Mogadishu court overturns conviction but journalist who interviewed her still faces six months in prison
A judge in Somalia has overturned the sentence against a woman who alleged that she was raped by government soldiers but has upheld the conviction of a journalist who interviewed her.
The woman, 27, had been convicted of defaming a government body and making false accusations. A Mogadishu appeals court judge, Mohamed Hassan Ali, ruled on Sunday that there was insufficient evidence to support the prosecution case.
"The court has recognised that the lady was the real victim," the judge said, claiming that she had been "misled" into giving an interview. The woman was present at the hearing with her seven-month-old baby.
Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a freelance journalist who interviewed her and was tried alongside her, had his sentence reduced from one year to six months. The judge said the interview was not conducted according to journalistic ethics or Somali law.
Amid tight security in court, Abdinur, who works for several Somali radio stations and international media, was led away in handcuffs and put in a lorry to return to Mogadishu central prison.
His lawyer, Mohamed Mohamud Afrah, was given no opportunity to dispute the decision but said: "We will not accept this verdict." He vowed to take the appeal to the supreme court on Monday.
The National Union of Somali Journalists also protested against Abdinur's continued imprisonment. Mohamed Ibrahim Isack, its secretary general, said the case showed the judicial system was not willing to face reality.
"We will not hesitate to reject this decision and to appeal against the illegal arrest of our colleague Abdiaziz," he added.
The case has apparently been driven by the police and judiciary without the blessing of politicians. Abdi Farah Shirdon, the Somali prime minister, welcomed the release of the woman and said: "We are a step closer to justice being done."
He told the Associated Press: "However, I was hoping for a different outcome on the journalist. I note his sentence has been reduced from 12 months to six, but I do not believe journalists should be sent to prison for doing their job. We must have freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in our constitution."
The outcome also disappointed Human Rights Watch, which said it was a setback for media freedom in the wartorn horn of Africa country. "The court acquitted a woman who should never have been charged while upholding an unjust conviction of a journalist," said Daniel Bekele, its Africa director. "After this case, who in their right mind would suggest to a victim of government abuse that they report the crime? Or tell their story to a journalist?"
On 5 February the woman, who alleged that she was raped by five government soldiers in August 2012, was sentenced to one year in prison. Her sentence was deferred until she completed breastfeeding her baby.
Rights groups have described the case as politically motivated because the woman had accused security forces of the assault. Abdinur was convicted despite not having published any story based on the interview.
According to Human Rights Watch, the case has been marred by serious violations of the defendants' rights under international law. Prior to the trial, police coercively interrogated the woman in custody and without a lawyer.
One of the main pieces of evidence the prosecution put forward was the testimony of a midwife who concluded the woman had not been raped on the basis of a "finger test", described by the watchdog as unscientific, inhuman and degrading with no forensic value.
Bekele added: "The government has argued that justice should run its course in this case, but each step has been justice denied.
"Quashing the case and unconditionally releasing Abdiaziz Abdinur will show that this government is ready to focus on protecting freedom of expression and encouraging victims of sexual violence to come forward."
Allegations of rape against government security forces are common, especially around the sprawling camps for internally displaced people in Mogadishu.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists have jointly said the case is "linked to increasing media attention given to the high levels of rape" including by security forces.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon had expressed deep disappointment over the sentences and urged the Somali government "to ensure that all allegations of sexual violence are investigated fully and perpetrators are brought to justice".David Smith
Top 15 social landlords to build 13,000 new affordable homes but also let and sell properties at market rates to fund projects
Housing associations in London are to venture into the private property market on a grand scale for the first time in an attempt to extend their social housing mission to "generation rent" – the growing number of people who can not afford to buy in the capital and are vulnerable to exploitation from unscrupulous landlords.
The 15 biggest social landlords in London are working together to build 13,000 affordable homes by 2015 – but they will also provide an additional 4,000 properties for rent at market prices and at least 1,100 homes for sale at regular London prices. They will use the profits to fund further affordable housing.
Housing associations have traditionally focused solely on affordable housing for low earners and key workers such as teachers and nurses. The new strategy is a widening of their scope to help those in their 20s and 30s who have become known as "generation rent" – those trapped renting at sky-high prices, at the mercy of sometimes exploitative landlords.
The "G15" group of housing associations – which houses one in 10 London residents – is promising to grant more secure tenancies than those available on the private market. The intention is to allow tenants to settle down for longer with a plan to "kitemark" label these better quality homes for those who rent in an attempt to go head to head with the rest of the private market.
A board paper, seen by the Guardian and approved by the group, sets out the problems: "The average home in London costs more than £400,000 and is 15 times the median income for Londoners – the highest in Britain. And while wages are higher too they are not nearly high enough to allow most people to meet their own housing needs … Younger people are increasingly priced out of home ownership and find renting takes a growing portion of their salaries. Those without access to capital may become lifetime renters."
