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Two've been framed
Scotland is not just getting a new parliament in Edinburgh, but also a new courtroom in Holland. Camp Zeist is a former US Air Force base near Utrecht. It has been placed under Scottish jurisdiction for the trial of two Libyans charged with the Lockerbie bombing of December 1988. But ignore all the puffed-up talk about Scotland demonstrating to the world how to conduct a fair trial - in reality this is a kangaroo court, where the self-appointed representatives of the 'international community' will sit in judgement on Libya.
Everybody has known for years that there is little or no hard evidence against the Libyan defendants. Many believe that the Lockerbie bomb, which blew up PanAm Flight 103 and killed 270 people, was far more likely to have been planted by Lebanese or Syrian Muslim groups, in revenge for America shooting down an Iranian airbus, killing all 290 passengers, earlier the same year. But the US intelligence agent who backed that claim (which is also supported by an Israeli private eye and the censored documentary The Maltese Double Cross) was forced to flee to Sweden in a hail of libel writs.
The official line is a little simpler. Two Libyan secret agents (their names, by the way, are Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah, but they might as well be Mustapha and Mustapha) planted the bomb as part of Colonel Gadaffi's terrorist campaign against Western civilisation. In 1992 the UN imposed heavy sanctions on Libya, demanding that Gadaffi hand over the suspects for trial somewhere in the West.
The British and US authorities, together with Nelson Mandela, have joined forces to ensure compliance, forcing Libya to break its own laws by extraditing two of its citizens. The two suspects will have been held for over a year by the time the trial begins, and despite claims that they will be tried under normal Scottish law, this will be the first Scottish murder trial in modern times without a jury. Instead, three Scottish judges, on behalf of the international community, will sit in judgement on the Libyan suspects whom Washington, Whitehall and the world media have long since found guilty.
There are those who suggest that the USA and Britain have leaned on Libya over the Lockerbie bombing because it is far easier to push around than important Middle Eastern players like Syria or Iran. But whoever heard of the NATO powers applying such double standards in their foreign policy?
Many were outraged when Jon Venables and Robert Thompson recently won the right to appeal against their sentence for killing three-year old Jamie Bulger in 1993. The truth is that they should never have been put on trial for murder in the first place.
Venables and Thompson were only 11 years old when they killed Bulger, and had no proper understanding of the crime they had committed. When told that the toddler was dead, the boys suggested that he be taken to hospital to make him better. Their main concern, like all children, was that they would be in trouble when their mums found out.
In order to try Venables and Thompson, Tory home secretary Michael Howard rejected the principle that children between 10 and 15 are not normally capable of bearing criminal responsibility. Under New Labour this doli incapax rule has been abolished so that many more children can be sent to trial.
After Ireland and Turkey, Britain now has the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe, with children as young as 10 being tried in British courts. In one rape trial child defendants were given colouring-in books to occupy them, because they could not follow the court proceedings - the very proceedings on which their fate hung. In another, an 11-year old boy with learning difficulties was tried for breaking a toddler's leg. While he knew that what he did was bad, the boy clearly had no comprehension of the full gravity of the crime. Tough. He was tried just 12 days after the abolition of doli incapax, and now has a criminal record for serious assault.
Since New Labour decided that it would start prosecuting children it has taken the next logical step and established child prisons. The first such institution is run by the private security firm Group 4 at the Medway, which is already being investigated for cruelty and rioting. A further four prisons are planned, and the government now wants to implement special laws to arrest children.
A society that punishes children for adult crimes has lost any sense of what adult responsibility is. New Labour does not appreciate that punishment is reserved for those who are capable of understanding that they have done wrong. But then the government does not understand that people are ordinarily capable of making responsible decisions for themselves. It is not children that they are degrading - it is adults, and adult responsibility.
A fuller version of this commentary is published at:
When they came for the greens...
'The announcement of any new construction project that is remotely controversial heralds a period of "defensive building"...often containing highly dangerous booby traps posing considerable danger to those involved.' I have some sympathy with this disdainful view of anti-road protests taken by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary (HIMC). But as for the proposed legislation to restrict green protests - forget it.
The HIMC report 'Keeping the peace: policing disorder' claims that some environmentalists 'operate in cell-like structures in a quasi-terrorist mode' and go around building 'battlefield bunkers'. The report calls for new laws to 'prevent this fortification process which goes far beyond the bounds of reasonable protest'. This follows Scotland Yard's announcement of a new National Public Order Intelligence Unit which will monitor green activists and their demonstrations.
Whatever you think of green demos, the proposed measures to curtail them are a blatant attack on civil liberties and the right to protest. From Northern Ireland to Newbury, under New Labour the right to protest has been restricted even more than under the Tories - and always in the name of 'protecting' people from the threat posed by others.
