Archive | April, 2010

Child Protection In Ireland Is ‘Dysfunctional’ According To An Unpublished HSE Report

30 Apr

STATE OF CHILD PROTECTION ‘DYSFUNCTIONAL’ ACCORDING TO AN UNPUBLISHED HSE REPORT:

AN UNPUBLISHED Health Service Executive (HSE) report has been released by Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter, who says it “clearly states that the entire childcare protection service is dysfunctional”.

The report, prepared by PA Consulting Group for the HSE in October last year, was described as a “management tool” by Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews, who denied it had been covered up.

The document cites “significant anxiety” within the HSE and external agencies about how Children First, the framework governing child protection in Ireland, is being implemented.

Mr Shatter said yesterday he believed the report should have been in the public domain and Mr Andrews would have to reveal when its recommendations would be implemented. “The report clearly states that the entire childcare protection service is dysfunctional, that there’s a lack of any managerial expertise at the time when the report was published,” he said.

Mr Andrews acknowledged there were problems in the implementation of Children First but insisted the report had not been suppressed. “It was never intended for publication because it’s a management tool . . . its part of the change agenda. To characterise it as it was today, as some evidence of cover-up . . . is sheer nonsense,” Mr Andrews said.

He did not challenge the more serious issue, “which is that we haven’t succeeded in implementing Children First”.

Mr Andrews said in the Dáil earlier there was not enough reference to child protection at the highest levels of the HSE. “I’ve never heard Brendan Drumm give a speech about child protection and I believe it’s something the new HSE CEO will have to take on at the highest level.”

A HSE spokeswoman said engagement with staff unions to implement the recommendations had not been possible due to industrial action.

However, she said a position of assistant national director in the HSE with responsibility for children and families social services was established as part of the implementation of the report, and Phil Garland was appointed in November 2009.

Mr Garland insisted there was “no secrecy” about the report. “As a consultative document, it contributed to the overall process of major reform which is currently under way but such significant changes cannot be delivered overnight.”

Fianna Fáil TD Mary O’Rourke yesterday told the Dáil that Mr Andrews had a budget that could be used to hold a referendum on children’s rights.

Ms O’Rourke chaired the cross-party committee that produced the report in February proposing a referendum.

MAIN FINDINGS

INSPIRING CONFIDENCE IN CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES REPORT:

GOVERNANCE AND MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE

The current roles and responsibilities are unclear and overly complicated.

The structure needs to be leaner, more transparent, with clear lines of responsibility and accountability and line of sight from frontline services to senior management.

This is essential for effective collaboration across agencies and services.

OVERALL STRATEGY AND SERVICE MODEL

There is an urgent need to develop a service model for child protection that focuses on outcomes for children. It should be based on national policy and legislation as well as wider experience.

SERVICE DELIVERY

There are critical issues in service delivery that undermine confidence in and the competence of the delivery system. These include unnecessary variation in practice, uneven collaboration between services and agencies, inadequate supports for social workers, unco-ordinated interaction

With the courts service and unclear responsibility for budgets and resources.

How the Health Service Executive interacts with the courts is a flashpoint of systemic weaknesses, exposing key deficits in how it provides child protection.

PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT

The service is missing key elements of an effective performance framework.

The available child protection data provides a good foundation for a future performance management infrastructure.

RECOMMENDATIONS

* Develop a strategic and coherent service model.

* Deliver child-centred services consistently.

* Develop an intelligence-led system.

* Develop a clear management structure.

* Implement change of HSE child protection services using a co-ordinated project management approach.

* Review of professional supervision.

———————

UPDATE:

THE Government-appointed Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has confirmed he did not know about a confidential report outlining serious failures in child and family services.

Geoffrey Shannon’s report was published last week, while Fine Gael yesterday published a Strategic Review of the Delivery and Management of Children and Family Services carried out by PA Consulting for the HSE.

Fine Gael’s children’s spokesman, Alan Shatter, questioned why Mr Shannon had not been given a copy of the earlier report, particularly when Mr Shannon’s report stated that an independent national review of the current child protection system should be carried out. Mr Shatter said it was a case of "the right hand not doing what the left hand is doing".

Mr Shannon said yesterday: "I can confirm that I did not receive it (the PA Consulting Report) and I have not read it."

The PA Consulting report is dated last October and Norah Gibbons of Barnardos said she understood Mr Shannon’s report was submitted to the minister for children’s office last September. But last night the minister’s office said the final report was completed in December.

There has been no information from the HSE or PA Consulting as to how much the confidential draft report by PA cost, but the report does outline a series of problems within the childcare system and makes a series of recommendations.

Norah Gibbons said Barnardos had been interviewed for the PA Consulting report and, while she understood it was for the HSE, she said: "I think as much information as possible that can go into the public domain should go into the public domain, especially this kind of information that has to do with structures and services delivery."

She said some positive steps had been taken but said: "The other reaction I have is are we again shoring up and tinkering with a system that simply isn’t working. Should child and family services be within the system that is the HSE?

"We need to pull these two things apart or, if it does stay in HSE, it has its own clear line of authority."

The report also highlights a failure to properly implement the Children First guidelines, and the Children’s Rights Alliance said the gaps included the absence of a section on family support and a limiting of the grounds for reporting child protection concerns.

Meanwhile, in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Andrews said that, in situations where a child has been placed with a relative on an emergency basis, there was evidence that full assessments of families have not occurred following an initial assessment.

