Daughter whose vigil for her dying mother exposed hospital of horror
The room was grubby, cramped and windowless, and Julie Bailey had been summoned to it by a hospital doctor. He clicked his fingers to demonstrate how swiftly her mother’s condition could decline, warning that the end would not be merciful. ‘Your mother will die a painful death,’ he said. ‘It is best that you leave her here with us.’
She did not hear the medical explanation that ensued. She was mute with shock; confounded. Then the doctor slid a piece of paper towards her. It was a Do Not Resuscitate form. Quietly but firmly, he urged Julie to sign it. Suddenly she was alert, defiant. ‘Of course I will not allow my mum to die!’ she said, refusing to sign the form.
For Julie, 50, a café owner from Stafford, the incident was pivotal. It marked the moment when she resolved that she would never again leave her mum Bella, 86, alone in the hospital; the moment her faith in its staff evaporated entirely.
‘Before I left the room, I told the doctor: “As long as my mother is in this hospital, she will have her family with her. I have no trust in you. She is not safe here”,’ Julie recalls.
Thereafter, for the next eight weeks until Bella Bailey did indeed die, with a degree of pain and terror that could have been avoided, her daughter remained at her bedside, day and night.
On the rare occasions when Julie — a divorcee and mum to Laura, 23, and Martin, 33 — left her post to go home for a night of unbroken sleep, other family members rallied.
And during the round-the-clock vigil, the scenes she witnessed were harrowing. The ward was filthy; patients sounded their buzzers in vain. Julie, unable to ignore the chaos, stepped in. ‘I emptied a bowl of vomit; scrubbed blood from walls; helped a patient onto a commode. I washed faeces from the hands of one elderly woman who had been left in the same soiled clothes for four days.
‘There was one confused patient who was so parched with thirst because she had no water that she drank stagnant water from flower vases.
‘The neglect was not down to staff shortages, though — it was caused by apathy and ignorance.
‘When I went to the nurses’ station, they did not raise their eyes from the computer screen when I spoke to them. I was hesitant about interrupting them until I realised they weren’t working — they were on eBay.’
Julie saw how the heroic kindness of a few good nurses and doctors was over-ridden by the careless, the bullying and power-hungry.
Now she has written a book which records the horrors and indignities her mother, who lived with her for three years before her admission into hospital, endured during the final two months of her life.
It also charts her subsequent campaign to uncover the truth behind the culture of negligence at Stafford Hospital, run by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Two years ago, the Healthcare Commission — stung into action by her campaigning — reported that between 400 and 1,200 people may have lost their lives at the hospital between 2005 and 2008 because of ‘appalling standards of care and chaotic systems for looking after patients’.
A full public inquiry was commissioned and its findings will be reported in January 2013. Meanwhile, other aggrieved relatives have joined Julie’s campaign group, Cure The NHS, which aims to prevent others from suffering the lack of care and indignities she witnessed.
Her mother, Bella, was one of a rare breed: a stoic, redoubtable woman who raised her five children alone after her husband deserted her, and held down four jobs to ensure her family was fed.
‘She would go without herself to help a friend in need,’ says Julie. ‘She was strong and uncomplaining — she never made a fuss — but I will never forget the look of sheer terror in her eyes just before she died. She was frightened of the people who had been charged with caring for her.’
Bella was admitted to Stafford Hospital on September 25, 2007 — she had a hernia and had been sick so repeatedly that her GP had called an ambulance.
For the first three nights, Julie left her mum in the care of the hospital. Quickly, however, her misgivings grew.
‘Mum told me that she called out for the staff during the night but they ignored her,’ she recalls. ‘I found it hard to believe, but then she said she’d had to be sick on the bed sheet because she didn’t have a bowl. She was mortified. She said: “I didn’t want the nurses to see that I’d been sick on those clean sheets — and the smell was terrible.”’
Julie hoped this lapse was an aberration. Soon, however, she realised it was the norm. When Bella was moved to another ward, Julie asked pleasantly if her mum could have her pain relief and antibiotics, which were overdue. The snapped response startled her. ‘We were ready to give your mum her drugs at teatime. It’s not our fault you weren’t here. [Bella had been moved temporarily to another ward, and the nurses hadn’t kept track of her.] She’ll have to wait for the night drug round now,’ Julie was told. She felt — unjustifiably — embarrassed. To distract herself, she wiped the ‘filthy’ bedside cabinet with wet tissues, wishing she had the luxury of bleach.
