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Your last day


If I had known that it was your last day

I would have thanked you,

Though my thanks are small and mean

Compared to all the love you gave.

But I did not, so when you told me that you loved me

As you did, always, all I said was ‘yeah’

And went about the grey-grind morning.


Now all the time is spent, and there is no return

To that warm land where we once played

And you would frolic, love in every minute

Grasping every moment as a gift

Smiling at the sheer joyness of it all

Lighting all the world by being.


And now I know, and knowing is such pain

How much you meant, too late –

Too late to say you lived in everything

My heart, my life, my noonday sun,

My boy. And never once again

To see your dear, dear face,

Or light my day the love that filled your eyes.


Now I howl, into that vast absence

My thanks, too late, for your brave, generous heart.

My day is still, for you gave me my action

The hollow of my soul breaks, I would give

My all, just for the chance to say

I love you, always, there on your last day.



With the confirmation that the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, MH370, was  in all probability hijacked, its communications systems deliberately disabled, a raft of new questions arise about the airliner’s fate. The most tantalising is the possibility that the plane could have landed somewhere, intact. 

Again, it is necessary to look at the questions that arise from this news. Who took the plane? Suspicion appears to be falling on the co-pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, with the confirmation that he gave the last ‘all right, good night’ message to air traffic control, minutes after the first plane communication system (ACARS, the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) was disabled. 

After the transponder was also switched off, the plane continued to communicate with an Inmarsat satellite on an hourly basis for over six further hours – for more than seven hours after takeoff in total. The satellite positioning is inexact – it was never intended to pinpoint airplane locations – so the ‘best guess’ location for the plane is a massive swathe of the earth that ranges from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to the southern Indian Ocean.

One big question, which was obvious from the outset, is why the alarm was not raised. If one of the pilots took control of the plane without the consent of the other, the other pilot must have been neutralised immediately to ensure that he was unable to punch in the four-digit code to the transponder that would have alerted air traffic control to the hijack. This of course is not outside the bounds of probability, and is something that a hijack plan would have had to take into account.

The other big question is why there was no communication from passengers. During the 9/11 hijacks many passengers phoned home or their offices. However, those planes had seatback phones and the Malaysian Airlines plane did not, so passengers would have had to rely on being able to get a mobile signal. As the plane is reported to have been flying at an unusually high altitude for parts of its journey, it is possible that passengers were simply unable to connect. 

However, during the early part of the hijack the plane was flying over the Malaysian peninsula, where it would be quite likely a signal could be obtained. It is possible, though, that at this stage the passengers were unaware that there was a problem.

The other issue is the plane’s complete disappearance. It does not seem to have appeared on the radar systems of other countries along its possible northward route, such as India. However, its unusual flight height, which seems to have varied from extremely high to extremely low, may mean that it managed to evade detection.

Given this, the problem of finding the plane is immense. Some of the southern part of the search area is over extremely deep water and if the plane crashed into the water here it will be extremely difficult to find. If it was put down somewhere on land in the northern search area, it has been pointed out that although in theory it requires a runway of considerable length, any large flat area might have been considered a possible landing area by the hijackers. It has to be added that while planes have landed successfully off-runway, for a large passenger plane to achieve this without serious damage would be unusual.

However, the hijack scenario presents another uncomfortable question. It is now over a week since the plane vanished. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the hijacking, so if this is what happened, the hijackers must have been acting alone and for some reason have not made contact since the plane was taken. Presuming that the plane was taken for a purpose, the fact that the purpose has not become evident suggests that at some point it met with mishap. 

In perhaps the most tantalising puzzle of this century so far, the fate of MH370 remains shrouded in mystery. Who took the plane, and why? Most importantly, where did it land? Is it possible that some of those on board are still alive? Remarkably, in an age of seemingly blanket surveillance and satellite supervision, it seems likely at the moment that the airliner may never be found.



To say that the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is a mystery at the present time is to understate the case. The information that is available is so sparse and contradictory that it appears almost anything might have happened.

 So what are the possibilities? First, some facts.  The flight, bound for Beijing, took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing at 12.41am on 8 March (local time). Communication was lost less than an hour later, at 1.30am, at which time the plane’s transponder recorded it off the east coast of the Malay peninsula. The flight was carrying 239 people – 227 passengers and 12 crew. 