Housing associations insist moving into the private market to capitalise on the increasing rental and sale prices in London will not undermine the social purpose of its members – to provide affordable housing for those who can not meet their own housing needs.
Keith Exford, chief executive of the Affinity Sutton housing association and chair of the G15, said it was not true private renting would make a vast profit for social landlords.
"The yields in private rent are insufficient to do much more than cover the running costs," he said. "The only profit to be made is from the sale of stock at a later stage as values rise. A well-managed, reputable private rented sector is an important part of our offer to London."
Homes built for private rent can also be turned into affordable housing or shared ownership properties by housing associations, or sold for profit according to changing business plans, he said.
The move is being welcomed by some tenants and staff working to tackle rogue landlords in the capital. Ben Reeve-Lewis, a tenant liaison officer in south London who also rents privately, said he would be interested in one of the properties himself. "Housing associations don't have a great record for speed of repairs, but that pales in comparison against the security they provide. In private rent you never know if you're going to get home and find a note on the doorstep because the landlord is likely to sell."
Vincenzo Rampulla, a policy officer in his early 30s who rents in west London, said the exorbitant cost of market rent was tied up in letting and management agency fees which could be cut out by social landlords. "A lot of the skills that they have developed in managing housing association stock are really needed in the private rented sector," he said.
The G15 will also for the first time set up a cross-London allocations agency to help find homes for families qualifying for social housing in London, with each local authority invited to join. This could help councils and housing associations manage the impact of welfare reform and house homeless families more quickly.
To date, those looking for social housing only qualify for tenancies in their local area, even if a suitable property is available elsewhere in the capital.
"We're going to have to manage mutual exchanges and more movement than we have before," said David Montague, chief executive of L&Q, another G15 member. "We have people who are under-occupying and will have to pay a penalty [through the bedroom tax] and we have people who are overcrowded. We need to work together more creatively.
"There aren't many good things to be said about austerity, but one of the good things is that housing associations are working together more than ever before."Hannah Fearn
After abandoning search for victim's body, engineers plan to move unstable home forward to allow family inside briefly
Crews with heavy equipment on Sunday began the demolition of a Florida home over a huge sinkhole where a man is presumed dead after being swallowed by the earth.
The search for Jeff Bush, 37, was called off Saturday, and a heavy machine with a large bucket scoop was moved into position Sunday. The 20-ft (six-m)-wide opening of the sinkhole was almost covered by the house, and rescuers said there were no signs of life since the hole opened Thursday.
Jeremy Bush, the man who tried to save his brother, was escorted with a woman by a deputy to the front of the house early Sunday before equipment moved into position. He repositioned some flowers from a makeshift memorial to a safer location, where Bush and the unidentified women knelt in prayer.
People gathered on lawn chairs, bundled up with blankets against unusually chilly weather. Several dozen milled about within view, including officials and reporters.
Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill said he had talked to the Bush family Sunday. Crews, Merrill said, would try their best to move the structure forward, toward the street, so the family can briefly enter to get belongings.
"We don't know, in fact, whether it will collapse or whether it will hold up," he said. He said crews' goal for Sunday is to knock down the house, and on Monday they will clear the debris as much as possible to allow officials and engineers to see the sinkhole in the open.
Bush was in his bedroom Thursday night in Seffner a suburb of 8,000 people 15 miles (25km) east of downtown Tampa when the ground opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five others in the house escape unharmed as the earth crumbled.
The Hillsborough County sheriff's office is conducting the investigation. Detective Larry McKinnon said that sheriff's office and the county medical examiner cannot declare Bush dead if his body is still missing. Under Florida law, Bush's family must petition a court to declare him deceased.
"Based on the circumstances, he's presumed dead, however the official death certificate can only be issued by a judge and the family has to petition the court," McKinnon said.
Campaigner criticises 'institutionalised child abuse' after FOI request reveals huge number of searches in custody
A promise to end routine strip-searching of children in custody is being flouted, according to data revealing there were more than 43,000 recorded incidences involving children as young as 12 over a 21-month period – but in only 275 searches were illicit items found.
Contraband was discovered in eight of every 1,000 searches in young offender institutions and secure children's homes and training centres in the course of one year, and just three in the next year. Tobacco was the most common item found, with no recorded discoveries of drugs or knives.
A leading children's rights campaigner described the practice as "institutionalised child abuse" after a freedom of information request identified that a total of 43,960 such searches, which routinely involve the children being made to strip naked, were carried out in 21 months.