What she heard next appalled her. The ward manager started to hector the patient opposite, who had complained of being in pain, shouting at her that there was nothing wrong with her. The woman curled into a ball and sobbed.
It was 11pm before Bella got her drugs. ‘Aren’t nurses supposed to be caring, kind, selfless people?’ says Julie.
The following day, she noticed that no one answered the patients’ call bells that buzzed incessantly.
She helped a woman on and off her commode. Having worked as a care assistant while a student at Swansea University, she knew how to do this safely. (Later she had worked with people with dementia-type illnesses and as a senior practitioner with a social work team: these skills also came in handy.)
It was on the fourth day after her mum’s admission, her worries accumulating, that she resolved never to leave her side. She napped for a couple of hours a night on a plastic chair — later, one of the kinder nurses found her a reclining one — and tried unobtrusively to bring order to the mayhem around her.
‘During the next weeks, I found several patients lying on the floor,’ she recalls. ‘They’d struggled to go to the toilet after fruitlessly ringing their buzzers for so long. They’d tried to manage alone and they’d failed, so I helped them.’
Julie knew her position was a precarious one: she could have been asked by the hospital to leave at any time. So she did not question the parlous lack of care on the wards — resolving to make her complaints later — because she just wanted to ensure her mother’s last days on earth were as comfortable as possible.
By now Bella was being fed by a tube. Routinely it got blocked — which meant she was receiving no nutrition — yet Julie was scared to alert the nurses, many of whom railed and snapped at relatives if they made requests or questioned their authority. She waited until the drug trolley did the rounds before she asked for help.
Meanwhile, the patient opposite was screaming: Julie was loath to incur the wrath of the nurses by asking them to bring pain relief for her; the screaming continued.
At night, she dreaded the ‘wanderers’; confused and vulnerable patients who milled around aimlessly until, at around 10.30pm, porters were summoned to manhandle them back into their beds. One night her mother was unnerved by one such stranger who loomed over her bed. ‘Come with me,’ Julie improvised, taking him to the drinks machine and distracting him with a cup of tea.
A few nights later, in the early hours, Julie watched as an elderly patient installed himself at the deserted nurses’ station, shuffled some patients’ papers and brazenly smoked a cigarette.
On another occasion she walked past a lavatory cubicle and saw a man urinating. Later she realised the cubicle had no door; it had presumably been broken but not replaced.
‘Although it was uncomfortable for me to stay with Mum, not once did she ask me to leave, which was unusual because she was always so selfless and concerned about others,’ says Julie. ‘She obviously didn’t feel safe to be left in the ward alone, which spoke volumes for a woman with her grit.’
Although Julie had been told to abandon hope, after two weeks there was cause for optimism. A doctor — who was far more compassionate than the previous ones — presented a plan for Bella’s care. He suggested fitting a special feeding tube to by-pass her hernia. Bella agreed to the operation.
As blood was taken during the pre-op procedure, it spurted out. ‘There was a terrible mess and although the nurse was apologetic, she walked away and I spent all afternoon cleaning it up,’ says Julie.
By now Julie had become accustomed to ward procedures. She knew that water jugs were taken away for sterilisation at night; leaving many patients without a drink. After she saw one drinking, repeatedly, from a vase she rinsed them and filled them with clean water.
She routinely observed acts of thoughtlessness. An elderly bed-bound patient, ‘quiet and timid as a mouse’, waited several hours for a drink, then the nurse placed it out of her reach. When she cried out in desperation, she was chastised like a naughty child.
Julie evolved a nightly routine. ‘I pulled the curtains all around the bed and secured them with a bedside table, the bed and my chair. I did this because I’d woken to find a man standing over me, vulnerable, confused, but still enough to frighten me,’ she recalls.
One night, Julie was startled by a violent male patient who, without warning, meandered into the ward and threw a table across the room. Julie placated him and ushered him outside to have a cigarette. When she reported the incident, she was merely told to wedge a chair against the door to stop him getting in again.
Bella’s operation, meanwhile, which took place three weeks after her admission, was a success. Julie was taught how to connect her mother’s feed bag, and Bella’s health began to improve.
