Tuesday, March 31, 2009

British police worker lied 'about rail death girl so he could get on with his own job'

What an extraordinary mentality: Deaths are of no interest to the police!

The discovery of a teenage girl's body after she was hit by a train was delayed by a fortnight because a police worker lied to colleagues, a report will conclude today. A British Transport Police communications officer told detectives Natasha Coombs could not have been in a rail accident without their knowledge because every train has sensors to record collisions. In fact no such technology exists. Six weeks later Natasha's distraught mother, Joanne, 41, was struck and killed by a train in the same spot.

Today, an Independent Police Complaints Commission report will reveal that the BTP worker, who has now quit the force, admitted he told the lie so he could 'get on with his own job'.

Natasha, 17, left her family home in Dovercourt, Essex, in July 2007 and was last seen boarding a train that day in Ipswich, Suffolk. After she was reported missing, Essex Police contacted the BTP to see if there had been reports of anybody hit on railway lines. The lying worker handled the call. The IPCC report said: 'The communications officer admitted he lied to an Essex police officer, initially telling IPCC officers that he did so to end the call which would allow him to get on with his job, and that he actually had no knowledge of train sensors.'

The IPCC probe followed a complaint from Natasha's father Gary, 48, about the delayed investigation. It concluded the worker's lie affected the police's ' perception of the likelihood of Natasha being on the railway lines'. The report added: 'There can be no excuse for giving this false information.' The BTP communications officer resigned after being told he faced allegations of gross misconduct.

Natasha's body was found on August 10 next to rail tracks in Manningtree, Essex. Jurors at the November 2007 inquest concluded she died as the result of an accident - but that Mrs Coombs committed suicide.

IPCC Commissioner David Petch said: 'Mr Coombs twice suffered a grievous loss in a few short weeks. Clearly our first thoughts and our sympathy must be with him. 'Mr Coombs made a number of complaints about the police operations. We have substantiated four of them. 'In particular, we conclude that the police did miss opportunities for a timely and thorough search for Natasha Coombs.

'However, seven complaints have not been up upheld. The most prominent of these being that Essex Police deliberately misled the inquest. There is no evidence of this.' He added that 'our investigation criticised the decision not to categorise Natasha as high risk, when there were good reasons to do so'. He went on: 'We have also discovered shortcomings in the methods of search used and the liaison between Essex and British Transport Police.'

Essex Police Assistant Chief Constable Derek Benso apologised for the delay and said the force 'accepts that mistakes were made'.

And a BTP spokesman said: 'BTP has apologised to Mr Coombs for our failings in supporting Essex Police's investigation into the disappearance of his daughter, Natasha, and the subsequent death of his wife, Joanne. 'BTP has accepted the recommendations and taken appropriate steps to ensure lessons have been learned.' [Routine crap!]

Original report here

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Kansas City: a city that works. Except on Thursdays

A sunny Thursday in October, 2009. Police officer Chuck Smith is on routine patrol in the afternoon, a low crime time as determined by statistics gathered by the human resource department in city hall.

HR staffers saved 10 percent in personnel costs by reducing the number of officers on patrol on low crime days. Seeing a bloated police administration, staffers also saved an additional 8 percent by eliminating the budget factor for dispatch replacement staff and patrol supervision. Dispatchers are still theoretically on call 24/7...unless someone gets sick and goes home early. Then supervisors fill in...unless the supervisor is on vacation and no substitute is put in place. The city is set to save enough money to fund a nice TIF somewhere.

A routine traffic stop. Officer Smith radios in the license plate number, but the computer isn’t working at the moment because the operator is on break with no one to fill in. But no problem, because Thursday is a low crime day.

Smith decides to proceed with issuing the ticket anyway. As he exits the patrol car, the driver opens his door, rolls to the ground and begins firing round after round from a revolver. Smith is hit in the shoulder but manages to fire off several rounds and thinks he has hit the assailant.

As Officer Smith stumbles back into his squad care for protection, the assailant returns to his car, gets in and speeds off. Bleeding profusely, Smith calls for help. There is no answer. He tries again. Again. Again.

Three cars drive by before one stops to help. The driver has a cell phone and calls 911, which answers and sends an ambulance. Smith is losing consciousness but tries one more time to call dispatch. This time, an answer. He reports the incident, gives the license plate number, bleeds.

The good Samaritan citizen stays at the officer’s side, frantic, until the ambulance arrives. Relieved of his duty, he wanders around the roadside as paramedics attend to Smith. He sees a revolver on the road and picks it up, thinking it might be important. There is no other officer yet on the scene and the Samaritan has to go to work. He puts the revolver in his glove compartment and decides to call the police after he is off work.

A few miles away at the Ward Parkway shopping center, gunshots ring out. Customers at Starbucks are scrambling as bullets penetrate the windows. A woman with a cell phone sees the mayhem from across the parking lot and calls 911. 911 alerts police dispatch. The dispatcher is not on break and sends out the alert.

In a meeting with the KC Star editorial board meeting earlier in 2009, city council representatives admitted that budget cuts to the police department would likely reduce response time to calls. Editorial writers called for reduction in “top heavy” administration while leaving officers on the street.

But when it came time to make the cuts, city administrators decided they could cut the usual replacement factor used for calculating fill-in personnel for 24/7 types of operations, such as police and detention centers. And for good measure, they cut the training budget, always an easy target.

So there are officers available to respond to the 911 calls, but they are relatively inexperienced, and there is no experienced command staff member within south zone available to go to the scene. A commander is attending to a problem in the north zone, a 20 minute drive away.

The officers approach the shopping center and see bodies, shot in the head, in two cars outside Starbucks. They enter the shopping center and see a man walking toward a Target store firing weapons as shoppers dive for cover. Acting quickly, they shoot and kill the “suspect”, likely saving a dozen lives.

But the bodies in the cars outside Starbucks are left unattended because a commanding officer is not yet on scene to take charge of the inexperienced officers. No one has yet called crime scene technicians. A teenager wanders by the car and unsecured crime scene and picks up bullet casings as a souvenir.

A bystander calls the Kansas City Star to alert a reporter about the incident. But the Star has furloughed most of its crime reporters, and no one is available to go to the scene. A blogger in Independence, however, knows someone who works at Starbucks and calls to get the story.

Officer Smith survived the shooting. He wounded his assailant, causing him to lose a revolver at the scene of the traffic stop. Unfortunately, the weapon found by the good Samaritan could not be used as evidence at trial because the chain of custody of the weapon could not be adequately documented. When the good Samaritan called the police after work, no one was available for two days to meet the citizen, who had moved the revolver from his car and into his garage.

Defense attorneys maintained that it was possible the weapon in the garage was not, in fact, the weapon used in the attack. Fingerprints on the weapon were unusable because the good Samaritan had shown the revolver to several neighbors, including several gun interested guys who checked the chamber for bullets. The assailant could not be charged for the attack on the officer.

The absence of bullet casings outside the Starbucks at the shopping center crime scene became a major controversy in the plaintiff’s lawsuit against the police for the death of the gunman. Officer Smith was not allowed to testify at trial that he encountered the assailant in a traffic stop because there was no admissible evidence that the officer had been shot by a gun in the possession of the assailant.

Plaintiff’s lawyer claimed there was no probable cause to believe the bodies had been killed at the shopping center because there were no spent shells. Therefore, the officers used excessive force in subduing the man inside the mall. Attorneys argued that, though mentally ill, the man could have been arrested without shooting him. The jury was not allowed to hear testimony by officers that they saw two dead bodies in cars as they entered the shopping mall.

Because of inadequate documentation and questionable supervision of the crime scene, the police department settled the lawsuit for $6 million rather than risk the punitive judgment of an irate citizenry.

Editorial writers for the Kansas City Star decried the sloppy management of the police department, declaring that a supervisor should have been on duty to respond to the shopping center to secure the crime scene and protect evidence. They also attacked the police chief for allowing city staffers to assume that Thursdays are low crime days, saying that logic would hold that emergencies can happen at any time.

Though editorial writers praised Officer Smith, police administration was criticized for allowing officers to approach cars without first obtaining a license check. The police chief responded that it was policy for officers to obtain such checks, but writers pointed out officers were inadequately trained. The chief pointed out that training budgets had been cut, and writers maintained that good training could have been preserved if training staff offices had eliminated more civilian personnel and fewer sworn officers.

Bloggers raged about the police department’s abuse of force. Liberals wanted the police officers fired for failing to protect the rights of people with mental illness. Conservatives wanted plaintiff’s lawyers disbarred and activist judges removed from the bench.

City council members who cut the police department budget by $6 million dollars claimed that they meant for the police department to save $6 million not by reducing the number of dispatchers, officers and supervisors but by using cutting edge technology to reduce typing costs.

Kansas City. A city that works. Except on Thursdays.

Original report here

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

PA: Hundreds of juvenile convictions reversed

When Matt Klubeck landed in juvenile court four years ago for throwing a piece of steak at his mother's boyfriend during an argument, he figured the judge would dismiss the simple assault charge that had been lodged against him. Instead, Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella denied Klubeck his right to an attorney, presided over a hearing that lasted barely a minute or two, then forced the 13-year-old — only 4-foot-2 and 82 pounds at the time — to spend 48 terrifying days in a youth detention center.