 All this is known. Beyond this, the story becomes positively murky. According to ABC News, the 777’s data reporting system shut down at 1.07am while the transponder – which sends information back to air traffic control about the plane’s location and altitude – switched off at 1.21am.

 At a press conference, Malaysia’s defence and acting transport minister Hishamuddin Hussein, said the authorities were investigating whether the communications systems had been deliberately shut down and that there were ‘four or five possibilities’ why they may have been shut off. He spoke of this being done intentionally, under duress, or as the result of an explosion – though obviously the latter would beg the question why the systems went off at different times.

 An even odder fact has emerged – that a third system, which transmits routine maintenance data, had continued to attempt to establish a satellite link for hours after the other two systems went silent. However, beyond the point where the transponder stopped working, there was no further communication from the crew.

 With the transponder inactive, as on 9/11, air traffic control was no longer able to track the planes and at that point flight MH370 effectively disappeared from their radar screens. However, it was later revealed that military radar, which tracks all air movements but not with any detail about the nature of the flight, had picked up an unidentified aircraft on a radically different bearing, crossing the Malaysian peninsula from east to west near the Malaysia-Thailand border and flying out into the Straits of Malacca. 

 Why did the two systems pick up such different things? There are two different types of radar – primary and secondary. Air traffic control uses secondary radar, which sends signals requesting information from the plane’s transponder. The plane transmits data back, including its identification, altitude and bearing. Military systems use what is known as primary radar, which sends out signals that pick up the echoes which bounce back from airborne objects. 

 There is, of course, one word of caution at this point. It has not been confirmed, and it is not yet possible to say that this military trace picked up the missing flight and not some other, as yet unidentified aircraft. 

 This total confusion of data has led to equal confusion on the ground, with searches covering an extraordinary area – as yet to no avail. People are left asking all sorts of questions, based around the one key riddle of what happened to the aircraft. Clearly, something extraordinary and catastrophic happened to it, so what are the options?

 The aircraft suffered a sudden, total loss of structural integrity in mid-air at the point when the transponder stopped working. Against this theory is the excellent record of the 777. Although Boeing had issued a warning to check for structural corrosion around a satellite antenna on the aircraft, this particular plane is said not to have been fitted with the system. This also does not explain why the three communication systems stopped working at different times, and why the third continued to attempt to transmit data for hours after the transponder signal was lost.

A terrorist set off an explosion on the flight. This would have had to cause instantaneous disintegration, otherwise the pilots could very quickly and discreetly have punched in a four-digit code that would have alerted air traffic control to their situation. Against this theory, again, is the fact that the communication systems stopped working at different times.

Sudden, uncontrolled decompression caused the passengers and crew to lose consciousness, with the aircraft continuing to fly until it ran out of fuel. This has indeed happened – Helios Flight 522, flying from Cyprus to Athens,  crashed in 2005 because a sudden decompression incapacitated the crew. While this would explain the lack of communication from the pilots, again the fact that the three communication systems stopped working at different times suggests a different scenario.

Pilot error. In modern accidents, pilot error has become a much more common factor than structural failure. The last major unexplained disappearance of a plane was Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, which went missing with 216 passengers and 12 crew – the Airbus A330-200 simply disappeared beyond radar cover at night over the Atlantic ocean. A massive search operation eventually located the plane and its cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and data recorders, which revealed that the accident was the result of a junior pilot fatally mismanaging the flight system, pushing the plane’s nose up after its pitot tubes (which measure air speed) froze temporarily, to the extent that it simply became unable to fly and fell out of the sky. If something of this kind happened on the Malaysian Airline flight, which was in contact with air traffic control, why were no messages sent out? And again, why did the communication systems stop working at different times?

Maintenance error. Again, as planes have become more and more safe structurally, maintenance errors have crept up the list of reasons why planes crash  – either due to a lack of maintenance causing a structural failure to be missed, or due to a major mistake in maintenance (real life examples include using the wrong screws to re-attach a vital part, or indeed not re-inserting them at all). For this to be a possibility, the experts will need to explain how a structural issue could cause the communications systems to fail separately.