Indeed, her doctor said her hernia might shrink, and she might be able to eat normally again. Two weeks later, Bella announced she was hungry: it was wonderful evidence of her recovery.
She said she would like some soup; delighted, Julie suggested warming up a can in the patients’ kitchen microwave.
Here, however, she encountered a nurse she had identified as a bully and dubbed Nurse Ratchet.
‘Due to health and safety regulations, I’m unable to allow you to use the microwave,’ the nurse declared smugly. ‘You could make it too hot and scald your mother.’ The same rule, she said, forbad soup being brought from home.
Julie’s blood boiled, but she subdued the impulse to bite back and merely phoned her niece, Samantha, Bella’s eldest granddaughter, asking her to smuggle in a flask of hot soup. She did so, and Bella drank it with relish.
To everyone’s delight, she continued to improve: six weeks into her hospital stay, she was told she would go home in four days.
But there was a setback. Bella’s discharge was delayed because she needed a nebuliser to administer medication. Julie was deflated, but returned home to prepare for her mother’s return, and Samantha took over the watch. While she napped, Bella needed the commode. However, a healthcare assistant who tried to move her dropped Bella, and Sam was jolted awake by her grandmother’s screams.
Julie described the next ten days as ‘sheer hell’. Bella’s condition deteriorated sharply. She was given a blood transfusion and prescribed a drug to help her breathing because she was literally gasping for air.
But the drug didn’t arrive and the autocratic ‘Nurse Ratchet’ was on duty when Julie begged her for the drug. ‘I am in charge of the ward and I make the decisions,’ the nurse snapped, and refused to give Bella the pill.
Julie recalls: ‘I’m not a violent person, but I wanted to crash the table over her head for all the misery she had caused.’
Instead, she turned her eyes to Bella’s. ‘They met mine for the very last time, and the look in them haunts me still. My mum was petrified: a strong, vibrant woman robbed of dignity and left begging for her life.’
Bella died on November 8, 2007, and Julie’s grief was compounded by the knowledge that her mother could have had a better death, had she only been given care, kindness and a drug that might have eased her fear and pain. Five years on, Julie campaigns in memory of the mother she loved so dearly, so that others do not suffer as she did.
Despite everything, however, she says little at the hospital has improved. ‘Lessons have not been learned. Only the other day, I was told, a patient was left on a commode for three hours.’
However, David Haycox, spokesman for Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘The Trust has improved significantly during the past four years and we would refute any claim that no improvement has been made in the clinical care of our patients.’
Meanwhile, Julie hopes the vision of the sheer terror she saw in her mother’s eyes before she died might leave her. ‘I can’t think of the happy times I had with Mum,’ she says. ‘That memory overshadows everything.’
British businessman who tackled burglar in his mother’s home spends 18 HOURS in police custody for ‘assaulting’ intruder
A businessman who spent 18 hours in custody after he tackled a man who was raiding his mother’s house says ‘the law stinks.
Vaughan Jones, 39, from Bargoed, in Gwent, South Wales jumped into action when his widowed mother heard a thief burgling her family home.
He called police before dashing around to help his mother Eleanor, 65, and confronted the burglar in a hand-to-hand struggle. But the dad-of-three was left shocked when officers arrived and arrested him for allegedly assaulting the thief. He said: ‘I couldn’t believe it. I said to them: ‘Are you real?’.
‘I told them I was acting in self defence. When they took me to the police station, I said ‘The law stinks’.
Ms Jones was roused by the burglar when a pebble was used to smash her patio doors. She called her son who found the burglar and grappled with him. But he was amazed when police arrested both him and the burglar when they arrived a few minutes later.
Mr Jones was then escorted to hospital under police guard and treated for a hairline fracture to his hand caused during the struggle with the burglar.
The accounts manager was then put in a police cell where he spent the night in custody.
And he was only released when the Crown Prosecution Service advised police not to press charges.
Gwent Police confirmed Mr Jones was arrested following the incident. A spokesman said: ‘When officers attend a live, ongoing situation they often have to take quick and decisive action based on what they are faced with to defuse the situation, ensure the safety of all involved and to maximise opportunities to gather evidence. ‘Further enquiries follow, enabling officers to establish a fuller picture of what has taken place.’ [In other words, they’ve got the brains of fowls]
The incident comes after the Government unveiled plans to protect home-owners who are confronted by burglars. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said the ‘public should be in no doubt’ that the law is on their side during a break-in.