Two years ago, the Youth Justice Board announced that the routine strip-searching of incarcerated children would stop. Its press release said children had described the practice as undignified, leading "to feelings of anger, humiliation and anxiety".
But the information obtained under FOI and seen by the Guardian shows children were made to strip naked 43,960 times in 25 young offender institutions (YOIs), secure children's homes (SCHs) and secure training centres (STCS) in the 21 months up to December 2012.
The youngest person to be strip-searched was 12. Nearly half – 48% – of children strip-searched were from black and minority ethnic communities. Physical force was used on children being searched 50 times.
The FOI request was made by Carolyne Willow, former national co-ordinator of the Children' Rights Alliance England. She described the "practice of children being forced to expose their naked bodies to adults in authority as institutionalised child abuse".
At the end of August 2012, there were 1,643 children in custody in England and Wales, of whom 1,225 were held in YOIs, 269 in STCs and 149 in SCHs. Of those, 64 were aged under 14 and two just 12. The cost of keeping children in the secure estate was £268.9m.
In 2006, Lord Carlile QC conducted an inquiry into the use of restraint, strip-searching and segregation in child custody. Then, as now, fewer than 10% of searches yielded a "find" and tobacco was the most common item discovered.
One 16-year-old girl told the inquiry she had been strip-searched and ordered to hand her sanitary towel to staff.
Another girl recalled: "When I had my first full search it was horrible as I have been sexually abused and I didn't feel comfortable showing my body as this brought back bad memories."
Willow said: "This matter is of such magnitude that ministers must amend the rules governing secure establishments to prescribe the extremely limited circumstances in which it would ever be permissible to make children in institutions remove their clothes and underwear."
John Drew, chief executive of the YJB said full strip-searches should only be used following an assessment of risk and this should be the starting point for practice in all secure establishments.
He added: "Where providers of STCs and YOIs consider it necessary to carry out routine full searches on first admission, this approach should be justified and will be kept under review by the YJB."
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said a revised searching policy for young people was introduced last March that ensures their safety and security while not subjecting them to a full search unnecessarily.
"Full searches will only take place when it is necessary and there is a clear justification or identified risk. We have a duty to keep any item that could endanger the safety of young people out of secure establishments. We use a number of measures to disrupt their supply and searches are an important part of this."
The routine strip-searching of women prisoners ended in 2009, after a review undertaken by Lady Corston.Eric Allison
Compiled by an ardent bibliophile, this weekly report includes Mammals of Africa: Volumes I-VI; Geckos: The Animal Answer Guide; Buller's Birds of New Zealand: The Complete Work of JG Keulemans & Oregon Geology: Sixth Edition, all of which have been recently published in North America and the UK
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
~ Arnold Lobel [1933-1987] author of many popular children's books.
Compiled by Ian "Birdbooker" Paulsen, the Birdbooker Report is a weekly report that has been published online for years, listing the wide variety of nature, natural history, ecology, animal behaviour, science and history books that have been newly released or republished in North America and in the UK. The books listed here were received by Ian during the previous week, courtesy of various publishing houses.
Kingdon, Jonathan et al. (editors). Mammals of Africa: Volumes I-VI. 2013 Bloomsbury/ A&C Black. Hardbound: 6 volumes. Price: Set: $800 U.S./£550.00. [Guardian bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US].
SUMMARY: Mammals of Africa (MoA) is a series of six volumes which describes, in detail, every currently recognized species of African land mammal. This is the first time that such extensive coverage has ever been attempted, and the volumes incorporate the very latest information and detailed discussion of the morphology, distribution, biology and evolution (including reference to fossil and molecular data) of Africa's mammals. With 1,160 species and 16 orders, Africa has the greatest diversity and abundance of mammals in the world. The reasons for this and the mechanisms behind their evolution are given special attention in the series.
Each volume follows the same format, with detailed profiles of every species and higher taxa. The series includes some 660 colour illustrations by Jonathan Kingdon and his many drawings highlight details of morphology and behaviour of the species concerned. Diagrams, schematic details and line drawings of skulls and jaws are by Jonathan Kingdon and Meredith Happold. Every species also includes a detailed distribution map. Extensive references alert readers to more detailed information.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Ian "Birdbooker" Paulsen is an avid and well-known book collector, especially to the publishing world. Mr Paulsen collects newly-published books about nature, animals and birds, science, and history, and he also collects children's books on these topics. Mr Paulsen writes brief synopses about these books on his website, The Birdbooker Report.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..GrrlScientist
80 years after Prohibition, many states still restrict when and where adults buy alcohol
It's Sunday. In the year 2013. In the US, a country that is incredibly concerned about making it easy to buy guns – and just about everything else – except alcohol.
