"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Home Secretary Priti Patel's craven criticisms disgraced her office"
Scenes of male police officers dragging female protesters away from the Clapham Common bandstand in London brought forth a torrent of adverse comment. No matter how you cut it, the arrest of women at the vigil for the slain Sarah Everard is poor optics.
Emotions were bound to be unrestrained when you consider the victim's alleged murderer's profession, which I'm afraid cannot be ignored. With a serving police officer as the accused and coming on the back of ‘International Women's Week,’ the confluence of events couldn't be worse.
Thus when Commissioner 'Cassandra' Dick stood up for her officers, she earned my respect. In the past, I was less than enamoured with Commissioner Dick; she appeared willing to sacrifice police neutrality for any passing trendy tenet. On this occasion, she's stood her ground against the onslaught.
We've yet to hear from the commanding officer on the ground. Whether it was right and proper for the police to act is a judgement that awaits all accounts. Thus, wouldn't it be appropriate for commentators to wait until all the evidence is available? How many people have seen the clips of the peaceful protesters chasing the police?
Nonetheless, the incident fascinates me because there are distinct parallels to events we've seen in Hong Kong when protesters put themselves above the law. So, please excuse me if I join in the debate.
For starters, the police are in this position because politicians enacted laws that make such gatherings illegal. These same politicians are now rounding on the police. Home Secretary Priti Patel’s craven criticisms disgraced her office. No surprise there.
Let's break this down. Either the police enforce the law or don't, and once they start to act on the law, and people refuse to comply, the outcomes are never good. That's my experience in over 36 years of policing. And yes, the police must exercise care, discretion and may decide in some instances not to act.
Days before the vigil, the police told the organisers it would be an illegal gathering. At a hearing on Friday, the courts upheld this position. The judge did ask the organiser and police to liaise, although this did not happen for reasons that are not clear. The police also briefed ministers of their approach, so Patel can hardly claim ignorance.
On Saturday, the event kicked off quietly. The Duchess of Cambridge attended without a media fanfare. She was mask-less, appeared to have no bodyguards and stayed long enough to be filmed. Take that, Meghan!
Having examined the available videos of the incident, I can see a clear progression. Initially, the crowd looks dispersed, maintaining social-distancing around the bandstand. As night falls, several speakers start to address the group, and the people come in closer. At this stage, the police continue in a passive mode. That includes assisting with the placing of flowers on the bandstand, which has become a shrine.
With the crowd pressing in, the police start asking people to move back. These police requests draw a hostile reaction from some in the group. A red-headed lady stirs up the crowd with chants, while a blonde female charged forward and collides with officers. Pushed back at least four times, she keeps coming on. Soon, scuffles kick-off. Officers retreat at one point, chased by an aggressive yelling mob. The police then start detaining people.
The red-headed lady is then pinned to the floor by two male officers. That becomes the iconic image of the event.
Underlying the events at the bandstand are strong feelings. In the UK, a woman dies at the hands of a man every three days. The vast majority of these terrible deaths occur behind closed doors in homes. Partners are responsible. Thus the outrage of women, specifically as this case involved a police officer as a suspect, is understandable.
Less understandable is why similar protests don't arise for murdered men. Figures show that three-quarters of murder victims are men, and the homicide rate for men and boys is almost three times higher than that for women and girls.
In the year to March 2020, the number of male victims rose by 20 per cent, from 422 to 506, while the number of female victims fell by 16 per cent, from 225 to 188. In 2019, 75% of suicides in the UK were male. Where are the vigils and the outrage?
Meanwhile, today The Independent elects to lead a story with, "The vast majority of murderers in England and Wales are white men, official figures show." Well, given that white males make up most of the male population at 88%, that's pretty much a given. What about the other 33%? Which group do they belong to that only makes up 15% of the population? Don't go there.
The Independent proves a point made here. The white working-class are the only underprivileged group that can face open revilement in British society. All the data points towards white working-class males as the largest disadvantaged minority in the UK. They suffer the worst educational outcomes, higher unemployment, high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse and lower life expectancy. Meanwhile, because the intersectional pyramid of victimhood ascribes them as 'white' and with 'masculine toxicity' they're ignored at best and vilified at worst.
Getting back to Hong Kong, the authorities here stand accused of silencing protests with Covid restrictions. The same accusation is now levelled at the UK Police; 'Women's voices must be heard' is the mantra. Yet, in both instances, it's not true. There are plenty of forums to allow voices of protests and dissent. It's undeniable that people can make themselves heard without threatening public health and placing themselves above the law.
Given the bile heaped on the UK police, will they be prepared to step up next time? The court of public opinion has found them guilty while the politicians seek to distract from their liabilities. How often have we seen that before?
On a lighter note, this officer from Twat Valley Police responds.
"The Brits exploded 12 atomic bombs in friendly Australia"
Until now, I never realised the full extent and impact of Britain's nuclear bomb tests in Australia. While the Yanks dropped two bombs on the enemy to end World War II, the Brits exploded 12 atomic bombs in friendly Australia. Maralinga in South Australia was the most extensive test site.
