Was Justice Served In The Pistorius Case?

Here’s a question for you. What is a life worth? In the South African justice system, if you are white, famous and rich, the answer is ten months.

That’s the likely jail time that Oscar Pistorius will serve for shooting his girlfriend dead on Valentine’s Day.

Of course the judge in the case sentenced him to five years imprisonment for culpable homicide. But nobody expects, nor do they believe, he will serve anything like that length of time.

He should.

In fact, the prosecution wanted him jailed for at least ten years.

But that didn’t happen. Let’s be realistic. That was never going to happen.

It was never going to happen from the moment the judge gave Pistorius bail after convicting him. But she had to be careful. The eyes of the world and all of South Africa were fixed on this case. The judge knew it. But equally, allowing him to serve only home detention, a ludicrous suggestion made in the pre-sentence hearing, was never going to happen either. The judge knew that as well. She said as much when delivering her decision.

A non-custodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community, the judge said. But a long prison sentence was not appropriate either because it lacked the element of mercy.

Let’s just briefly dwell on the concept of mercy.

For example, how much mercy did Pistorius show, when he repeatedly fired bullets at a cowering Reeva Steenkamp, through the wooden door of a bathroom? He claims it was a case of mistaken identity. He can claim what he likes. In the court of public opinion, no one believes him.

The judge went to great lengths to reassure everyone that Pistorius, a wealthy and influential white man would never have been able to secure preferential treatment despite the equality before the law provision in the 1996 South African post apartheid constitution. The judge said it would be a sad day for South Africa if an impression were created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged and one law for the rich and famous.

But no one believed the judge when she said that.

Ordinary South Africans don’t believe it. They said as much when they were asked to give their opinion on the sentencing. It shows our society hasn’t changed, one man said. If Pistorius were black, instead of white, he would never have received such a light sentence. But that’s how things are in South Africa. Another man said why are certain offenders more equal than others before the law? Then he added this telling comment about the Pistorius behavior during the trial when he cried and dry retched. He screams like a girl, cries like a baby but shoots like a soldier.

The Pistorius legal team fully expects their client will move to home detention after serving between ten and 20 months of his sentence. The prosecution has two weeks to decide if there will be an appeal.

The ruling African National Congress Women’s League, which is leading political efforts to tackle domestic violence head on, wants the State to appeal.

The Steenkamp family was shocked that Pistorius avoided a murder conviction.

Reeva’s mother, June Steenkamp says she is certain her daughter was planning to leave Pistorius the very night she was killed. She says Reeva’s bags were packed. June Steenkamp says Reeva was scared to have a sexual relationship with Pistorius because he was controlling and manipulative.

She described Pistorius as “arrogant”, “moody”, “volatile” and “combustible”, saying he was a “trigger-happy” gun lover who was “possessive” of her daughter.

June Steenkamp went on to say it was Reeva’s bad luck that she met Oscar Pistorius, because sooner or later he would have killed someone.

But the family also knows whatever happens in the future, nothing is going to bring back a much-loved daughter.

And for all the noble sentiments about equality before the law and no such thing as a separate law for the rich and influential, Pistorius is serving his sentence far away from the general prison population. He is housed in a single jail cell in the prison hospital. He is getting the kind of treatment that other disabled prisoners at the same jail can only dream about.

Some time ago I wrote of my concern asking the question: Are there two legal systems in the world we live in, one for the rich and famous and the other for everyone else? I guess I’ve answered my own question, as if it ever needed answering.

My New Book Cover Up

I think I might have mentioned that I have just written a non fiction book called Cover Up. It re-investigates five of the world’s biggest crimes: the death of Princess Diana, the death of Pope John Paul I, the probably murder of former US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, The plane crash in Gander, Canada that killed 250 members of the 101st Airborne and the assassination of President Habyarimana which triggered the genocide that killed one million people.

As part of the promotion for my book, I was interviewed by Talk Radio Europe. Here’s a link to listen to the interview:

http://www.talkradioeurope.com/clients/dcomerford.mp3

And of course make sure you buy a copy from Amazon in Kindle or Paperback. Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1500314021?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1500314021&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

If you buy my book please leave a review on either on either Amazon or Goodreads or both. Here is the link to my Goodreads page:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22610845-cover-up

Happy reading !

