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Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips


Senior ministers have been told that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in in Salisbury, on Sunday 4 March 2018 near Porton Down, has been identified by Porton Down experts as the organophosphate Novichock. Porton Down’s research focus has successively been known as Chemical Warfare, Chemical Defence, Chemical & Biological Defence and now Defence Science and Technology. Areas of concern are outlined here. Early British collaboration with American chemical warfare research (aka ‘field studies’) is acknowledged here.

In 2015 the Guardian reported that a cross-party MPs called for an inquiry into the compulsory use of dangerous chemicals called organophosphates (OPs), used to protect livestock from parasites. The Farmers Weekly reported that the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group repeated this call in 2016

The problem was first identified by Dr Goran Jamal, a Kurdish-born neurologist working in Glasgow, who later gave evidence of OP-related Gulf War Syndrome. Read Booker’s compelling account in Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, or extracts from it here.

In his autobiography, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson wrote: “the authorities realized that they were poisoning a lot of farmers”. In Countryfile Magazine (9.6.17) he wrote (snapshot of page, above right)

BBC Countryfile Magazine made the following points below:

  • OPs were originally created as a nerve gas and were developed during the Second World War. In 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who would go on to become the government’s chief scientist, warned of the dangers of allowing farmers to use OPs. Zuckerman raised concerns that farmers could absorb the poison through skin or inhalation. Read the legal noticepublished by Minister of Agriculture and Fishery regarding the harmful effects of Ops in 1951. Read a report published by Tim Farron, MP, stating that Government knew about the harmful effects of OPs.
  • Zuckerman called for farmers to be given detailed instructions for the use of OPs and for the substance to be labelled as deadly poison, although neither suggestion would be adopted until the 1980s.
  • Dipping sheep became compulsory in the late 1970s, and the use of OPs specifically was mandated by the British government until 1992. Read abstract at Small Ruminant Research.
  • In 1981 an advice leaflet was produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that warned against the dangers of using OPs, citing that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin. A report from the HSE in 1990showed growing concerns over the use of the chemicals.
  • UCL’s Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross reviewed existing scientific evidence in 2013 and found that 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to Ops. Long-term health issues linked to OP poisoning also include multiple sclerosis and memory issues.  (Ed; we add her work in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2010, abstract here.)
  • In April 2014 MPs called for a ‘Hillsborough-style’ inquiry into the sheep-dip poisoning, with Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”. Source: Agri Wales.

A saga of missing medical records

In the Telegraph, Booker pointed out that the health of thousands of farmers and their families had been destroyed by using highly toxic organo-phosphate (OP) chemicals to dip their sheep, as a protection against parasites. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned its own internal study into this disaster, its findings in 1991 were so devastating that they had to be ruthlessly suppressed. The survey, later released under a freedom of information request, said:

“Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”

The Manchester Evening News published an early photograph of Littleborough farmer, the late Brenda Sutcliff with her husband Harold. She and three family members became ill after using a government-recommended sheep dip.  No active, healthy old age for her – but her persistent campaigning was recognised and celebrated by many (below left).

Details of a sheep dipping survey were released by the Health and Safety Executive following a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Group. The HSE survey examined sheep dipping facilities and practices on a representative sample of 696 farmers across 16 different regions of Britain. See also: Minister pledges to re-examine OP sheep dip files

But in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding that local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.

The report found 160 occasions where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping. It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?” Booker commented that ministers were only too aware that the government had forced the farmers to use these chemicals, which its own Veterinary Medicines Directorate had licensed as safe to use and ends:

“Although in 1992, the government quietly dropped the compulsory use of OPs for dipping, without explanation, a succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to them could cause irreparable damage – because, it seemed, any public admission that they were as dangerous as the HSE had found them to be might trigger off a major scandal resulting in tens of millions of pounds of compensation claims”.

A more high-profile victim (see illness), former sheep farmer Margaret Mar (right), a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent three decades campaigning in Westminster on the issue.

She said: “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time”.

An campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group, co-ordinated by Tom Rigby, organic dairy farmer and chair of NFU’s Organic Forum, has an exceptionally accurate and informative website, with a balanced approach, useful links and well-documented interviews and reports with the political establishment – recording reasonable interaction with MPs like Andy Burnham, George Eustice and Paul Tyler.