Klubeck was among hundreds of juveniles Ciavarella sent to a private lockup run by PA Child Care LLC. In exchange, prosecutors say, Ciavarella took millions of dollars in kickbacks in one of the most egregious cases of judicial corruption ever seen.

On Thursday, Pennsylvania's highest court overturned hundreds of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, ruling the disgraced judge violated the constitutional rights of youth offenders who appeared in his courtroom without lawyers between 2003 and 2008.

For Klubeck, who sank into a scared, lonely depression as he did time with much larger boys who had committed far more serious crimes, the decision means vindication — and a fresh start. "This is great. This is great," said an exultant Klubeck, now 17, given the news by a reporter. "I can't believe he tried to ruin kids' lives in exchange for money. I'm glad he got caught."

Federal prosecutors charged Ciavarella and another Luzerne County judge, Michael Conahan, with taking $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in privately owned lockups. The judges pleaded guilty to fraud last month and face sentences of more than seven years in prison.

"Today's order is not intended to be a quick fix," Chief Justice Ronald Castille said in a statement. "It's going to take some time, but the Supreme Court is committed to righting whatever wrong was perpetrated on Luzerne's juveniles and their families."

The Supreme Court approved the recommendations of Berks County Senior Judge Arthur Grim, whom the justices appointed in February to review cases handled by Ciavarella. He decided that expungement was the most appropriate remedy for low-level offenders who appeared in Ciavarella's courtroom without lawyers — a group he has said numbered "easily into the hundreds."

Under Pennsylvania law, a juvenile may not waive his right to an attorney unless the decision is made "knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily." The judge must also formally question defendants to make sure they understand their rights, something Ciavarella routinely did not do.

In a report to the Supreme Court released Thursday, Grim said he has determined that "a very substantial number of juveniles who appeared without counsel before Judge Ciavarella ... did not knowingly and intelligently waive their right to counsel." Grim next will review cases involving more serious juvenile offenses.

Original report here

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jailed German nanny cleared of injuring baby by British appeal court

Court of Appeal rules that convictions for causing grievous bodily harm to ten-week-old child were unsafe. There appear to be no publicly-available details of the grounds for the appeal but the fact that a retrial was refused suggests that the original conviction was based on weak medical evidence backed by supposition only

A nanny who was jailed for seriously injuring a baby has had her name cleared by the Court of Appeal. Jasmin Schmidt, from Germany, was sentenced to three years in prison last September and served seven months. She had been found guilty of two counts of causing grievous bodily harm.

During the trial, the jury at the Old Bailey was told that Ms Schmidt, 33, who had previously worked for a pop star and other celebrities, had lost her temper with the ten-week-old child during a restless night and shook him violently. Ms Schmidt, a qualified paediatric nurse from Bonn, had been hired to look after the child while his parents, who cannot be named, attended a London Fashion Week event in 2002.

Last week three Court of Appeal judges ruled that Ms Schmidt's convictions were unsafe. This judgment can only be reported now after a ruling that she should not face a retrial.

Ms Schmidt's barrister, Diana Ellis, QC, had argued that problems in the way that the case had been summed up to the jury rendered the convictions unsafe. The appeal was allowed and the convictions quashed by Lord Justice Scott Baker, Mr Justice Mackay and Mr Justice Beatson. The case was adjourned until this week. Yesterday, lawyers for the prosecution applied for the case to be heard again by another jury, but the application was rejected by the court. “We have considered carefully the arguments both ways, but we come to the clear conclusion that it would not be in the interests of justice for there to be a retrial in this case,” Lord Justice Scott Baker said.

It was alleged at last year's trial that the baby's parents, who run a shop in North Yorkshire, had found him whimpering in his cot after Ms Schmidt's third night working for the family. He was taken to hospital suffering from a fractured elbow and brain injuries, but made a full recovery after a long period in a critical state. Giving evidence, the child's mother said: “I could tell his body was feeling a little bit more limp. I could tell he was very poorly.” When she telephoned Ms Schmidt, the nanny claimed that the baby could be suffering from a bug.

Jailing her, the Recorder, Jeremy Gold, QC, said: “As you have never revealed what you did to him, I cannot rule out that these injuries were injuries inflicted by you in an outburst of violence resulting from a loss of temper or a lack of sleep or both. “I'm satisfied that you used a degree of force that any sensible person, let alone a qualified paediatric nurse, would have inevitably realised was bound to have caused injury to a delicate and precious infant. It was an act of genuine cruelty.”

Ms Schmidt had worked for a number of wealthy families in West London after arriving in Britain in 1998. After the trial, it emerged that Ms Schmidt in another trial earlier last year, had been cleared of causing actual bodily harm to a two-month-old girl in August 2006 and a three-month-old boy in July 2003. Ms Schmidt, who lives in Hampstead, northwest London, has worked in the financial services industry after retraining in business studies.

Original report here

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Serial rapist? Ho hum say British police

Scotland Yard was accused yesterday of a “total and abject failure” after it admitted that mistakes were made that allowed a serial sex attacker to continue preying on women for four years after first being identified as a suspect.

Crisis meetings have been held at Scotland Yard about the case of Kirk Reid, who was convicted yesterday of carrying out a string of sex attacks. Senior officers are said to be shocked at the incompetence shown by the investigators. The Times can report that police chiefs view it as a “Lawrence moment” that will lead to a fundamental change in the investigation of sex crimes, just as the botched inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death in 1993 changed police attitudes to racist attacks.

Reid, a chef who also refereed women’s football matches, was found guilty of 26 offences, including two rapes, and had previously admitted two indecent assaults. Police have linked him to 71 attacks in the South London area over seven years.

Despite having been narrowed down to one of three suspects early in the investigation, Reid, whose brother is a policeman, was never interviewed and did not have his DNA taken.

His conviction follows the jailing of the taxi driver John Worboys this month for a series of sexual assaults against female passengers. Officers from Wandsworth borough specialist sex crimes unit in South London were involved in investigating both crimes.

A senior officer at Scotland Yard said that colleagues were “embarrassed and staggered” by the blunders in the Reid case. “This is a total and abject failure of management, a momentous disaster,” he told The Times. “It is absolutely staggering and has caused more than a little bit of alarm in the corridors of power at the Yard. This is not about a system failure, it is not hindsight, it is not even making a bad judgment call. It is complete and utter incompetence, no more, no less.”

After the judge criticised the “inadequate work” of officers, Scotland Yard apologised to Reid’s victims — an unprecedented step because it is believed that the Met has never previously apologised to victims of sex crimes. Commander Mark Simmons, of Territorial Policing, admitted that Reid should have been arrested sooner, adding that he was sorry “those women who were subsequently attacked by him have been caused unnecessary suffering”.

Police had narrowed down Reid, 44, as one of three suspects thought to be responsible for 71 violent assaults on lone women in South London between 2001 and 2008 but detectives failed to take basic steps to eliminate him from their inquiries. Officers from the specialist sex crimes unit in Wandsworth did not interview him, search his house or take a DNA sample. The officers from the Sapphire Unit had become fixated on another suspect — a completely innocent man — although his DNA did not match that of the attacker and he was never picked out of an ID parade.

Although records are no longer kept, The Times has learnt that police estimate Reid was logged acting suspiciously in his car in the early hours of the morning at least 30 times in the years preceding his arrest. In January 2004 a man dialled 999 to say that a woman was being attacked and gave the suspect’s registration number but police never traced the owner. A month later a woman police constable saw Reid beeping his horn at lone women. She put his registration into the system and saw that it was the same as that in the emergency call. She also linked Reid to an intelligence report in 2002, when he was spoken to about following a woman, and an acquittal in 1995 for sexual assault. The officer warned Sapphire Unit detectives that Reid could be their man but nothing was done. He went on to attack at least 20 more women before being caught.

Two reviews were carried out into the case in 2004 and 2006 by senior officers at Scotland Yard and the Wandsworth Sapphire Unit.

In January 2008 the Homicide and Serious Crime Command took over the case, saw that Reid was a suspect and collected a DNA sample from him. He was charged three days later.

Judge Shani Barnes said she wanted psychiatric reports before she sentenced Reid and that she wanted to comment on the “unfortunate period of time these matters were allowed to continue through the years”. She praised Detective Inspector Justin Davies, who, “after years of inadequate work” by other officers, “finally brought this matter to the courts and allowed women to walk safely on the streets”.

Control of the specialist sex crime Sapphire units, set up in 2001 to redefine the way serious sexual assaults were investigated, is being taken from borough level and put under the umbrella of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command at Scotland Yard. Critics say this does nothing to address the main problem. Andy Hayman, former assistant commissioner in charge of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, said: “How can a new structure of reporting address the issue of individual failings by officers?”

The fallout from the case could see several officers, some promoted since working at Wandsworth, being sacked or demoted. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that he was “deeply disturbed” by parts of the Reid case.