According to the history books, America's Prohibition only lasted from 1920 to 1933. There are plenty of stories of the days of jazz and gangsters and bootleg liquor. What you don't hear as much about is that Prohibition has had a funny way of sticking around.
You still can't purchase any alcohol products – no beer, wine or liquor – at an Indiana store on Sundays. It's even worse when it comes to liquor: 12 states still don't allow Sunday liquor sales at stores. Connecticut, hardly a conservative state, only started allowing Sunday alcohol sales last year.
That's right, in a country that promotes NFL Sunday Night Football and the partying that goes with it like a religion, you have to make sure to get your alcohol long before kickoff in some states.
Odd alcohol laws abound in the US. In Kentucky and South Carolina, you can't buy alcohol anywhere on Election Day, even at a bar, making it a little harder to toast or drown your sorrows over election results. In five states, you can buy alcohol at your local grocery store, but only the watered down stuff – no higher than 3.2% strength.
It gets even stranger in Pennsylvania and Utah. If you live in these states, you can only purchase wine and liquor from state stores. Yes, that's right, the government in these two states has a monopoly on wine and liquor sales – retail and wholesale. It's somewhat understandable in Utah, since the Mormon religion forbids alcohol consumption. It's not exactly a bar-heavy culture, although there are some great microbreweries in the state.
But Pennsylvania? We're talking about the state that's home to Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love," and Penn State University, which regularly tops the list of America's best party schools and has an unofficial holiday known as "State Patty's Day" where students get, well, you can probably imagine. Yet you still have to buy your wine and spirits for parties from state stores (and beer has to be purchased at yet another special shop).
America is often called a patchwork of different cultures, but it's varying alcohol policies are akin to a crazy quilt. In some states, consumers can walk into any grocery or convenience store and find alcohol prominently displayed on shelves 24/7. In other states, like New York, you still have to go to a separate wine and spirits store to buy those products. Even if Sunday sales are allowed, some states don't allow alcohol sales until noon.
These restrictions are relics of Prohibition and Blue Laws, which were designed to keep Sundays a holy day. Even after Prohibition ended, there were deals struck with temperance groups to supposedly keep people safe (and at church), which is why many states went to a state store system or at least state control of wholesale alcohol sales.
Enough is enough. Two states (Washington and Colorado) have even legalized recreational marijuana use, which further highlights how behind states are that treat alcohol with extra protective gloves.
Tomorrow, Pennsylvania lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill to privatize their state liquor store system. They've tried this numerous times over the years, but there's always pushback. Despite the fact that the majority of the public wants to make it a lot easier to buy alcohol, there is a bizarre coalition of the religious right and unions, who represent the state store workers. So the far left and the far right unite to keep this antiquated system that the majority of state residents detest.
It's a similar story in other states. Most people in Minnesota would like to be able to buy liquor on Sundays, but their state lawmakers don't seem to get the message, even though neighboring states are doing a healthy business from Minnesotans driving across states lines to make purchases.
These Sunday Blue Laws are especially baffling. I happen to attend church services regularly, but I have also had drinks on Sundays. It's clear that as America grows more diverse, Sunday is not a holy day for as many people. Even some Christian denominations have their main services on Saturdays. Culturally, Sunday is still a day of relaxation, but for many, including churchgoers, that includes alcoholic beverages.
Let's also not pretend there are any morals left in our shopping culture. Those went away when stores started opening on holidays like Thanksgiving. Stores are opening earlier and earlier on that holiday, eroding family time and what once was a sacred day for many Americans. Now it's all about shopping hype. The same is true of Sundays, which have become prime shopping days. There's no reason people should have to come back to a store on Monday to buy their liquor.
It's been 80 years since Prohibition ended. Surely it's time to update alcohol laws for the 21st Century.Heather Long
Private company's second delivery brings a load of science projects and a bushel of fruit to astronauts on the space station
A SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule overcame a potentially mission-ending technical problem to make a belated but welcome arrival at the International Space Station on Sunday.
Astronauts aboard the outpost used the station's robotic arm to pluck the capsule from orbit at 5.31am ET/10.31 GMT as the ships sailed 250 miles (400 km) over northern Ukraine.
Flight controllers at Nasa's mission control in Houston then stepped in to drive the capsule to its berthing port on the station's Harmony connecting node. Docking occurred at 8.44am ET/13.44 GMT.
The Dragon capsule, loaded with more than 2,300 pounds (1,043 kg) of science equipment, spare parts, food and supplies, blasted off from Cape Canaveral air force station in Florida on Friday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the second of 12 planned supply runs for Nasa.
SpaceX is the first private company to fly to the station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations.
Dragon was to have arrived at the station on Saturday but a problem with its thruster rocket pods developed soon after reaching orbit. Engineers sent commands for Dragon to flip valves and clear any blockage in a pressurization line in an attempt to salvage the mission.