They deserve the last word:

“We are a group of volunteers campaigning for better diagnosis and treatment for all those affected by organophosphates used in agriculture. We have no membership subscription or outside funding and rely mostly on the collective experience of those who have been bravely battling against the devastating effects of these chemicals for decades.

“We hope 2018 will be the year when the farming community comes to realise the impact these insecticides have had on those involved in disease control and that they finally start to get the help and support they urgently need”.






USA and Britain are failing: should they use brawn, brain or heart?


Anatomy of Failure: Why America loses every war it starts is the latest book by Harlan Ullman (right). The man who coined the ‘shock and awe’ strategy now explains the US military’s dismal record.

Edward Luce, the FT’s Washington columnist and commentator, reviews and summarises the book.

How long does it take for the US military to admit defeat? The answer is forever, according to Harlan Ullman.

Today there are US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan who were one-year-olds when the war began. Yet the Taliban is no closer to being banished than it was in 2001. Indeed, it occupies considerably more of the country today than it did two years ago.

Donald Trump campaigned against America’s endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He won the mandate to say “no” to the Pentagon. Yet, in power, he has given the Pentagon everything it has requested.

Ullman’s three explanations for this record of failure:

  • First, the US keeps electing poorly qualified presidents.
  • Second, they keep making strategic mistakes.
  • Third, American forces lack cultural knowledge of the enemy

“Two exceptions were Dwight Eisenhower, who had been commander of US forces in Europe, and George H W Bush, who had been head of the CIA. Bush Senior wisely stopped the 1991 invasion of Iraq long before it reached Baghdad. Bush Junior was clearly not paying attention.”

He recommends a “brains-based” approach: Eisenhower combined brain and heart:



James Carden, a contributing writer at The Nation and executive editor for the American Committee for East-West Accord, points out that USA has “a national voter population that is largely skeptical of the practicality or benefits of military intervention overseas, including both the physical involvement of the US military and also extending to military aid in the form of funds or equipment as well – to quote a new survey” according to a new survey last November by J. Wallin Opinion Research. He records:

  • 86.4% of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort,
  • 57% feel that US military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive and.
  • 63.9% say that military aid—including money and weapons—should not be provided to countries like Saudi Arabia
  • and 70.8% percent of those polled said that Congress should pass legislation that would restrain military action overseas.

But “There’s too much oligarch money in the arms and contracts to the military for Congress to ever listen to what the people want: Sheila Smith indicates the serious problem endemic in both countries.

Brawn and brain have failed; the best option would be to heed the thinking of former general Eisenhower and the late Harry Patch – the true ‘bottom line’.





Broken Britain 14: justice for people given NHS contaminated blood – too little, too late

Over 2400 of the people who were given contaminated blood have died and MP Diana Johnson (below, left) asked for an urgent Commons debate last year.

She had to get six leaders of opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry before Theresa May finally succumbed to pressure and announced a public inquiry into this 1970s and 80s scandal.

Last year it was recalled here that British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 5,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. It is estimated that over 2.400 have died since then.

At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection… and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect… but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”

It was decided that victims should die to avoid going over budget


In March 2017 this year a scheme to give the victims of NHS blood contamination ex-gratia payments’ – not to be called compensation – was scaled back under government plans.

Ministers believe the reforms (cutbacks) are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.

In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.

Meanwhile the contaminated die apace as this inquiry gets under way, 30 years too late.




Should the Green Party join Corbyn Labour and fight together for social justice and for the planet?

Owen Jones suggests that the Green Party should join Jeremy Corbyn and fight together for social justice and for the planet: “For those attracted to the Green message of a “peaceful political revolution” to end austerity, Corbynism seemed like a natural new home”.

He thinks it is time for the Green Party to join forces with Labour, unite the English and Welsh left under one banner, bring one of the country’s most inspiring politicians into the spotlight and reinvigorate the campaign to save the planet from environmental destruction, adding:

“It’s exactly the arrangement that has existed between Labour and the Co-operative Party for nine decades: indeed, there are 38 MPs who belong to both. Rather than proving the death of green politics, such a pact would give it new life”.

In an act of political sacrifice at the last election, the Green Party stood down candidates across the country to avoid splitting the left-of-centre vote.