Commander Mark Simmons said: “It is clear from the evidence heard in court that the standard of investigation was not what we as an organisation or the victims should have expected. Reid should have been arrested sooner and I, on behalf of the MPS and as head of Sapphire, am sorry those women who were subsequently attacked by him have been caused unnecessary suffering.”

Scotland Yard has referred both the Reid and Worboy cases to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Deborah Glass, the IPCC commissioner for London, said there was a “real cause for concern” that it took so long to arrest Reid, and the public would want to know if the police took the victims seriously enough.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “This is one of the worst cases on record where the police have failed to protect vulnerable women despite repeated and bestial attacks.”

At Reid’s trial at Kingston Crown Court, Patricia Lees, for the prosecution, admitted that the “investigative techniques employed by the police officers at the time were inadequate and those failings in following up evidential leads allowed Kirk Reid to remain at large and to continue to prey on women.”

Original report here

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sentenced to death by freezing. Politics at work

You often hear the words: “You do the crime, you do the time.” The theory has been that once someone has “paid their debt to society” (a phrase that is invalid in many ways) then they are given another chance to “go straight.” A man may cruelly beat his wife, put her in hospital, and spend time in prison for it. When he comes out his punishment is over. A woman may mistreat her child, leading to the death of that child, and serve time in prison for it. But when she has served her time she is released and the punishment ends.

Only one class of people is punished repeatedly, over and over, for the rest of their lives: sex offenders. Of course, when people think of these people, they assume that everyone is talking about someone who violently raped a small child. In truth few offenders fit that profile. We have seen how a sex offender can be a teen on a date with another teen. If the object of their affection has lied about his/her age, the older teen can be classified as a sex offender and punished for the rest of his/her life. The rabid politicians, always seeking to appear “pro-active” continue to make life worse and worse for such people, while “closing loopholes” which means inventing more criminals who fall into this category. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote:
When convicts serve their sentences, their debts are paid, and they are generally free to live and work wherever they can find shelter and employment. But the sex offender registry is a kind of life sentence. Those on it cannot live or work within 1,000 feet of places children congregate, such as parks, schools, rec centers and swimming pools.

A teenager streaking a school event as a prank can be classified as a sex offender. Two teens, both of the same age, can have sex and become “sex offenders” for molesting each other. Teens who took racy photos of themselves are arrested as child pornographers and treated like sex offenders. We have seen numerous cases where a girl lied about her age to her date, and admits she lied about her age, but the date is deemed a “predator” by the stupid justice system.

Right now there is a man in Georgia who is on the sex offender registry for a hold-up he committed years ago as a stupid teen.

Darnelle Harvey was 17 when he and a friend decided to hold up a Dairy Queen restaurant in 1990. He’s listed as a sex offender for that robbery yet no sex was involved. He and a friend hid outside the Dairy Queen waiting to rob it. Harvey was reluctant, he told his friend he was not willing to go through with the crime. His friend admits that he then pointed a gun at Harvey and told him he had no choice. Harvey caved in under the threat.

As they approached the shop a 16-year-old boy exited. He was told to lie on the crime and they robbed him. One by one as the people in the store left they were robbed. But Georgia politicians say that “false imprisonment” is a sex offense even if no sex was involved. And making the boy lie on the ground during the robbery was “false imprisonment” and thus a sex crime.

Greg Soucia broke was caring for someone’s property. When they were away he went into their house and stole a credit card. For that he was registered as a sex offender. The local prosecutor said that Soucia used the credit card to hire a stripper so it was now a “sex crime.” He said: “If you commit a burglary and your goal is because of your own sexual gratification, it’s a sexually motivated felony.” I assume a teenage boy shoplifting Playboy is now a sex offender under this logic.

When sex offender registries were first created they were limited to individuals who were violent and dangerous. Over time the registries have been expanded and expanded again. In addition, the definition of “sex offense” has been blown entirely out of proportion so that an increasing number of people on that list pose no threat to anyone—and never did. In Georgia alone “thousands” of sex offenders “are on the registry for having consensual sex when they were teenagers, or for lesser crimes such as flashing, peeping through windows and sexual battery, which often translates into inappropriate touching.” One offender “a 23-year-old Georgia State student, got on the list for drunkenly groping a co-ed at a keg party.”

The perpetual punishment of “sex offenders” rests entirely on a theory that has no substance: once a sex offender always a sex offender. The claim is spread around that sex offenders are incapable of controlling their impulses and will offend again so they must be tightly regulated and controlled. A large majority of convicted offenders do not reoffend. The Center for Sex Offender Management of the Department of Justice, in a link that now appears broken, said that it is a myth that, “most offenders reoffend.” They said, “Reconviction data suggest that this is not the case” and “recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower than for the general criminal population.”

One sex offender who did not reoffend was Thomas Pauli who was convicted twenty years ago for molestation. Like so many “registered offenders” Pauli was homeless. Politicians have legislated hundreds of thousands of offenders out of their homes forcing them to roam the streets. Zoning legislation restricts where they may live, yet the law may require them to stay in a specific city. Thus they can be sentenced to live in a city where it is illegal for them to “reside” anywhere. For instance, in Miami offenders were rendered homeless by city laws restricting where they could reside. The only location that wasn’t covered was under a bridge.

Thomas Pauli was homeless and wandering the streets of Grand Rapids. Two homeless shelters were in the area but state law required them to turn Pauli out into the cold. Had either shelter given him a warm place to stay they would have been in violation of sex offender laws. Pauli wandered the streets trying to find a warm place. He climbed a fence by a car repair shop. The owner says that he believes the man was looking for an open car where he could shelter himself from the cold. A local news report said:
Don Lamse, 70, who operates a car repair shop in the building, said he walked outside about 9:30 a.m. Monday to look for a part. He found Pauli crouched in a kneeling position. "I thought he was trying to stay warm," Lamse said. "I don't know exactly what put him there...It's been very cold, and I've seen where, occasionally, people use vehicles to get out of the cold. I don't know if that was his intention."

News sources say that spokesmen for the two homeless shelters in the area “agreed that Pauli may have tried to gain entrance, but that their missions risk fines and loss of license if they admit sex offenders. Bill Shaffer of the Guiding Light shelter said: “These men and women are clearly ‘The Scarlet Letter’ folks of our day. And where do they go? I have no answer.”

A quarter of a century ago Thomas Pauli did something wrong. He served 11 years in jail because of it. And then he was released to find that he was being subjected to a life sentence of legal harassment. Still, he didn’t reoffend. He obeyed the laws and as a result, this last January, he had no place to live legally. Two homeless shelters were willing to help him but they too were stopped by the law. Mr. Pauli wandered the streets in subfreezing weather. He was found on his knees between two cars, frozen to death. He may have served his time for the crime he did, and he may have learned his lesson and never reoffended, but he was literally tortured in freezing conditions and sentenced to death because of legislation that protects no one. Here is one man killed by grandstanding politicians who don't bother thinking through the results of their own legislation.

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Britain's social work tyranny again

"We had our baby taken away for a year over a doctor's blunder". No second opinion sought, of course. Taking a baby away is a mere bagatelle to hate-filled British Leftist social workers -- unless the baby is really in danger, of course! Then the mother is "supported" and the baby can go to hell -- and often does! There should always be expedited judicial proceedings in an open court before a baby is taken away. Scum social workers are the last people who should be trusted. They are taught in their social work schools to despise the society they live in and it shows

A soldier and his wife had their baby taken away for almost a year after a doctor misread an X-ray. Lance Corporal Matthew Dean and his wife Katie were accused of abusing Louie and were suddenly faced with the threat of losing all their three children. The ordeal started with a hospital scan when Louie was two months old which found blood between his brain and skull. He had been thriving despite being born five weeks prematurely with a slightly enlarged head and floppy limbs.

Further X-rays seemed to show no more injuries until a doctor claimed she could see a broken rib. Louie's father, who has served with the Princess of Wales Regiment in Iraq, Kosovo and Northern Ireland, and mother were told they could not be trusted with him.

It was only after almost a year of misery that a judge ruled that the blood on Louie's brain was the result of an accident and that the rib had never been broken at all. The doctor had misread the X-ray. Social services then realised their case was so weak that they did not even bother to cross-examine the couple in court.

Cuddling Louie, now 18 months, Mrs Dean, 32, said last night: 'Social services treated us like something they'd stepped in and were desperate to build a case. 'Doctors and social workers have an important job but in this case they've over-reacted on a suspicion, rather than facts. Louie had one injury, and that was accidental.' Lance Corporal Dean, 34, said: 'Nothing can ever repay us for that year away from Louie.'

The couple, from Southampton, met in 2002 and have a five year-old daughter Daisy. Mrs Dean has another daughter, Charlotte, nine, by an earlier relationship.

Louie was born in August 2007 near Hanover, Germany, where his father had been posted. Because his head was enlarged, the couple were told to take him to a civilian hospital for regular check-ups. After the scan found the blood between his brain and skull, he needed two operations. Louie also developed meningitis but was eventually sent home with his parents. The cause of the blood remained a mystery but Army social workers said their should be no problem as German doctors could find no evidence of other injuries.