By Friday evening, Dragon had fired its thruster rockets to raise its altitude and begin steering itself to rendezvous with the station.
The orbital ballet ended when station commander Kevin Ford, working from a robotics station inside the outpost, grabbed the capsule with the station's robot arm.
"As they say, it's not where you start but where you finish that counts. You guys really finished this one on the mark," Ford radioed to Dragon's flight control team in Hawthorne, California, and Nasa's mission control in Houston.
"What a fantastic day," Ford said.
Once Dragon's hatch is open, the station crew will spend the next several days unpacking the food, clothing, supplies and science experiments from the capsule. The research includes studies on plant seedlings, mouse stem cells and combustion in microgravity.
SpaceX also sent the crew a gift of fresh fruit from an employee's father's orchard, company president Gwynne Shotwell said.
Ground controllers will use the station's robot arm again on Wednesday to unpack equipment for a future spacewalk that is stowed in Dragon's unpressurized trunk.
Once the capsule is unloaded, the crew will begin refilling it with 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of unneeded and broken equipment and science samples for analysis on Earth.
Dragon is the only station freighter that makes return trips, a critical service that was lost after the US shuttle program ended in 2011. Cargo ships flown by Russia, Europe and Japan incinerate in the atmosphere after leaving the station
Dragon's departure and parachute splashdown in the Pacific Ocean is scheduled for March 25.
Dragon's flight is the second of 12 missions for privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX, under a $1.6bn Nasa contract. Following a successful test flight to the space station in May 2012, SpaceX conducted its first supply run to the orbital outpost in October.
A second firm, Orbital Sciences Corp is due to debut its freighter this year.
Nasa turned to private companies for delivering supplies to the station following the retirement of its shuttle fleet. The agency hopes to buy rides commercially for its astronauts as well beginning in 2017.
SpaceX's Dragon capsule nears the International Space Station on Sunday where it will deliver food supplies and science equipment to the station's six astronauts
Tim Farron wary of walking into opposition trap but will consider Labour's planned parliamentary vote on controversial tax
The Liberal Democrats are "all ears" to a Labour party debate and planned Commons vote on proposals for a mansion tax, the party's president said on Sunday.
Tim Farron insisted his party was not prepared to walk into a political trap set by the opposition – but would look at the motion expected to be tabled later this month on a policy that has been a long-term part of his party's platform.
Labour announced its support for a mansion tax last month in a bid to raise money to reinstate the 10p starter rate of income tax and challenged the Liberal Democrats to back the plan in a Commons vote.
Speaking on BBC1's Andrew Marr programme on Sunday, Farron said: "Normally speaking, we take opposition day motions as the mischief that they are and we don't necessarily vote for them. [But] we're all ears. My view is not we should be lured into any parliamentary trap by Labour but then again sometimes you just have to look at things at face value. So we will see."
The next opposition day in the Commons – when one of the opposition parties gets the opportunity to table a motion for debate by MPs – is expected to take place on Tuesday 12 March.
Farron also used the interview to criticise comments made on Saturday by the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, about the forthcoming spending review.
Hammond said the Ministry of Defence should be protected from any further cuts and instead fresh savings should be made by cutting the welfare bill further.
But Farron said such a move would be both unwise and immoral. He added that he believed the byelection result in Eastleigh last Thursday demonstrated the Liberal Democrats had the right to exercise more "muscle" in coalition negotiations.
He said: "It is not popular to offer tax cuts to the wealthy, as I think George Osborne is minded to do. It's popular to give tax cuts to people on middle incomes and on the lowest incomes. It's fair but it would also help the economy – poor people spend the money they have.
"At a time like this, to think it is more important to be investing in Trident or something like that, rather than protecting people who are the least well off in our society, that would be morally wrong as well as just economically stupid."
Department of Health acts after reports that over 1,000 people have starved to death in NHS hospitals in past four years
The Department of Health has said it is "unacceptable" for patients to go hungry or be malnourished in hospitals, and has increased the number of unannounced inspections by the care watchdog to tackle the issue.
The announcement was made after it was reported that 1,165 people have starved to death in NHS hospitals over the past four years.
The Sunday Express said figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that for every patient who dies from malnutrition, four more have dehydration mentioned on their death certificate.
In 2011, 43 patients starved to death and 291 died in a state of severe malnutrition, the newspaper said, while the number of patients discharged from hospital suffering from malnutrition doubled to 5,558.
Dianne Jeffrey, the chairwoman of Malnutrition Task Force, condemned the statistics. She told the Sunday Express: "Too many are paying the price with their lives while being deprived of the basic right to good nutrition, hydration and support."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Every NHS patient should expect to be looked after properly in hospital. It is completely unacceptable if patients go hungry or are malnourished.
