Inquiry into eighth death at NHS baby unit as child dies ‘after midwives refused mother a C-section’
An eight death is being investigated at a controversial maternity unit where two mothers and five babies have already died. News of the latest tragedy was reported to the Care Quality Commission, which issued a damning report on the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital in Barrow, Cumbria, last month.
Last week, a baby was understood to have been delivered stillborn after midwives refused the mother a caesarean. Hospital sources say the child was born with the umbilical cord round its neck, a repeat of two previous deaths at the Cumbria hospital.
The baby’s distraught mother was said to be inconsolable and patients reported her pacing the corridors with the baby’s body.
A spokesman for the Care Quality Commission said it had been informed of the baby’s death by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and would consider the latest fatality during its wider inquiry into the unit.
Five of the previous deaths occurred in 2008, one on Christmas Day last year, and the other in April. The unit was warned last month by the CQC that it had to improve and that the lives of babies and mothers were at risk. And a coroner hearing an inquest into one of the deaths has already raised concerns over a possible cover-up in which medical records were destroyed.
The trust was also given a red-flag warning by Monitor, which oversees standards at foundation trusts. Ten days ago, members of the trust’s board were ordered to attend a high-level meeting in London which could lead to the chief executive and board being dismissed. A spokeswoman for Monitor said it was aware of the latest death.
A spokesman for Cumbria Police said: ‘The investigation is at an early stage so we are not able to confirm specific lines of inquiry.’
The CQC investigation at Barrow was prompted by the inquest in June into the 2008 death of Joshua Titcombe, caused by a delay in treating a post-birth infection. The coroner accused midwives of concealing the truth.
In a separate case, Prabas Misra, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the hospital, wrote a damning letter to her bosses after the death, also in 2008, of baby Alex Brady, who was asphyxiated at birth amid claims that midwives delayed his delivery. Mr Misra wrote that midwives appeared to be rejecting doctors’ advice.
A parent of one of the babies to die at the maternity unit said: ‘The same mistakes are being repeated. They don’t seem to have learned the lessons of what’s gone wrong.’
Last night a spokesman for the trust refused to confirm that there had been another death at the unit. He said: ‘For the moment we are saying nothing.’
British Government to save Year of our Lord from BBC’s ‘Common Era’
The Government last night moved to safeguard BC and AD after The Mail on Sunday revealed they were under threat because they were considered offensive to non-Christians.
Last week this newspaper reported that the BBC had replaced Anno Domini (the Year of our Lord) and Before Christ with the obscure terms Common Era (CE) and Before the Common Era (BCE).
The Corporation believes BC and AD are offensive to non-Christians and has started to use the ‘religiously neutral’ alternatives on websites and in programmes including University Challenge and Radio 4’s In Our Time.
The decision has prompted an avalanche of complaints from viewers, Christian groups, politicians including London Mayor Boris Johnson, and even some of the BBC’s own star presenters, who have vowed to stick with the traditional terms.
And there was further embarrassment for the Corporation last night when the Government publicly championed the use of BC and AD. A spokesman for the Department for Education said there was nothing offensive about BC and AD, and urged teachers to keep using them in lessons.
He said: ‘It is common sense for schools to use BC and AD in everyday teaching because that’s the most widely used and understood way of dating historical events. ‘A school’s job is to prepare children for the real world so it’s plain common sense for them to use BC and AD.’
The Government’s intervention will be welcomed by Christian groups who fear that the switch to BCE and CE is part of a concerted attempt to ‘airbrush’ Christianity from national life.
The Mail on Sunday has established that dozens of universities, museums, leading historians and even the retailer W H Smith have either dropped BC and AD entirely or they are using it alongside the alternative BCE and CE system.
The Usborne Encyclopedia Of World Religions For Children uses the terms in all of its chapters including the one on Christianity. And a guide for 11 to 14-year-olds studying Key Stage Three History uses the modern terms in its section about Ancient Rome.
The book says the Romans conquered Britain in 43 CE and that their hold on power lasted until the 5th Century CE. The BBC uses BCE and CE in its Bitesize GCSE History book.
Dozens of universities including the Open University, which is Britain’s largest, are also using the terms in particular courses. The OU’s online study guides for classical history, Latin and religion are littered with the terms and even Christ’s birth and death dates are presented in terms of BCE and CE.
Durham University’s Oriental Museum has also adopted the system to classify its collection. A spokesman said that in common with other museums, it wanted to use a dating system which wasn’t associated with any ‘one religion’.
