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Conversation 28 Feb 2018

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‘Fake beggar’ shaming clears town of vagrants

Businesses in a seaside town have started naming and shaming beggars they believe to be “fake” as part of a campaign to drive them off the streets.

A group called Humanity Torbay began using the tactic in Torquay last week. Members have been photographing people they accuse of begging in the Devon resort and posting their pictures on social media. The group claimed its campaign had been a huge success and the number of people begging or sleeping rough had dropped significantly.

However, police and Torbay council complained that the businesses were encouraging vigilantism and could deprive genuinely needy people of help.

Like many areas, the so-called English Riviera has had problems with street drinkers taking “legal highs” such as Spice. The campaign Killing with Kindness urged residents and visitors not to give money to “fake beggars” who it was claimed would only spend it on drink and drugs. Stickers and posters warning the homeless that they would be “named and shamed” have appeared in the town.

Ashley Sims, one of the organisers, said: “One thing these people don’t like is being photographed or filmed, so we’ve gone and done that.

“We have identified who is genuine with the relevant charities and their names and if they are homeless or not, and five of them have told us they won’t go begging anymore if I don’t put their photo up.”

The campaign comes after police in Ely, Cambridgeshire, claimed there were no genuine rough sleepers there, and the leader of Windsor council said that homeless people were on a money-making drive.

The Torbay action was criticised by Friends of Factory Row, a charity that runs the town’s only homeless hostel. Nick Pannell, its chairman, said: “This persecuting of vulnerable adults on our streets is a disgrace and those involved in encouraging it should be ashamed of themselves. They are not professional beggars changing out of smart designer clothes into rags but genuinely desperate, sad, lonely, alienated human beings with profound problems who are living at the edge of our communities.

“Then someone comes along with a camera and starts taunting them, publishing their pictures, holding them up to public ridicule and condemnation.”

He said that if someone was on the pavement begging it was because they were in crisis and deserved a compassionate response.

Inspector Si Jenkinson of Devon and Cornwall police said: “The dangerous practice of ‘outing’ people as professional criminals based on often unverifiable information fails to acknowledge the very complex vulnerabilities and chaotic lives of those concerned.”

A Torbay council spokesman told Devon Live that it had “very real concerns” about the campaign, adding: “An individual’s circumstances can frequently change, sometimes on a daily basis, meaning that being able to make a judgment on whether someone is street homeless or not is in many cases a fact that will remain accurate for only a limited time.”


So many mysteries in one washed up bottle

I have been in Oregon visiting my family, including my marine biologist sister Nancy who can be relied on to bring me up to date with all events tidal. The breaking news was her discovery of a message in a bottle in a cove near Cape Arago. In 40-plus years of walking the beach Nancy has found only two bottles with messages. The other one was not memorable but this one was, as they say in the States, a doozy.

“I know you can’t keep this but I have wanted to give you this message for a long time,” writes Marty, a name that intrigues as it could be a man or a woman, to a person named K. “I want you to know how special you are to me and how much I truly love you. Thanks for not giving up on me all these years baby!”

Oh, it intrigues. Why can’t s/he keep this? Is it a long-time affair? An unrequited passion? And does the message seem any less important (or romantic) for the fact that it was found in a Starbucks Frappuccino bottle?

Whale’s teeth
My conversation with Nancy turned, as is only natural, to other tidal conundrums such as what you do if you find a very dead sperm whale. Run, would be my answer, but I am not a marine biologist.

Actually, I did happen upon a dead whale once, at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth in 2009. My first reaction was to reach for a metaphor. Now I know this was incorrect. I should have thought dental emergency instead. A whale-sized teeth extraction has to be be carried out ASAP and, at least in Oregon, you must be accredited in order to remove them.

This is because, I discover, there is a big illegal market in whale teeth, which are a type of ivory. So, next time you see a dead whale, stop taking selfies with it and call the cetacean dentist immediately.