Rupert’s Eldest Is Now My Favourite Murdoch

I have a new found respect for press baron, Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan.

I am kind of surprised at myself that I’d be defending a Murdoch when a lot of what his father and brother did, with the News of the World and the phone hacking scandal, was utterly indefensible and brought great discredit to the profession called journalism. In fact Rupert can count himself lucky he didn’t end up sharing a prison cell with one of his senior editors who wasn’t quite so lucky.

Today, Lachlan Murdoch took aim at the Australian Government’s new security laws and how they plan to apply them in relation to journalists.

In what is clearly an attack on press freedom, the new laws are aimed at whistleblowers or people who might be contemplating such an action and journalists who might be the recipients of that information. The penalty is Draconian. Up to 10 years imprisonment.

Lachlan picked a most opportune moment to let fly with what he thought about the Government’s laws. The occasion was an oration in honor of his Grandfather, the late, great, Sir Keith Murdoch, a legendary and fearless Australian newspaperman in his day.

His opening salvo was to remind everyone present that Australia ranks 33rd, just behind Belize on the Freedom House index, which is literally an index of freedom in the world. Twenty years ago the country was 9th.

Lachlan Murdoch told his audience that the Australian Government was always invoking the phrase: trust us we’re the Government while at the same time attempting to censor the media. But trust, should not be a consideration when it comes to restricting any kind of fundamental freedom. Hard won rights like Freedom of speech and freedom of the press should never be blindly entrusted to anyone.

He said the Government’s terminology when invoking these new laws against journalists, who might receive information considered to be revealing “special intelligence operations,” was both misleading and ambiguous. In any case, the Government had given itself the power to arbitrarily decide what does or does not constitute a “ special intelligence operation.”

Lachlan Murdoch then rhetorically and very cheekily asked if the Gallipoli campaign would have been classified as a “ special intelligence operation.”

He then went on to tell the story of how his Grandfather, Sir Keith Murdoch came into possession of leaked information, which he published, revealing the Gallipoli military disaster where 8000 Australians had been killed. It was the contents of a private communication between Sir Keith and the then Prime Minister of the day.

Lachlan Murdoch then suggested if this had been 2014, instead of 1914, his Grandfather would, in all likelihood, be facing the prospect of 10 years imprisonment for telling the Australian people information they had a right to know about. His Grandfather was praised rather than condemned for the brave stand he took in publishing what he had been told. And knowing his Grandfather to be the man that he was, Sir Keith would have happily gone to jail, if necessary, for revealing it.

Lachlan Murdoch told his audience that censorship should be resisted in “all its insidious forms.” He urged all Australians to be vigilant and spirited in their resistance to the gradual erosion of hard won freedoms such as the right to know, the right to be informed and the ability to make reasoned decisions in our society and in our democracy.

He ended with a flourish. Urging everyone in general, and journalists in particular, to be like his Grandfather and have the courage to act when those freedoms are threatened.

My sources tell me he was given a standing ovation. So I say, well done young Murdoch. You’re a chip off the old block after all. And Grandad would be very proud.

The Story Of The Mysterious Plane, The Cash, The Drugs And Maybe The CIA

Here’s a story of mystery and intrigue. It concerns a private plane, organized crime, a drug seizure, a large amount of cash and more than likely the CIA. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, members of the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, conducted a raid on an eight seater private plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. It was real cops and robbers stuff. About 20 armed police in vehicles literally surrounded the plane. The local newspaper, was tipped off about the raid and took plenty of pictures. A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

Police allege a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two other men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Police claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was very complicated and full of intrigue. Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy a business at Illawarra airport to act as a legitimate front to hide criminal activities. But when he offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the vendor became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $70,000 cash.

It certainly looked as if the police had earned a well-deserved pat on the back for doing their job and keeping Australia safe from would-be drug traffickers.

Except this wasn’t the end of the story.

In fact it was only the beginning.

It turns out the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop is a stealth plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it arriving in Australia. In fact the last known official record concerning this aircraft shows it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been pretty busy up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April, 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to remain undetected. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods under radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coff’s Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But this story is about to get even murkier.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

So, who or what, is the Oregonian Aero Club?