Several historians including Professor Mary Beard, the author of Pompeii: Life And Death In A Roman Town, have used the terms in their work. She said: ‘I do use BCE and CE in writing but not in speaking.’
The British Council’s website states: ‘The terms CE and BCE are relatively old terms that have experienced increased usage in recent years. They are identical to BC and AD and may eventually replace them.’
A spokesman for the British Council last night said the views were those of an individual employee who had posted them on its China home¬page. It said its own style guide still encouraged the use of BC and AD.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘As we have made clear from the beginning, the BBC uses BC and AD as standard terminology. It is also possible for individuals to use different terminology if they wish to, particularly as it is now commonly used in historical research.’
Defend a free press — don’t just guard the “Guardian”
Yes, the police threat to the liberal newspaper was outrageous – but who invited the authorities to crack down on the press in the first place?
It was, as all liberal-minded people (and Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail) agreed, an egregious assault on press freedom for the Metropolitan Police to threaten legal action to force the Guardian to reveal its sources. So there was much celebration and not a little smug satisfaction in media circles when the Met, under pressure from within and without the legal system, dropped the action last week.
Where, the Guardian editors and their outraged high-level supporters demanded, did the Met ever get the ‘ill-judged’, ‘misconceived’ and ‘perverse in the extreme’ idea that they could order the Guardian to tell them who leaked details of Operation Weeting, the phone-hacking investigation?
It’s a good question. Where on earth could Inspector Censor and PC Prodnose have got the notion that it was their business to investigate, arrest and prosecute journalists, or interfere with the operations of a free press? Step forward the moral crusaders at the Guardian and its allies.
For years they have been demanding more police and legal action against the Murdoch press and those allegedly involved in phone-hacking, inviting the authorities to police the media more closely. Then these illiberal liberals throw their arms up in horror when the authorities try to take advantage of their invitation to investigate the high-minded ‘good guys’ at the Guardian as well as the lowlife at the defunct News of the World. Their naivety is only exceeded by their elitism. Give the state a licence to interfere with the press, and you should not be surprised if it tries to exploit it – even if today’s spineless state officials ultimately lacked the gumption to take on the Guardian.
The threat to take the Guardian to court was doomed from the start. It seemed clear that the Met’s heart was not really in it when they issued a bizarre statement to justify the action, which spent most of its time praising the Guardian as if that paper were the conscience of the modern police force:
‘We pay tribute to the Guardian‘s unwavering determination to expose the hacking scandal and their challenge around the initial police response. We also recognise the important public interest of whistleblowing and investigative reporting – however, neither is apparent in this case. This is an investigation into the alleged gratuitous release of information that is not in the public interest.
‘The Metropolitan Police Service does not seek to use legislation to undermine Article 10 of anyone’s human rights and is not seeking to prevent whistleblowing or investigative journalism that is in the public interest, including the Guardian‘s involvement in the exposure of phone hacking.’
If it was strange to hear the police posing as the guardians of press freedom, it was equally odd that, beneath the outrage, some high-profile protests at the Met’s threat to the Guardian basically took a similar line. We are on the same side in the phone-hacking crusade, the liberal press and lawyers appealed to the police, so why turn on the Guardian?
This touching display of faith in the progressive ethics of Plod was put in a typically infantile nutshell by the actor and political idiot Hugh Grant, who continues to transmogrify into a caricature of the PC prime minister he played in Love, Actually. Why, pleaded Grant at the Liberal Democrat party conference, were the ‘good cops’ investigating the Murdoch papers’ phone-hacking now picking on their ‘fellow goodies’ at the Guardian? This is political struggle recast as rom-com fairytale between goodies and baddies.
The general bewildered assumption among the liberal critics was that the threat of action against the Guardian went against the grain of the Met’s phone-hacking investigation. They could hardly have been more wrong. The police’s move against the underhand methods of the liberal as well as the tabloid press spelt out the true message of the phone-hacking furore: that there is too much press freedom altogether in Britain, and that the police and courts have a responsibility to move in and tame the feral media.
And who has been campaigning for tougher legal action against ‘rogue’ journalists for years, driving the phone-hacking scandal through parliament and demanding more intervention? The same allegedly liberal journalists and lawyers who were up in arms when the Met turned its attention from the tabloids to the Guardian, squealing ‘Do it to them, not to us!’.
