Category Archives: News

Westminster for sale: update

Job swap coterie

Two peers were suspended from their party and a third has quit after our Sunday Times investigation caught them offering to ask parliamentary questions, lobby ministers and host receptions in the House of Lords in return for cash.

Lord Cunningham, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate and Lord Laird offered to become paid advocates for a firm pushing for new laws to benefit its business. They also said they could set up an all-party parliamentary group as a lobbying vehicle.

Full details are in this Sunday Times article by Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake of the Insight investigations team.

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Westminster for sale

Cash for access - Lords exposed

I’ve been working with the Insight investigations team at The Sunday Times for the last couple of weeks on an investigation into lobbying in the Houses of Parliament.

We made the splash on 2 June with this sting, in which three peers offered to become paid advocates for a firm pushing for new laws to benefit its business. They also offered to set up an all party parliamentary group as a lobbying vehicle.

Full text of the front page, and the inside read can be found on the Sunday Times website:

Cash for access: Lords exposed

‘Make that £12,000 a month and I think we’ve got a deal’

‘Getting to see ministers is part of the package’

Three peers have been filmed revealing how they can pull strings for lobbyists in return for cash payments. Insight reports

Job swap ‘coterie’ to beat rules

In undercover meetings the peers reveal how they dodge the ban on pushing private business in parliament.

PDF versions can be found after the fold.

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Marked ‘private and confidential’

Internet cafes serve up secrets

Last week I worked on a Sunday Times investigation into data breaches at internet cafes. Three reporters checked internet cafe computers around the country to see whether confidential data had been left in the computer memories.

And how. Simply by checking the desktop, documents and ‘my pictures’ folder, we stumbled across a treasure trove of private information: scanned copies of passports, visa applications, birth certificates, legal documents; a report from the editor-in-chief of a well-known property magazine detailing its legal struggles with a “confessed reformed cocaine addict”; a fax to a resident at the Dorchester referring to ‘the hostage situation in Cameroon’ and several databases of names, addresses and private details of vulnerable individuals left by care workers or civil servants.

The chain Mailbox Etc were the worst offenders, with no log-in/out process and irregular wiping of computer memories. I found documents dating back to mid 2012 on some machines. Many small independent cafes were among the best, such as the L2K Internet Gaming Centre in Manchester, which restricted users’ access to the computer memory.

The Information Commissioner announced that it would be investigating a number of bodies for a breach of confidentiality as a result of our investigation.

Full text is available on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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Police abandon 850,000 inquiries a year

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An article I worked on with Peter Newlands and Jon Ungoed-Thomas made the front page of the Sunday Times this weekend.

Freedom of information requests revealed more than half of police forces that responded to use a ‘screening out’ process, in which crimes are not investigated because police feel they are unlikely to be solved.

The Metropolitan Police alone abandoned more than 350,000 inquiries in 2011-12.

Among the victims affected was Marc Cutler, a public relations executive from north London, who had his Charge Plug bike stolen from railings near a flower market last year.

He said: “I spoke to the police, but they said there was not a lot they could do. They’d give me a crime report number, but they were not hopeful I’d get it back.

Cutler tracked down the stolen bike himself by scanning for advertisements on websites. He contacted the seller, a Russian man, and took two friends for the rendezovous.

At the meeting, Cutler clutched his stolen bike as his friends phone the police. Cutler said: “When the police got there, they checked the serial number and told the man he could leave the bike with me, or be arrested – he finally left. It’s a shame that they don’t take crimes like this seriously.”

Philippa Brady, an events manager who lives in London, had her bank card, camera and cash stolen during a night out at a cinema. There was CCTV footage that could have been examined, but police said a detailed investigation was not appropriate. She says she was told by an officer “There wasn’t a thing they could do.”

Full text is available on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

Two websites helped me speak to a number of affected cyclists whose stolen bikes were not investigated – www.stolen-bikes.co.uk and www.londoncyclist.co.uk.

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Police turn to G4S to staff murder inquiries

front page 14 march

My story on police privatisation made the front page of the Sunday Times this weekend.

Since hundreds of experienced police officers were forced to retire under regulation A19 in 2010/11, there has been a boom in demand for so-called ‘civilian investigators’ in the police.