The family returned to England for Christmas but X-rays had been sent to Southampton General Hospital consultant radiologist Jo Fairhurst. Court documents show Dr Fairhurst believed 'there was a healing fracture' of a rib 'suggesting non-accidental injury'. On the strength of her opinion, the Deans were told they were to be arrested for child abuse when they returned to Germany. A document from the British Forces Social Work Service informed them that Mrs Dean's mother Christine Long, 62, would have to take charge of their son. Mrs Long moved temporarily to Germany to watch over Louie 24 hours a day while investigations continued.

The only way the couple could regain the right to look after him was through the UK courts, so LCpl Dean gained a transfer in January 2008. Hampshire social services took over the case and told them Louie would have to live with his grandmother on the other side of the town.

Last December, the couple were finally able to look after their son again when a judge rejected a bid to place their three children in care. The High Court in Portsmouth heard that the blood on Louie's brain was probably the result of an accident or could have simply happened spontaneously. His parents suspected it dated from his difficult birth.

More importantly, a German doctor assured the court that the 'rib fracture' was a misreading of a line on the X-ray created because Louie's lungs and spine had moved.

The judge said: 'I cannot find it proved that Louie suffered a fractured rib. I conclude it is very unlikely either of these parents was responsible for causing the bleeding between his brain and skull.'

John Coughlan, Hampshire's director of children's services, defended the 'necessary but proportionate intervention'. He said: 'We went to great pains to ensure Louie stayed within the care of the family.'

A hospital spokesman said Dr Fairhurst was working overseas and he was unable to comment in her absence. [Someone should fire the stupid bitch]

Original report here. (Via PC Watch)

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From the Trenches of the Drug War: A Street Cop’s Perspective

The nine-year-old boy’s eyes went as big as saucers, as my 40-caliber Glock came into view and paused for a split second on his chest. Being the fourth officer through the door of the townhouse meant the woman and her three kids were already in a state of shock. We spent 30 minutes looking for the marijuana mentioned in the search warrant, coming up empty. In retrospect, at least we had bothered to obtain a warrant.

As we left, no one bothered to apologize for our intrusion, the terror we created, or for any action on our part. Since we were the good guys, doing good work, what need was there to apologize? Looking back and realizing now what havoc I caused makes me ill. Incidents like this “spurred” me into riding my horse across North America to speed the end of the most destructive, dysfunctional, and immoral policy since slavery and Jim Crow.

I spent 18 years in law enforcement near Lansing, Michigan. The first three were in a cadet-type program, the next twelve (12) as a road officer, and the last three as a detective. Essentially I did everything in police work but shoot someone or be shot at. The war on drugs went from almost zero to a huge factor in my professional life as my career spanned 1974-1994.

When I first started, a mentor, Lt. Terry Meyer, summed it up best, “I don’t give a damn what you do in your own home. But what you do in public becomes my business big time.” And for the first 10 years or so we focused on public safety, not what an adult did in private.

The turning point came in about 1986, when we were educated on how to take property from citizens. I will never forget the two-hour seminar I attended at the Michigan State Police HQ in Lansing. A narcotics officer was almost gleeful, as he explained to the uniformed street cops how they too could become foot soldiers in winning the drug war. “No drugs need be found in the vehicle to seize it. All you need is either cash, drug paraphernalia, or drug documents. How much cash? Your local prosecutor will decide. When in doubt, seize the money and the vehicle. We can always give it back,” he explained.

I was a mature 35 when they tried to enlist me in their money-making scheme. Without any conscious thought, I rejected what I learned. I continued my relentless pursuit of stopping people using 3000 pound killing machines (i.e., cars and trucks) from killing innocent motorists in my township. Who cares if students from Michigan State have some pot in their glove box, as long as they were not driving stoned?

My early twenty-something colleagues however saw catching pot smokers as great sport, fun and rewarding. They were rewarded with atta-boys from the chief for pot busts and especially when they were able to seize a car. Mind you, despite what you see on TV, the average car seized was 10 years old and worth maybe 2,000 dollars. No matter, it all counted. I remember the first thing my chief bought with civil-asset-forfeiture money was a pager for all of us ... for the stated purpose so we could be quickly assembled if we needed to go on a drug raid. I looked at the thing with Alice in Wonderland in mind. What the bleep are we doing? Nonetheless, I carried it with me, like I carried my off-duty 38.

Being the ever-curious type, at the donut shop one night I asked my colleagues why they spent almost all their free time stopping and searching cars for a baggie. “It’s a hoot. It is so easy to get them to agree to a search. Chief likes it. I feel good about it,” they responded. What about the drunk drivers that actually hurt and kill people? I inquired. They shrugged their shoulders. Talk about a disconnect.

A few years later I became our department’s first detective. As I began investigating the home burglaries and car thefts, I learned quickly the drug war was the cause of 80% of theft crimes. Crack was the drug du jour and addicts needed about 200 dollars per day and were stealing about $2,000 to get the money. Addicts told me that some dealers would take the stolen goods in exchange for crack … a barter system. I saw the pain and anguish as home owners described their precious heirlooms stolen, their sense of violation knowing that strangers had been in their “castle.” As one homeowner described his grandfather’s pocket watch, his wife began to cry and the man suddenly slammed his fist into the wall. It was at that moment that I became conscious of my opposition to drug policy. Why not let these damn idiots have the all the crack they want until they are dead? Leave the good people of Bath Township alone!

Two years after retiring and moving to Texas, I became a foot soldier in the movement to end drug prohibition. I expect to see it end in my lifetime but if not, I am confident that others will carry on the effort. I will work on this until modern Prohibition is in the history books or I draw my last breath. Little boys do not deserve to have weapons shoved in their faces.

Original report here

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Australia: Another cop gets away with it

A cop drinks three 15 oz. glasses of beer in an hour -- which would put him well over the .05 limit -- and it is the guy who told of that who gets punished! The fact that the cop's friends in the force declared him under the limit would convince no-one. In Queensland, a "schooner" is three quarters of a pint

A QUEENSLAND barman has lost his job after he dobbed in a police officer for downing three heavy beers in an hour then driving home with his three children in the car. Craig Tomsett of Gladstone was sacked by his boss at the Gladstone Golf Club when the police officer in question made a written complaint about his behaviour on February 13.

In the letter, the police officer admitted to drinking three schooners of Toohey's Extra Dry in an hour then driving home with his children. He said when he was breath-tested at home by police he was "well under 0.05" despite having consumed the equivalent of 4.5 standard drinks.

"If Tomsett alleges I was intoxicated to such an extent that he was concerned about me driving a motor vehicle, the question begs asking as to why he continued serving me alcohol which is in clear breach of the Liquor Act 1992 and Liquor Regulations 2002," the officer wrote in the letter sent from Gladstone Police Station. "An offence which, if proved to be accurate, would lead to a substantial monetary fine for the Gladstone Golf Club."

He also claimed Mr Tomsett, 39, had a personal vendetta against him as a police officer and suggested the single father would be "well advised to look after his own back yard".

Mr Tomsett was sacked the day after his employer received the letter, which he has passed on to the Crime and Misconduct Commission. Police this week confirmed the Ethical Standards Command was investigating Mr Tomsett's complaint with the CMC overviewing.

Mr Tomsett admitted he and the police officer were former neighbours who had a falling out last year over the officer's dogs but he denied the drink-driving allegation was a payback. "I have an obligation of care to notify police. His statement in itself is evident that he was drink-driving," Mr Tomsett said.

Since making the complaint to the CMC, Mr Tomsett said he had been followed by the police officer in question and on Thursday his house was raided by police and the dog squad. Gladstone police said the raid was related to a separate matter but Mr Tomsett claimed he was the victim of intimidation. "I had an officer intimidate me and threaten to put my four-year-old son into child services. It just beggars belief. They found nothing," Mr Tomsett, who has previously been fined for possessing a small amount of marijuana, said.

Gladstone Golf Club manager Ivan Carr said Mr Tomsett was sacked because of his "inappropriate behaviour" towards the police officer but declined to comment further.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Have the eyes had it? Is our eyewitness identification system sending innocents to jail?

We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison. —Marcel Proust

Describe the last person who served you a coffee. What if I helped refresh your memory? Showed you some photos of local baristas? Pulled together a helpful lineup? Cheered exuberantly when you picked the "right" one? Now imagine that instead of identifying the person who made your venti latte last week, we had just worked together to nail a robber or a rapist. Imagine how good we would feel. Now imagine what would happen if we were wrong.

Last month, a Texas judge cleared Timothy Cole of the aggravated sexual assault conviction that sent him to prison in 1986. Although his victim positively identified him three times—twice in police lineups and again at trial—Cole was ultimately exonerated by DNA testing. The real rapist, Jerry Wayne Johnson, had been confessing to the crime since 1995. Unfortunately, Cole died in prison in 1999, long before his name was cleared.