Fire. This scenario would envisage a sudden, locally-catastrophic fire that immediately destroyed the pilots’ communications equipment, the transponder and then progressed to destroy the other two systems. This would tie in with a report from an oil rig worker off the south-east coast of Viet Nam, who described seeing a plane burning at high altitude at about the time when the Malaysian Airlines flight was initially reported to have crashed.

Hijack. This is an option that is clearly being seriously considered by officials, who are examining the backgrounds of the crew and all the passengers. Terrorism or hijack were made to look more likely by the discovery that two passengers were travelling on stolen passports, though investigations suggest the pair were trying to enter Europe illegally. However, this remains one of the solutions that (so far) fits the known facts. Again, why would the pilots not have had time to enter the alarm code to alert air traffic control?

‘Suicide by pilot’. Again, this has happened in real life. Silk Air Flight 185, which crashed into a river in Sumatra, is a controversial example – this hypothesis was not accepted by the Indonesian National Transport Safety Committee, but the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which modeled the crash, concluded that the only way to achieve the flight profile was as a result of deliberate flight control inputs. EgyptAir Flight 990 is another example of a disagreement between the home country and the NTSB, which again concluded that the plane had been deliberately crashed. While a relatively rare occurrence, a deliberate act by a crew member would also fit the known facts.

Passenger suicide. This would echo the scenario above and indeed the hijacking theory. To achieve this, a passenger would have had to be familiar with the flight controls on the 777 and how to fly it. As an example, Fed-Ex flight 705 was hijacked by a Fed Ex employee taking a lift on the flight, who attacked the crew in an attempt to disguise his suicide as a plane crash – the crew managed to fight him off and subdue him, though they were badly injured. In both the crew and passenger suicide scenarios, one key question is, if the plane is confirmed to have flown on for several hours after the transponder stopped working, why did the culprit not crash the plane immediately? One possible answer is that CVRs record cockpit conversations for a minimum of 30 minutes and a recommended two hours, so the culprit may have wished to erase all evidence of their act from the recorder, in case it is ever found. 

 These are the main options that appear to be under consideration. There are other, wilder theories ranging from missile attack to alien abduction, but none that fit within the realm of the possible. Could the plane even have landed safely? Some relatives cling to this hope. This plane requires a substantial runway though – pilots suggest 11,000ft. There are very few unattended runways of this size in this part of the world, and the plane certainly has not landed at any ‘official’ airport. 

 Even if an abandoned runway of this size exists, to land on an un-maintained runway, without the aid of air traffic control guidance or the automated systems that pilots rely on for landing would be an extraordinary feat. However it is one achieved by an Air Canada flight in 1983. This ran out of fuel but nevertheless managed to land at an air strip one of the pilots remembered from his air force days, at a remote spot called Gimli in Manitoba. Unfortunately (to the crew’s dismay) the strip had been turned into a motor sport park since that time, but the plane was brought down safely, and the remarkable feat saw the plane labelled ‘the Gimli glider’. So while unlikely in the extreme, this is not entirely impossible.

 What happens now with flight MH370? Everything depends on whether the plane can be found, and the CVR and flight data recorder retrieved, and whether the remains of the plane and the data provide answers to this deepening mystery. On the positive side, these seas are not deep (around 80m). Retrieving a plane from the Atlantic is far more difficult, in theory, because of the extraordinary depths involved (the Titanic is 3784m down, for example). However, the uncertainty over the location of the Malaysian Airways plane makes finding it extremely challenging – the search area is immense and vague. It is to be hoped that the intense search-and-rescue activity and examination of satellite data can produce answers for the grieving families. If, as seems increasingly possible, no trace of the plane is found, it will go down as a mystery on a parallel with Flight 19, which disappeared in 1945 in the Bermuda Triangle.

Residents of Staines have finally unearthed (or rather un-watered)Image the dastardly nemesis that has caused the river Thames to flood their properties – the Depressed River Mussel. The Environment Agency has admitted that it has avoided dredging the river to ensure that the rare creatures are not damaged.

A spokes-mollusc for the species is reported as saying: ‘Oh, don’t mind me. Brain the size of a small pea and yet somehow nobody has managed to scoop me up in a bucket. Get on with it, won’t you? I haven’t got all day to be hanging around here, feeling bad about the world.’