A pact could be made, creating the sort of relationship the Co-op Party has with Labour, with dual Labour/Green membership.

There would be Labour/Green MPs just as there are Labour/Co-op MPs today

Significantly more Green MPs would be elected. Climate change would become a genuine political priority. It should also mean Caroline Lucas in the shadow cabinet – and later in government with the environment brief. This would end a pointless division on the British left. Owen Jones continues:

“Lucas herself has been a committed fighter for causes that must be central to Labour’s message. She was right to criticise pre-2015 Labour for failing to challenge the “austerity message”, and has opposed cuts to everything from women’s refuges to schools. Her courage in fighting climate change led to her arrest at an anti-fracking protest in 2013.In many ways, her campaigning zeal echoes that of Corbyn, who she has repeatedly fought alongside. Indeed, it is hardly controversial to point out that Corbyn is closer to Lucas politically than he is to many of his own MPs, and yet absurdly Lucas is a political opponent”.

“Yes, the Green leadership wants Labour to go further – on everything from committing to a shorter working week to more radical taxation. But as someone who agrees with her – that Labour’s offer is not yet radical enough – I believe the Greens’ influence in pushing for greater radicalism would be strengthened, not diluted, in a formal pact”. He ends – after recognising the opposition from some within both parties:

“A red-green alliance is surely overdue. this could be the makings of a formidable political alliance to defeat Toryism and form a government to eradicate social injustice and help save the planet. And surely that prize makes the pain of overcoming partisan differences worthwhile”.


Read his article here:






FT: perhaps British tabloids are the real secret agents

Henry Mance wonders if the British tabloids (Ed: and Guido Fawkes) are trying to put Corbyn in power – this would happen, not because he is wiser but because his opponents are more stupid – adding “Perhaps they are the real secret agents”.

Last week, the Sun reported that Mr Corbyn met a Czech spy at least three times, starting in 1986. The meetings were noted in a document found in the Czech archives but the Czech archives contradicted the claim that Mr Corbyn had been paid.


Mance continues, “This did not stop the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph from attacking Mr Corbyn and demanding that he allow the release of his Stasi file. Theresa May — the actual prime minister — said he should be “open and transparent”. This noble campaign only petered out when the Stasi archives in Berlin said they could find no evidence of any such file having existed”.

The Skwawkbox site adds that the Times and Fawkes have also published an article by a former Times Prague correspondent that attempts to damn Corbyn by association with the state violence that marred Czechoslovakia’s ‘Velvet Revolution’ transition to democracy. However, inconveniently for the Times and Fawkes, Jeremy Corbyn was one of only four British MPs at the time who felt strongly enough about that violence to sign an Early Day Motion (EDM 210, see snapshot on site) supporting the protesters against the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’:

Henry Mance believes that Britain’s right-wing newspapers are actually defeating themselves: “Their strategy is now destroying the papers’ credibility. That is why Mr Corbyn did not implode at last year’s election”.

His conclusion: “In this episode, the joke is on the British newspaper industry”.





Media 83: BBC in the dock again

Setting aside the ‘left-wing’ partisan views, two BBC insiders – former senior BBC figures – have disputed the frequently brandished depiction of BBC ‘impartiality’.

Media Lens quoted Greg Dyke, a former BBC director general, who believes, ‘The BBC is part of a “conspiracy” preventing the “radical changes” needed to UK democracy.’ He says that a parliamentary commission should look into the ‘whole political system’, adding that ‘I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.’ And recalled the words of Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC Trust, who said there had been ‘some quite extraordinary attacks’ on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC.

Reading ML’s (Killing Corbyn) dissection of the role played by BBC News – in particular, its political editor Laura Kuenssberg ‘fed’ by two public relations companies – recalls the classic display given as she attempted to ‘down’ Jeremy Corbyn. A would-be demolition expert, Laura completely abandoned her regular target after a good performance in the last general election and avidly described the losses and distress of Theresa May


In December it was reported that Labour MP Chris Williamson was invited to appear on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme to discuss the mainstream media ‘blackout’ of the news about Jeremy Corbyn’s award from the International Peace Bureau.

That ‘blackout’ would almost certainly still be in place if the award had not ‘gone viral’ on social media and it was pointed out that the MSM had given extensive coverage to Theresa May putting a star on a Christmas tree and to William and Kate receiving a Blue Peter badge.