At first, the British had no plans to test in Australia. In 1946, when the Americans discovered that a British spy was working on the Manhattan project, they enacted the McMahon Act. This act excluded the British from working on secret military programs. Hence the Brits had to find new test sites as they went it alone.
The quirky and disjointed Netflix show, 'Operation Buffalo', pulls back the curtain on this shabby chapter in Britain's history. The series is a highly fictionalised account of events at the Maralinga test site between 1956 and 1963, an area of land claimed to be empty.
In truth, the site is Aboriginal land and occupied by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people. Further, not all these people had the opportunity to evacuate. A single warden was to ensure their safety, as they roamed as nomads in an area the size of England. Many didn't know about the tests, as evidence emerges that the dead found after the blasts had secret burials.
Better documented are terrible tales of people, including children, blinded and poisoned by the tests. Caught in the fall-out zone, many suffered horrific lingering deaths.
I must say that the Netflix series is a confused dramatisation of events. I can't decide whether it's a black-comedy, Cold War thriller or a mystic drama piece. At times the convoluted storyline is so unconvincing that you have to laugh. Nonetheless, it's entertaining and thought-provoking. I found it best to go with the flow, although the ending took me by surprise and disenchanted; the series offers no real closure.
For the record, besides testing seven nuclear bombs at Maralinga, the Brits burnt large plutonium quantities to see what would happen, as you do. This open-air burning spread contamination far and wide. Much of that burnt plutonium will remain hazardous for about 24,000 years. By comparison, 24,000 years ago was the middle of the last ice age.
The tests at Maralinga aimed to assess the functioning of the bombs and the impact on military personnel. For this purpose, both British and Australian soldiers lined up in the open, beyond the blast range, to observe the detonations. As a precaution, they turned their backs. Then, without protective gear, they were marched through the blast zone. As a consequence, 30% of the service personnel who attended the tests died of cancers. By comparison, in a normal population, about 5% of people die of cancer.
The British and Australians kept all this secret until the 1970s when whistleblower Avon Hudson began talking. Subsequently, a Royal Commission revealed a litany of cover-ups, recklessness and wanton disregard for public safety.
Attempts to clean up the site began in the 1960s. But these were far from successful. A more thorough cleaning began in 1995 lasting until 2000. That project cost $100 million, 75% of which Australia covered. Yet, even today, vast tracks of the test site remain off-limits to humans.
Campaigners shamed the British into covering some of the medical costs of indigenous people poisoned by the tests. In 2017, the exhumation of a child's remains helped reawaken sentiments around the test's legacy.
'Operation Buffalo' takes in the political machinations of the day. In brief, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies authorised the tests without consulting his parliament. Keen to curry favour with the British, he wrapped the operation in secrecy and, for obvious reasons, hid the broader impacts.
Without giving too much away, 'Operation Buffalo' has wonderfully colourful characters. Topping the list is General 'Cranky' Crankford, an old-school warrior sitting out his 'grace and favour' posting pending retirement. Played with restrained strength by James Cromwell, Cranky is the good-conscience who does the right thing.
He recognises the absurdness of the tests. At the same time, he connects with the Aboriginal people in a bizarre series of events. Meanwhile, there is plenty to enjoy in the cartoonish portrayals of vile politicians and the incompetent Australian secret service.
If nothing else, 'Operation Buffalo' raises many questions. I came away disgusted at the indignity visited on the indigenous people by the men making clouds.
"And you thought 'The Crown' was exciting - that's fiction."
A short blog today because the excitement is palpable. In case you've not noticed, Britain's longest-running soap opera is undergoing a fantastic reboot. The new writers are working overtime. We've not been so captivated since Randy Andy's run-in with the FBI. As that story-line recedes, to spice things up, Duchess Netflix escaped with her man to California.
Desperate to avoid the media's prying eyes, the Duchess and Harry have decided to remain low profile by broadcasting an audience with Queen Oprah of TV land. After all, the press destroyed their mental health. Rumours are the Duchess is about to spill the beans on the Windsors.
Back in the UK, Team Windsor is not taking any of this lightly. They've released the attack dogs quicker than Prince Andrew can recollect a trip to Woking. Leaked allegations of bullying and other untoward behaviour have taken the wind out of Meghan's sails. Her attempts to control perceptions has run up against old school skullduggery. She'd do well to stay away from any tunnels or underpasses.
And you thought 'The Crown' was exciting - that's fiction. This stuff is the real deal. Even Shakespeare would struggle to imagine such an imbroglio. An old honourable Queen struggles to hang on while a dotty heir frets about spires and talks to plants. Enter the wayward young prince, who never will be king, now led astray as a star-crossed lover; while lurking in the background is the ghost of the people's princess.
Next up is a stepmother. She made the 'beast with two backs' in the heir's chamber to the lascivious pleasing of a lute. And then, brought asunder the people's princess. For a touch of pathos, the old Duke lays dying in hospital. We've got all elements of Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard the Third intertwined here with a dash of King Lear.
So, this weekend, Me-again and the tamed Duke will have their moment in the limelight. Will the lady protest too much as her lips wobble? Methinks yes. Meanwhile, Brenda and Chuck are priming the cannons with more dirt.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.