New Age activist Lucinda Strop, speaking from a flooded mansion on what used to be the banks of the Thames, has volunteered to provide counselling for the mussels, so that they can lead a more fulfilled life in another location. ‘I have a lovely pot with some wine, cream and onions that I think they will absolutely adore,’ she told local press. 

ImageRecent winter storms brought serious flooding to the UK – from mid-December onward through the beginning of January the rains seemed endless, and pictures of flooded fields and houses commonplace. Add to these the ferocious storms that swept away chunks of the seafront at Aberystwyth and various other locations on the west coast, and it begins to look as if climate change predictions are coming true – as David Cameron said at the time.

Residents of the Somerset Levels, which were badly hit by flooding after similar floods in 2012, have put forward different explanations. They point to the fact that in their area rainfall was not significantly in excess of the annual average, yet houses that previously had not flooded in over 80 years had been flooded twice in just two years. Some, in other blogs, have blamed the Environment Agency for not  dredging the rivers Parrett and Tone – the EA’s own computer modelling, according to the Western Morning News, has showed that dredging would have increased the rivers’ carrying capacity from its current 60% to 90%, significantly reducing (the EA’s words) the flood severity.

There are other obvious, well-rehearsed culprits in flood events, key among which is upstream development. Here, large areas of previously permeable land have been converted into impermeable surfaces, off which rainfall runs into watercourses quickly and in far greater volumes than before, creating sharper and higher flood peaks. 

Development in flood plains has long been identified as a risky practice, but one that has been allowed regardless of the obvious issues. So what is the truth? Who is to blame? Is the Environment Agency, as some have suggested, keen to see the Levels returned to their original marshland state? On the east coast the EA’s philosophy of ‘managed retreat’ has seen sea defences dismantled so that land can flood, reducing (where this is possible) the impact of flooding from this source. The EA is also an advocate of restoring flood plains to their original use where possible. This would indeed reduce the impact of flooding by allowing waters to spill onto permeable land and percolate naturally into the ground, rather than be channelled swiftly downstream to flood some other location. 

In its defence, the Environment Agency points to the environmental impact of river dredging, something that was not considered as an issue of any significance when it was regularly undertaken. Since the engineering-led solutions of the 1960s and 70s (‘dredge, channel and hope it goes somewhere else’ might be an apt description) much more importance has been assigned to environmental impact – what happens to the invertebrates in the rivers, the plants they feed on, and the fish that feed on them – the whole complex food web that dredging disrupts? And of course, dredging is a solution that simply pushes the problem downstream rather than solving it, possibly creating flooding for another area in the process. The EA by definition has to consider environmental impacts, although the residents of Muchelney might well, with feeling, suggest that their needs are somewhat more important than those of a few river creatures and their downstream neighbours. 

Identifying the key causes of the flooding is an important part of finding the solution. There are advanced computer modelling programmes that can do exactly that, factoring in the upstream rainfall, the impact of storm water discharges from all identified sources, permeable and impermeable surfaces and other structures that either speed or impede the flow of water. Such models can provide deep insight into flood events – one of the country’s leading water research bodies, HR Wallingford, modelled the Boscastle flooding, a fascinating exercise that proved the local terrain, a series of almost stationary storm events over the river basin and the cumulative effects of detritus blocking key water access points, worked together to create an extreme event.

For the Levels, it is likely that a combination of factors again played a part. The area is a natural floodplain, so upstream influences are almost inevitably going to have a major effect. These would include upstream flood defences to protect major towns (an investigation would look at whether new defences had been added that might have exacerbated the flood risk), and of course development, as well as whether a dredging regime of some sort would have made the situation better.

Resolving the flooding will have to take account of the highly-engineered nature of the area – like the Fens, the Levels have been reclaimed from their natural state and a ‘natural’ solution is therefore not possible. However, any solutions will have to be flexible, sustainable and smart. One good starting point would be upstream attenuation through SUDS – sustainable urban development systems. 

SUDS means introducing retention ponds, grassed areas that can be  used to collect rainwater during storms, swales to guide storm waters to such features and permeable paving, which would allow rainfall to soak through car parks and pavements rather than run off into drains.  If these systems were widely adopted upstream, they would undoubtedly help.

