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News Round-Up Week Ending 19.9.14

(Posted on 19/09/14)


Witch Hunt for Shake Baby Expert: 

A leading doctor and expert witness in “shaken baby” cases has appeared before the General Medical Council (GMC) and faces being struck off.

Paediatric Neuropathologist Waney Squier, of Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, is accused of “bias” and “dishonesty”. Over the past decade, Dr Squier has argued that the combination of three brain injuries — swelling, bleeding under the skull and retinal bleeding — is not conclusive of “shaken baby syndrome”, as was previously thought, leading to miscarriages of justice.

Dr Marta Cohen, Paediatric Pathologist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, described Dr Squier as a “humble, clever, courageous woman” and “the victim of a witch hunt by the Metropolitan Police to stop her from being an expert witness which may risk them losing their case”.

Grayling Blocks Prison Rape Report

A report by the Howard League for Penal Reform claims up to 1,650 prisoners may have been sexually abused but its independent commission was hampered by Chris Grayling’s Ministry of Justice.

Researchers weren’t allowed to interview serving prisoners, instead having to rely on the testimony of ex-prisoners.

“Prisons are meant to be safe places where the law is enforced, not places where people are under threat of sexual violence and rape,” said Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, “It is therefore particularly disappointing that the Ministry of Justice refused to allow the Commission to interview prisoners directly.”

Jihadi John known to MI5

The British terrorist believed to have murdered David Haines was known to authorities before he left for Syria, according to unnamed Whitehall sources, but the nature of the conflict makes it highly unlikely that he will ever be caught and prosecuted.

With no regime to work with in Syria, returning the terrorist to the UK is not an option. More likely is a strike by special forces or drones, if he can be located.

SAS and US forces are believed to be at the ready in the area.

Not Justice for Reeva

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents greeted last Friday’s verdict with anger and disbelief. Oscar Pistorius, acquitted of murder, was convicted of culpable homicide, the equivalent of manslaughter in South Africa, and granted bail.

"Justice was not served," declared Reeva’s mother, June. Like many in South Africa, the Steenkamps criticised judge Thokozile Masipa for her leniency, adding that they just want the truth.

Perhaps restorative justice will help in the longer term; Reeva's father expressed his wish to meet and talk with Pistorius face to face, but not yet. The former sprinter has already expressed his wish to meet with the Steenkamps.

Victims’ Law Announced

Under a new law, victims of crime will have the guaranteed right to tell a court how their lives have been impacted, child victims will be questioned remotely from the courtroom, and barristers will attend victim-related training before undertaking rape and serious sex offence cases.

The "Victims’ Law", announced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, is intended to make the trial process less of a daunting experience for those affected by crime. Currently it is at the discretion of the court as to whether a Victim Personal Statement is read out.

A new information service and helpline will be set up by next March, and plans will be made for prompt payment of compensation.

DNA Matches Murderer

Romano van der Dussen has served eleven years in a Spanish jail for three attempted rapes on the Costa del Sol, despite the fact that DNA found at the scene did not match his. But it does match London chef Mark Dixie, jailed for 34 years in 2005 for the rape and murder of Sally Ann Bowman.

Van der Dussen’s lawyer, Silverio Garcia Sierra, told Spanish newspaper El Pais: 'It is a disgrace that Romano van der Dussen continues to be in prison without hardly any judicial procedures being carried-out. It should not be possible that there could be negligence when there has been an erroneous conviction. An innocent person in jail should be a priority, but no-one cares’.

The Spanish justice department has been aware of the match with Dixie since his conviction in 2008 after Interpol circulated his DNA. Now, finally, a judge in Fuengirola has agreed to re-open the case.

Could Do Better Together?

Scottish independence might at least have led to the repeal or reversal of many of the “exclusionary, interventionist, punitive and indeed neo-liberal policies that have been both maintained and reproduced by successive Scottish Governments,” according to Cardiff academic, Robert Jones.

Though the Scottish criminal justice system is already independent, it bears some striking similarities to the rest of the UK. In terms of imprisonment, Scotland currently stands only one place behind England and Wales in the World Prison Population List, at 147 per 100,000, among the highest rates in Western Europe.

The referendum itself, whilst open to 16- and 17-year-olds for the first time, missed the opportunity to conform to the ECHR ruling and include prisoners in the vote.

Scottish police also use ‘stop and search’ four times as often as do English and Welsh forces, including stopping 26,000 children, a practice abolished in England and Wales in 2003.

Jones, Research Associate and PhD candidate at the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, voiced the hope that independence might bring about a “less coercive and less punitive criminal justice system in Scotland”.