That is an excellent question because no-one seems to know. None of the aero clubs in Oregon have ever heard of it. It has no club premises, street address, phone contact or website. We have no way of knowing if any of its members fly planes or whether it owns any other aircraft.

But the fact that this club has a registered office in Delaware might be an extremely significant clue. Delaware is one of the strangest states in the United States, in terms of corporate law specifically if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Those types of companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy freedom and secrecy similar to clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies with aircraft and yachts, advertise registration in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual. Making it a great place to hide if that was your wish.

And it turns out that the person who signed the ownership papers, buying the aircraft on behalf of the Oregonian Aero Club, that does not seem to exist, was none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

What exactly is his connection to this aero club? It’s a very good question for the Australian Police to ask Stevemuer. A second equally good question to ask is why he signed the ownership papers on the 12th of March 2014, when the plane didn’t leave the United States for the Philippines, its last known official destination, until April 2014? And what was the point of travelling thousands of kilometers from Australia to the United States to buy a 42-year -old plane? The answers to all of these questions are intriguing to say the least. But you are going to have to wait for me to write the next instalment in this story.

How Do We Make The World A Less Scary Place For Young Children?

The world is a scary place. If you listen to news reports, it’s positively terrifying.

So imagine the effect it’s having on a group of people, unable to analyze and process information properly? I’m talking about very young children. For them it’s worse than a horror movie. And in the pervasive, digital world we all live in, bad news is impossible to avoid.

The Sandy Creek School massacre in the United States, is a perfect example of what I am talking about. There was no escape. It was on television, radio and in newspapers and magazines. Young children couldn’t help but catch snippets. Either something they heard or just by eavesdropping on adult conversation.

Here’s another. An eight-year-old girl was in the habit of writing notes to her mother while they were cooking dinner with the television news blaring away in the background. One evening, the mother found a note at the bottom of a pile, after her daughter had gone to bed. It read: I’m scared they are going to bomb our place.

Next morning, the mother very gently asked her daughter about the note she had written. The little girl said from what she had seen on the TV news, she thought someone was going to come and bomb the family home. The mother told her daughter these were rare events and a long way away so it was very unlikely they would happen in the neighbourhood where the family lived. But it just goes to show how young children absorb information they hear.They lack the sophistication to distinguish between geographic distances so to them it must be happening in their own backyard.

Two scenarios that clearly invite two questions: How much should kids know about what’s going on in the world? And how much should adults tell them?

Not much according to the Australian Council of Children and Media. They say if a child, even as old as 12, doesn’t know about some horrific event, don’t tell them. They don’t need to know and in any case it will be of no benefit to them.

A Council spokesperson says hearing about a catastrophic event only makes young children feel anxious and unsafe. Children process information in terms of it being either black or white. They can’t understand, appreciate, or see the subtle differences. They don’t see a shooting or a murder or even a natural disaster as a random or rare event even if it happens thousands of kilometers away, on the other side of the world.

That observation has been borne out in work done by Diane Levin, an American Professor of Education. She says children think about news very differently from adults. Instead of it being an abstract event or disaster, children define it to include their own lives. And as a consequence, they interpret what they hear, see or read, in a very personal way. They worry about their own safety. They don’t understand or appreciate the difference between what might be an immediate threat and one that is very remote. Levin recommends that parents step in and make their children feel safe but they must always be careful about how they achieve that objective.

A child will always look to their parents for reassurance. The experts say children are also astute and very good at picking up on parental anxiety. And of course if they see that adults are scared, combined with these events being replayed over and over again on the television news, then it’s hardly a surprise that a child will become fearful.

So how should parents go about giving their children the reassurance they need?

Well, the experts have come up with a plan that goes something like this:

Turn the TV off especially around news time so they aren’t exposed to what is being reported in the media.

Validate and listen to their feelings calmly and give them time to talk without pressuring them.

If the event happened in a country a long way away, then tell them this,while at the same time reassuring them that they are safe.

Try to help them overcome their fears by talking it through with them, based on their age and understanding.

Tell them that scary things happen but there are also lots of people helping to put things right and doing their best to stop disasters from happening again.

It might not solve the problem completely for children but it seems like a good step in the right direction.