The minister said that was "unacceptable", as was the fact that 16%, or about 815 children in foster care, do not have an allocated social worker.

The Government and HSE could come under more pressure in the coming weeks as the Office of the Ombudsman for Children confirmed it is due to publish her report into the implementation of the Children First guidelines, possibly next week.

Louisiana: Gulf Coast Oil Spill May Eclipse Exxon Valdez Disaster

30 Apr

GULF COAST OIL SPILL MAY ECLIPSE THE EXXON VALDEZ DISASTER:

Photos: Oil spill off Louisiana coast

By CAIN BURDEAU and HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press Writers Cain Burdeau And Holbrook Mohr, Associated Press Writers:

VENICE, La. – An oil spill that threatened to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez disaster spread out of control with a faint sheen washing ashore along the Gulf Coast Thursday night as fishermen rushed to scoop up shrimp and crews spread floating barriers around marshes.

The spill was bigger than imagined — five times more than first estimated — and closer. Faint fingers of oily sheen were reaching the Mississippi River delta, lapping the Louisiana shoreline in long, thin lines.

"It is of grave concern," David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press. "I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."

The oil slick could become the nation’s worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world’s richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine life. Thicker oil was in waters south and east of the Mississippi delta about five miles offshore.

The leak from the ocean floor proved to be far bigger than initially reported, contributing to a growing sense among many in Louisiana that the government failed them again, just as it did during Hurricane Katrina. President Barack Obama dispatched Cabinet officials to deal with the crisis.

Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, worried that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the federal government or oil company BP PLC.

"They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren’t proactive," he said. "As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms."

The Coast Guard worked with BP, which operated the oil rig that exploded and sank last week, to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and set controlled fires to burn the oil off the water’s surface.

The company has requested more resources from the Defense Department, especially underwater equipment that might be better than what is commercially available. A BP executive said the corporation would "take help from anyone."

Government officials said the blown-out well 40 miles offshore is spewing five times as much oil into the water as originally estimated — about 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, a day.

At that rate, the spill could eclipse the worst oil spill in U.S. history — the 11 million gallons that leaked from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989 — in the three months it could take to drill a relief well and plug the gushing well 5,000 feet underwater on the sea floor.

Ultimately, the spill could grow much larger than the Valdez because Gulf of Mexico wells tap deposits that hold many times more oil than a single tanker.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP Exploration and Production, had initially disputed the government’s larger estimate. But he later acknowledged on NBC’s "Today" show that the leak may be as bad as federal officials say. He said there was no way to measure the flow at the seabed, so estimates have to come from how much oil rises to the surface.

Mike Brewer, 40, who lost his oil spill response company in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, said the area was accustomed to the occasional minor spill. But he feared the scale of the escaping oil was beyond the capacity of existing resources.

"You’re pumping out a massive amount of oil. There is no way to stop it," he said.

An emergency shrimping season was opened to allow shrimpers to scoop up their catch before it is fouled by oil. And shrimpers were being lined up to use their boats as makeshift skimmers in the shallows.

This murky water and the oysters in it have provided a livelihood for three generations of Frank and Mitch Jurisich’s family in Empire, La.

Now, on the open water just beyond the marshes, they can smell the oil that threatens everything they know and love.

"Just smelling it, it puts more of a sense of urgency, a sense of fear," Frank Jurisich said.

The brothers hope to get all the oysters they can sell before the oil washes ashore. They filled more than 100 burlap sacks Thursday and stopped to eat some oysters. "This might be our last day," Mitch Jurisich said.

Without the fishing industry, Frank Jurisich said the family "would be lost. This is who we are and what we do."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday so officials could begin preparing for the oil’s impact. He said at least 10 wildlife management areas and refuges in his state and neighboring Mississippi are in the oil plume’s path.

The declaration also noted that billions of dollars have been invested in coastal restoration projects that may be at risk. He also asked the federal government if he could call up 6,000 National Guard troops to help.

As dawn broke Thursday in the oil industry hub of Venice, about 75 miles from New Orleans and not far from the mouth of the Mississippi River, crews loaded an orange oil boom aboard a supply boat at Bud’s Boat Launch. There, local officials expressed frustration with the pace of the government’s response and the communication they were getting from the Coast Guard and BP officials.

"We’re not doing everything we can do," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, which straddles the Mississippi River at the tip of Louisiana.

Tension was growing in towns like Port Sulphur and Empire along Louisiana Highway 23, which runs south of New Orleans along the Mississippi River into prime oyster and shrimping waters.

Companies like Chevron and ConocoPhillips have facilities nearby, and some residents are hesitant to criticize BP or the federal government, knowing the oil industry is as much a staple here as fishing.

"I don’t think there’s a lot of blame going around here. People are just concerned about their livelihoods," said Sullivan Vullo, who owns La Casa Cafe in Port Sulphur.

A federal class-action lawsuit was filed late Wednesday on behalf of two commercial shrimpers from Louisiana, Acy J. Cooper Jr. and Ronnie Louis Anderson.

The suit seeks at least $5 million in compensatory damages plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages against Transocean, BP, Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and Cameron International Corp.

In Buras, La., where Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, the owner of the Black Velvet Oyster Bar & Grill couldn’t keep his eyes off the television. News and weather shows were making projections that oil would soon inundate the coastal wetlands where his family has worked since the 1860s.

