship of people with impaired decision-making capacity and their right to appropriate health care.

Source. (Via Australian Politics)

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Friday, November 07, 2008

De Menezes inquest: retired police chief Brian Paddick attacks Cressida Dick

At last someone has fingered the addle-headed bungler principally responsible for the unlawful killing. Her open Lesbianism has protected her so far but one hopes that her incompetence will finally be accepted

A former Scotland Yard chief has attacked the officer in charge of the operation which led to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. Brian Paddick criticised an "ambiguous" order from Cressida Dick over the death of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles De Menezes.

Brian Paddick, who retired as a Metropolitan Police chief last year, criticised an "ambiguous" order from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and questioned how she ran the operation at an inquest into the death of the innocent Brazilian. Mr Paddick said that in the role she was assigned, Ms Dick should only have been concerned with ordering a critical shot at Mr de Menezes and should not have been involved with the minute-by-minute detail of the tragic operation.

Mr Paddick said: "My understanding of the role of the DSO (designated senior officer) is to make decisions around when officers are confronted by a suicide bomber who is suspected of being about to detonate a device. That officer is designated only to deal with the critical shot decision."

Earlier in the inquest, Ms Dick said that she had not directly ordered Mr Menezes to be shot, but had asked firearms officers to stop him.

Mr Paddick told the inquest Ms Dick's order to "arrest him, but whatever you do, don't let him get on the Tube" was open to misinterpretation. The retired senior officer, who was himself a deputy assistant commissioner before he left the Met, said: "I think in the scenario that we had, where you have got a DSO, you have got officers with unusual ammunition, you have got a suspected suicide bomber, that order is ambiguous and it could mean one or two things depending on your frame of mind as to how you interpret it."

Mr Paddick also said that under Scotland Yard policy, officers should also warn suspects before opening fire if they were not convinced that they were a terrorist. The question of whether officers shouted a warning before killing Mr de Menezes has been central to the inquest.

Mr Paddick said: "If there is nothing that they see that undermines what the DSO has told them then they are authorised to take a critical shot without warning. "If, having been authorised to take the critical shot, the firearms officers have some doubt, there's an extra bit of information that clearly the DSO has not had, who's not there on the scene, then the firearms officers should give a warning and then respond to the suspect on the basis of how the suspect responds to that warning."

Original report here

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

A knife ban is OK if the police have 'a lot of discretion'

Heaven help us!

Politicians in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts -- Wormtown, to those of us who attended college there and ruined our hearing listening to punk bands at Ralph's -- propose to ban the possession in public of knives with blades longer than 1.5 inches. The ban follows a rise in after-hours stabbings among the city's bar- and club-goers from 85 in 2006 to a projected 148 this year. (Strange but true: a popular New England regional band of the 1980s was called Rash of Stabbings.) The idea seems to be that if you forbid the carrying of sharp pieces of metal, the people committing the mayhem will slap themselves on the forehead and say, "Oh hell, I guess I can't commit attempted murder tonight cuz I might get fined for carrying a pocket knife."

If that doesn't strike you as a convincing line of reasoning, that's probably because you're working your brain a bit harder than the members of the Worcester city council. And if you saw that 1.5-inch limit, went to measure your own knives and discovered that the shortest knife in your collection doesn't make the ... err ... cut, you realize that the law isn't just doomed to fail, it's also so overreaching as to cover just about anything useful with an edge.

But the fact that the law is unlikely to deter actual criminals and goes too far is overshadowed by the rationale for posing such a strict ban that's likely to scoop up people going about perfectly innocent business. According to District 3 Councilor Paul P. Clancy Jr:
"We have a zero tolerance for these weapons in our schools and now we need to extend it out into the community," Mr. Clancy said. "This is an ordinance the council needs to pass. It will make it a safer community for all."

That's right, the knife ban is based on the same mindless zero-tolerance policies that have sent middle-school kids to jail for writing scary stories and gotten them strip-searched for possessing ibuprofen. Schools have had such excellent results with draconian restrictions on everything from behavior to expression to drugs to weapons that a city is now going to emulate policies that have become standard radio and blog fodder for condemnation and ridicule. Knives are bad, mmmkay?

But some people -- actually, a lot of people -- need knives to go about their jobs, pursue hobbies, or for recreational activities like fishing, camping and hunting. Are they supposed to chew through twine and rope?

Well, I guess that depends on whether the police officer who stops you with an illicit blade feels his spidey senses tingling, or whether his hemorrhoids are acting up, or whether he likes your kind of people.
While some councilors were concerned about the impact of the ordinance might have on those who carry such knives for personal use or recreation, District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. assured the councilors it would be targeted primarily at the after-hours bar and nightclub crowds where there has been an outbreak of knife-related violence. He emphasized that the police would have a lot of discretion in enforcing the law to assure that people aren't wrongly caught up in its net.

Translation: To find out if it's OK to carry a knife to your job, give it a try. If you end up on the wrong end of an arrest, you guessed wrong!

You know, I have the feeling that DA Early and his buddies are probably pretty safe carrying their cigar cutters to the office, but that the law might be enforced just a bit more stringently against regular folks on the street. And that's a big problem.