Farmers could be encouraged to plant trees, which are a valuable means of absorbing water – EU funding tends to provide financial incentives to reduce, rather than increase, the number of trees on agricultural land, and this needs to be addressed. The EA’s reduced funding and manpower (it is losing 1700 staff) could be a real obstacle in the search for solutions – local flood schemes, which are within the EA’s remit, could help, as might planned use of those floodplains that can flood harmlessly. 

People may also have to work to make their own homes more flood resilient, and plan for flooding – those who live on flood plains would be wise to take as many precautions as they can regardless of other improvements. Devices to block air bricks are available, as are ‘dagger boards’ to protect doors – these are used in Venice, one of the most flood-prone cities in the world. People have built bunds to protect their properties. 

The culprit, when it comes to flooding, should not be identified as global warming – it is not yet possible to attribute single events to that source, and  it is a concept too easily used as a way of dismissing problems rather than solving them. It is, rather, an inheritance of various short-sighted actions in the past that have come back to haunt low-lying areas.

There are ways to reduce the likelihood of flooding, but they will take concerted efforts from various sources starting with homeowners and including upstream town councils, the Environment Agency and national government. In order to make change happen, there will need to be commitment to do so from the very top. The whole subject is discussed in much detail in the Pitt report on the 2007 floods, which is still available on the internet – the BBC has key points at The current Water Bill going through parliament is supposed to address some of the issues, such as flood insurance. More information about the regulations (and there are many) can be obtained at

It’s not that nothing is being done, it is more that there is so much to do. Bearing that in mind, people living on flood plains should do as much as they can to protect themselves, because a complete solution is impossible.



Geranium Magnificum

Geranium Magnificum

Bees are in trouble. Although Europe has announced a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, bee numbers have crashed in recent years, and our fuzzy little friends need all the help they can get. If everyone were to grow a pot full of a flower that bees love, it would help enormously.

But what flowers do bees like? The answer tends to be, simple ones with lots of nectar and pollen (of course!). Frilly, complicated flowers like roses that bees have to fight to get into are not on their dinner list. One that is, is the flower above – geranium magnificum, which lives up to its name in June with a magnificent display – masses of purple flowers that will be filled all month with browsing bees.


Another flower that bees love is the humble foxglove. Depending on where you live in the country, this will either be a plant you need to buy from a nursery (it can be grown from seed, though the seed is incredibly fine) or it will be a weed in your garden that you find yourself pulling from every pot. Don’t pull it all out though! Those bell-shaped flowers are irresistible to bees. Just make sure that you keep them well away from children – their berries are poisonous, and their hairy leaves can also cause irritation.

P6140707 Lavender

The beautiful scent of lavender is something that attracts people to the plant almost as readily as bees. The yellow plant in the foreground, on the other hand, is goldenrod and although its flowers are very simple they appear not to appeal to bees in the slightest. But a lovely mound of sweet-smelling lavender will be smothered in bees through August and into September – well worth the space needed to grow this large shrub.


The buddleia is another plant that needs little introduction – a familiar site everywhere, this hardy little bush can be found growing alongside railways, clinging to cracks in high brick walls – anywhere, indeed, where it can get a foothold. And where the buddleia goes, insects follow. Long, fat spires of tiny purple flowers adorn the bush throughout August and provide both butterflies and bees with an excellent feast. Indeed, it’s hard to take a photograph of a buddleia flower without a feeding bee or butterfly upon it!


The snapdragon – antirrhinum – is another cheerful and common garden plant, a biennial that flowers profusely throughout the summer. It’s a favourite with children because of its amusing composition – the plant’s stamens are hidden inside the closed ‘mouth’ of the flower, which bees (as you can see) love pushing their way into. A border favourite and very easy to grow, this is a great summer bee feeding station.


Oregano is best known as a herb, often used in Mediterranean cookery, but it is also another bee favourite. Simple sprays of lilac to deep purple flowers are found throughout August, a month when bees are quite spoiled for choice! Simple to grow, oregano can be kept in a pot on the windowsill if you are short of space, and will be quite at home on a sunny patio.