It was as though a hurricane was approaching, maybe worse.

"A hurricane is like closing your bank account for a few days, but this here has the capacity to destroy our bank accounts," said Byron Marinovitch, 47.

"We’re really disgusted," he added. "We don’t believe anything coming out of BP’s mouth."

Signs of the 2005 hurricane are still apparent here: There are schools, homes, churches and restaurants operating out of trailers, and across from Marinovitch’s bar is a wood frame house abandoned since the storm.

A fleet of boats working under an oil industry consortium has been using booms to corral and then skim oil from the surface.

BP conducted a test burn on Wednesday, but abandoned a plan to set fire to more oil after weather conditions deteriorated. The attempt to burn some of the oil came after crews operating submersible robots failed to activate a shut-off device that would halt the flow.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was briefed Thursday on the issue, said his spokesman, Capt. John Kirby. But Kirby said the Defense Department has received no request for help, nor is it doing any detailed planning for any mission on the oil spill.

Obama dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson to help with the spill. The president said the White House would use "every single available resource" to respond.

Obama has directed officials to aggressively confront the spill, but the cost of the cleanup will fall on BP, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

___

Mohr reported from Jackson, Miss. Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey, Kevin McGill, Michael Kunzelman and Brett Martel in New Orleans, and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge also contributed to this report.

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UPDATE:

The US Coast Guard is investigating reports that oil has started washing ashore on the Gulf Coast from a leaking offshore well.

Up to 5,000 barrels of oil a day are thought to be spilling into the water after last week’s explosion on a BP-operated rig, which then sank.

President Barack Obama has pledged "every single available resource" to help.

The US navy has been deployed to help avert a looming environmental disaster.

The US Coast Guard said it had sent investigators to confirm whether crude oil had begun to wash up on parts of the Louisiana shoreline.

‘National significance’

"This is a very, very big thing," said David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He told the Associated Press news agency: "And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."

An emergency shrimping season was opened on Thursday to allow fishermen to bring in their catch before it was fouled by the advancing oil.

Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano: This is a spill of national significance

The US government has designated the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as an "incident of national significance".

This allows it to draw on resources from across the country to deal with the leak.

Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, has declared a state of emergency and asked for federal funds to deploy 6,000 National Guard soldiers to help with the clean up.

The Louisiana coastline, with its rich shrimp and oyster beds, is the most threatened by the spill.

Navy vessels are helping to deploy booms to contain the spill.

President Obama has dispatched high-level administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, to the area.

He has also ordered environmental agency officials to inspect all offshore oil rigs and platforms to make sure they adhere to US safety codes.

Speaking at the White House, Mr Obama said: "While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and clean-up operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defence, to address the incident.

"And I have ordered the Secretaries of Interior and Homeland Security, as well as Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency to visit the site on Friday to ensure that BP and the entire US government is doing everything possible, not just to respond to this incident, but also to determine its cause."

‘Devastating’

Eleven workers are still missing, presumed dead, after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on 20 April.

The US Coast Guard said earlier that up to 5,000 barrels of oil a day – five times the previous estimate – might now be leaking into the water.

BP’s chief operating officer of exploration and production, Doug Suttles, said the company was using remote operative vehicles (ROVs) to try to find out how much oil was leaking into the sea.

"This is very, very difficult to estimate," Mr Suttles told reporters.

"Down below the surface we actually can’t meter this oil so we can just observe it… what our ROV pictures show to us on the sea floor hasn’t changed since we first saw the leak… but what we can say based on what we’re picking up on the surface it looks like it is more."

Mr Suttles estimated something between 1,000 and 5,000 barrels a day was leaking.

A resident of Bay Saint Louis in Mississippi, John Gerger, told the BBC the smell of oil was becoming stronger along the Gulf Coast.

"It’s as though a diesel truck is parked in the front yard," he said. "The potential impact of the slick could be devastating on an area that has just recovered from [Hurricane] Katrina.

"Fishing and shrimping is such an important industry here, and could take a massive hit. Local fishermen have been advised to go out and try to recover as much as they can before the slick approaches land."

Lawsuit

Efforts to stem the flow are being complicated by the depth of the leak at the underwater well, which is about 5,000ft (1,525m) beneath the surface.

Wednesday saw a US Coast Guard crew set fire to part of the oil slick in an attempt to save environmentally sensitive wetlands.

A "controlled burn" of surface oil took place in an area about 30 miles (50km) east of the Mississippi River delta.

Engineers are working on a dome-like device to cover oil rising to the surface and pump it to container vessels, but it may be weeks before this is in place.

It is feared that work on sealing the leaking well using robotic submersibles might take months.

BP is also working on a "relief well" to intersect the original well, but this is experimental and could take two to three months to stop the flow.

Under US law, BP will be expected to meet all the costs of the spill clean-up operation.

Smacking Is An Assault On Children

30 Apr

SMACKING IS AN ASSAULT ON CHILDREN:

 

Europe outlaws it, yet Britain clings to physical punishment. A ban may be hard to enforce, but the message is crucial – writes-

Libby Brooks The Guardian,

Front of my mind as I raced along the pavement was this: what if I don’t catch up with him in time? He was awfully fast for a four-year-old. My godson, possessed by a nuclear tantrum, had wriggled from my hand-hold while his mother fumbled with front-door key and baby brother, and was haring along the street towards the busy main road. As we approached the speeding cars, my only option was to rugby tackle him to a stop. His head hit the pavement with a crack. As I carried him, howling and thrashing, back home I was sure that his tears were as much related to a sore head as an injured ego. But sometimes, with children, brawn wins over brain.