Our eyes deceive us. Social scientists have insisted for decades that our eyewitness identification process is unreliable at best and can be the cause of grievous injustice. A study published last month by Gary Wells and Deah Quinlivan in Law and Human Behavior, the journal of the American Psychology-Law Society, reveals just how often those injustices occur: Of the more than 230 people in the United States who were wrongfully convicted and later exonerated by DNA evidence, approximately 77 percent involved cases of mistaken eyewitness identification, more than any other single factor.

Wells has been studying mistaken identifications for decades, and his objection to the eyewitness identification system is not that people make mistakes. In an interview he explains that eyewitness evidence is important but should be treated—like blood, fingerprints, and fiber evidence—as trace evidence, subject to contamination, deterioration, and corruption. Our current criminal justice system—blessed by a 30-year-old Supreme Court precedent—allows juries to hear eyewitness identification evidence shaped by suggestive police procedures. In a 1977 case, Manson v. Brathwaite, the Supreme Court held that evidence that was a product of suggestive identification procedures need not be excluded if the identification was nevertheless deemed "reliable." Five criteria for determining whether that identification could be reliable were laid out—including how much opportunity the witness had to view the perpetrator and how certain she was of her identification. In the intervening years, social scientists have called into question much of the science underlying these five factors. Today we know, for instance, that you can have a good long look, be certain you have the right guy, and also be wrong. But Manson is still considered good law.

Jennifer Thompson was 22 the night she was raped in 1984. Throughout the ordeal, she scrupulously studied her attacker, determined to memorize every detail of his face and voice so that, if she survived, she could help the police catch him. Thompson soon identified Ronald Cotton in a photo lineup. When she—after some hesitation—again picked Cotton out of a physical lineup a few days later, a detective told her she'd picked the same person in the photo lineup. As Thompson told Leslie Stahl on CBS last weekend, that assurance led her to think: "Bingo. I did it right. I did it right."

But in this case Thompson got it wrong, although Cotton served 10 and a half years before DNA evidence exonerated him and decisively implicated another man, Bobby Poole. The curious part of the story is that despite Thompson's determination to memorize every detail, when she first saw Bobby Poole in court she was certain she had never seen him before. Indeed, according to Wells and Quinlivan, "Even after DNA had exonerated Cotton and Thompson herself had accepted the fact that Poole was her attacker, she had no memory of Poole's face and, when thinking back to the attack she says, 'I still see Ronald Cotton.' "

How did our eyewitness identification system manage to paint a detailed picture of the wrong face in Jennifer Thompson's mind while somehow completely erasing the right one? Wells and Quinlivan's paper suggests a host of tricks the mind can play, ranging from incorporating innocent "feedback" from police investigators, to increasing certainty in one's shaky memories that become reinforced over time.

Add to that Thompson's determination to regain control over her life, and her need to believe that the justice system was just, and it would have been doubly hard for her to look at a police lineup that, as it happened, did not include an image of the real rapist and walk away. To hear Thompson and other victims tell it, being part of a system that identified and ultimately convicted the wrong man became another form of victimization, and for that reason alone the system needs to be reformed.

The problems with the eyewitness identification system cannot be laid at the feet of crime victims any more than they can be blamed on police investigators. Wells' argument for reforming our eyewitness identification system is that the incentive for the police to subtly nudge our memories goes not only uncorrected by the justice system, but sometimes is rewarded by it. Wells wants the Supreme Court to revisit the scientific assumptions underpinning Manson v. Brathwaite, which allows such identifications to come into a courtroom as long as the identification is "reliable."

Whether or not the John Roberts court wishes to take up the issue of innocent prisoners—there is, for instance, a case now percolating through the New Jersey courts testing the scientific premises of Manson—a few states and cities have used innocent exoneration scandals to rethink their eyewitness identification practices in ways that would begin to restore the credibility of such evidence. Proposed changes include showing victims photos sequentially, explaining to the victim that the perpetrator may not be included in the lineup, and ensuring that whoever conducts the lineup has no knowledge of which person is the actual suspect.

This is not an issue that tracks the usual pro-prosecution, pro-defense divide. Mostly, police departments don't change their eyewitness identification procedures simply because there is no big loud constituency demanding that guys in lineups be treated more fairly. But some of the most zealous reformers of the current eyewitness identification process are lifelong conservatives who recognize that the credibility of the whole justice system is on the line each time an innocent man goes to jail. That's because when that happens, a guilty man often walks free.

Original report here

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

A conviction based on suspicion only!

It was sweet relief for Chris Szitovszky when his lawyer called him to tell him he was a free man. Mr Szitovszky, who was imprisoned for almost two years for a crime he swears he did not commit -- murdering his father with an axe - says he never lost hope his conviction would be quashed.

About 3.30pm yesterday, his mother, Helen, flanked by family friends, embraced him as he walked out of Fulham Prison gates near Sale, putting behind them two years of frustration and hell. "I'm ecstatic. I'm over the moon," he said. "I can't wait to get home. It's been a long time but I never gave up hope. It's been pretty hard. "It's just been difficult to deal with being in prison for something I didn't do. I couldn't have done it without the support of my family, friends and, of course, my lawyers."

Christopher Leslie Szitovszky, 26, was freed by Victoria's Court of Appeal. He had always maintained his innocence after his father Peter, 58, was found dead outside the family's Wheelers Hill home.

Peter Szitovszky died after being struck with an axe about 14 times to the neck, face and torso in the early hours of July 1, 2004.

Christopher Szitovszky told police he had been woken about 3.30am by arguing and dogs barking, but did not go to investigate until three hours later when he found his father's body.

Two witnesses described seeing a man in his 20s yelling outside the Szitovszky home but neither saw his face.

A Supreme Court jury was told the son and father's relationship had become strained years earlier when the family had financial difficulties. Mr Szitovszky's mother worked two full-time jobs because her husband had depression and often stayed at home in bed.

A jury found Mr Szitovszky guilty of murder in April 2007 and he was sentenced to 18 years' jail with a minimum of 13.

He is free now but his family still want justice - to find his father's killer. Helen Szitovszky said her husband's killer was still to be found. "It is up to the police to find him," she said.

Mr Szitovszky said he had not only the support of his mother, Helen, and brother, Simon, but his father's family in Hungary. "Nobody ever doubted me," he said.

Mr Szitovszky's appeal focused on the verdict being "unsafe and unsatisfactory" to which Court of Appeal justices Frank Vincent, Geoffrey Nettle and Peter Vickery unanimously agreed.

They found there was no forensic evidence linking Mr Szitovszky to the murder and the evidence of the two witnesses was insufficient to identity him as the killer.

Original report here

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Complacent South Australian prosecutors refuse to arrest a dangerous nut -- with appalling consequences

They refused to act even after urgent approaches from the Parole Board

Parole Board chief Frances Nelson, QC, has blamed weak laws for Monday's tragic attack that left a man and a boy dead and a newborn baby injured. Angry and distressed, Ms Nelson told The Advertiser yesterday that she had asked the Director of Public Prosecutions at least four times to have mentally ill drug addict David James Wyatt locked up because he was a danger to the community. Ms Nelson also lashed out at laws governing mentally ill offenders subject to supervision orders, saying she had warned Attorney-General Michael Atkinson of a looming "disaster".

Wyatt, 24, killed his son, 2, and stabbed his partner, 21, and baby daughter before fatally stabbing himself in the family's Charlson St home at Davoren Park at 2am on Monday.

"I was just horrified because I think they are two deaths that needn't have happened and one of them is a child and I think that is appalling," Ms Nelson said. "His partner is critically ill and the 15-day-old baby was stabbed and it distresses me that I knew there was a potential for serious violence and I was impotent to do anything about it."

Wyatt was placed on a four-year mental health supervision licence for robbing a woman at knifepoint at Parafield Gardens in February, 2005. He was suffering a drug-induced psychosis and was found not guilty of aggravated robbery by reason of mental incompetence, meaning he could not be jailed, but could be detained in a mental institution. Under state laws, the Parole Board is given responsibility for monitoring offenders, such as Wyatt, released into the community on mental-health licences.

Ms Nelson, however, said the board was powerless to detain mentally-ill patients. "It gives us the statutory responsibility to supervise these people but doesn't give us the power to do it properly," she said. "Unfortunately, I have to say that I spoke to the Attorney, I think at the end of February, about (mental-health supervision laws) and I said to him `there will be a disaster if something isn't done'."

She said the Director of Public Prosecutions was reluctant to ask courts to revoke mental-health orders because of a shortage of beds in such facilities as James Nash House.

Ms Nelson said if her board had the power to revoke licences, Monday's tragedy most likely would have been avoided. "If he were an ordinary parolee, we would have brought him in on a warrant until he sorted himself out. That's the tragedy," Ms Nelson said.

Despite repeated warnings from the Parole Board, Wyatt was allowed to remain in the community. In court last year, Wyatt claimed he was not getting help for "voices" in his head.

Despite what she described as "classic warning signs," Ms Nelson said the weakness of laws to detain mentally-ill offenders had allowed Wyatt to remain in the community. "I have been telling government for years that this is a serious defect in the legislation and I had concerns that community safety is compromised as a result . . . (but) no one has been prepared to do anything about it," Ms Nelson said.