Of late Momentum has been firmly in its sights – an easier target than Corbyn

Aggressive moi? Birmingham Momentum

Failing to toe the policy line, Norman Smith, the BBC’s Assistant Political Editor ‘tells it like it is’ – and describes meeting a group of Momentum supporters in Brixton and finding no-one fitting the hard-left stereotype:

“What Steve, Samira, Nadine and Roland (and we add hundreds of thousands) have in common is an enthusiasm fired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign. They are Corbyn’s foot soldiers. Steve – a self-confessed “middle aged, BBC Radio 4 addict”- says he joined the Labour Party ‘about 20 seconds’ after Mr Corbyn’s victory. Samira also joined after Mr Corbyn won. “For the first time”, she says, “I felt there was somebody I could stand behind and that I could trust”.

The latest issue: the BBC’s role in portraying opposition to gentrification profiting developers, evicting local residents, as a left-wing power grab

There is widespread opposition to the destruction of estates where thousands of families lived, small businesses trading for generations, in this case by a private fund, the Haringey Development Vehicle, owned jointly with the developer Lendlease. Read more here.

Last night the SKWAWKBOX published exclusive evidence showing a BBC journalist leaking sensitive information to an anti-Corbyn activist in the London borough of Haringey

It included the journalist’s personal opinions about the case and about statements made by the complainant against the councillor. It commented, “The leaking of the email and the information it contained raised serious questions about the ethics and appropriateness of sending it – and about the BBC’s impartiality in the way information and claims were presented”.

The identity of the journalist and councillor in question, along with details of the information and the untrue claim, will be released shortly in a separate Skwawkbox article.





Carillion: short changed workers but cushioned shareholders & directors

Carillion paid only £94m towards the pension deficit but sent £162m in dividends to shareholders over 2015 and 2016.

Media reports agree with Debbie Abrahams, shadow secretary of state for Work and Pensions that Carillion have failed in their duty to ensure that their pension provision was adequately managed and resourced.

She is on record as pointing out that they could well have done so, in a letter to the regulator, asking whether they were aware of dividends payments to shareholders far higher than the payments to employees’ pensions.

The FT, BBC, Telegraph, Guardian, Reuters and Citywire online reports cover news of the deficit but fail to mention what appears to be preferential treatment for directors

Carillion’s last accounts, to December 2016, show there was a combined deficit on half a dozen defined benefits schemes linked to employees’ salaries of £811m but a surplus on a directors’ scheme of £6m.

Private Eye reporting this asked: “How could most of the company’s pension commitments, covering tens of thousands of employees, be so woefully underfunded when those for a small number were fully financed?”

It notes that the PR firm acting for the trustees (possibly Teneo Blue Rubicon taking over from Bell Pottinger)  refused to provide a breakdown of the schemes’ positions, which in the secretive pensions world remain confidential.

Several former directors – who had received large salary, pensions and bonuses -were questioned by the Work & Pensions and BEIS select committees on 6th February, including former chief executive Richard Howson, former finance director, Richard Adam and current chairman Philip Green (above) in an informative article in The Construction Index.

A final PE comment: with ordinary workers facing serious cuts to their retirement incomes, MPs led by pensions select committee chair Frank Field are unlikely to take “no comment” for an answer.





Assisted Dying 14: Or be ‘sentenced to years of mournful dissolution’

In 2016, former archbishop, Lord Carey, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu declared in favour of assisted dying – as do over 80% of the British public whenever polled.

Under a crude and ungracious Times headline, Jason Allardyce now quotes Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh, writer and TV/radio broadcaster, who notes that keeping most people alive into their eighties is one of the ‘successes’ of modern medicine.

He reflects that doctors fight too hard to keep old people alive, leading to “a medicalised existence whose sole purpose is staying alive long after any joy in doing so has fled” and adds that it is having “a profoundly distorting effect on the balance of society as a whole”, placing a huge financial strain on the NHS.

In his new book, Waiting for the Last Bus, which is out in March, he writes: “Care of the elderly is close to swamping the resources of the National Health Service, turning it into an agency for the postponement of death rather than the enhancement of life.”

He claims that “modern medicine keeps too many people alive long after any pleasure or meaning has gone from their lives” and that old age can be bitter if experienced “not as a period of calm preparation for death but as a grim battle to keep it at bay”.