At the beginning of the 18th century, fretful infants were scrubbed with salt, tightly swaddled and hung from a nail. Those early midwives would have been mightily bemused by the modern-day blether around co-sleeping and controlled crying. But, as childcare methods have developed, diversified and cleaved to the social anxieties of the hour, one seam has remained constant. Some subjects succeed in tying up a host of disparate ancient and contemporary concerns with a bow, and one of them is smacking.

Earlier this week the Council of Europe – which monitors compliance with the European convention on human rights – berated Britain for having

failed to introduce a smacking ban more than a decade after a ruling that the practice violated children’s right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment. It’s not the first time that Britain has been criticised over smacking – we are one of only five EU countries not to have introduced a ban – and it won’t be the last time that such criticism has been blithely ignored. But, as the council steps up its campaign against physical punishment, it may well be that in coming months, defensive outrage is no longer an option.

Any proposed variation of a smacking ban immediately ignites a toxic touch paper, encompassing as it does our peculiarly British preoccupation with human rights, European diktat, homebound state interference, parental responsibility and children’s place in society. Thus it seems pointless to note that the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, from which this all stems, was an international rather than a European document, which the British government was heavily involved in drafting.

That smacking is a stratospherically emotive issue, entrenched in generational and cultural expectations, is self-evident. But the contradictions in public attitude are manifest. While we weep over the death of Baby P, it is anathema to suggest that smacking might occupy a space – however limited – on the continuum of child abuse. Likewise, as parents are increasingly encouraged to outsource upbringing to

Tanya Byron or Super nanny, smacking has weirdly come to represent the final preserve of instinctual, private discipline.

It’s curious too how responses to physical chastisement are now conveniently metered by class. Indeed, there seems to be a special supermarket aisle reserved for liberal commentators to observe a woman not of their breeding slapping her child. Voltaire’s apocryphal phrasing of disapproving, but defending to the death your right, has transmogrified into a belief that smacking must be all right because those chavs can’t help themselves, while the intelligentsia at least search their souls afterwards.

And yet it would be entirely feasible to institute a smacking ban in this country that didn’t penalise parents for reasonable interventions. Simply changing the "reasonable chastisement" defence against common assault to "reasonable restraint" would remove the covert approval of physical punishment while acknowledging the right to use force to stop a child darting into the path of a 4×4.

But the smacking debate operates above the law. Despite the massive anomaly in our legal system that renders it actionable to strike a convicted murderer but not a child, it’s frequently contended that a ban would exist as a meaningless heart warmer, given how impossible it is to police individual homes. And bans in general do invite a noxious response.

But what the naysayers avoid is the potential of a very public, governmental, condemnation of smacking. In its obsession with asbos and curfew orders, New Labour has come alarmingly close to the pre-Enlightenment notion of original sin and infant depravity, that could only be excised through the strictest of upbringings. But, just as social acceptance of domestic violence against women has shifted over the last few decades, so the Victorian hangover that considers children to be chattels and beatable as such might be changed by a concerted legal intervention.

Only the Liberal Democrats have committed

in their manifesto to incorporating the UN convention into British law, which is probably about as hopeless a daydream as proportional representation. But, in the meantime, we cannot rely on benign self-regulation by parents alone. Smacking is assault, however you dress it up. It brings with it all the guilt, shame and assumptions of weakness and power that come with any attack on another human. The victim is in this case a smaller person, but still a person. Whether practically enforceable or otherwise, the message that such assaults will no longer tolerated is needed to prompt a complete cultural revision of attitudes to children that goes far beyond the Naughty Step. And this generation of legislators must surely be the first to acknowledge that, even if beating did them no harm, it certainly did them no good.

Liverpool: Merseyside Police Fear Outbreak Of Bloody Gangland Warfare After Drugs Baron Nicky Ayers Is Shot Dead

30 Apr

MERSEYSIDE POLICE FEAR BLOODY GANGLAND WAR AFTER DRUGS GANG BOSS NICKY AYERS IS SHOT DEAD:

Police in Liverpool fear a possible gangland war after a man was shot dead on Thursday.

Nicky Ayers, 46, was killed in the early hours of the morning after visiting his daughter in West Derby, Liverpool.

Ayers is thought to have been involved in a north Liverpool gang dispute over drugs territories.

Recently the battle had even spilled into the parks with a number of violent incidents disrupting Sunday league football matches between teams associated with the gangs.

Merseyside Police say they are keeping an open mind about the motive for the murder but also warned they will not tolerate any escalation of gun crime.

Detective Chief Inspector Tim Keelan who is leading the investigation into his murder said: "We are appealing for information from the community which may assist us with that line of inquiry."

"Issues around football teams on Merseyside are a line of inquiry we are also pursuing."

He continued: "Following any killing of this nature I would always fear reprisals but what I would say is that we have made considerable efforts on Merseyside to challenge gun crime, we have had a lot of success and we are working with the family and working with communities to make sure we reduce gun crime."

Police have stepped up patrols in the area and have carried out a forensic examination of the street where the shooting took place.