Age of the microwave
My grocery shopping trips with my millennial daughter Vanessa, necessitated by her broken foot, continue to intrigue. As you may remember, I am now pro bamboo toothbrushes as I can’t cope with the idea of my own bristle mountain. But this week I became enamoured of the healthy ready meal section, in particular a range called Goodness Me.

There is only one snag. These meals are designed to be microwaved and I have never owned a microwave. I can’t remember why not though I am sure it was a deeply moral reason involving wavelength and/or baked potatoes tasting funny. But now, at the age of, ahem, 62, I am thinking of buying one. Change is in the air.

Riding high
It’s not often I see something that completely baffles me. But the other day, standing in the Arts Tower at the University of Sheffield, I was waiting for the lift when a contraption arrived that looked like some sort of dumbwaiter for humans. It had no doors and was in constant motion. It was, the sign said, a paternoster lift. I now know they were all the rage in the Sixties but have fallen out of favour to the extent that there may be only two left in Britain (the University of Essex has the other). Enjoying the slow but constant motion of another age, I could hardly bear to get off.

Snow buds
I see that the big freeze is being called snowmageddon (sometimes I wonder if we are a grown-up country). Any excuse to panic buy, of course, and my husband reports Matlock Sainsbury’s was at Christmas levels of madness yesterday. Instead, I decided that the only sensible thing to do was to sow my sweet pea seeds. All winter I have been dreaming about the grand floral concoction that is to be my sweet pea arch but I am already behind schedule. I know it’s mad but it made me feel better.

Teacher’s amazing picture means kids can learn everything they need to know about computers even if they don’t have one

Teachers have to come up with exciting and engaging ways to make sure their children get the most from their lessons.

This is usually done by finding interesting educational aids and preparing fun lesson plans that are challenging without being too difficult.

But one teacher has to go one step further to make sure his students can learn IT properly.

Owura Kwadwo, who teachers at a school in Ghana, has the job of teaching IT without any computers or laptops.

But he’s determined his students will learn how to use the basics, so he has drawn a screen on the blackboard.

His drawing shows all the different tabs and buttons, with explanations of what everything does.

He told Bored Panda : “Every teacher has a way of presenting his subject to his students. This is my way.”

“I do it to make my students understand what I’m teaching. At least to give a picture of what they will see assuming they were behind a computer.”

He shared photos of his work on social media and his post has been shared thousands of times on Facebook with people praising his incredible teaching efforts.

He wrote: “Teaching of ICT in Ghana’s school is very funny. ICT on the board paa.

“I love ma students so have to do wat will make them understand wat am teaching.”

Mr Kwadwo has also had messages from people offering to donate laptops and projects to help his teaching.


Chauffeur company’s licensing scam went unchecked for years

Andrew Ellson, Consumer Affairs Correspondent

John Murphy, pictured with David Beckham. His cars were used to escort X-Factor stars

John Murphy was unassuming and often charming but with a ruthless edge, according to people who worked with him. “Ethics was not his strong suit,” said one former employee.

Murphy’s apparent ordinariness helped him get away with running one of the UK’s biggest chauffeur companies for years with clocked vehicles that were not properly maintained, licensed or insured.

His ability to charm lowly council officials and powerful corporate executives helped get complaints ignored or dismissed as the grievances of jealous competitors. Several councils, police forces, licensing bodies and his main client, Emirates Airlines, were all repeatedly warned about Murphy’s conduct but failed to stop him.

Murphy also used his son-in-law, the head of litigation at a top 100 law firm, to write letters threatening legal action to anyone who might expose his wrongdoing. It was the determination of the Trading Standards departments at Warrington and Halton councils which eventually brought a prosecution that would be Murphy’s downfall.

The Times has established that Murphy’s company, Professional Chauffeur Services (PCS), operated more than 100 vehicles for several years, transferring celebrities and VIPs without proper licences or insurance.

Chauffeur companies operating in England and Wales must apply for an operator’s licence. They can get one from any of 400 councils provided that they have a dispatch centre in that authority’s area. In addition, every car and driver must also be licensed.