Police said a 29-year-old man from Caerphilly, South Wales, has been arrested and charged with burglary.
Justice Denied – Britain’s Worst Retreat since Dunkirk
In my Mail on Sunday column last Sunday (11th November) I promised a fuller account of the scandalous downgrading of serious crime by the authorities in England and Wales ( I have not made a similar analysis of Scotland, which has its own separate legal system, but suspect something similar will be under way there). What was most distressing was to receive several personal confirmations of police uninterest in pursuing quite serious matters. The use of so-called ‘restorative justice’ to negotiate a supposed reconciliation between criminal (or in value-free jargon ’offender’) and victim is a growing part of this array of devices to reduce pressure on prisons, massage crime figures downwards and give the illusion of action.
Here is what I have found.
This country has not seen such a retreat since Dunkirk. Prosecutors and Police are in headlong flight in the face of a flood of crime and disorder unseen in this country since the Victorian era. And, just as at Dunkirk, skilled propagandists seek to portray the defeat as a triumph.
For some time, I have scoffed at official figures claiming that crime was falling. It is plain to anybody outside the elite cocoon of money and power that such a claim must be garbage of a high order. But as always, when the state has a monopoly of information, it was hard to show where the flaw was. Now, thanks to the brave and astute action of the Magistrates Association, some light has been shone on this dark place.
The story is enormous. In 2008 Magistrates began to suspect that a falling workload in the Magistrates’ Courts was a national rather than just a local phenomenon. The Magistrates’ Association tried to find out what was really happening. They were of course told there was a reduction in crime . The published statistics, of course, supported that.
Rather than accept what they were told (as so many people gullibly and acquiescently do) the Magistrates launched their own inquiry, using the Freedom of Information Act.
I regret that much of the information here is three years old or more, but it has (to my embarrassment and regret) taken me that long to get on to this story, which has been hiding in plain sight for anyone to pick up. My excuse is that at the time it first surfaced briefly, I was travelling abroad a great deal. I suspect that more recent figures would be even worse. The rape total given in my article of 11th November (higher than the one shown below) results from figures obtained since this report was written.
Its origins lie deep in the Blair Government which in 2001 passed the Criminal Justice and Police Act, a gimmicky measure designed to give the illusion of action. Its effects – and, I would suspect, its purposes – were quite different. Suddenly the police no longer had to take cases to court if they thought them worthy of action. In return for an admission of guilt, they could deal with them through on-the-spot penalties, a gross break with English legal tradition and a direct contravention of the Bill of Rights of 1689, but then nobody’s heard of that nowadays.
I am not sure exactly when the increased use of so-called ‘cautions’ a form of letting off without trial, and also with only a minor criminal record, was put into law. But that has also grown enormously
In practice, huge numbers of the informal penalties are never paid, so they end up being not very different from cautions(or the even weaker ‘cannabis warning’ introduced without Parliament’s permission discussed here many times) . But there’s another crucial detail. Once an offence has been disposed of in this way *it cannot be reopened*. The wrongdoer can own up to it (thus receiving a fine he probably won’t pay and a small mark on his criminal record. After that, it cannot be raised again.
We shall see why this is significant. For all of what follows I am indebted to Richard Monkhouse and the Magistrates’ Association, whose sceptical, inquiring spirit and hard work have uncovered one of the most interesting stories of our time.
They actually managed to stop the previous government extending the scheme to even more offences, though I should expect the existing government or the Lab-Lib coalition which will be in office from May 2015 will be back for more in time. After all, if you can’t reduce the problem, you can at least reduce the statistics.
Their document refers to OCDs (this stands for ‘Out of Court Disposals’). At the time of the survey, these were used for just over half all offences (54%) and thus of course make nonsense of official ‘sentencing guidelines’ which apply only to cases which come to court.
They include :
o Simple Caution
o Street Warning for Cannabis use
o Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN)
o Penalty Notices for Disorder (PND)
o Conditional Cautions
The document notes ‘…Magistrates were reporting serious concerns about the use of Out of Court Disposals (OCDs). At the Annual General Meeting [of the Magistrates’ Association] in Nov 2008 the following proposal was unanimously agreed :
‘This Annual General Meeting opposes the inappropriate use of out of court disposals. It contends that serious offences, including offences involving acts of violence, are being dealt with out of court to the detriment of the criminal justice system. It calls for the use of out of court disposals to be scrutinised to ensure that justice is being done and it urges the government to gather and publish detailed evidence on both the scale and consistency of use of such disposals in all areas of England and Wales.’