Look, aside from the wisdom of any given rule, to be able to stay on the right side of the law you have to know where that right side begins and ends. A draconian law that is tempered only by the whims of its enforcers means that everybody is subject to arrest if they displease the authorities. That's not the way free societies work.

Ultimately, as we've discovered in our schools, zero-tolerance regimes end up as a free hand given to officials. Laws that insanely restrictive are no laws at all -- they're just absolute grants of power to the people with badges and government paychecks. Stay on their good side, and they'll exercise discretion in your favor; cross them and you're done. Ultimately, under the sort of law contemplated in Worcester, there is no way to stay legal; staying out of trouble requires currying favor -- or entirely avoiding that jurisdiction. I guess I won't be visiting Ralph's anytime soon.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Useless British police

Not interested in shop-stealing

When a customer was spotted apparently stealing from his shop, Mark Ward knew the drill - apprehend the suspect, call the police and wait for help to arrive. But after a two-hour wait in which he made a total of four 999 calls, the locksmith had no option but to bundle the man into his van and hand him over personally at the local police station.

During the increasingly desperate calls, Mr Ward was told that officers were too busy to respond and was furious to be advised at one stage: 'You can let him go if you like.'

'The whole thing was ridiculous,' he said yesterday. 'What use are the police if they won't even respond to a 999 call? 'It makes you think the only way is to deal with crime yourself. I was worried that we would get done for holding this man against his will. 'We had to keep him in the shop for two hours and I thought maybe we'd get into trouble for it.'

Details of the case emerged on the day that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith unveiled ten new police 'pledges' to the public. These include a promise that burglary victims can expect a visit from police within 60 minutes - but only if they are upset or 'vulnerable'.

The fiasco began at 1pm on October 18 when Mr Ward's employee, Mario Sitek, spotted a customer allegedly slipping a $16 pair of pliers into his pocket. Mr Sitek chased and caught the man before frog marching him back to Anglia Locksmiths in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

Mr Ward, 41, who is married with three young children, dialled 999 and made the alleged shoplifter sit on a stool in the shop while he and two members of staff took turns to stand over him, guard the door and operate the till. He added: 'I got witnesses to come into the shop so they could tell police what happened but they had to leave after waiting for half an hour.'

At this point Mr Ward called 999 again and was assured his case was 'high priority' but that police in the area were busy. He rang again at 2pm and was finally given a crime number - but was told no one had yet been assigned to deal with his case. Worried about being arrested himself for false imprisonment, he contacted Cambridgeshire Police once more at 2.30pm and asked them what to do with the shoplifter. He claims he was told: 'It's up to you. You can let him go if you like.'

Mr Ward finally decided to take matters into his own hands. At 3pm, he pushed the man into the back of his Nissan Primastar van and drove him the half mile to Wisbech police station - only to find that no one there knew about the incident.

Mr Sitek, 27, who is originally from Poland, said: 'I can't believe we were waiting for more than two hours. 'We had so much hassle catching him and didn't get any help from the police. 'Where I come from the police would only take 15 minutes to arrive.'

The incident happened days after police advised shopkeepers in the area to be extra vigilant as shoplifting was on the increase. Cambridgeshire Police has since issued an apology and blamed the incident on a trainee call-taker who was working in the 999 control room. A spokesman said: 'Unfortunately, an error of judgment was made whilst prioritising several incidents at once. The retailer involved has already been spoken to by an inspector to explain what happened. We can only apologise for the circumstances.'

Raimonds Ludbarzs, 39, from Wisbech, has been charged with theft and is due to appear at Fenland Magistrates' Court today.

Original report here

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

7,000 Unprocessed Rape Kits in Los Angeles: "There Is Not an Acceptable Explanation"

The Los Angeles Police Department has more than 7,000 rape kits that have yet to be analyzed, creating an ever-increasing backlog that the city has failed to address, according to an audit released today by the city controller. Controller Laura Chick found there are 7,038 kits with DNA evidence collected from sexual assault victims that have not been analyzed. Of those cases, 176 are being pursued by detectives and 6,862 are part of the backlog. Five years ago, the backlog was at 3,332.

"There is not a woman alive who has not thought with fear in the pit of her stomach about the possibility of being raped and sexually assaulted," Chick said. "Some times I find problems as city controller that simply defy explanation," she said. "There is not an acceptable explanation for the fact that we have close to 7,000 rape kits sitting on freezer shelves -- unanalyzed."

Police Chief William Bratton was expected to comment on the audit at tonight's Police Commission meeting at Southwestern Law School. Councilman Jack Weiss, chair of the Public Safety Committee, and fellow City Council members Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti have proposed hiring 16 new employees for the crime lab in January 2009, at a cost of $700,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year. The LAPD's Serology/DNA Unit currently has 30 criminalists and 13 lab technicians.

"We appreciate that Controller Chick is now focusing on the DNA backlog issue and has added her support to the efforts we have been making to add staff and increase outsourcing," the three council members said in a joint statement. "Her help is welcome, and it is good to have the addition of her support for hiring criminalists as well as cops."