Sweet pea

The sweet pea is the florist’s favourite, a sentiment that bees would undoubtedly agree with. These gorgeous, beautifully-scented flowers unfold their delicate wings as early as May. A frame of some sort is needed for this popular garden climber – something as simple as a wig-wam of canes in a large pot will suffice, or they can be intermingled with runner beans for an interesting effect. Sweet peas will carry on flowering throughout the summer, providing they are dead-headed regularly. Picking a bunch to allow their sweet scent to fill your living room will encourage even more flowers!


It’s easy to forget that one of the bee’s main jobs, from a human point of view, is the pollination of fruit. Therefore an apple or pear tree is also a wonderful bee attractant during the early days of a warm spring when bees are just beginning to venture out and are in most need of nourishment. A tree is not an option if you live in a flat, of course, but even a small garden can usually find room for an apple tree grown on dwarfing rootstock – this type of tree is far less vigorous than a ‘normal’ apple tree and needs no more than a few feet of space to thrive. A good prune every year, once winter has set in, will ensure it stays in shape – and of course, you get the extra reward in autumn of the juicy apples!

Red clover

Red clover is another early bee favourite and can often be found in the slightly wilder parts of a garden – having everything completely neat is not always good for insects! A small rough patch, where the grass is not regularly mowed and where a small patch of nettles and red clover can flourish, can be really helpful to both butterflies and bees. It’s also possible to buy red clover seed, as it is used by vegetable gardeners as a green mulch. The pom-pom flowers are also very attractive, nestled into a bed of grass.


Last, but not least, is the honeysuckle. Possessed of the most glorious scent in the cool of an early summer morning or evening, honeysuckle is a rambling shrub that will climb up and mask even the ugliest of walls. Honeysuckles come in a wide variety of colours, ranging from dramatic reds and oranges to pale cream.

In among this ‘top ten’ is a plant for (almost) everyone – why not find a space in your plot for one or two. Or even all ten! The bees will thank you for it, and you will be rewarded with a scent and colour-filled summer.

Trem y Mor terrace, Nant Gwrtheyrn

This most extraordinary of places is Nant Gwrtheyrn, the National Welsh Language Centre, and I spent last week there on a Welsh course.

For those who have never been, Nant Gwrtheyrn has a long and haunted history, from its days as the last refuge of Kentish King Gwrtheyrn, who lent his name to the valley, and on through its days as a fishing community, a farming village, and more recently as a granite quarry – the two rows of cottages hosted up to 22 people each in the heyday of the quarrying, making the most of the (for those days) great wages on offer.

After a spell of abandonment, after tarmac became popular and granite setts were no longer needed to pave the world’s roads, the village had a short encounter with a hippie group (the New Atlantis commune), who managed to destroy a substantial chunk before they moved on a couple of years later.

Nowadays, Nant Gwrtheyrn has been fully and wonderfully restored as a language centre for that most ancient and challenging of languages, Welsh.

Getting there is a challenge in itself – the road is for the most part single track, with the odd passing place, garnished by a scattering of hairpin bends and a breathtakingly steep segment heralded by a magnificent view of the deep-green bay beyond.

In the village, finding a mobile phone signal is not easy. I found that if I stood on one leg leaning into the window of my bathroom that I could phone home, and did at one point consider renting the room out to others desperate to make outside contact.

Aside from the course, which was excellent and the food (also great), the other learners were grand company and the school thoughtfully organised evening events and an afternoon out at the Slate Museum in Llanberis.

The remoteness of the site also lends itself to legends, and there are two in particular associated with it – one, the tragic tale of Rhys and Meinir, two ill-fated lovers, and the other the dark story of the Monks’ Curse… Of which more in another blog, I think!

The village, surrounded as it is by steep ravines and cut off from the rest of the Lleyn peninsula by the dramatic sweep of Yr Eifl, is a natural focus for drama and mystery. Sudden, enveloping mists sweep in from the sea and fill the little basin, masking the stone terraces and bathing the trees in an eerie glow. Then they are gone again, as suddenly as they came.

If you are ever in the vicinity of Llithfaen, on the Lleyn peninsula, do pluck up your courage and dare the road – the Nant is an unforgettable experience, like walking back in time. I know I will carry it in my heart always.