It was quickly clear to all, including the Crown Prosecution Service, that the Met had overstepped the mark on this occasion. The law generally gives journalists the right to protect their sources these days, thus excusing the Guardian from a repeat of the humiliation it suffered in 1983 when it complied with a court order and betrayed a young civil servant, Sarah Tisdall, who had leaked information on the siting of US cruise missiles in Britain. Tisdall was sentenced to six months in jail.
When the Metropolitan Police did a hurried u-turn and dropped the action this time, a ‘senior source’ at Scotland Yard told the Guardian: ‘Obviously, the last thing we want to do is to get into a big fight with the media. We do not want to interfere with journalists.’ The paper hailed this climbdown as a victory for its sterling defence of press freedom.
Yet in reality, the post-phone-hacking crackdown, which the Guardian’s anti-Murdoch crusaders did so much to start, is all about the authorities seeking to ‘interfere with journalists’ – and not only those implicated in hacking murder victim Milly Dowler’s phone messages. This interference goes way beyond police investigations of individual reporters and editors.
The government, after all, has set up a judge-led inquiry to decide on the future of the British media and how to regulate the press more tightly. That is state interference with journalism on the grand scale, at a time when there is already far too little press freedom in our society. It was telling that the opposition Labour Party’s culture spokesman thought the way to win some cheap applause at his party conference on Tuesday was to call for the creation of an official register of professional journalists – basically a licence to write – so that those who fail to meet the standards expected (by who?) could be ‘struck off’ like doctors guilty of malpractice.
The need now is for an unequivocal response, not just to the Met chancing its arm with the Guardian, but to the entire political-legal-moral war on the idea of a free press. Instead, the liberal defenders of the Guardian have been the main cheerleaders for the authorities taking firm action.
They have tried to excuse this impressive display of double standards by depicting it as a black-and-white issue, with a clear moral divide between what Hugh Grant calls the ‘proper press’ and the improper tabloids. In fact, investigative journalism is often a grey area where the law is concerned. It was pointed out recently that back in 2006, a top Guardian reporter, David Leigh, had admitted to using phone-hacking techniques in pursuit of a story. By encouraging the state to police the media more closely, the liberal press have made a rod for their own backs, even if the Met backed out of trying to use it this time.
However the Guardian-Grant fanclub might attempt to twist it to suit their tastes, the truth remains that you cannot have a free press for some but not for others. Indeed, as with all free-speech issues, it is more important to defend freedom for those of whom you – and especially the authorities – disapprove. As Karl Marx had it, if you want a properly free press, you cannot grasp the rose without the thorn.
Instead, the fact that the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone was indefensible – which everybody accepts – has been turned into an excuse for refusing to defend tabloid journalism against further interference and regulation. Even the £2million, £3million or £Xmillion of compensation now to be paid to the Dowler family is apparently not enough to pay the Murdoch papers’ debt to society. (And nor is any decent journalist allowed to ask exactly what good such a payout for listening to a dead girl’s mobile messages is supposed to achieve.)
So while there was uproar over the Met’s half-hearted threat to its new mates at the Guardian, it remains open season on the tabloid press. Even if you never read the News of the World (which millions did) and do not want to know what’s in the Sun, Star, Mirror or Mail, this should be a cause of serious concern.
Because the immediate danger to a free and open press in Britain today is not the threat of comprehensive state censorship – it is the stifling atmosphere of conformism already being created around the phone-hacking scandal. Suppose that those allegedly liberal media campaigners got their way, and the authorities restricted themselves to only ‘interfering’ with tabloid excesses, while leaving alone those who conformed to the Hugh Grant Law on behaving like ‘goodies’. What sort of a victory for a free press or a democratic society would that be, to find ourselves living under a one-party state of non-jackbooted Guardian values?
Despite the self-congratulatory air around the Met’s recent climbdown, the true state of the debate about press regulation today was illustrated by reports that the next chairman of the under-fire Press Complaints Commission is to be the former army chief, General Richard Dannant (that’s Baron Dannant to the likes of us). It looks as if, in a desperate bid to save the remnants of self-regulation and stave off total legal regulation, the British press industry is saying to the government’s judge-led inquiry: ‘Look, no need to beat us up from the outside, we can appoint our own army hardman to do it from the inside!’
Thus does the future of press freedom in Britain appear to be trapped between a rock and a hard place – aka an army general and a judge. That really is ‘perverse in the extreme’.
Thomas the Tank Engine forced to carry ‘decorated tree’ for ‘winter holidays’ as Christmas is banned on Sodor
Thomas the Tank Engine has been accused of joining the politically correct bandwagon after Christmas was written out of one of his adventures.