She said she and other Parole Board officials had interviewed Wyatt several times. They warned him his continued breaches of his conditions could land him back in custody. "He certainly had a history of drug-induced psychosis . . . he may well have had some mental illness but, it seems to me, that his basic problem was drug and alcohol use," Ms Nelson said of Wyatt. "The last date that we requested the DPP do something was on the 12th of February.

"The DPP wrote back and told us that notwithstanding that he wasn't reporting and he was non compliant, they were not going to act on the breach of licence that we reported."

More here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Another disgrace for British "justice"

Innocent man freed after 27 years in prison

A British man who spent 27 years in jail for a murder he did not commit finally had his conviction overturned today after DNA tests destroyed the prosecution case against him. But even as Sean Hodgson, a frail 57-year-old, celebrated his freedom on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, it emerged that the DNA tests which freed him should have been carried out 11 years ago.

Lawyers for Mr Hodgson will try to sue the Forensic Science Service after the Court of Appeal heard that its errors kept him in prison for more than a decade when his innocence could have been proved. Mr Hodgson was found guilty in 1982 of killing Teresa De Simone, 22, who had been found strangled in her Ford Escort three years earlier in a car park below the Southampton pub where she was a part-time barmaid.

He had long pleaded his innocence after retracting a confession initially given to a Roman Catholic prison chaplain – one of hundreds of crimes to which he confessed because, as he told his original trial, he was a "pathological liar" – and lost an appeal in 1983. Last March, after many years of mental health problems, he decided to mount one final bid for freedom and contacted a London solicitors firm whose advert he saw in a prison newspaper. That firm managed to organise the DNA tests which proved his innocence.

With close-cropped hair and sunken cheeks , Mr Hodgson was in the Court of Appeal today to court today to hear the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other senior judges rule that his conviction was "unsafe" and should be quashed. Afterwards, supported physically by his brother Peter, he emerged blinking into the early spring sunshine as journalists and television reporters crowded the steps of the court. "How do you feel, Mr Hodgson?" one shouted. "Ecstatic," he replied. "It's great to be free again." Had he ever expected this day to come? "No," came the reply, without hesitation.

Mr Hodgson's case was urgently referred to the court last week by the Criminal Cases Review Commission after DNA tests – not yet developed at the time of the 1982 trial – proved that he was not the killer. The commission wants dozens of other murder cases reviewed in light of the findings.

It emerged today that Mr Hodgson should have been freed more than a decade ago. Sarah Whitehouse, for the prosecution, told the court that his then lawyers had asked in 1998 for DNA tests but had been told by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) that no DNA material had been kept. "This was plainly erroneous information," she told the court. Ms Whitehouse said that an internal investigation had been launched by the FSS - which had no record of the 1998 request - and the matter referred to the Forensic Regulator.

Today's decision means that Mr Hodgson is recognised as one of the longest-serving victims of a miscarriage of justice in British history. The only comparable case is that of Stephen Downing, who also spent 27 years in jail for beating typist Wendy Sewell to death in Bakewell, Derbyshire, but was released in 2002.

De Simone, a gas board clerk and part-time barmaid, had been sexually assaulted before being choked to death with the chain of a gold crucifix that she wore around her neck. Mr Hodgson, of no fixed abode, confessed to Father Frank Moran that he had killed de Simone when she found him sleeping in her car and began screaming. He said he put his hand over her mouth to try to keep her quiet and ended up killing her. The confession was made on the first anniversary of de Simone’s death, and Mr Hodgson told the priest that the image of her face was haunting him. The prosecution case was aided by scientific evidence that showed that Hodgson was of the same blood type as the attacker.

At his trial, at Winchester Crown Court in 1982, Mr Hodgson withdrew his confession and pleaded not guilty. It emerged that he had confessed to hundreds of other crimes, including burglaries that had never been committed, and that the killer’s blood type was common. Mr Hodgson, who is also known by the first name Robert, did not give evidence. According to The Times of February 2, 1982, he told the court: "I would like to tell members of the jury I cannot go into the witness box itself because I am a pathological liar."

At the end of a 15-day trial, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict having deliberated for only 3½ hours. Mr Justice Sheldon, the trial judge, told Mr Hodgson: "It is a verdict with which I entirely agree. I have no doubt whatsoever that you were guilty of this appalling, horrible crime of killing that girl."

Mr Hodgson was refused leave to appeal against his conviction the next year and has continued to protest his innocence. Last year his case was taken over by a new legal team and his solicitor asked Hampshire Police to review the evidence and specifically to carry out DNA testing – which had not been developed at the time of the trial.

The Forensic Science Service had stored material from the case in its archives and DNA tests were carried out on body fluids from the crime scene. When compared with Hodgson’s DNA profile, they showed that he was not Miss de Simone’s attacker.

Hampshire Police have now reopened their files and the force is conducting a new murder investigation to find the real killer, using the new DNA profile to rule out other potential suspects.

In his ruling, Lord Judge said that it was in the broad public interest for the court to set out the facts so that the community at large could understand how the conviction came about, why it was quashed and how it was that these "disturbing events" took place. He emphasised that unlike many other miscarriages of justice, the conviction was not being quashed because some unacceptable feature of police misconduct during the investigation had now emerged, or that any witness who gave evidence was untruthful, or that anything done by anyone at the trial was open to criticism.

"The conviction will be quashed for the simple reason that advances in the science of DNA, long after the end of the trial, have proved a fact which, if it had been known at the time would, notwithstanding the remaining evidence in the case, have resulted in quite a different investigation and a completely different trial," he said. He said that swabs taken from the dead girl had been examined and there were sufficient remnants of sperm on them for proper DNA analysis, resulting in the conclusion that the sample on the swabs did not come from the appellant.

"Whoever raped her - on these findings, it can’t be the appellant," Lord Judge said. "The Crown’s case was that whoever raped her also killed her, so the new DNA evidence has demolished the case for the prosecution."

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

British police rape "experts" were expert only at bungling

So the guilty party goes free

A specialist unit set up by Scotland Yard to investigate sexual assaults has been severely criticised for failing to properly manage a rape allegation by a 15-year-old girl. In a damning report the Independent Police Complaints Commission has found that there were “significant errors” made during the inquiry by the much-vaunted Sapphire unit in Southwark. Although someone was charged in connection with the serious sexual assault, he was acquitted after a trial. The report says that during the court case “it became clear that a number of errors had been made by the police”.

The criticism comes just days after John Worboys, a London taxi driver, was found guilty of a series of sex attacks on 12 women. The Times revealed that 12 women went to the Metropolitan police to complain about a taxi driver but their allegations were never linked by Sapphire teams. They also missed an opportunity to stop Worboys in July 2007 when he was arrested and then set free. Control of the Sapphire units, launched in 2001 to set the standard in rape investigations, has now been taken from borough level and placed under the control of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command at Scotland Yard.

In the current inquiry a police constable was allocated to the case even though the investigation should have been headed, at the very least, by a detective constable. Three officers will be given written warnings and a fourth will receive words of advice for their part in the rape investigation failures. [Big deal!]

The IPCC found that forensic opportunities at the scene were never explored, there was a failure to identify and arrest the suspect at the earliest opportunity and there was also a failure to properly and effectively supervise the investigation after the teenager reported the matter to police in February 2005. The police also failed to properly examine the girl’s mobile telephone, only looking at the numbers stored in her phone rather than requesting the full billing list to see who had called her. By the time they did the records were no longer available.

Amerdeep Somal, the IPCC commissioner, said: “The report into this investigation highlights that significant errors were made that compromised the quality of the investigation into a very serious offence. “It paints a troubling picture of an inexperienced, overburdened police officer with inadequate supervision working in an under-resourced unit. This was not a complex investigation but basic lines of inquiry were not pursued. “It is imperative that victims of crimes, particularly of serious sexual offences of this nature, have absolute confidence that the police will properly investigate and allegation that a crime has been committed. Sadly the police investigation into this matter fell far short of what the victim had a basic right to expect. “It is important to maintain the confidence of victims within the criminal justice system, that matters of this nature are investigated thoroughly and that action will be taken when officers don’t do the job that they should.”

After the trial of the alleged rapist, the Metropolitan Police Service carried out a number of internal reviews that culminated in an admission of errors. It apologised to the girl and her mother but decided that no disciplinary action should be taken against any individual officers.

The teenager then submitted a formal complaint about the way she was treated and the investigation which was then referred to the IPCC. The girl, who is now 19, had trouble reading the report because she was so upset. Her alleged attacker, whom she is said to have met on a date, still lives near her. She said: "I expected the police to get me some justice. When I heard about the verdict I just felt crushed. The police and the Government are meant to protect you - if they can't do it, who can?"

Her solicitor, Debaleena Dasgupta, from Fisher Meredith, said: “My client thought the investigation was normal and it was not until she got to trial that she realised how bad an investigation it was. “I have never seen a report that so explicitly sets out the failures from beginning to end. It is disgraceful.”