"To help make sure patients get the right care – and to root out bad practice – the Care Quality Commission has increased the number of unannounced inspections that it undertakes, and soon it will publish its findings from a series of inspections looking specifically at dignity and nutrition.
"We are also investing £100m on IT so nurses can spend more time with patients, not paperwork. That means nursing rounds where senior nurses will have more time to check that patients are comfortable, are helped to eat and drink, and are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."
The eradication of extreme poverty now seems more achievable than ever, but we need a revolution in transparency
Eight years on, the Gleneagles G8 seems like something from a more innocent age. A time before Twitter, when even Facebook was little more than a couple of dorms at Harvard. Yet at the time it didn't seem that way. We were well past 9/11, after all. Scepticism about politicians' motives abounded. The global anti-poverty campaign had matured too – professionalised, according to some. If Jubilee 2000 in 1998 was the critically-acclaimed first album, 2005's Make Poverty History was the greatest hits.
The Live 8 concert and the Edinburgh march heightened expectations of a result at Gleneagles. Looking at the gathered 225,000 marchers in white T-shirts, I thought we had surely done enough. But five days later, I arrived in Gleneagles on the first morning of the summit, 7 July, and within an hour I felt the oxygen sucked out of the place in an instant as news broke of the bombings in London. I feared the hopes for a breakthrough on aid, trade and debt relief for the poorest countries would be lost.
But against the odds, the planned agenda survived more or less intact, and the following day each leader followed Tony Blair to sign the Gleneagles declaration. It was an unprecedented piece of theatre to herald an announcement of real substance. Most of the 89 recommendations of the Commission for Africa were adopted, and leaders promised $48bn in new aid and debt cancellation.
That night at dinner, someone pointed out that if all the promises we had seen were kept, 12,000 children's lives could be saved every day. An American colleague of mine said, "Right, now we have to get those kids into school." Never off the clock.
As the leaders departed, I chaired an uneasy press conference of rock stars and campaigners. With Make Poverty History being such a broad church, there were views from every side, some hailing a huge success, others far less enthusiastic.
With hindsight, Bono probably got it most right: "A mountain has been climbed here, only to reveal higher peaks behind it." We are arriving at one of those peaks this year at Lough Erne.
Ironically, the thing Make Poverty History is often criticised for – the alleged overclaim of its slogan – now seems more achievable than ever. Because of the progress made in the last eight years thanks to strong African leadership backed by the international community, ending extreme poverty is now tantalisingly real. While the destination has not changed, the route to get us there looks different. The emergence of open data and opportunities for increased transparency across public and private sectors is empowering citizens in some of the world's poorest countries and allowing them to pull themselves out of poverty. As our report shows, the G8 and its partners need to unleash a transparency revolution. Transparency in aid flows, extractive industry payments and open budgets would allow citizens to hold their governments to account and ensure money is spent where it is most needed.
Meanwhile, we need the G8 to build on existing commitments in agriculture and nutrition. According to the World Bank, growth in the agricultural sector is at least two and a half times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. The G8's past promises, including the pledge to lift 50m people out of poverty through agriculture, must now be kept. The "Enough Food for Everyone IF" campaign by hundreds of organisations will hold leaders' feet to the fire on that.
If past promises are kept and extended and a transparency revolution is launched, by around 2030 we can take extreme poverty down to the zero zone. And when that happens, the lower mountain peaks of Gleneagles will not be far from our minds.Adrian Lovett
Politicians have taken the lead in blaming poverty on the poor
Perhaps some of you are aware of the phenomenon of "slut-shaming" – whereby generally a female (why bother pretending, it's always a female) is contemptuously attacked, usually online, for anything from her dress style to what is perceived as sexually promiscuous behaviour.
A much-mimicked online example, "Hey Girls, Did You Know?", produced such observations as "Hey girls, did you know that boobs go inside your shirt?" and "That you spread Nutella, not your legs?". It burns like acid that girls and women would do this to each other, though guys do it too, sometimes filming their victim "sluts" naked or engaged in sexual activity, then passing the footage around.
On a wider level, one disquieting feature of these modern takes on slut-shaming is how quickly (indeed shamelessly) they embedded themselves into the collective psyche as borderline normal. Another disturbing aspect is that it doesn't take much imagination to draw parallels between slut-shaming and attitudes towards the poor.
How long would it take for "poor-shaming" to embed itself in the national psyche as borderline normal? Or perhaps it has already done so? The Methodists, the United Reformed Church, the Church of Scotland and the Baptist Union have joined forces to publish a study called The Lies We Tell Ourselves. It highlights myths surrounding people and poverty, including Iain Duncan Smith's much trumpeted "families out of work for three generations" line (which, it turns out, has never been backed up by data).