I quote again : ‘Magistrates Courts are open to the public, sentences are recorded and can be appealed, there is full scrutiny of the process, yet such disposals are not subject to such stringent procedure. In many cases there is a victim and they cannot receive compensation of a Caution, FPN or PND is administered – but they can in court. In addition almost 54% of FPNs [Fixed Penalty Notices] and PNDs [Penalty Notices for Disorder]are not paid and so come to court – but the court cannot deal with the original offence even if is a serious one. There is extra cost to the court system to administer the fine when the Home office has already had a budget for the process. Further the police are now accrediting non police officers to administer FPNS and PNDs and the government plans to extend the use of such disposal to Careless Driving.
The data indicates that the use of out of court disposals is neither consistent, transparent nor open to public scrutiny’
Remember, these are the words of Magistrates, responsible, concerned, sober, respectable people with no political axe to grind. I have seldom seen such strong feeling in a document from such a restrained group of people.
Plans for secret justice in Britain left in turmoil
Plans for a major extension of ‘secret justice’ are in fresh turmoil today as MPs and peers insist ministers have still failed to justify such a ‘serious departure’ from Britain’s constitutional traditions.
An influential cross-party committee said that despite a string of concessions, the Government has not made a convincing case for new powers to allow more court hearings to take place behind closed doors.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights said all the evidence it had received – apart from that of the Government – suggested the proposals would mean a ‘radical departure’ from ancient principles of ‘open justice and fairness’.
In a report published today, it suggests the Government will have difficulty getting the legislation through the House of Lords and will lead to calls for it to be dropped altogether.
The report on the Justice and Security Bill, which would allow judges to listen to more civil cases in secret without claimants being able to hear the evidence against them, raised concerns about the potential for the reforms to be used by the state to avoid ‘embarrassing situations’.
Committee chairman Hywel Francis said: ‘We were disappointed that the Government failed to prove to us a pressing need to extend the use of secret evidence into civil proceedings generally.
‘The Bill represents a very significant shift away from historic common law principles and Parliament should only accept such a departure when the necessity for it has been properly and persuasively justified.’
The Daily Mail has led criticism of Government plans to allow so-called ‘closed material procedures’, in which cases are conducted entirely in private, in any civil hearing.
Defendants or claimants will not allowed to be present, know or challenge the case against them and must be represented by a security-cleared special advocate, rather than their own lawyer.
Currently, such procedures are used in tiny numbers of immigration and deportation hearings, but the Government wants to extend them across the civil courts.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has forced the Government to make a number of concessions, including abandoning the idea of extending secret justice to inquest hearings.
But critics say the proposals still represent a fundamental breach of traditional principles of open justice, and accuse the Government of allowing the security services to dictate the legislation.
Spy chiefs were deeply embarrassed by civil court claims against them by terror suspects, which had to be settled out of court rather than having sensitive intelligence material discussed in open hearings.
Ministers claim they are wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on settling claims, some of which may have no merit, because it is unable to contest them as the evidence it would wish to produce is so secret that it cannot be revealed in an open court.
Sixteen terrorism suspects, including former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, received payouts last November after they claimed they were mistreated by US and British security and intelligence officials.
But critics and civil rights campaigners say the proposed reforms will create a ‘secret justice system straight from the pages of a Kafka novel’.
The committee criticised Home Secretary Theresa May for refusing to allow even special advocates – security cleared lawyers who can work in secret courts – to have access to information so they could assess whether secret trials were necessary.
That would have provided the ‘best evidence’ available to Parliament about whether there ‘really exists a practical need for the provisions’, the report said.
MPs and peers said it was ‘unsatisfactory’ ministers had not told them how many civil damages claims involving sensitive national security information were pending.
They ‘remain unpersuaded’ the Government has shown there is a significant and growing number of cases in which a closed material procedure was ‘essential’, the report added.
The committee raised concerns about what information would be classified as ‘sensitive’, warning it could be used to avoid ‘difficult or embarrassing situations’.