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "Officers from the MPS's directorate of professional standards carried out an investigation into a number of officers from Southwark's Sapphire unit, following a complaint from a member of the public. "The investigation was managed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. "Following the investigation, it was concluded that disciplinary proceedings should be taken against four officers. The MPS and the IPCC are working together to finalise the exact details of these disciplinary outcomes. "As the investigation has not yet concluded it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage."

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

147 cases in police lab mess called 'tip of iceberg'

State Police must reanalyze Detroit's mishandled evidence

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says her office has identified 147 cases of convicted and imprisoned people that will require the retesting of evidence as part of the investigation into the now-closed Detroit police crime lab -- unveiling the first of potentially thousands of cases that are at risk of unraveling because of mishandled evidence.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," Worthy told the Free Press on Thursday, noting that in addition to the 147 cases identified by her office, defense attorneys have notified her office of 30 others that they believe relied on mishandled evidence.

Those cases, and thousands of others, are taxing the Michigan State Police's capacity, which could translate into guilty people walking the streets, innocent people stuck behind bars and law-enforcement agencies hamstrung in fighting crime. Added to the caseload is the budgetary constraints under which the Prosecutor's Office and State Police must function.

"I really feel baffled at how many people might be in jail because of botched evidence, or how many people aren't in jail because of botched evidence," said LaDarrell Howard, 40, of Harrison Township, who was acquitted on a second-degree murder charge last spring after Detroit police wrongly included a bullet from an unrelated suicide with evidence in Howard's case.

Defense attorney David Steingold, who tries murder cases in Wayne County, calls the crime lab problems scary. "To a defense lawyer, the scientific evidence in court is the hardest evidence to contest in court, whether it's a blood test in a drunk driving case or a ballistic test in a murder case," he said. "You are at the mercy of a piece of paper."

Michael Thomas, director of the State Police's forensic science division, said he expects the state's labs to handle at least 20,000 Detroit cases this year. That's on top of the 10,000 cases a year the State Police lab handles of its own and about 650 other police departments, which makes for a six- to eight-month backlog. Added to the crush, at the State Police's crime lab in Sterling Heights -- which handles most of Detroit's cases -- some 3,000 firearms cases have piled up since April and await testing, Thomas said.

Still, even with the bungled crime lab results, Williams' mother, Valarie Washington, remains skeptical. "I hope the truth will come out," she said. "But my family doesn't trust the system. We believed in Mr. Barnett and all he's done, but the state has a way of always winning." Williams' new trial is expected to begin March 30.

Another homicide case in question -- that against Edward Hill, who was sentenced to at least 50 years in prison about two years ago -- is being sent back to a circuit court judge, who could order a new trial.

Hill's lawyer, Gerald M. Lorence, said a ballistics expert falsely testified that a bullet found in the victim came from a handgun seized from the home of one of Hill's relatives. Lorence said Hill's family is ecstatic that he may get a new trial. "It's true that someone was shot, but no one saw my client shoot anyone. Witnesses testified that he walked out of the store with a black gun, but the video shows it's a silver gun. I said, 'Wait a minute.' "

The Detroit lab wasn't the only one in the country with problems, according to the independent National Research Council. A review by West Virginia State Police found more than 100 convictions were in doubt because an employee had repeatedly falsified evidence. At least 10 people had convictions overturned.

In Oregon, a man won a $2-million settlement after fingerprints mistakenly linked him to the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain. Fingerprint evidence also was tossed out of a death penalty case in Maryland by a judge who declared it untested and unverifiable.

Among the 20,000 cases are some that need DNA analysis. Of those, about 20% might be contracted out to independent labs, though there are only three such licensed labs in the country.

And with Worthy's latest announcement that dozens of homicide cases need swift re-evaluation, Thomas said the state's labs are going to slip even further behind. Meanwhile, Worthy said her office is understaffed and doing the work "on a part-time basis on the county's dime." Worthy said her office has submitted a budget to Cockrel's office, which conservatively calls for $871,000 per year to take on such tasks. Worthy said more than 10% of the money budgeted for the investigation has already been spent.

Meanwhile, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano is asking all departments to cut their spending by 20%.

Last month, the state approved $5 million for the hiring of 45 forensic scientists to add to the State Police's current staff of 36 across seven labs. That will help, Thomas said, but not for two years -- the average time it takes to train each scientist. "We're working in an environment where the acceptable failure rate is zero," he said. "You can't make a mistake, so obviously, we have very rigorous training programs."

To help with the backlog, Michigan State Police will continue to ship DNA testing to nationally accredited third-party labs, but those labs aren't able to help with the thousands of cases that involve other types of forensic testing, such as the firearms analysis that landed Detroit in trouble.

The Detroit audit found that access to the firearms unit was unrestricted and evidence could have been contaminated because it was allowed to overflow into office and work areas.

Washington, the mother of Williams, said the crime lab problems are terrifying. "It makes you wonder how many other people might be going through the same thing and it makes you wonder how many times the police lied or got it wrong," she said. "I want my son home and I also hope that this is going to help some other people."

Original report here

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Smile, You're on Cop-Car Camera

One night last summer Raymond Bell was pulled over by a Chicago cop and arrested for driving under the influence. Officer Joe D. Parker, a 23-year veteran, reported that upon getting out of his car, Bell was stinking of alcohol, lurching and unable to walk a straight line or stand on one foot.

An officer with his stellar record would normally prevail against a DUI suspect. But in this case, Bell had something on his side: a video camera mounted on the dashboard of Parker's squad car that told a radically different story. Far from revealing a staggering drunk, reported the Chicago Sun-Times, the video "showed Bell appearing to be perfectly balanced," passing the sobriety tests that Parker administered -- and being refused when he asked to take a Breathalyzer. Prosecutors watched the video and promptly dismissed the case. They are now considering charges against Parker.

That episode raises the question: Nine years into the 21st century, why isn't every squad car in America equipped with a dashboard video camera? Why do we persist in relying on the slippery, self-interested, incomplete and unverified accounts of opposing participants when we have the means to see the truth with our own eyes?

In this instance, the innocent man was lucky to be stopped by a cop driving a video-armed vehicle. The odds are against it, since only 11 percent of the CPD's cars have cameras for recording traffic stops. Though the department is planning to use federal stimulus money to double that number and the mayor has said he wants cameras installed in the remaining vehicles "as quickly as possible," no one is radiating a sense of haste.

Why not? The department says the main obstacle is money. Equipping another 300 cars, as the city plans, will require $2.1 million. So making them standard on the rest would cost about $13 million. But that shouldn't be an insurmountable obstacle. The Illinois State Police, with a fleet of nearly 1,100 vehicles, have managed to install cameras in more than 900. Spending $13 million looks extravagant only until you compare it to the cost of losing lawsuits over police misconduct. From 2005 through the middle of 2008, says the Chicago Reader, the city paid out $155 million in police cases. Dashboard cameras don't have to prevent many million-dollar judgments to be a bargain.

The cops -- at least the good ones, who are presumably the majority -- have as much reason to want these recordings as the accused. The best defense against a phony charge of police brutality is a video showing exactly what the officer said and did. A suspect who is visibly inebriated or violent will have a hard time refuting the camera's testimony in court.

Yet Chicago has dragged its feet, and it's not alone. After the 1991 Rodney King beating, a commission recommended that the Los Angeles Police Department mount cameras in its squad cars. It installed some but soon got rid of them. A federal monitor proposed the idea again in 2005, but the police chief, The Los Angeles Times reported, "said he saw it as a long-term project." Last year -- 17 years later -- the LAPD finally decided to equip some vehicles.

Contrast that with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's enthusiasm for other types of video. Chicago now has some 2,250 surveillance cameras to detect criminal conduct in public places. By 2016, Daley promised last month, Chicago will have one on every corner. The city has also installed red-light cameras at some 132 intersections, with another 330 planned.

So what exactly is different about those cameras? Well, they are trained on the citizenry, not on the police. What's sauce for the goose seems to be regarded as a dubious liquid substance when proposed for the gander. The city is less eager to capture video evidence if it may expose wrongdoing by its own law enforcement agents.

But the rest of us might want to keep unsleeping electronic eyes on the people with guns and badges. A city with a good police department can gain a lot from squad-car video cameras. A city with a bad one can gain even more.

Original report here

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Australian jury recognizes excessive use of force by police goons

Australian police goons often hurt others by their reckless use of force (See here and here and here and here, for instance) so it is good to see them getting hurt back. It might help restrain future goonery from them. In view of the systematic corruption at all levels of the Western Australian force revealed by the Mallard case, it is about time something gave them a jolt. Thank goodness for the jury system

A father and his two sons have been found not guilty of assaulting policeman Matthew Butcher, left partly paralysed after he was head-butted in a brawl. A District Court jury yesterday found Robert McLeod, 56, and his two sons Barry McLeod, 29, and Scott James McLeod, 35, not guilty of eight charges laid after the fight at Joondalup's Old Bailey Tavern in February last year. The verdict has sparked concerns from the police union that officers are no longer protected when carrying out their duties.