They are appealing for anyone with information on the killing to call 0151 777 8617 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

——————–

UPDATE:

THE manager of a Liverpool Sunday league team was murdered in the street in a gangland execution.

Gangster Nicky Ayers, in his mid-40s, was blasted at least three times outside a relative’s home in South Cantril Avenue, West Derby, at just after 12.10am today.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

It is believed he had been to see one of his daughters and his young grandson and was on his way home when the gunman struck.

Murder squad detectives were today trying to piece together what happened. In the aftermath they were unsure whether the killer was on foot or in a car and couldn’t say precisely how many shots had been fired.

One witness told the ECHO they heard three shots in quick succession followed by a fourth after a pause of a couple of seconds – pointing to an execution.

The scene was sealed off today as forensic officers worked around the spot where Ayers fell.

One neighbour said: “I heard four bangs, one after the other.

“Me and the missus were in bed when we heard police cars screeching round the corner.”

Thought to have a number of grown-up and younger children Ayers had a fearsome reputation around north Liverpool, and particularly West Derby, where he lived.

He was manager of the Western Approaches FC who plays in the Liverpool and District Sunday League.

Recently the big LFC fan had been involved in an escalating fall-out over drugs turfs in the city.

—————

A MURDER investigation is under way after a man was gunned down.

The victim was found suffering from gun shot wounds just after midnight outside a suburban house.

The man, who was in his 40s, died at the roadside.

Police scientists were due to scour the scene, on South Cantril Avenue, West Derby, today.

A Merseyside Police spokesman said: “Emergency services were called at around 12.10am after a man in his 40s was found outside a property on South Cantril Avenue with gun shot wounds.

“He was declared dead at the scene by ambulance staff.

“High visibility patrols have been stepped up in the area and the scene has been cordoned off for forensic examination.”

He added that anyone with information should call police on 0151 709 6010 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

—————-

UPDATE: 2:

Police have warned a city’s underworld not to embark on a tit for tat shooting war after a gangster was gunned down in the street.

Nicky Ayers, 46, was killed in the early hours of Thursday close to his daughter’s home in Liverpool.

Merseyside Police says they are keeping an open mind about the motive for the murder but also warned they will not tolerate an escalation of gun crime.

Mr Ayers was thought to be involved in north Liverpool factions involved in a turf war over drugs.

Recently the battle has even spread to the Football pitch with a number of incidents disrupting Sunday league games between teams associated with the gangs.

Detective Chief Inspector Tim Keelan, who is leading the investigation into Mr Ayers’ murder, said it remains too early to say if the shooting was gang related.

But he added: "We are appealing for information from the community which may assist us with that line of inquiry. Issues around football teams on Merseyside are a line of inquiry we are also pursuing. There have been a number of incidents reported recently but we are keeping an open mind about what brought about the murder of Mr Ayers."

Paramedics found Mr Ayers collapsed outside a house in South Cantril Avenue, West Derby, at around 12.10am. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said he had been to his daughter’s house nearby but left there at 9pm and officers want to establish his movements afterwards.

Mr Keelan added: "Following any killing of this nature I would always fear reprisals but what I would say is that we have made considerable efforts on Merseyside to challenge gun crime, we have had a lot of success and we are working with the family and working with communities to make sure we reduce gun crime."

Louisiana: State Of Emergency Declared As Oil Spill Approaches The US Coast

29 Apr

LOUISIANA: STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED AS OIL SPILL APPROACHES US COAST:

Photos: Oil spill off Louisiana coast

Louisiana has declared a state of emergency with a huge oil spill set to hit the southern US coast on Friday.

A new leak has been discovered at the site of the offshore oil rig explosion and five times more oil is leaking as previously estimated, US officials have said.

BP – the owner of the oil well beneath the Deepwater Horizon platform – found a third leak 1,525ft (5,000 metres) under the sea off the coast of Louisiana, the US Coast Guard said.

President Barack Obama has said BP is ultimately responsible for the cost and clean-up but that he is using "every single available resource" of the US government to address it.

The US military has offered to help contain the slick in the Gulf of Mexico, which threatens four states.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has called leak a disaster of "national significance".

She added that the government will push BP to conduct the strongest possible effort to clean it up.

The leak is now estimated at 5,000 barrels per day – five times more than originally thought – since the platform sank on April 22, two days after it exploded.

Now visible from space, the giant spill has raised fears of an environmental disaster for fisheries and wildlife on and around the coastline.

The US government has not ruled out imposing a pause in new deepwater drilling until oil companies can show they can control any spills that may happen.

"Everything is on the table," said David Hayes, the deputy interior secretary, adding it could take 90 days to install a relief valve to stop the leak.

Mr Obama has been briefed on how the growing slick could interfere with shipping channels and affect tankers delivering petroleum supplies to the US market.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "You have shipping channels that areas of the spill could soon be in."

Shares in BP and Swiss-based Rig Company Transocean Ltd plummeted by more than six per cent on Thursday as investors feared a significantly higher clean-up cost.

Weather forecasters had warned that a change in the wind could push the slick inland by the weekend.

BP and the Coast Guard started a "controlled burn" on Wednesday, in an attempt to stop the leak from growing and reaching land.

"We will not rest until we have done everything to bring this under control," BP spokesman Andrew Gowers said.

Eleven drilling platform workers are still missing, presumed dead.