Parliament has issued its report on the investigation into the sacking of police chief constables by Police and Crime Commissioners. The investigation looked at three cases: Within a few days of the election, Avon and Somerset Chief Constable Colin Port declined to re-apply for his job after the incoming Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, indicated that she wanted to recruit a new Chief Constable whose tenure would cover her entire term of office. In Lincolnshire, Chief Constable Neil Rhodes was suspended by Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick—who also referred him to the IPCC—but was reinstated following a High Court judgement. In Gwent, Commissioner Ian Johnston invited Chief Constable Carmel Napier to retire, indicating that he was prepared to initiate the statutory process for her removal if she did not do so.

Many people will be surprised to realise that the PCCs have the power to sack police chief constables, and that this and other powers (or the threat of their use) were exercised so soon after the PCCs took their posts. The PCCs were brought into power in an election characterised by indifference – for example, Gwent PCC Ian Johnston was voted in by 8% of the electorate, according to the report.

The Home Affairs Committee also expressed considerable concern about what had happened. Their report says: ‘Suspension or removal of a chief constable is a radical step, and not one which should be undertaken lightly. As we have previously noted, it is potentially operationally disruptive and costly, and damaging to the reputation of the force and individuals concerned.’

However, in these three examples, this ‘radical step’ was taken in these cases without the processes  and consideration that parliament envisaged, according to the report, which notes: ‘Early indications are that it is very easy for a police and crime commissioner to remove a chief constable, even when the stated concerns of a PCC are about operational policing matters or are of an insubstantial nature. The statutory process provides little safeguard, since there is nobody—not the police and crime panel, not the Inspectorate of Constabulary, not even the Home Secretary herself—who can over-rule a commissioner who has set his face to dismissing a chief constable. And even the limited scrutiny process can easily be sidestepped with the threat of a potentially embarrassing public scrutiny process in which there is clearly scope for a commissioner to cause serious damage to a chief constable’s reputation and, by extension, the reputation and morale of the force. Though we make no comment on the merits of these cases, it is notable that the reasons given by commissioners who have suspended or dismissed chief constables so far have been unpersuasive, in the case of Avon and Somerset where the Commissioner cited contractual issues; “irrational and perverse”, in Lincolnshire (according to the High Court); and unsubstantiated by any concrete examples in the case of Gwent.’

Of note also in respect to the Gwent case are these observations in the report:

‘We were disappointed that, shortly after we took evidence from Mr Johnston, he took to Twitter to criticise a member of the Committee for asking questions that he believed had been prompted by Gwent MPs, describing the proceedings as “sad really”. Mr Johnson even described Mr Ruane as a “plant of Gwent MPs”.[] This disdainful attitude towards scrutiny by Parliament, as well as an indication of a clear over-sensitivity to criticism, from a politician elected by less that 8% of the electorate, who had managed to side-step the statutory arrangements for local scrutiny of his decision to sack the Chief Constable, is further evidence, if any were needed, that the checks and balances on police and crime commissioners are too weak.

‘The situation in Gwent has highlighted that the wide discretion of commissioners to dismiss chief constables is a significant issue, and shows that statutory provisions intended to give police and crime panels a role in respect of dismissals, albeit a consultative one, can be evaded. Some will argue that it represents an undermining of the independence of the office of chief constable if it becomes too easy for their political masters to dismiss them over any minor disagreement or personality clash. On the other hand, it is essential to commissioners’ role as directly elected office-holders that they have the power to dismiss chief constables, and commissioners can and should provide robust, critical challenge to chief constables. It is right that commissioners should have the initiative in removing a chief constable, but we recommend that police and crime panels should fully exercise their powers of scrutiny in examining and deciding whether the proposed removal of a chief constable is justified. Such decisions, once made, should be accompanied by all the reasons arrived at in the case. We will return to this important area of policy when we come to consider the work of police and crime commissioners one year after their election, in November this year, by which time there may well be further examples of these powers being exercised in practice.’

What to make of all this? While the appointment of PCCs created barely a ripple of interest when proposed, it is clear that those who hold this post have considerable power potentially to disrupt the running of the police force they are appointed to work with. 