Barry McLeod faced the most serious count, of doing an act with intent to cause harm, admitting to a ``flying head butt'' in which he struck Constable Butcher, 33, to the head from behind after the policeman shot his father with a Taser gun. Robert McLeod later collapsed from a heart attack - his third in three years.

Defence lawyers argued he and the other two members of his family acted in self defence when confronted by police, who they said acted with excessive force as they attempted to arrest them.

Ushered from court in his wheelchair, supported by uniformed police, Constable Butcher told reporters: ``I'm disgusted.'' His weeping wife Katrina said she was ``utterly disgusted'' by the verdict.

Neither Barry McLeod nor Scott McLeod - who smiled and laughed with supporters as he walked free - commented to waiting media. Their father was not in court as he has been recovering in hospital after suffering blood clots on the brain over the weekend.

Despite acquitting the men of assaulting police, the jury of eight men and four women convicted Scott McLeod of a lesser charge of threatening to kill a member of the public who videotaped the brawl on his mobile phone.

During the six week trial, the court was told the fight began between the McLeods and a group of painters, spilled onto the street and then escalated when police arrived. By their verdict, which was returned after a day and half of deliberations, the jury found prosecutors had failed to prove that Barry McLeod did not act in self defence, or did not come to the defence of his father when he assaulted Constable Butcher.

More here

A pre-trial account of the facts of the matter

A 56-year-old man on trial for assaulting a police officer during a brawl outside a Perth tavern says he punched the officer to protect his son.

Robert Mcleod is on trial in the District Court with his sons Scott Mcleod and Barry Mcleod. He told the court the three men were attempting to break up a fight outside the Joondalup Tavern in February last year when Barry McLeod was attacked by police. He said Constable Matthew Butcher pulled Barry McLeod's t-shirt over his head while another officer struck him.

He said he punched Constable Butcher to the stomach two or three times in order to free his son. Moments later Constable Butcher fired a Taser at Robert McLeod, who then suffered a heart attack.

Mr McLeod has conceded that at the time he was very annoyed at the police, who he claims assaulted his son for no reason.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

British police repeatedly let serial rapist slip through their fingers

He should have called someone a "coon" or a "faggot". THAT would have awoken their interest

A review of how John Worboys managed to slip through the hands of the police a minimum of 12 times is expected to lead to disciplinary action against at least one officer. A critical incident review was carried out after it emerged that 12 women had told the Metropolitan Police that they had been drugged, sexually assaulted or indecently propositioned by a taxi driver between 2003 and Worboys’ arrest in February last year. But despite similarities between the stories — all but two were given pills or alcohol — the police and their multimillion-pound criminal intelligence system failed to make the link.

Senior officers have now sent the findings of the review to Sir Paul Stephenson, the commissioner. The women’s allegations would have been considered by officers from the Met’s Sapphire units — teams across London that deal only with rape and sexual assault allegations. But their claims were either not investigated properly, incorrectly entered into the police database or simply not believed.

A senior officer said: “We are really in a lot of trouble over this. Some heads are on the block. Some women were not treated well by police, some were told to ‘f*** off, black cab drivers don’t do that sort of thing’. Others were not taken seriously because they were drunk.”The officer added: “We have been told time and again that drug-assisted rape doesn’t happen. Well, it does. We should have identified this series of attacks earlier.”

The information gathered by the Sapphire teams in different boroughs across London should have been evaluated centrally by the Met’s Intelligence Bureau, which should have noted that a serial sex attacker was at large. That never happened. Now, after a seven-month review, control of Sapphire units is being taken away from borough level and placed under the umbrella of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command at Scotland Yard. The Met claims that the move is coincidental.

Further blunders were made by officers investigating individual attacks. A note that Worboys pushed through one woman’s door thanking her for the night before was corrupted as evidence when an officer left it lying on a desk in a police station and another officer wrote on a piece of paper on top of it, leaving indentations. One victim ran from Worboys’ cab and found an armed police officer who took down the cab number but got one digit wrong.

But perhaps the worst blunder came in July 2007 when Worboys was captured on CCTV dropping off a student who said that she was drugged and sexually assaulted. When police went to Worboys’ house, he was not at home. But instead of obtaining a warrant and breaking in, the officers left a note asking him to contact them, giving him time to dispose of evidence. He later turned up at a police station with his solicitor, where he denied any involvement in the attack, and was freed. He went on attack at least 30 more women.

The student told friends: “This was the first time that I had ever called the police . . . I didn’t have confidence in them and felt they didn’t care.” A source involved in the inquiry said that officers should have got a search warrant: “They could and should have raided the place. They would almost certainly have found a treasure trove of forensic evidence.”

A detective constable decided that, despite finding morphine and another sedative in the student’s urine, the Crown Prosecution Service was unlikely to sanction a prosecution so never sent it the case file. His decision, upheld by a senior officer, has now been sent by the Met to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to review. The policy has also been changed so that all serious sexual offences are referred to the CPS.

Original report here

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Friday, March 13, 2009

DNA clears British ‘killer’ Sean Hodgson after 30 years in jail

It's too easy to put away the mentally ill and let the real killer go free. A similar thing happened in Australia's Mallard case

A convicted murderer who has spent nearly 30 years in prison for the death of a young woman in 1979 could not have been the killer, according to new DNA tests. The case of Sean Hodgson, 58, has been referred to the Court of Appeal as a matter of urgency by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and he is expected to be freed next week. The commission said that the findings raised serious concerns about the safety of many other murder convictions and called for a wideranging review of scores of cases.

A spokesman said: “We have decided to contact the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the desirability of a project to identify and review similar murder cases arising from the time before DNA testing and where testable forensic evidence still survives, which could confirm or cast doubt on the safety of a conviction, and where the defendant is still alive. A guilty plea or the existence of admissions should not exclude cases.”

Julian Young, Hodgson’s solicitor, said: “Will this open the floodgates? I would say anyone who believes that they’ve been wrongly convicted, and thinks DNA tests would help, should contact a lawyer immediately.”

Hodgson, who is mentally ill and held in the hospital wing of Albany jail, was convicted in 1982 of the murder of Teresa de Simone, 22, whose body was found in her car in Southampton in December 1979.

If the conviction is overturned, Hodgson would be one of the longest-serving victims of a miscarriage of justice. The only comparable case is that of Stephen Downing, who was jailed for 27 years for beating typist Wendy Sewell to death in Bakewell, Derbyshire, but released in 2002. Hodgson has continued to protest his innocence but it was only after his solicitors asked last year for a review and DNA testing, a technique that was not available at the time of his trial, that his case was referred.

Hampshire police have now reopened their files and the force is conducting a new murder investigation to find the real killer. A source said: “It is a live and active inquiry.”

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, will hear the case next Wednesday and it is understood that arrangements are being made for Hodgson to be released into appropriate care. Prosecutors are not expected to oppose the challenge and the commission said there was “a real possibility that the court will consider the conviction unsafe and quash it”.

Miss de Simone, a gas board clerk and part-time barmaid, had been sexually assaulted before being choked to death with the chain of a gold crucifix that she wore around her neck.

Hodgson, of no fixed abode, confessed to a Roman Catholic prison chaplain, Father Frank Moran, that he had killed Miss de Simone when she found him sleeping in her car and began screaming. He said he put his hand over her mouth to try to keep her quiet and ended up killing her.

The confession was made on the first anniversary of Miss de Simone’s death, and Hodgson told the priest that the image of her face was haunting him. The prosecution case was aided by scientific evidence that showed that Hodgson was of the same blood type as the attacker.

But at his trial, at Winchester Crown Court in 1982, Hodgson withdrew his confession and pleaded not guilty. It emerged that he had confessed to hundreds of other crimes, including burglaries that had never been committed, and that the killer’s blood type was common.

Hodgson, who is also known by the first name Robert, did not give evidence. According toThe Timesof February 2 1982, he told the court: “I would like to tell members of the jury I cannot go into the witness box itself because I am a pathological liar.”

But at the end of a 15-day trial, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict having deliberated for only 3½ hours. Mr Justice Sheldon, the trial judge, told Hodgson: “It is a verdict with which I entirely agree. I have no doubt whatsoever that you were guilty of this appalling, horrible crime of killing that girl.”

Hodgson was refused leave to appeal against his conviction the next year and has continued to protest his innocence. Last year his case was taken over by a new legal team. His solicitor asked Hampshire Police to review the evidence and specifically to carry out DNA testing. The Forensic Science Service had stored material from the case in its archives and DNA tests were carried out on body fluids from the crime scene. When compared with Hodgson’s DNA profile, they showed that he was not Miss de Simone’s attacker. The case was passed to the CCRC, which referred it to the Court of Appeal as a matter of urgency.

Mr Young said last night of Hodgson: “He is obviously pleased the matter is going forward. He is excited because he is going to be seeing the outside world for the first time in a number of years. We hope he will be released on Wednesday and he will have to make a new life for himself.”

Mary Sedotti, Miss de Simone’s mother, said she was upset and distressed that her daughter’s killer had not been caught and that she was having to relive the events of three decades ago. She added: “He should not have confessed at the time.”

Original report here

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