It said only UK intelligence material that could reveal the identity or techniques of UK intelligence officers or foreign intelligence material provided by another country on a strict promise of confidentiality should be deemed sensitive.
The committee called on ministers to revise the Bill to give courts a ‘genuine discretion’ on whether a closed material application may be made and if a claim for public interest immunity could have been made.
Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success, says British education boss
Learning facts by rote should be a central part of the school experience, the education secretary, Michael Gove, will argue on Wednesday in a speech which praises traditional exams to the extent of arguing they helped spur the US civil rights struggle.
In the address, titled In Praise of Tests, Gove describes the ideological underpinning to his planned shakeup of GCSEs and A-levels, a philosophy which will further delight educational traditionalists but is likely to prompt criticisms that he is seeking a return to the teaching styles of the 1940s and 50s.
Competitive, difficult exams for which pupils must prepare by memorising large amounts of facts and concepts will promote motivation, solidify knowledge and guarantee standards, Gove is to tell the Independent Academies Association, a trade body for academy schools.
“Exams matter because motivation matters,” Gove will say, according to extracts of the speech provided by his department.
“Humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges. And our self-belief grows as we clear challenges we once thought beyond us. “If we know tests are rigorous, and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning.”
Gove professes himself a great fan of Daniel Willingham, a US cognitive psychologist who has sought to use scientific research to show pupils learn best through the use of memory and routine, arguments outlined in a book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, also popular with free schools guru Toby Young.
Gove argues that “memorisation is a necessary precondition of understanding”. He says: “Only when facts and concepts are committed securely to the working memory, so that it is no effort to recall them and no effort is required to work things out from first principles, do we really have a secure hold on knowledge.
“Memorising scales, or times tables, or verse, so that we can play, recall or recite automatically gives us this mental equipment to perform more advanced functions and display greater creativity.
“And the best way to build memory, as Willingham explains, is by the investment of thought and effort – such as the thought and effort we require for exam preparation and testing.”
Such exams must be “proper tests”, marked externally and with results ranked in league tables, rather than teacher assessment, Gove he argues.
While saying he is “a huge fan” of teacher assessment Gove argues that external tests are more fair, saying evidence shows some ethnic minority children can be under-marked by their own teachers.
He goes on: “With external testing there is no opportunity for such bias – the soft bigotry of low expectations – and tests show ethnic minority students performing better.
“So external tests are not only a way of levelling the playing field for children of all backgrounds they are a solvent of prejudice.”
Eton: what is it about the school that makes it such a breeding ground for leadership?
What exactly is the source of its pupils’ legendary charm and confidence, their almost as legendary slipperiness? In his book, Fraser interviews the late Anthony Sampson, the famous investigator of Britain’s elites. “I’d meet Etonians everywhere I went,” says Sampson, not one himself. “I’ve never understood why they were so good at networking and politics.” Fraser speculates: “The Etonian mystique often seems a matter of mirrors, a collusion between those [non-Etonians] hungry for [Eton] notoriety and Etonians who are only too happy to supply it.” One afternoon last week, I emailed the school to ask if I could visit. Within less than two hours, Little emailed back and offered to meet the next day.
Like many British centres of power, Eton owes some of its influence to geography. It was founded in 1440 on the orders of Henry VI, frequently in residence with his court nearby at Windsor Castle. Nowadays, the school emphasises its closeness to London, the great global money hub, a dozen miles to the east. “About a third of our boys have London addresses,” says Little, leaving open the possibility that they also have others. For the tenth who live abroad – the proportion “has grown a little” since he became head in 2002 – Heathrow airport is even closer. Jets intermittently moan loud and low over the school’s spikes and towers.
But otherwise, for much of the long school day, there is an uncanny hush. As you approach the college, there is no grand announcement of Eton’s existence, just small, hand-painted signs, white lettering on black, indicating that an increasing number of the courtyards, alleyways and driveways branching off the High Street are private property. From the open windows of neat classrooms, some late medieval, some Victorian, some Edwardian, some with expensive glass-and-steel modern additions, little of the usual hubbub of secondary school life emerges. Pupils and teachers alike sit upright in the black-and-white uniform, which is somehow both uptight and flamboyant – some might say like Etonians themselves. The uniform was standardised in the 19th century and must be worn for all lessons, AKA “divs” or “schools” in Eton’s elaborate private language.