The report argues that the government is "deliberately misrepresenting" the poor, blaming them for their circumstances while ignoring more complex reasons, including policy deficiencies. Moreover, they feel that this scapegoating is the result of collusion between politicians, the media and the public.
This resonates with my feeling that, increasingly, the shame is being taken out of poor-shaming. It didn't seem so long ago that most people would think twice about denigrating fellow citizens who were having a hard time. These days, it appears to have been sanctioned as a new national bloodsport, regularly slipping under the PC-radar as little else manages to.
Nor is it just coming from politicians such as Duncan Smith, though he could be termed "Poor-Shamer General" for his absurd apocalyptic visions. A politician is one thing but these attitudes are spreading and hardening among ordinary people too. Indeed, poverty seems a trigger to inspire hate speech that would be quickly denounced if it related to race or gender. Only recently, there were startling amounts of venom levelled at a woman with 11 children, who needed a bigger council house. The fact that this woman had a notable number of children seemed to be a convenient hook for the more generalised abuse and resentment directed at pretty much anyone in need of council accommodation, or any help whatsoever.
Is this our new default setting – that the needy are greedy? This chimes with a slew of government policies that appear to be founded on notions of bulletproof self-reliance, making no allowances for circumstances or sheer bad luck, and which many would require huge amounts of help to put into practice, never mind sustain. Meanwhile, the more fortunate are invited to pour scorn upon anyone who fails.
How does this kind of thing escalate? That's easy. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, the poor are poor. They have no money, no voice, no representatives, and no means to establish their own public profile. Poverty is a big domino – once it falls, everything goes. In such circumstances, if a group of people are "deliberately misrepresented" then there's precious little they can do about it. The churches got it right – if anything, the truth seems so much worse that it must surely be time to put the shame back into poor-shaming. Just like slut-shamers, poor-shamers are bullies, and right now they're getting away with it.Surely, David's not turning his back on his beloved Bridlington?
Is it all a terrible misunderstanding, or has artist David Hockney really snubbed his new home, the Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington?
Bridlington is featured in Hockney's recent works, and plans were afoot to rename the local gallery after him, as well as give him the freedom of the town. However, Hockney failed to respond, and the council was forced to conclude that the idea "did not appeal to him".
How could anyone turn down the freedom of beaches, promenades, amusements, gulls and (according to the visitor website Aboutbridlington.co.uk) not one but two Keep Britain Tidy awards?
I'm still hoping that Hockney is merely unaware of the offer, and would snap it up given the chance. It's the silence that wounds. The thought of Hockney not responding to the good folk of Bridlington, not even with a curt "No ta", is just too dreadful.
Perhaps Bridlington council should try just once more. If there's still no response, then Hockney only has himself to blame if no self-respecting Bridlington chippy will serve him.Meat crisps - where's the fun in that?
Vegetarians are peaceful people who hate to make a fuss, mainly because many of us are vitamin-deficient, and frankly don't have the energy. But I digress. Even though we're laidback and adorable, there are lines you just don't cross, especially with crisps. Did Walkers realise this when it decided to add meat to its smoky bacon and roast chicken crisps, in order to lose the junk food stigma?
I don't care for these flavours, but it's the principle. Putting flesh in crisps is consumer heresy. It's long been part of the vegetarian lifestyle to drone at people that there is no meat or fish in crisps, and therefore we're allowed to eat them. Is all this fun to come to an end?
Moreover, where is the loyalty? Unlike omnivores, who periodically ditch such products in favour of Atkins/Dukan diets, vegetarians have remained faithful to the crisp. In fact, many of us are insanely out-of-control carb addicts, who probably make up a sizable portion of the worldwide crisp-market.
Non-vegetarians need to realise that these flavours, and many others, would change for them too. Healthier products are usually to be welcomed, but not crisps. As all crisp-loving travellers could testify, there is a delicate global balance between good crisps and bad crisps, and who's to say we won't end up with grisly, soggy US-style "chips"? Just putting it out there.
There's a conspiracy theory that this is a marketing scam, and Walkers just wanted to cause a similar furore to when Mars backed down over putting rennet in Mars bars. Well, if that's true… I'm too wan to care. I'll just say this with the passion that only a vegetarian who's just taken an iron supplement could muster – hands off our crisps!Barbara Ellen
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), costing more than €1bn, will capture the universe's earliest moments
Britain has committed £88m towards the construction of the world's largest telescope. The huge observatory, to be built in the Chilean Andes, will allow astronomers to capture images of the universe's earliest moments.