I guess what it boils down to is our response as adults. When catastrophes happen they touch our own sense of insecurity and mortality. The best thing to do might be to hold on to the sane and down to earth aspects of daily life because that will ultimately make the world seem like a safer place to children.

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done. So Get Your Husband To Help.

Being a woman and a mother must be a tough gig these days. I say this from the point of view of an outsider looking in. These women are juggling relationships, careers and family, all at the same time.

Being a man is still a position of privilege. They earn more. Get promoted faster and higher. Even if they have a family they still get to focus on their career with everything else pretty much on the backburner or to put it more accurately hand passed to their other half.

Maybe it comes from the male DNA that says a man can only do one thing at a time. Let’s face it. You rarely see the words men and multi-tasking in the same sentence except if you happen to be talking about a ménage a trois.

Whereas women have to cope with always doing more than one thing all the time like moving forward with their career while at the same time caring for children.

I have always begrudgingly admired how women are so good at sharing and supporting one another. Social media is tailor made for them. And now they are using it to empower themselves and each other by creating websites and pages on Facebook for job opportunities, tips on flexible working hours, support as well as advice on how to balance job demands with family life.

And these sites are not only creating opportunities for women who want to work from home, they are educating employers on the advantages of hiring flexible workers.

If employers are smart they will realize stay-at-home women have experience and talent, and would otherwise be in senior corporate roles if they were not raising a family. Salary is not as important to them as flexible working hours. These women have a track record for loyalty, maturity and possessing a great work ethic. The hours they want to work may not be 9-5 but they will get the job done without supervision.

And as more and more of these opportunities are taken up, stay-at-home Mums are relishing the chance to spend time with their children and have a career.

Change is on its way, but as satirical writer, Kathy Lette reminded one and all in a recent opinion piece we still have a long way to go baby.

The sad reality is that a women’s work is never done and certainly not by a man. Female life expectancy is falling and women are showing signs of increased stress levels with high blood pressure, heart attacks and alopecia because they literally have too much to do.

A British survey found that women do 11 hours 30 minutes of housework per week, twice as much as men. They also do most of the dreary household chores like washing the floors, cleaning the toilet, vacuuming and the ironing. That age- old claim that the closest a man ever gets to housework, is to give a room a sweeping glance might be true after-all. The reality is most workingwomen work all day then they come home to cook dinner, help the children with their homework, stack the dishwasher, put out the rubbish and sort the washing. By the end of the night the only fantasy occupying her thoughts is a good night’s sleep. She certainly isn’t in the mood for love, as most husbands will testify.

But Kathy Lette did present one solution that,to me, seemed to make a lot of sense. Offering sexual rewards in return for doing the chores. She says offering a ‘sensual incentive’ would have men doing the vacuuming so thoroughly they would suck the skirting boards off the wall.

And as it turns out that might not be the only incentive.

As Ms Lette quite correctly points out, it is scientifically proven that no woman ever killed her husband or partner while he was vacuuming the house, cleaning the bath or moping the floors.

Baa,Baa Black Sheep Banned Because It’s Racist?

Clearly there is a competition that I don’t know about. It’s called who can come up with the dumbest, most stupid idea of the week.

There must be a competition because it’s the only way I can explain the decision made by a group of so-called educators.

A number of kindergartens in Australia have banned the nursery rhyme, Baa, Baa Black sheep.

Why? Because the people running these kindergartens believe it promotes racism.

This is not a joke. Apparently it has everything to do with the word ‘black.’

Forget about black is back, or proud to be black. You can’t even acknowledge that a sheep is black. It isn’t just a color any more it’s a stereotype. And in the multi-cultural world we live in,stereotype is just another word for discrimination.

But, you might not be surprised to discover that invariably, one really, really stupid idea is usually followed very closely by another.

Kindergarten teachers, also want to change yet another line in the Baa, Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme.

It’s the reference to the little boy who lives down the lane. That line is deemed to be sexist. So you can’t be black and you can’t be the one little boy who lives down a lane. This reference to the little boy got me really confused. Maybe someone might be kind enough to explain how this is, in any way, sexist? Since when did anyone have the option of deciding who else is going to live or not live in their street or lane? In my experience it’s the luck of the draw. I would be most grateful for an explanation because I simply do not get it.