The public, to protect its own interests and ensure that the police in their area are able to function, will have to become more involved in the PCC process. This should, I believe, include voting in the next PCC election to ensure that disruptive PCCs who arbitrarily seek to dismiss chief constables are themselves dismissed.

There is a PCC website, which provides some basic information. The PCCs have set four-year terms and a maximum of two terms. We, the public, need to step up and resolve this situation. PCCs have extensive powers, and this first election has seen people elected without most of us exerting any kind of scrutiny to ensure that those seeking election were likely to be fair and impartial, as their oath calls on them to be.  

I would also call on parliament to urgently work to strengthen the oversight process to ensure that PCCs are not able to make such far-reaching decisions without proper scrutiny, checks and balances. This is a matter of concern to us all.Image

Going on holiday probably shouldn’t require the same sort of precise planning as a military invasion, but I’m pretty sure that George Bush and Tony Blair didn’t have to put as much thought into Iraq as we did into our holiday last week in mid-Wales.

Taking a diabetic dog on holiday requires thinking. Insulin needs to be kept refrigerated, and as our Lexie is Little Miss Fussy, some fresh food, which also requires refrigeration, was needed.

This is not to mention the various potions and lotions that her increasingly-aged mom and pop require of course! Then there are the tennis balls for Hamish, the bedcovers (just in case giant setter hoofs somehow land on pristine white bedcovers. We’ve been there, and it’s not pretty). 

Add to that various leads, poo bags, harnesses, dog dishes, knives (for cutting up said food), plus all the clothes of course, and you have yourself one serious logistical challenge. I was quite proud to find, when we got there, that the only thing I’d forgotten was a washing-up brush. I bet Tony Blair can’t say the same!

Goodness only knows what the hotel thought as the staff saw this trail of weird goods going upstairs. Refrigerators, bags of all shapes and sizes and two curious dogs. I don’t think there were any missiles, but I could have put one in by accident, of course. Various dictators have tried to explain this small oversight in court trials over the centuries (I particularly like Ghengis Khan’s immortal quote ‘doesn’t everybody take ten thousand horsemen armed to the teeth on a picnic?’). 

I have to add, at the end of a week full of sunshine and trips to the beach (and lakes and waterfalls), it’s not the easiest thing we’ve done. Lexie doesn’t eat well on holiday, and diabetic dogs, like diabetic people, have to eat when they have their injections. With people, you stand a chance of explaining this – with a grumpy hot dog who doesn’t want to eat away from home, you don’t. So I ended up pressing good cheese and fresh duck on her reluctant little self. I know there are various people out there who now want to be my pet, details are available on request (haha).

Put it this way, she survived – no dreaded hypo, which was a worry with all the extra activity and the heat. On the Sunday, when we returned, she got a bit wobbly after tearing round the garden to inspect it all in the searing heat, but some glucose and a couple of her favourite chew sticks seemed to do the trick, and today she is back to being Queen Lexie, she of the upside-down snoring regime.

I would love to hear from anyone else who has taken dogs with health problems on holiday, how does everyone manage?Image


I am passing this on because as a Welsh learner, I know how important it is to be able to buy books in the language. Without books, languages wither and die, and e-books are the way forward for books, so it’s vital that Welsh can continue in this form. So why has Amazon decided that it won’t publish books in Welsh for the Kindle? They publish books in other minority languages..Image. Welsh is one of the ancient languages of Britain and we should be proud of it! 

Here’s the details of the petition:

Amazon E-book Petition

Thank you for signing the petition calling on Amazon to allow the publishing of Welsh language e-Books on Kindle. It has been signed by over 4,000 people to date. We will close the petition on Friday the 12th of July. We will be sending copies of the petition to the headquarters of Amazon in Seattle and Luxemburg and to Amazon’s Director of Public Policy in Brussels. Copies will also be sent to Meri Hughes, the Welsh Language Commissioner and to Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales.

So far it has been extremely difficult to get any response from Amazon and we would appreciate any suggestions on how we can get Amazon to change their minds. You are welcome to call on friends to sign the petition by following this link

Pob hwyl

Garmon Gruffudd


 I would appreciate people helping with this one… If only because Welsh is beautiful and deserves the best chance possible to survive.