But don't believe the hype. Whenever governments introduce new laws on the pretext of curtailing the 'threatening' activities of some new group, they become a permanent infringement on freedom in society. Take the government's anti-stalking legislation. This was supposed to protect 'vulnerable' women from 'perverted predators' - yet of the first five prosecutions brought under these laws, three involved people taking part in protests. It is not just stalkers, eco-terrorists and racists that the government wants to control.
Is football the loser?
The secretary of state for trade and industry Stephen Byers' decision to block News International's attempt to buy Manchester United has been hailed as a victory - for the fans, for football, and for 'the People'.
Rupert Murdoch's relationship with New Labour may well survive this setback - but there is no doubt that this was a political decision, intended to demonstrate that New Labour cares more for 'the People's game' than for the 'digger's' gold. However, while the government plays politics with football, football may end up paying a heavy price. Ironically, given Manchester United's status as the richest club in world football, they may actually be less affected by the block on outside investment than other English clubs.
When the proposed Murdoch deal was announced last September, it was not surprising that other premier league clubs leaked possible 'takeover' bids from media companies. In the 1990s English clubs have tried to move away from their traditional dependency upon a local business benefactor, seeking new riches from Sky TV, mass merchandising, increased ticket prices and floating on the stockmarket. But even these ventures have not provided sufficient revenues to meet the burgeoning costs of the big clubs, and ensure financial stability. The recent fall in sales of overpriced replica shirts has caused shudders among some clubs, fearful that the bubble might burst.
The attempted Murdoch takeover marked a new move to link premiership football to more powerful sources of long-term financial stability. It is often said that football is being spoilt by media money. But to argue that money is ruining the game is a gross distortion of English football's paltry financial state. The average profit of a premier league team is less than that of a local Safeway or Sainsbury's store. If anything, it is the lack of investment coupled with the lack of long-term financial security that is holding football back.
Billy Meredith, a United player of the 1900s, once described the club's directors as 'little shopkeepers who govern our destiny'. The DTI's decision will help football's narrow-minded 'little shopkeepers' to retain control of the pursestrings, and will probably help to keep England as a backwater of European football.
Carlton Brick is the editor of Offence, the journal of new writing on football.
The what's NOT on guide
SHUT DOWN: American TV networks cut the raunchy trailer for Stanley Kubrick's last movie, Eyes Wide Shut, from 90 seconds down to just 10. Co-star Tom Cruise has warned Warner Bros not to alter Kubrick's final cut of the film. Director Spike Lee is trying to prevent Disney from cutting some of the sex and violence in his new film Summer of Sam - the story of, err, New York serial killer David 'Son of Sam' Berkowitz. Australian prime minister John Howard threatened to ban Adrian Lyne's film version of Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, described down under as a 'sick and bizarre portrayal of paedophilia'. The Canberra Times declared that Howard ought to fight 'Hollywood's unchecked bombardment of this sweet little country with foreign, cynical, unAustralian, psychosis-inducing, massacre-inciting products'. Maybe the Yanks will save him the trouble. Relatives of a Louisiana woman gunned down by a young couple named Sarah Edmondson and Benjamin Darrow have been given leave to sue the makers of Natural Born Killers, the story of a young couple who go across the USA on a shooting spree. Edmondson and Darrow reckon they saw Natural Born Killers more than 20 times. Meanwhile in London, Evening Standard columnist Melanie McDonagh has been wondering whether the makers of Child's Play 3 have ever been made to answer for 'their part' in the killing of Merseyside toddler Jamie Bulger - although the investigating police officer years ago made clear that the young killers had never seen the film. LOSING THEIR RELIGION: Renaissance Pictures have agreed to withdraw an episode of Xena: warrior princess from worldwide circulation, because its depiction of Hindu deities offended American Hindus Against Defamation, who complained that 'the episode treats Lord Krishna and Hanuman as fictional characters'. Back in Godless Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority slammed a Pentecostal church in Essex for running newspaper ads claiming it had cured a disabled man. YOUNG AND OLD: The organisers of Spain's prestigious fashion show, the Salon Gaudi, ruled that models smaller than a British size 10 would not be allowed on the catwalk. Director Paco Flaque said that promoting images of skinny women would be like 'hurting young people'. Meanwhile Age Concern protested against Jellyatrics, the range of sweets in the shape of old people which were designed to coincide with the eightieth birthday of Jelly Babies. FAGGED: The borough of Thurrock has banned smoking in council workplaces and ruled that employees who go out of the office for a cigarette must work an extra 2.5 hours per week. A council spokesman insisted: 'we are taking a very understanding attitude to our employees who smoke.' U-TURN: The US postal service has halted the issue of a fiftieth anniversary NATO stamp showing a dove holding an olive branch. Meanwhile, NATO threatened to bomb Serb TV unless it broadcast Western news.
Compiled by Andrew Calcutt
Reproduced from LM issue 120, May 1999