——————

By CAIN BURDEAU, Associated Press Writer Cain Burdeau, Associated Press Writer:

VENICE, La. – The government has sent skimmers, booms and other resources to clean up a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that’s become far worse than initially thought and threatens the fragile marshlands along the shore, a Coast Guard official said Thursday.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara said at the White House that the government’s priority was to support the oil company BP PLC in employing booms, skimmers, chemical dispersants and controlled burns to fight the oil surging from the seabed.

An executive for BP PLC, which operated the oil rig that exploded and sank last week, said earlier in the day on NBC’s "Today" that the company would welcome help from the U.S. military.

"We’ll take help from anyone," said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP Exploration and Production.

The Coast Guard has urged the company to formally request more resources from the Defense Department. President Barack Obama has dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson to help with the spill. The president said his administration will use "every single available resource at our disposal" to respond to the spill.

But time may be running out: Oil from the spill had crept to within 12 miles of the coast, and it could reach shore as soon as Friday. A third leak was discovered, which government officials said is spewing five times as much oil into the water as originally estimated — about 5,000 barrels a day coming from the blown-out well 40 miles offshore.

Suttles had initially disputed the government’s estimate, and that the company was unable to handle the operation to contain it.

But early Thursday, he acknowledged on "Today" that the leak may be as bad as the government says. He said there was no way to measure the flow at the seabed and estimates have to come from how much oil makes it to the surface.

If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or 4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, leaked 11 million gallons into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989.

As dawn broke Thursday in the oil industry hub of Venice, about 75 miles from New Orleans and not far from the mouth of the Mississippi River, crews loaded an orange oil boom aboard a supply boat at Bud’s Boat Launch. There, local officials expressed frustration with the pace of the government’s response and the communication they were getting from the Coast Guard and BP officials.

"We’re not doing everything we can do," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, which straddles the Mississippi River at the tip of Louisiana.

"Give us the worst-case scenario. How far inland is this supposed to go?" Nungesser said. He has suggested enlisting the local fishing fleet to spread booms to halt the oil, which threatens some of the nation’s most fertile seafood grounds.

There’s a growing tension in towns like Port Sulphur and Empire along Louisiana 23, which runs south of New Orleans along the Mississippi River into prime oyster and shrimping waters.

Companies like Chevron and ConocoPhillips have facilities nearby, and some are hesisitant to criticize BP or the federal government, knowing the oil industry is as much a staple here as the fishermen.

"I don’t think there’s a lot of blame going around here, people are just concerned about their livelihoods," said Sullivan Vullo, who owns La Casa Cafe in Port Sulphur.

Louisiana has opened a special shrimp season along parts of the coast so shrimpers can harvest the profitable white shrimp before the spill has an effect.

The spill has moved steadily toward the mouth of the Mississippi River and the wetland areas east of it, home to hundreds of species of wildlife and near some rich oyster grounds.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday declared a state of emergency so officials could begin preparing for the oil’s impact. His declaration says at least 10 wildlife management areas and refuges in his state and neighbouring Mississippi is in the oil plume’s path. It also notes that billions of dollars have been invested in coastal restoration projects that may be at risk.

A federal class-action lawsuit was filed late Wednesday over the oil spill on behalf of two commercial shrimpers from Louisiana, Acy J. Cooper Jr. and Ronnie Louis Anderson.

The suit seeks at least $5 million in compensatory damages plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages against Transocean, BP, Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and Cameron International Corp.

Jim Klick, a lawyer for Cooper and Anderson, said the oil spill already is disrupting the commercial shrimping industry.

"They should be preparing themselves for the upcoming shrimp season," he said. "Now they’re very much concerned that the whole shrimp season is out."

Mike Brewer, 40, who lost his oil spill response company in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, said the area was accustomed to the occasional minor spill. But he feared the scale of the escaping oil was beyond the capacity of existing resources.

"You’re pumping out a massive amount of oil. There is no way to stop it," he said.

The rig Deepwater Horizon sank a week ago after exploding two days earlier. Of its crew of 126, 11 are missing and presumed dead. The rig was owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said BP is responsible for bringing resources to shut off the flow and clean up the spill.

"It has become clear after several unsuccessful attempts to determine the cause" that agencies must supplement what’s being done by the company, she said.

A fleet of boats working under an oil industry consortium has been using booms to corral and then skim oil from the surface.

Landry said a controlled test to burn the leaking oil was successful late Wednesday afternoon. BP was to set more fires after the test, but as night fell, there were no more burns. None were planned for Thursday as sea conditions deteriorated.

The decision to burn some of the oil came after crews operating submersible robots failed to activate a shut-off device that would halt the flow of oil on the sea bottom 5,000 feet below.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was briefed Thursday morning on the issue, said his spokesman, Capt. John Kirby. But Kirby said the Defense Department has received no request for help, nor is it doing any detailed planning for any mission on the oil spill.

President Barack Obama has directed officials to aggressively confront the spill, but the cost of the cleanup will fall on BP, spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

BP has asked local fishermen for help. A memo from Sen. David Vitter’s office said BP was seeking to contract with shrimp boats, oyster boats and other vessels for hire to help with deploying containment boom in the Gulf. Staging areas were in Venice, La.; Mobile, Ala.; Pascagoula and Biloxi, Miss.; and Pensacola, Fla. Information on the "Vessel Opportunity Program" also was posted on Sen. Mary Landrieu’s website.