Licensed cars are subject to regular MoT checks to ensure they are safe while drivers must pass a medical and criminal records check.

Despite being based in Cheshire, PCS went more than 200 miles to Berwick council to obtain an operator’s licence. It also used a licensing official at the council to establish a structure that the company said exempted its drivers and cars from normal licensing rules, using Scottish law. Drivers were given official-looking cards and told to show them to police if stopped.

Officials and lawyers at several councils who investigated PCS considered the structure to be a scam and licensing experts say it allowed Murphy to avoid the scrutiny of regular MoT tests that might have uncovered clocking sooner.

Northumberland council, which had merged with Berwick and received repeated warnings about Murphy’s conduct, moved to rescind PCS’s operator’s licence in 2014 but only after a complaint from a local landlord that his property, which was supposedly being using as the company’s dispatch centre, had been empty for years.

However Murphy withdrew his own licence before he could have it revoked, having secured another licence from Transport for London (TfL) — despite having no working dispatch centre in the capital. PCS and its chauffeurs were allowed to operate with TfL licences for more than two years even though one of the authority’s own investigators discovered that Murphy had persuaded a topographical test centre in the capital, where drivers are assessed on their knowledge of London’s roads, to provide the answers in advance. The test centre has since closed.

In 2015, a separate investigation into PCS by a taskforce including councils, police forces and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service found licence and insurance offences but the company again escaped sanction. Further investigations were dropped in what one disgruntled official described as “mysterious” circumstances. Solihull council, which led the taskforce, said it chose to warn Murphy rather than prosecute and said that later checks found PCS’s drivers had valid TfL licences.

Bill Bowling from the National Limousine and Chauffeur Association has questioned that decision. He said: “When an operator is found to be either unlicensed or not properly insured there is no option than to prohibit any further operations immediately and not give an extended time to become compliant. They were not dealing with a single individual who did not know the rules, but a major multimillion-pound company who appeared to be flouting the law.” Under pressure from The Times, TfL eventually revoked PCS’s licence after Murphy’s fraud conviction in February last year.

Despite applying for licences across the country, Murphy was in fact operating from Runcorn. Here too, the local authority, Halton borough council, did not act against PCS despite receiving repeated warnings and complaints about the company from business rivals, members of the public and even the local MP.

This newspaper has obtained evidence that one of the council’s licensing officials received allegations that Murphy was clocking cars seven years ago but no action was taken for a further four years. The same official was sent documents showing that vehicles were not insured or were using the wrong insurance but again no action was taken against the company. When the official left Halton council in 2015 he went into a job at PCS and has worked for the Murphy family since.

Halton council has declined to answer questions about the official or supply full correspondence between the official and Murphy that was requested under Freedom of Information legislation.

Murphy has defended PCS’s licensing practices, saying the Scottish exemption was legal. He says complaints made to Emirates, the police and licensing departments at councils were by rival companies motivated by jealousy.

Northumberland council said: “We act fairly, proportionately and in good faith when fulfilling our obligations as a licensing authority based on information available at the time.”

Halton council said: “The recently concluded prosecution of PCS, one of eight brought by us against the company and others, was pursued to protect the public.”


Parents install hidden camera after discovering marks on toddler following nanny’s visit – and are shocked by what it found

Parents discover nanny abusing baby after installing hidden camera

Shocking footage shows a nanny abusing a helpless toddler after the child’s parents set up a secret camera.

In the distressing clip, the woman can be seen caning the 18-month-old girl across the bottom and legs.

The girl’s family also claim she was bitten in the face, but this is not shown happening in the video.

Her parents reportedly became anxious after spotting marks on her body and decided to film the nanny at their home in Kapurthala in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

They also said they noticed the toddler’s behaviour changing.

The parents left a mobile phone with its video camera running in the house when they left for work one day and were shocked at what they saw when they watched the footage.

The nanny, named only as Parveen, 35, is seen using a long, thin cane to whip the child across the bottom and legs.