Even Christmas trees have been axed in an episode of the DVD, Little Engines, Big Days Out, and are instead referred to as decorated trees. Brightly wrapped presents are delivered to a ‘holiday party’.
Critics say the omission was particularly strange because the original Thomas books, hugely popular around the world, were written by a clergyman, the Reverend Wilbert Awdry.
Ann Widdecombe, the former Government Minister and convert to Roman Catholicism, said it was ‘extra ridiculous’ not to mention Christmas in a children’s story as youngsters would be anticipating the special day for months in advance. ‘The shops will be stocking Christmas gifts, the television will be advertising presents and people will be talking about it, so the idea that children won’t hear about it is ludicrous,’ she said.
‘It is another example of the politically correct brigade trying to airbrush Christmas out of our lives because they fear they might upset non-Christians, which is nonsense.’
In the episode called Keeping Up With James, there are references to ‘winter holidays’ but no mention of the word Christmas. Thomas is carrying a fir tree as narrator Michael Angelis says: ‘Thomas is pulling a special tree. You always see a tree with decorations during the winter holidays.’
In the story, red engine James is anxious to beat the other engines to finish a series of jobs because he wants to win the privilege of distributing children’s presents.
The narrator says the Fat Controller, the rotund manager of the railways system on the fictional island of Sodor, tells the trains that when the lines are clear of snow he will need an engine ‘to take the presents to the holiday party’ – an apparent reference to a Christmas celebration. He adds: ‘All the engines wanted to take the presents train. It was the jolliest train of the year.’
At one point, James pulls into a station where children are singing carols and decorating a Christmas tree with shiny baubles. The narrator says: ‘James listened to the choir and watched all the colourful decorations being put up.’
Hit Entertainment, the company behind the DVD, said: ‘It was put out some time ago. It was not a seasonal release specifically aimed at a Christmas audience, but we do put out seasonal releases that have Christmas in the title. ‘Last year we had Christmas Express and next year we are planning another Christmas title.’
However, John Midgely, of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, said: ‘This is an attempt to write Christmas out of something that is so popular with families.’
The original Thomas characters were created by Mr Awdry in 1945 while he was a vicar.
Scanners embedded in road to result in fines for those driving on worn tires?
Here’s a new one. According to AutoExpress, police in the UK are looking into scanners embedded into roadways that can detect the depth of a vehicle’s tire tread. If your rubber doesn’t meet a set of pre-determined parameters, you could eventually expect to see a fine show up in the mail. Currently, law enforcement says that the technology will only be used in checkpoint scenarios to alert drivers of a potentially dangerous situation, but given that the system costs somewhere around €50,000, or $67,500 at current conversion rates, critics are concerned that the depth-measuring device will be used as a cudgel to drum up revenue.
That concern is bolstered by the fact that Trevor Hall, a major proponent of speed cameras in the UK, is also behind the measure.
We’re all for improving road safety in any way possible, but if this new technology results in fines for motorists, we have concerns. After all, measures like the one proposed here would almost certainly target low-income drivers and unfairly position revenue generation on their shoulders. After all, if you can afford new tires, chances are better that you’ll buy them
The Government must stop bullying British universities
Imposing a quota system on elite universities undermines the principle of selection by merit
The Government is very cross with the top universities. Why? Because most of them are failing to admit a sufficient number of applicants from low-income families. More than 40 per cent of students at school are from such families, but only 12 per cent of Cambridge undergraduates. The new Office for Fair Access – nicknamed “Offtoff” – insists that unless elite universities increase the proportion of students from “under-represented groups”, they will be fined, or prevented from charging the highest fees.
David Willetts, the universities minister, is going to triple Offtoff’s resources. He says that the best universities need to make “real progress in fair access”, implying that they prefer privately educated toffs to bright pupils from poor homes. All of the top universities emphatically deny this charge and insist there is no evidence to support it – although the view that university admissions are based on social snobbery is depressingly widespread. You’d expect it from Labour and the Lib Dems, but it now seems to be Conservative orthodoxy.
The universities say they have made zealous efforts to broaden access – but they also say they’re determined not to compromise the principle of admitting students on their academic merit alone. Forcing them to take more candidates from low‑income families will, they insist, mean replacing merit with some other criterion, and that will undermine their adherence to academic excellence.