Obviously in a gesture towards some kind of lip service to logic, a kindergarten spokesperson said children could still use the word ‘black’ in the nursery rhyme but only if they wanted to.

Interesting comment. Although I would like to know in what century, four-year- old children suddenly developed the skills to choose words to use or not use in a nursery rhyme?

This kind of insanity has precedence. In 2010 a number of very young children were told to reword a very old and very well known Australian song, all Aussie kids know off by heart, about the Kookaburra who sits in the old gum tree. One of the lines in the song refers to the Kookaburra being ‘gay.’ But the children at this particular kindergarten were told to substitute the word ‘fun’ for ‘gay.’

The problem is looney tunes thinking helps nobody. It certainly doesn’t help very young children to make their way in the world. It just leaves them understandably confused.

A large number of parents and teachers, fortunately, have slammed the move as political correctness gone mad. They point out the nursery rhyme has absolutely nothing to do with race, which it doesn’t.

One person who happens to be black, (there I said it) made a plea to leave the nursery rhyme as is. He said it was taking race, discrimination and prejudice to a place where it doesn’t belong. There are lots of different breeds of sheep. What is wrong with describing their colour ,whatever it might be ? Or are we going to ban all references to colour including the colour black?

Now I will happily let these kindergartens in on a little secret that probably hasn’t occurred to them.

Just like people, there are black sheep in this world as well as white sheep. To describe them that way is not implying anything other than the colour of the sheep.

And to suggest that it’s something else entirely is sheer, or is that shear, stupidity.

Could Our Pets Infect Us With Ebola?

Just when you thought the Ebola Crisis couldn’t get any worse. It does. Especially, if you are like me and happen to be an animal lover. And I am sure there are plenty of people like me.

Health officials in Texas, must now confront a second dilemma. What should be done with a pet dog, belonging to the Texas hospital nurse who contracted Ebola from the patient she was nursing, who later died from the disease?

Not only did the nurse interact with other people and of course she was completely innocent to the fact that she had become infected. She also interacted with her dog, a King Charles spaniel. Needless to say health authorities have no idea if dogs can catch and spread Ebola in the same way humans can.

Health authorities claim they are trying to find a place where they can monitor the dog, to see if it develops Ebola symptoms. The nurse’s apartment has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. She was admitted to a hospital isolation unit and is reported to be in a stable condition. Texan authorities say her dog will be looked after. But to what extent that statement is a pet lover talking, or simply a deliberate attempt to avoid the torrent of criticism because of what occurred in Spain recently, is anyone’s guess.

Spain was confronted with a similar scenario to Texas. A Spanish nursing assistant also contracted Ebola from a patient. She too had a dog. And while the dog showed no signs of having the virus, Spanish authorities, who were clearly not animal lovers, decided it should be put to sleep. The decision caused a public uproar. Animal rights activists took to the streets to protest the decision in more than 20 cities across Spain. An online petition attracted more than 400 thousand signatures.

I have some sympathy for authorities because this is a really tough call. According to the World Health Organization, Ebola is found in a number of animals like fruit bats, monkeys, apes, chimpanzees and pigs. One of the ways that humans get Ebola in Africa, is by eating bush meat infected with the virus.

A study from 2005, suggests there is a theoretical possibility that dogs can pass the disease on to humans, but nothing is confirmed and the only option for health authorities is to recommend caution.

In 2001, an Ebola outbreak in the African country of Gabon, found traces of Ebola anti-bodies in dogs, which is a sign that they were infected at some point. But where and how they were infected, nobody can answer.

A University Professor in the UK, who is also an Ebola expert, said the wisest move would be to assume that dogs represent a risk to humans but if you want a truthful answer no-one can confirm it because no-one has conducted the necessary research.

Ebola spreads through close body contact with someone infected with the disease. The virus is found in bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, faeces, urine or semen. There has to be an entry point for the infection to be transferred such as having sex, cutting the skin, or touching the mouth, nose or eyes. That’s why health workers wear fully protective suits when they come into contact with an infected patient. The most transmissible fluids are blood, faeces and vomit. But the virus can also be found in the saliva and sweat of patients who are extremely ill with Ebola.

The symptoms include, headache, muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain or unexplained bruising or bleeding.