The child’s parents set up a camera after noticing marks on her body (Image: CEN)

The maid can be seen hitting the young girl with a stick in the distressing video (Image: CEN)

The baby’s father Sukhdev Singh took the recording to police, who arrested the nanny and charged her with child abuse offences.

Parveen allegedly confessed to the abuse and said she had been beating the toddler to make her be quiet.


How to get a job

People often tell me that they’ve applied for dozens of jobs, only to hear “no” time and time again. Job hunting can be like dating, and a series of rejections really hurts. In those cases I always think, “Well, if they don’t fancy me, then they can’t possibly have good taste – so I don’t fancy them, either!” I believe that, much like love, you will find the perfect career match at the right time, in the right place.

Just like the right men/women, are you going after the right jobs? Are you speed dating or have you spotted your dream guy and hatched a long-winded, Austen-worthy plan to get him? Interviewers these days want someone who is loyal and committed to the company and really, really wants the job.

If you’re applying to a small business, it’s crucial that you get relevant experience. I spent the first six years of building WAH Nails thinking I could hire people from another industry and train them in beauty. This is doable in a large company, but, without the extra resources for that training, it never worked out for us. Your interviewers could be nervous about the level of investment required to bring you up to speed. You can combat this in two ways: get extra training, or make them see that you are a determined and fast learner.

Pick one company you really want to work for. Research the hell out of it and ace the interview with your intimate knowledge of the business (and your great ideas). If you don’t get the role, ask for detailed feedback, including any qualifications you’re missing. Get said skills before knocking on the door again, the next time a job comes up. They’ll see that you are focused, passionate, determined and willing to do whatever it takes. It’s a lot harder for them to say no.


Five ways to avoid becoming a victim of prescription drugs errors

Up to 22,000 people could be dying in England every year as a result of mistakes in the writing or dispensing of prescriptions, according to new research. In a speech last week, the health and social services secretary, Jeremy Hunt, demanded fresh measures to tackle the problem, which was identified in a government study carried out at York, Manchester and Sheffield universities.

Researchers found that 270m such mistakes occur annually. While the vast majority cause no harm, more than 700 deaths a year are definitively linked to prescription errors, which could be implicated in the deaths of as many as 22,303 more people. They may have taken the wrong drugs or the wrong dose – or been forced to wait too long for their prescription.

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told the Guardian that “medication mistakes can and occasionally do happen”. She places the blame in part on the “intense” workplace pressure on NHS doctors, saying: “The long-lasting solution to this is a properly funded NHS with enough staff to deliver safe patient care.”

Whether or not Hunt heeds that warning, there are steps that patients can take themselves to mitigate the danger of a dodgy prescription, says Mike Hewitson, a Dorset-based pharmacist who sits on the board of the National Pharmacy Association. “The last line of defence against errors is always the patient,” he says.

Get to know your pharmacist

The first step to safe medication is building a relationship with your local pharmacy team. Patients who regularly get their drugs from different pharmacies are considered to be at higher risk, says Hewitson, “because their pharmacists don’t have the opportunity to see how they use their medication and to spot when that medication changes”.

Educate yourself

Today, most prescriptions are delivered electronically, but ask your pharmacist about them, particularly if your drugs or the side-effects seem different to normal. “We’d rather have 100 people asking questions than for one to take the wrong medicine,” Hewitson says.

Don’t trust the internet

All pharmacists have at least five years of medical training, which is five years more than Dr Google. “The internet is a great tool,” says Hewitson, “but if it’s used incorrectly it can be harmful.” It’s far safer to seek face-to-face advice from a qualified medical professional and to buy your drugs in person than to do either online.

Don’t hoard old drugs

Many people hoard old medicines, says Hewitson. That is a mistake. “They were prescribed antibiotics six years ago and they get what they think are similar symptoms, so they start taking old medicines, which can be dangerous.”

Don’t worry

The new study sounds scary, Hewitson admits. But it shouldn’t be. “When you are dealing with a billion prescription items every year, even the lowest error rates will lead to some quite big numbers,” he says. “The first thing I would say is not to panic. Overall, the system is very safe.”


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