Hai Huynh, 39, and his 22-year-old deck hand Robert Huynh were ready to help however they could even though the Coast Guard will only allow vessels with lifeboats to help with carrying oil booms to contain the spill.

"We want to go out and help clean up the oil," Robert Huynh said aboard their freshly painted steel-hulled shrimp boat, the Miss Kimberly. "We’re ready."

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Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey, Kevin McGill Michael Kunzelman and Brett Martel in New Orleans, Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge and Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.

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India: Man ‘Survived 70 Years Without Food’ Claim

29 Apr

MAN ‘SURVIVES WITHOUT FOOD’ FOR 70 YEARS:

Indian doctors are studying a remarkable 83-year-old holy man who claims to have spent the last seven decades without food and water.

Military medics hope the experiments on Prahlad Jani can help soldiers develop their survival strategies.

The long-haired and bearded yogi is under 24-hour observation by a team of 30 doctors during three weeks of tests at a hospital in the western city of Ahmedabad.

Two cameras have been set up in his room, while a mobile camera films him when he goes outside, guaranteeing round-the-clock observation.

His body will be scanned and his brain and heart activity measured with electrodes.

"The observation from this study may throw light on human survival without food and water," said Dr G. Ilavazahagan, who is directing the research.

"This may help in working out strategies for survival during natural calamities, extreme stressful conditions and extra-terrestrial explorations like future missions to the Moon and Mars by the human race."

Since the experiment began on April 22, Jani has neither eaten nor drunk and has not been to the toilet.

"The exercise of taking this yogi under the medical scanner is to understand what energy supports his existence," Dr Ilavazahagan added.

"Jani says he meditates to get energy. Our soldiers will not be able to meditate, but we would still like to find out more about the man and his body."

Jani, who dresses in red and wears a nose ring, grew up in Charod village in the Mehsana district in Gujarat.

He claims to have been blessed by a goddess when he was aged eight, which has enabled him to survive without sustenance.

Thailand Warns International Community Off As Anti-Government Red-Shirts Call For EU Observers On Bancock’s Streets

29 Apr

ANTI-GOVERNMENT RED-SHIRTS CALL FOR EU OBSERVERS ON THE STREETS OF BANCOCK:

Thailand Thursday warned the international community not to meddle in its political affairs as anti-government Red Shirts called for EU observers on the streets of Bangkok.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters after meeting his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, that the Thai government was "in control" of the situation and did not need foreign assistance.

"There is no need for international intervention at this point in time," Kasit told a press conference when asked if Thailand needed outside help to deal with its political turmoil.

"I think we’re very much in control of the situation and it’s still very much an internal affair of Thailand."

Red Shirt leaders on Thursday made a further attempt to broaden the month-long dispute that has several times erupted in violence, killing 27 people and injuring almost 1,000 in Bangkok.

The movement — which wants immediate elections — released a letter it sent to EU ambassador David Lipman making an "urgent request" for Europe to send monitors to Bangkok to prevent another crackdown.

The letter followed an invitation issued by Red leaders to Bangkok’s diplomatic community asking them to visit the sprawling protest last week.

Kasit said his government had been "concerned" that some diplomats had taken up the offer, although he did not specify who.

"We do not want to see that happen again," he said.

"We’re trying to solve the problem within the confines of the rules of law, and trying to avoid the use of force and trying to talk to the protesters for them of course to come to the negotiating table and… disarm," Kasit said.

He said he was visiting Indonesia, a fellow founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to express his government’s gratitude for Jakarta’s expressions of concern.

He also wanted to give a first-hand account of the situation and outline the steps the government plans to take to end the crisis.

"There’s no need for ASEAN help but the expressions of concern by each ASEAN country we fully appreciate," he said.

"We are a functioning government. We are in a position to handle the situation."

Kasit met Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono later in the day and received assurances that Indonesia "respects the sovereignty of Thailand," according to a presidential spokesman.

"The president hopes a political solution can be achieved in a way that is peaceful, democratic and in accordance with the rules of law," spokesman Dino Patti Djalal told reporters.

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UPDATE:

The Thai foreign minister, on a visit to Indonesia, has said his government has red-shirt protests under control.

Kasit Piromya added that there was no need for international intervention.

His comments followed the delivery of a request by the red-shirt movement to the European Union for observers to help prevent a violent crackdown.

The yellow-shirt government supporters, quiet for many months, have meanwhile asked the prime minister if he has a plan to deal with the reds.

A day after clashes between government forces and red-shirt protesters which left one soldier dead in an apparent friendly fire incident, the streets of Bangkok were quiet.

In control?

The government said it was reinforcing checks on people and weapons moving in and out of the red-shirt protest camp in the centre of the city.

But there was little sign of additional security from the government side around the red-shirt area, where guards from the red-shirts are well entrenched behind huge barricades.

The European Union ambassador, David Lipman, responded to the reds’ letter requesting "urgent" observation by saying that the EU remained deeply concerned about the state of affairs in Thailand.

He called for respect for the rule of law, constructive dialogue and a negotiated solution to the current political crisis through peaceful and democratic means, an EU statement said.

In Jarkarta, Mr Krasit told a press conference that there was "no need for international intervention at this point in time".

"I think we’re very much in control of the situation and it’s still very much an internal affair of Thailand.

"We are a functioning government. We are in a position to handle the situation," he said.

Yellows’ concern

A group to which Mr Kasit used to belong, and which has supported his government so far, appeared unconvinced.