But does it mean that by coming into contact with dog faeces or secretions from a pet, belonging to an Ebola patient, you will also contract the disease? The answer is no-one knows.

The US Center For Disease Control and Prevention, is at pains to point out that there are no reports of pets becoming sick or playing any kind of role, so far, in the transmission of Ebola to humans. The center is currently working with the American Veterinary Medical Association, and others, to help develop guidelines to cover the US pet population.

Ebola has killed more than four thousand people. The number of cases is currently double that. There is evidence to suggest that Africa could reach more than a million Ebola cases by the end of the year. We need to fight this thing with everything we have got because potentially it threatens the entire world.

But it would be even more tragic and cruel and heartbreaking to discover that dogs and cats have a role to play in its transmission to humans. Clearly, it is one more question we need to answer urgently.

Never Try And Negotiate With A Debt Collector

Here’s a story that could happen to anyone but you’d hope it never does.

It concerns a London financial journalist, who made the mistake of opening a debt collector’s letter addressed to the previous occupant of the place she had just bought and the nightmare that ensued when she did. Her horror story began not long after she became the owner of a London flat. There were letters addressed to the previous occupant, one of which was from a debt collector, relating to 453 pounds owed in unpaid rent including the debt collector’s fee of 214 pounds.

She called her solicitor, who quite rightly told her it was nothing to do with her and they instructed her to forward the letter to them and they would sort it out with the vendor’s solicitors. And, if she had left it at that, there might not have been a problem.

But she didn’t and there was. In an attempt to be super helpful the financial journalist, who quite frankly should have known better, telephoned the debt collection agency and told them the individual they were pursuing no longer lived at the address. She would later explain that her motivation for making that telephone call, had to do with her upbringing and being taught to avoid debt at any cost. For that reason she does not have an overdraft, never owes money on her credit card nor does she miss a payment of any kind. It’s kind of weird but it works for her.

But clearly she had not the slightest clue who she was dealing with. Firstly, debt collection agencies have heard every excuse that has ever been used. Secondly, if they can match a name with an address that owes them money they are never going to let go. And that’s what happened in this case.

A week later, after the telephone conversation, the financial journalist received another letter from the debt collector. This time it was addressed to her and not the previous occupant. It made all manner of menacing threats such as notifying her mortgage lender, except being the thrifty person that she was she didn’t have a mortgage. Anyway, the letter was threatening enough to be unsettling.

Obviously there was an ongoing problem, so our financial journalist tried telephoning the debt collector for a second time. All she wanted to do was sort it out and enter a dialogue to resolve the situation. What she didn’t understand was that the only dialogue a debt collector is interested in is cold, hard cash. In other words: show me the money. Her attempt to reach a resolution through negotiation was met by a brick wall. The voice at the end of the telephone told her that their client had instructed them to collect the debt from her and that was the instruction they were going to follow.

It was just the beginning. Over the coming weeks, our financial journalist came to dread receiving the post because the demands for payment just keep coming. Her attempts to stop them proved futile. She tried contacting the UK Credit Services Association that represents debt collectors and has a complaints procedure but the firm demanding money from her was not a member. In her desperation to escape the quicksand, she even considered paying the debt in full, even though she didn’t owe it, to end the constant stress and the billowing administration charges. But her solicitor advised her against it.

Finally, she received the notice you get before legal action, with the threat of bailiffs entering her home and seizing her goods. She knew then she had to do something decisive to make it all stop.

In one way she was lucky. As a financial journalist she had access to some of the UK’s top credit experts. They helped her to write a letter of complaint. But not some stock standard, run-of-the-mill letter of complaint. This letter used very precise language that only debt collectors understand. For example, instead of writing: this isn’t my debt, she wrote: I dispute this debt. And if by magic it worked. The matter was placed on hold while an investigation took place.

Six months after the beginning of her nightmare, she finally received a letter telling her she didn’t owe any money, which is what she had been trying to say all along except no-one at the debt collection agency was listening. The matter is officially closed.

But according to a credit reference expert it is not uncommon for people to find themselves pursued relentlessly by debt collectors and trapped in a cycle from which there is no escape. This situation is only made worse by the fact that books of debt are often on sold to other organisations many times, losing sight of the original authority. The more organisations that become involved, the harder it is to break free especially if the debt was never yours in the first place.