Indeed, the Government’s emphasis on increasing the proportion of under-represented groups at top universities is puzzling, because the group that is actually most under-represented is those of average or lower than average intelligence. This will always be the case so long as academic merit is the sole criterion for deciding who should be given a place. Why, you might argue, shouldn’t less intelligent people be given a chance to study at top-quality universities?
This is not as outlandish a viewpoint as it may seen. In 1970, when America was committed to “affirmative action” – the replacement of academic merit by other qualifications, such as belonging to a particular race, as the basis for university admission – one senator suggested replacing merit with other criteria when it came to appointing a judge to the Supreme Court. Roman Hruska recommended the appointment of G Harrold Carswell, a candidate universally recognised to be very mediocre at best, on the grounds that “mediocre people are entitled to a little representation [on the Supreme Court]”.
Is replacing academic merit as the basis for university admission so very different from Hruska’s idea? Supporters of Offtoff will say it is not the same thing, because Offtoff isn’t going to replace academic merit with something else. But if they are actually to have an effect on merit-based admissions policies, quotas have to do precisely that.
The system Offtoff advocates – under which the proportion of students at a university from particular social backgrounds mirrors the proportions of the population as a whole – is getting uncomfortably close to the sort of thinking that led to the “informal” quotas that US medical schools operated from the Thirties to the Fifties. They found that students from Jewish families were over-represented: in some schools, they made up 40 per cent of the intake. So Cornell medical school, for instance, reduced the number of Jews to ensure that they reflected their proportion of the US population as a whole, which was less than 4 per cent.
Offtoff’s quota system for students from lower-income families won’t get rid of unfairness in university admissions. It will simply replace one injustice – the rejection of able pupils who go to lousy state schools and come from families who don’t value education and therefore do not do well enough to get into Oxbridge – with another: the rejection of able pupils from families who value education, go to good schools and get exceptional results. It is not easy to see that as an improvement.
Delay to green subsidies puts Britain’s renewable energy investment in doubt
Britain’s Tory-led government claims to be as Green as grass but we may be seeing a bit of passive resistance to Greenie demands now. Big whine from the “Guardian” below
Investment in the UK’s renewable energy infrastructure has been thrown into doubt as an urgent review into the subsidy regime has been delayed.
Renewable energy companies are concerned that the delay of Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) reforms – promised this year by the government – will prompt a rethink of the investment plans. The review is crucial for investors as they are currently unable to make long-term business plans without knowing how much support they are likely to receive in future.
Chris Moore, director at biomass plant developer MGT Power, said the delay meant investors were not moving ahead with potential projects. He said: “This is a problem for renewable businesses, and it’s very damaging for UK plc. All of renewable energy investment is effectively on hold until the government sorts out the review and its plans.”
Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, said the trade body had been “inundated” with inquiries over when the review might take place.
Key to the review is how the subsidies will be “banded”, whereby some forms of energy will receive greater support – which comes ultimately from consumer energy bills, rather than government coffers – than others. A new regime would also be expected to provide more targeted support for new technologies.
Last December, the government recognised the need for an urgent review when it brought forward the consultation by a year. Charles Hendry, energy minister, said then that a consultation on ROCs would be carried out over the summer, and that by autumn this year, new plans for the subsidies would be confirmed.
At the time, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) acknowledged: “Under the previous timetable, investors would not have known for certain what support they could have expected to receive until autumn 2012 at the earliest. The government was concerned this might delay early investment in certain technologies and hinder the UK’s ability to meet our European Union energy target for 15% of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.”
In accelerating the review, the government said it would “give investors and developers greater certainty, and the confidence to help bring forward the scale of renewable development needed to deliver the EU target, and other important energy and climate change objectives”.
This timetable is now impossible to stick to. The consultation will take 12 weeks, as is standard. However, even if the review were to begin immediately, it could not be completed before the end of this parliamentary term. Investors are concerned that this could be the start of a longer delay.
Most at risk are biomass projects, generating electricity from wood and waste byproducts. Several of these are on hold because at current rates of subsidy, they would be uneconomic, and companies are calling on the government to correct this problem. This summer Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax, which was planning to burn more biomass than coal in its massive power station, told the Guardian these plans were in jeopardy because of the government’s failure to clarify the subsidies.
DECC said an announcement would be made “shortly” but could provide no further details.
Ministers are thought to be wary of attracting attention to the level of subsidies for green electricity, after a spate of reports in sections of the media and on the right of the Tory party criticising renewable subsidies as a component in energy prices.