The giant eye on the sky, known as the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), will cost more than €1bn (£900m) to build. Its main mirror, which will gather light from distant stars and galaxies, will be 39 metres in diameter, made of 798 segments. The observatory will gather 15 times more light than the largest telescopes today.
"Every area of astronomy, from planets around other stars to the first galaxies in the universe, will be revolutionised by this telescope," said Professor Simon Morris of Durham University.
The giant observatory will become part of an array of telescopes built by the European Southern Observatory organisation – of which Britain is a key member – in Chile. Built high in the Andes, these instruments avoid much of the atmospheric turbulence that affects observatories at lower altitudes.
The site also allows astronomers to study objects such as the Magellanic clouds, which can only be seen in the skies of the southern hemisphere.
"The E-ELT will have almost as much light collecting area as all the telescopes ever built, put together," said Professor Niranjan Thatte of Oxford University. "Not only will it allow us to see farther into the history of the universe, it will do so with unprecedented sharpness, providing images that are 10 to 15 times sharper than the Hubble space telescope."
The site selected for the telescope, Cerro Armazones, is a 3,000-metre mountain that lies in the central part of Chile's Atacama desert, close to Europe's existing facilities at Cerro Paranal, where an array of telescopes has been constructed. Engineers are slicing the top off the peak in preparation for the building of the telescope. Completion is scheduled for 2023.
Eight projects to design special cameras and spectrographs to analyse the data collected by E-ELT are being considered. Astronomers and engineers in the UK are involved in six of them.
Astronomers are keen to stress the possibility of lucrative spin-off developments of their work. Technology developed for astronomy has led to improvements in the diagnosis of eye disease and the performance of industrial lasers, among many other things.
"This project should have huge knock-on effects for other sectors and research fields," said David Willetts, minister of universities and science. He added that the UK's investment in the project could also help secure industrial contracts – including the manufacture of some or all of the telescope's mirror segments – that could be worth up to £100m to British industry.
However, it is the scientific dividend of the E-ELT that is causing most interest. With its pinpoint precision, it will examine the evolution of galaxies and black holes and study the distribution of mysterious dark matter, which is believed to permeate the universe but has yet to be observed directly.
"It is the breadth of science that this telescope will undertake that makes it so important," said Professor Isobel Hook of Oxford University. "We'll be able to explore further into space and in exquisite detail, helping us understand some of the strangest phenomena in our universe – even the possibilities for existence of life on planets elsewhere in the universe."Robin McKie
Funding shortages mean that two-thirds of local authorities in England and Wales are failing to meet responsibilities, according to new report
Two out of three local authorities in England and Wales are failing to provide enough childcare to support parents who work, according to figures to be published this week.
For families with disabled children the picture is even bleaker, with only one in seven local authorities meeting their statutory duties to ensure they have enough childcare provision.
In the Childcare Costs Survey 2013, the newly merged charities the Daycare Trust and the Family and Parenting Institute say the situation is increasing pressure on already struggling families and preventing parents who want to work staying in their jobs.
The group said the failure by local authorities to meet their responsibilities under the 2006 Childcare Act – designed to encourage parents back into the workplace – was almost entirely due to funding shortages. Anand Shukla, chief executive of the organisation, said: "At a time when one in five children lives in poverty, the failure to provide this essential service for parents who want to provide for their families is a national scandal."
The figures show that only one in five local authorities in England reports having enough provision for parents with children under two and only one in seven – 14% – say there is enough care for disabled children. Research by the Department for Work and Pensions has shown that a third of parents who do not currently work say it is because of the unaffordability of childcare.
"Councils are failing families," said Shukla. "Its no wonder we are struggling to find economic growth when parents are held back from doing more by a lack of accessible and affordable childcare. Not only is childcare vital for child development and the wellbeing of families but it is central to economic growth in a modern economy."
Childcare providers in many less wealthy areas rely on funding from local authorities and many point to the financial squeeze as exacerbating differences in quality and availability of care for parents in different areas across Britain. Childcare costs are already rising at above inflation rates while there have been deep cuts in tax credits and child benefit.
Amid much controversy, the government has indicated it plans to reduce the adult-to-child ratios to ease the pressure on nurseries, child-minders and after-school clubs, but the Daycare Trust and the Family and Parenting Institute argues that there will be little or no impact on costs for parents.
"Staffing costs are just one part of a complex picture, so allowing adults to look after more children at once is not only a risky idea but doesn't seem to provide any cost savings," Shukla said. "With private and non-profit childcare providers struggling, I doubt whether parents will ever see any of the money saved by increasing the numbers of children per staff member."
The charity, which will publish its report on Wednesday, is calling for more government support to local authorities. The Childcare Act 2006 obliges all English and Welsh local authorities to ensure there is enough childcare for working parents and those undertaking training and education with a view to returning to work.