The authority in the United Kingdom, responsible for regulating the credit industry, which includes debt collectors, is promising an overhaul of existing regulations. The moral to this story, if there is one, is never attempt to talk your way out of a letter of demand from a debt collection agency. Instead, tell them you are disputing the debt. If you don’t believe you are liable, then there is an absolute onus on the collection agency to prove that you are.

Sometimes I Don’t Understand Our Legal System

Sometimes the legal system needs to metaphorically hang its head in shame. It will make decisions based on some bizarre notion of political correctness instead of exercising plain common sense. Instead of upholding free speech, as you might expect in a healthy democracy, the legal system subjects it to a full blooded, frontal assault.

A well known British performing artist has been forced by a court to shelve plans for a book detailing his own childhood sexual abuse after (get this) his ex-wife was granted an injunction because their young son might read what he wrote.

Quite separate from the issue of the book banning, this case has already been the subject of some of the most intense and blanket suppression orders I have ever come across in 30 years of journalism. It makes a mockery of the notion of open British justice.

The performing artist can’t be named. The performance art that he is known for can’t be identified. His book publishers can’t be named. The ex-wife can’t be named or identified nor can their son. The exact age of their son can’t be released other than to say: “he is approaching teenage years.”

The ex-wife moved away from the United Kingdom after the couple, were divorced in 2009. But the country she moved to can’t be identified other than to describe it as a place called “ Ruritania.” Why they decided to call it that is anyone’s guess. Maybe the learned judges read too many Harry Potter books.

Seriously, this is Noddyland. The performing artist claimed he had a couple of compelling reasons for wanting to write the book. Firstly, to help him come to terms with a particularly dark and traumatic period in his life and secondly, to encourage other victims, who might have endured similar abuse, to come forward and tell their story.

In successfully applying for the temporary injunction, the man’s ex-wife relied on a legal case dating back to 1897. It involved a man who played a practical joke on an East London pub lady but was found guilty of the “intentional infliction of mental distress.”

The legal action was launched after a copy of the manuscript was leaked to the ex-wife. She said she was acting on behalf of their son who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, as well as attention deficit disorder and a number of other health problems. She claimed that publication of the book would be a misuse of private information and what her husband was doing amounted to negligence. She also argued that both she, and her former husband, had agreed to a court order at the time of their divorce to prevent their son from learning about the past lives of both parents which could have a detrimental effect on the boy’s wellbeing.

However, the court rejected any suggestion of negligence on the husband’s part. It said parents could not be liable for damages that might arise from parental decisions, made everyday, that might impact on their children. Similarly the court rejected the ex-wife’s claim that the manuscript was a misuse of private information. The book was about the performing artist not his son.

But even though it rejected these legal arguments, the court still found it was necessary to grant a temporary injunction.

In granting the injunction, the court said the performing artist’s book was semi-autobiographical. He was highly successful in his chosen career, despite a tormented childhood. He had endured sexual abuse at school over a number of years, which caused him to suffer physical effects as well as mental illness. He also got a thrill out of self-harm. But through his art he had discovered a means by which he could cope with the trauma of the past. In the manuscript, which the court read, the performing artist was described as having written with clarity and purpose offering some new perspectives on his life and career. But despite this, the court ruled no-one should be allowed to read it.

The court said while it accepted there was a public interest in the book being published, it decided to grant the injunction so that a trial could take place at a later time on the over-riding issue of whether the son’s rights should have precedence over the rights of the father.

Needless to say this case has sounded alarm bells for advocates of free speech. They claim it could establish a very dangerous precedent, which many book publishers say is deeply disturbing because it could undermine the rights of other authors.

A British group that lobbies to defend the rights of writers says the court’s decision paves the way for the injunction of memoirs of any work of non-fiction that may expose or investigate the past. The case allows an aggrieved party to cite the distress of a relative or friend as grounds for censorship.

Another group, Index on Censorship warned that this case represented yet more erosion of the boundaries of freedom of expression.

The performing artist says his right to free speech and the written word is particularly acute and should be respected because of what he went through. I, for one, wholeheartedly agree with him.