When the lesson ends, the spotless pavements are suddenly flooded with pupils. Some are tall and languid, some are chubby and scurrying, some are black or Asian, most are white. Everyone carries old-fashioned ring-binder files, and no one texts or makes a phone call. But some of the boys greet each other with hugs, or bursts of transatlantic up-talking, or say “like” with a long “i”, London-style – for a minute or two, many seem reasonably modern and normal. Then everyone rushes off to the next lesson. “It is possible to be bored at Eton,” says the school website, “but it takes a bit of effort!”
“In many ways it is a conservative institution, with lots of tiny rules,” says someone who was a pupil from 2002 to 2007. The ambiguous outside status of Eton often makes old boys reluctant to declare themselves. “But Eton is probably more liberal, more permissive than its reputation. There are amazing cultural facilities, to do art and theatre for example. There were so many opportunities, it seemed churlish to focus on how annoying it was to have to wear a gown in the heat of summer.” Last month, the History of Art Society, one of dozens of such pupil-run bodies, held a typical extracurricular event, a talk on 20th-century modernism. It was given by the BBC’s arts editor, Will Gompertz.
Some boys are so well-connected when they first arrive at the school, they already have a certain swagger. In focusing on a single institution, Eton’s critics are sometimes avoiding the more uncomfortable truth that the roots of Britain’s elites go wider and deeper. But for less overwhelmingly privileged boys, says theex-pupil, Eton can be life-changing: “It’s just expected that you will drink from the cup of opportunity. So you become used to being able to do whatever you put your hand to. Or at the least, you learn not to seem fazed by opportunities in the wider world.”
Little himself was a pupil from 1967 to 1972, “the first male in my family to be educated past the age of 14”. His study is baronial and high-ceilinged, with a window austerely open to the cold evening, but he is less forbidding than you might expect, with a quiet, calm, middle-class voice, like a senior doctor. “Dad worked at Heathrow, security for British Airways,” he says. One of the school’s main aims, he continues, is to admit a broader mix. But how can it, given the fees, which have raced ahead of earnings and inflation in recent decades? “It’s a huge amount of money,” he admits – the appearance of candour is one of Little’s tactics when he talks to the outside world. “Sometimes I think, short of robbing a bank, what d’you do?”
Currently, by giving out scholarships on academic and musical merit, and bursaries according to “financial need”, Eton subsidises the fees of about 20% of its pupils. “Forty-five boys pay nothing at all,” says Little. “Our stated aim is 25% on reduced fees, of whom 70 pay nothing.” What is the timescale? “Quite deliberately non-specific. But I’ll be disappointed if we have not achieved it in 10 years.” Not exactly a social revolution. “A long-term goal” is for Eton to become “needs-blind”: to admit any boy, regardless of ability to pay, who makes it through the school’s selection procedure of an interview, a “reasoning test”, and the standard private-school Common Entrance exam. Whether Eton would then become a genuinely inclusive place is open to doubt: one of its selection criteria is an applicant’s suitability for boarding, and many people connected with Eton would surely resist its metamorphosis into a meritocracy. Hierarchy is in Eton’s bones.
Either way, Little says, the school does not have nearly enough money to become “needs-blind” yet. According to its latest accounts, Eton has an investment portfolio worth £200m. The school looks enviously on the wealth of private American universities: Harvard, the richest, has an endowment of more than £20bn. Eton seems unlikely to return soon to its core purpose as decreed by Henry VI: the education of poor scholars.
Little says the school teaches pupils “how to juggle time, how to work hard”, and how to present themselves in public: “One thing I say to them when they leave is, if you choose to behave the way a tabloid would expect … you deserve everything you get.” He downplays Eton slang as “a quirk and an oddity. A lot of words have fallen out of use.”
I wonder if he would say quite the same to a Daily Telegraph journalist. The classic Etonian skills – Cameron has them – have long included adjusting your message to your audience, defusing the issue of privilege with self-deprecation, and bending to the prevailing social and political winds, but only so far. “Do institutions in England change totally while seeming not to, or do they do the opposite?” asks Fraser. “I think the latter. And Eton has changed far less than Oxbridge.”