Several hundred yellow-shirts went to the headquarters of the 11th Infantry battalion, where Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government has been holed up for six weeks.

"The crisis in Thailand has rapidly and intensively spread and become a state of anarchy," their petition said.

The group formally known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – known for closing down Bangkok’s airports in late 2008 – criticised the government for "a vacuum of political power and disorder".

"We would like to see the brave soldiers help us get rid of this illegal activity and bring peace to Thai society as soon as possible," the petition said.

"The red shirts have created a state within a state and they are getting away with it with impunity," added Suriyasai Katasila, a spokesman for the group.

"The authorities must put an end to this."

The red-shirts, who want the government to step down, have been camped out in Bangkok for more than six weeks.

An attempted military crackdown on 10 April left 25 people dead; another person died when explosions occurred near the Silom business district on 22 April.

Separately on Wednesday the Constitutional Court agreed to consider a recommendation by the Electoral Commission to dissolve Mr Abhisit’s ruling Democrat Party over misuse of funds.

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UPDATE: 2:

GRANT PECK, Associated Press Writer Grant Peck, Associated Press Writer:

BANGKOK – Thailand’s pro-establishment Yellow Shirt activists demanded military action against anti-government Red Shirt protesters Thursday and an end to "anarchy" in the capital, a day after clashes turned a busy expressway into a deadly battle zone.

The re-emergence of the Yellow Shirts – best known for shutting Bangkok’s airports for a week in 2008 – added to the volatility on the streets of the Thai capital, where a seven-week standoff has killed at least 27 people and wounded nearly 1,000.

The Yellow Shirts draw their support from Thailand’s business and bureaucratic elite, whose pervasive influence is deeply resented by the Red Shirts – mostly from the rural and urban poor, who make up the vast majority of the country’s more than 60 million people.

The current bout of unrest is the culmination of a four-year political standoff following the 2006 ouster of populist former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a military coup. Thaksin is a hero for the Red Shirts, but is loathed by the Yellow camp. The Red Shirts are seeking the resignation of current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – whose government they viewed as supported by the military and illegitimate – and fresh elections.

The crisis has hurt business in the capital and devastated Thailand’s vital tourist industry, which accounts for 6 percent of the economy. The Red Shirts have turned parts of Bangkok’s commercial heart into a protest camp, forcing the closure of some of the city’s ritziest malls and hotels.

The crisis has also spilled into the diplomatic arena.

On Thursday, the foreign minister censured some envoys for meeting last week with Red Shirt leaders.

"We do not want to see that happening again," Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters during a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia. Kasit said he had earlier met with the Philippine Ambassador Antonio V. Rodriguez, the dean of the Bangkok diplomatic corps, to express his concern.

In a note to diplomats, Rodriguez said Kasit accused some ambassadors of voicing opposition to the constitutional monarchy and criticizing the government’s handling of the crisis. Thailand’s king is nearly universally revered, and laws severely restrict discussion of him.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Wednesday that U.S. diplomats are "intensively engaged in discussions" with Thai government officials and with opposition forces.

"Our message remains what it has been since this situation evolved, which is to peacefully resolve the situation," he said.

A statement from the European Union said EU Ambassador David Lipman met briefly with the protesters and called for "constructive dialogue and a negotiated solution to the current political crisis."

Yellow Shirt rallies were held Thursday at military bases nationwide with the main gathering in Bangkok outside the 11th Infantry Regiment, which has served as Abhisit’s home since the Red Shirts launched protests in mid-March.

"The crisis in Thailand has rapidly and intensively spread and become a state of anarchy," said a petition handed by leaders of the Yellow Shirts – formally known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy – to representatives of the government and army.

The previously pro-government Yellow Shirts denounced Abhisit’s government for failing to halt the protests and enforce the law, leading to "a vacuum of political power and disorder."

"The crisis has reached a critical point and has damaged the economy and society," it said. "We would like to see the brave soldiers help us get rid of this illegal activity and bring peace to Thai society as soon as possible."

Though they have been critical of the Red Shirts’ tactics, the Yellow Shirts opened the door to mass street protests with months of anti-Thaksin rallies that ended in the coup that ousted him. When pro-Thaksin politicians later came to power, they took to the streets again – shutting Bangkok’s airports for a week in 2008. They retreated after Abhisit’s arrival in late 2008, but many fear their return could lead to head-on clashes with the rival Red Shirts.

Wednesday’s bloodshed occurred on a busy expressway that serves as Bangkok’s main gateway to the north and near the smaller of its two airports.

Thai troops fired rifles and threw tear gas at a crowd of Red Shirt protesters riding motorbikes. The confrontation killed one soldier – apparently from friendly fire – and wounded 18 other people. Heavily armed troops took cover behind terrified commuters’ cars and one driver clasped her hands in prayer as soldiers wove their way through traffic.

In a television broadcast, security officials displayed 62 grenades they said had been found in a bag dropped by a motorcyclist who fled a police checkpoint on a road leading to the site of the clash.

There have been about 20 incidents in recent weeks involving the use of M-79 grenade launchers – mostly non-fatal, although a week ago, five grenades exploded in the heart of Bangkok’s financial center killing one person and wounding more than 80.

A protest leader Nattawut Saikua denied that the grenades belonged to protesters and criticized the military force against protesters as excessive.

___

Associated Press reporters Thanyarat Doksone and Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok and Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

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