Holloway, who favours legalising assisted suicide, has found that instead of being “sentenced to years of mournful dissolution” many of them “long to be blown out like a candle”.





Make all votes matter: campaign for real democracy

On Tuesday, politicians from across the political spectrum, campaigners and people from all walks of life (a few pictured below), took part in the Hungry for Democracy action initiated by Make Votes Matter, a 24-hour hunger strike to call for a new voting system, one that truly represents the diverse nature of Britain today.  

Labour, Green Party, UKIP, Lib Dems, Women’s Equality Party, SNP, and Plaid all shared a platform to fight for a parliament that truly represents the people. 

Proportional representation is advocated to ensure a fairer distribution of legislative seats   At present, the power of the vote is determined by geography because of the out-dated first-past-the-post electoral system. People feel disenfranchised and ask why they need to vote when the same party always wins in their constituency. In some of those places the winning candidate is elected on under 50%, and in some instances with under 40% of the vote.

In the last election our voting system made a difference in only 99 of 650 seats.

Over 80% of the public in 2017 voted for one of two parties. An estimated 20% of the electorate voted tactically to keep out the party they didn’t want.

Proportional voting systems used for elections in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, have been in place since 1999, providing a good blend of constituency MPs and  regional MPs.

Several parties – or groups within parties – are fighting for a manifesto commitment to proportional representation, building a better kind of politics. There could even be a cross-party, shared manifesto commitment to electoral reform and a constitutional convention.

A Progressive Alliance?









Unwillingly herded towards risky online banking? Resist!


Bank branches are closing all over the country, with huge savings in the upkeep of buildings and staff wages. This is due, it is said, to customers undertaking more transactions online. In many cases this is a result of firm persuasion by the banks urging customers towards the more profitable system.

A reader experienced this firm encouragement towards online banking a few days ago when phoning to transfer funds. The impression was given that this was essential, but when pressed the staff member admitted it was not. Indeed she wavered a great deal more when it was pointed out that her job could well be eliminated with the closing down of telephone operations.

America’s Central State Bank warns that – due to the open nature of the Internet – all web-based services are inherently subject to risks such as online theft of access codes/user ID/username, PIN/Password, virus attacks, hacking, unauthorized access and fraudulent transactions. 

The National Audit Office records that the volume of online ‘card not present’ fraud increased by 103% between 2011 and 2016

Online banking security rated by Which? At best, a 16% chance of being defrauded

In 2015 online bank fraud was described in the Guardian as the UK’s fastest growing area of crime – doubling from £60m in 2014 to an expected total beyond £130m this year – and the losses to consumers have in some cases been of the life-changing order of £90,000 each.

50 banks were surveyed by Which? and its August 2017 report revealed that all had experienced fraud – the best were 84% free of fraud, the worst only 56%. So even customers using the ‘best’ banks have a 16% chance of being defrauded.

Defrauded customers should accept the blame and not expect automatic refunds

Ross Anderson (right: professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory) has seen the mass take up of online banking, and more recently the explosion in fraudulent activity. Financial fraud cost £2m a day in 2016, with older people disproportionately hit.

According to Anderson and other security experts, banks are shifting liability away from themselves and on to the customer – aided by a Financial Ombudsman Service that they claim rarely challenges the banks following a fraud. Miles Brignall in the Guardian comments: “The bank is on the hook for credit card losses, but not most bank frauds”.

The Independent reported that RBS’s chief executive Ross McEwan caused a storm when he claimed that it is not banks’ responsibility if customers are defrauded in such circumstances. The bank boss – who as part of his role also runs the NatWest brand, which has 24 million retail customers – said he didn’t think the bank had “a duty of care” to victims. They should accept the blame and not expect automatic refunds, he argued. 5,000 of his customers who were defrauded of £25m during nine months in 2015 – and anyone else who has suffered such losses – should consider taking class action.

Anderson, one of Britain’s foremost experts on cybersecurity, says he has never banked online – and has no plans to do so. He believes that system has become so weighted in favour of the banks that the customers now carry all the risk.  

Miles Brignall in the Guardian asks: “If a man who has chronicled the rise of online banking won’t use it, what hope is there for the rest of us?”