Does he think a school can ever be too powerful? For once, his affability gives way to something fiercer: “I’m unashamed that we’re aiming for excellence. We want … people who get on with things. The fact that people who come from here will stand in public life – for me, that is a cause for celebration.” If Eton is too influential, he suggests, other schools should try harder. Fraser has another explanation for the success of Old Etonians: “At moments in their lives,” he writes, “they are mysteriously available for each other.” Subtle networking, a sense of mission, an elite that does not think too hard about its material advantages – Eton’s is a very British formula for dominance.
It can be a high-pressure place. For all the Old Etonians who have considered the rest of life an anti-climax, there have been others damaged by the school: by its relentless timetable, by its crueller rituals, such as the “rips” torn by teachers in bad schoolwork, and by Eton’s strange combination of worldliness and otherworldliness. Compared to most other boarding schools, Eton seems more eccentric and intense, its mental legacy more lingering. “Eton never left me,” writes Fraser. Little says: “I’ve come across a fair number of casualties who were here [with me] in the 60s.” Another more recent ex-pupil describes Eton as “a millstone round my neck every day”.
BBC abandoned balanced climate reporting after meeting with these 28 campaigners
A BBC coverup defeated — and we can see the reason behind the secrecy now. Their “experts” were just a grab-bag of alarmists
In 2006, the BBC decided to stop providing balanced coverage of global warming science and policy after “a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts.” UK blogger Tony Newbery filed a freedom of information request to determine just who the 28 “best scientific experts” were. The BBC refused to comply and went to great (and expensive) legal lengths to avoid the disclosure.
The internet, however, has a long memory. A search of an internet “wayback” machine revealed the 28 names the BBC was hiding. Surprise, surprise, the list revealed few “best scientific experts” no scientific experts skeptical of the global warming science and policy the BBC would choose to champion, numerous global warming campaigners and business people seeking to protect and expand taxpayer subsidies to their carbon and alternative energy schemes.
Four senior representatives of the BBC, including BBC Director General George Entwistle, who attended the 2006 meeting have just been disciplined or resigned from their posts at the BBC following a serious scandal which paints them not as neutral journalists reporting for a taxpayer funded news service, but as “ends justify the means” left-wing campaigners. BBC Newsnight falsely reported that Lord McAlpine, who served as Treasurer of the Conservative Party and adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was involved in the North Wales child abuse scandal. The charges, which have proven false, were made by the BBC without ever contacting Lord McAlpine to hear his side of the story — apparently, a sad pattern at the BBC. This has left many asking whether these BBC officials were so filled with disdain for Baroness Thatcher that they rushed onto the air a story which would damage her legacy.
Similarly, were these BBC officials so enamored of the goals of radical global warming advocates to implement their agenda by stifling all question and debate, that they rushed the BBC into its policy of only reporting one side of this expensive and controversial set of policies?
Consider Christopher Booker’s report The BBC and Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal, published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
The “Guido Fawkes” blog released the following 28 names as those who counseled the BBC to abandon impartial journalism on climate. Judge for yourself:
Robert May, Oxford University and Imperial College London
Mike Hulme, Director, Tyndall Centre, UEA
Blake Lee-Harwood, Head of Campaigns, Greenpeace
Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen
Michael Bravo, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
Andrew Dlugolecki, Insurance industry consultant
Trevor Evans, US Embassy
Colin Challen MP, Chair, All Party Group on Climate Change
Anuradha Vittachi, Director, Oneworld.net
Andrew Simms, Policy Director, New Economics Foundation
Claire Foster, Church of England
Saleemul Huq, IIED
Poshendra Satyal Pravat, Open University
Li Moxuan, Climate campaigner, Greenpeace China
Tadesse Dadi, Tearfund Ethiopia
Iain Wright, CO2 Project Manager, BP International
Ashok Sinha, Stop Climate Chaos
Andy Atkins, Advocacy Director, Tearfund
Matthew Farrow, CBI
Rafael Hidalgo, TV/multimedia producer
Cheryl Campbell, Executive Director, Television for the Environment
Kevin McCullough, Director, Npower Renewables
Richard D North, Institute of Economic Affairs
Steve Widdicombe, Plymouth Marine Labs
Joe Smith, The Open University
Mark Galloway, Director, IBT
Anita Neville, E3G
Eleni Andreadis, Harvard University
Jos Wheatley, Global Environment Assets Team, DFID
Tessa Tennant, Chair, AsRia