The California Sexual Assault Victims' DNA Bill of Rights requires law enforcement agencies to inform victims if the evidence in their rape kits is not processed within two years of the crime. The audit found that 5,694 of the unopened kits are more than two years old, and none of those victims have been notified. "It would be fair to say that the LAPD broke the law 5,694 times when they failed to tell rape victims that they are not going to open their kits and they have not tested their kits," said Sarah Tofte with Human Rights Watch. Of the backlogged cases, 217 have exceeded the 10-year statute of limitations.

Since 2004, the city of Los Angeles has received about $4 million in federal grants to test the backlog of kits. The Department of Justice reduced the city's 2008 grant by $498,000 -- half of the award -- because the LAPD failed to spend money from previous grants.

"The city, its elected leadership and the police department have not given this issue the attention, the resources and the priority it deserves," Chick said. "We must have presented, adopted and implemented a three-year plan that gets rid of the DNA backlog we have today once and for all and prevents any new backlog from forming -- and that plan needs to be funded."

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Australia: "Soft" female judge lets child rapist walk free

She should be removed from the bench and put on administrative duties only

Cairns judge Sarah Bradley is again under scrutiny after a teenage boy with a previous conviction for rape walked free from court despite pleading guilty to sexually assaulting three sisters. Attorney-General Kerry Shine yesterday requested a copy of the sentencing remarks, the first stage in what could be an appeal following local outrage over the case.

The controversial judge came under fire last year for giving lenient sentences to a group of men and boys who raped a girl at Aurukun, in far north Queensland, but was later cleared of judicial misconduct. Mr Shine successfully appealed the non-custodial sentences given to the nine males. Chief Justice Paul de Jersey said Judge Bradley made several errors in that case, which led to the imposition of manifestly inadequate sentences.

Judge Bradley again hit the headlines this week when she reportedly sentenced the teen rapist to two years' probation and 408 days in detention. Local media reported Judge Bradley said the boy should not be required to spend any more time in jail because he had already served 204 days, angering the victims' family who said the sentence was too short.

Cairns District Court heard the boy had repeatedly sexually assaulted three foster sisters aged 14, 16 and 17. The boy was 14 at the time and living in foster care. He pleaded guilty to 14 counts of indecent treatment.

Judge Bradley could not be contacted for comment yesterday, while Attorney-General Shine also did not want to comment before seeing the sentencing remarks. "The Attorney-General has requested the sentencing remarks to determine whether there are grounds for an appeal," his spokesman said.

But the Department of Child Safety also came under fire over the case yesterday, with the Opposition demanding to know why the boy was placed in the foster home when he had a conviction for raping a toddler. "Placing a youth who had already raped a child back into foster care with young girls was the last thing that should have occurred," Liberal National MP Jann Stuckey said. "This Government has again failed children in care."

Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech said she was "distressed" by the incident but was unable to comment because of pending legal matters. "It is a terrible thing to occur in a family," she said. Mrs Keech indicated an investigation would be conducted.

Source. (Via Australian Politics)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Arrogant British police making up the law as they go along

Women banned from collecting for Poppy Appeal after police accuse them of being 'bogus callers'

Together they have braved the cold for the last seven years to sell poppies in the build-up to Remembrance Sunday. But it seems not everyone appreciates the efforts of Jan Hinton and teenager Charlotte Warren-Sinclaire in raising hundreds of pounds for the Royal British Legion. They claim police ordered them to stop their door-to-door collection and accused them of being 'bogus callers'.

Mrs Hinton, 51, whose father served in World War II and was a prisoner of war, said she and her neighbour, 16, were shocked when two officers approached them. The charity helpers showed their official documents but were still ordered to leave because a member of the public had complained. The officers then allegedly threatened to 'pull the plug' to stop the Legion from selling poppies in the evening if the pair did not cooperate. Mrs Hinton was so upset she has gone to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. She has refused to give up her annual collection in the Littlemoor area of Weymouth where she lives. Charlotte has helped since the age of nine after learning that her grandfather was also a serviceman.

Mrs Hinton said yesterday: 'We are always polite and never force people into buying them. We have never experienced anything like this so were stunned. They have to respond to suspect callers so we showed them our ID badges, tins and poppy trays. 'Their attitude was just unbelievable. They said we couldn't collect after dark and not to collect this week because it was Hallowe'en. 'They then said if we carried on, they would pull the plug on the RBL doing house-to-house collections. 'I thought I was hearing it wrong. Who do they think they are claiming-they have the authority to make that decision? 'They wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for my father and all the other people who fought in the war. They ought to be ashamed.'

Her father, Arthur Pitman, served in the Royal Medical Corps and was a prisoner in Burma. He died several years later but the Far East Prisoner of War Association paid for her private education as a young child.

Mrs Hinton began selling poppies to show her thanks. She added: 'We never go out on Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night or on the weekend and stop at 8pm. 'People are usually willing to donate and when they say 'no' we say 'thank you' and move on.'

A Dorset Police spokesman insisted the officers had said ' nothing untoward'. He added: 'Many people, particularly the elderly, are worried about bogus callers. 'We do not have any problem with legitimate collecting of this kind.'

Original report here

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