They are not warranted cops, and as such are not able to make arrests, and they are usually private contractors to the police hired via an agency like Adecco or G4S.

Home Secretary Teresa May has always insisted that “core police functions” will always be done by officers, but the adverts I found online suggested that these boundaries are being pushed further than ever before.

G4S is advertising for ‘senior investigating officers’ (SIOs), a role in the police force that describes the officer heading up a major inquiry into crimes like murder, kidnapping or rape. A handbook by the Association of Chief Police Officers describes the role of SIO in a homicide investigation as “potentially one of the most complex and challenging positions within the Police Service”.

G4S confirmed it had been asked to place the adverts, but declined to identify the force(s) or how many of the 29,000 ‘police-skilled’ individuals on its books had applied.

The Home Office argues that police forces may make savings by hiring in experienced staff only temporarily, but most staff hired in this way (who will be private contractors, who have their pay/contracts organised by G4S) will be former policemen, already in receipt of a police pension.

A former superintendent who was forced to step down after 30 years’ service will be in receipt of around £40,000 a year in pension payments.

Full text is available on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold:

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Doctors hurry to join NHS gold rush

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The NHS will undergo one of the most radical shake-ups in its history this week, devised to give GPs new powers on the front line and liberate the NHS from political control.

Under the controversial 2012 Health and Social Care Bill, clinical commissioning groups will control a £65bn annual budget — more than two-thirds of the total NHS budget.

The new bodies will be responsible for designing and commissioning local health services, including mental health services, emergency care and hospital care.

The reforms are intended to open up the NHS market to greater competition by making it possible for companies, charities and other health providers to bid for work.

Every GP practice in England is affiliated to one of the 211 commissioning groups, whose boards are made up of GPs, at least one nurse, a hospital doctor and two or more lay members.

I worked on this investigation at the Sunday Times which revealed a number of board members on the new commissioning boards to already be benefitting from the changes – in one case, a clinical commissioning group has awarded a £150,000 deal to a company created by its chairman.

It was the front page ‘splash’ on Sunday – the day before the clinical commissioning groups went live.

Full text can be found here on the website, or after the fold.

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Child poverty in the UK

Child poverty in this country is on the rise. Save the Children has just announced its first ever fundraising campaign to help British youngsters in its 93-year history.

I’ve written two articles for the Telegraph on this subject – firstly reporting the findings of a new report from the Child Poverty Action Group, and secondly an article on the worst affected constituencies illustrated with an interactive map made using Google Fusion Tables.

The map is best viewed on the Telegraph website, here. The full text of the former can be found on the Telegraph website here, or after the fold.

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Pro-tobacco MPs accepted hospitality from cigarette company

Six Conservative MPs who voted against a proposal for selling cigarettes in plain packages have accepted thousands of pounds worth of hospitality from  the multinational Japan Tobacco International.

A short version of my article was printed in the Telegraph, the longer version can be found online here, or after the fold.

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Clone wars controversy hits equestrianism

This feature for the science section of the Daily Telegraph brings together two of my favourite subjects… horses and technology.

I interviewed the lovely Julia Harrison Lee, a heiress who has become the first Briton to clone a horse. The lucky animal, Romulus 16, was formerly a star of the GB national squad with the rider Damian Charles, but in recent years he has been in retirement at Harrison Lee’s US farm.

If you have £150,000 burning a hole in your pocket and fancy cloning your horse, you might want to have a look at the Cryozootech website, where they provide details of all their previous successes.

They can also freeze genetic samples and keep them in a library of DNA, as a just in case.

Full text is on the Telegraph website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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What my phone records say about me

A screenshot from the interactive graphic, hosted on the Telegraph website

As part of my coverage of the draft Communications Data Bill – which proposes to expand the level of information which must be held by telecommunications companies about their customers, and to expand the level of access to that data afforded to police and intelligence agencies – I requested a copy of all the data already held by my phone company to demonstrate what a detailed portrait this information can paint.

Using the data, Telegraph developer Dan Palmer and designer Mark Oliver developed an interactive graphic which tracks my movements around the UK over the course of a year.

The graphic is best viewed on the Telegraph website here, but the full text of my accompanying article can be found below.

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